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Articles / Applying to College / Don't Snatch Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

Don't Snatch Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Feb. 7, 2013
Don't Snatch Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

In the past, we have discussed the various advantages of Early Action (EA) and Early Decision (ED) here. For those of you who have taken advantage of one of these avenues and received good news in December or even earlier, you no doubt exhaled a large sigh of relief. What could possibly be wrong with having your college process behind you at the halfway point of your senior year? If you went ED and got in, you were accepted at your clear first-choice school. If you went EA and got in, you have at least one solid offer sitting in your basket of possibilities for a May 1 (or earlier) enrollment decision. Nothing wrong with that, right? Well, there could be: Senioritis.

Yes, we have discussed Senioritis before on these pages, but every year this time, I feel duty-bound to raise the warning flag. The sports analogy would be in baseball, where a team reaches the seventh-inning stretch with a six-run lead, looking good for the win. However, if the manager doesn't remain vigilant and keep the pressure on his players until that final out, strange things can happen. It's called overconfidence. It's also called cruising. Resting on ones laurels comes to mind, too.

Need a football analogy? It's like a running back who breaks into the open on his own 10-yard line and heads for the score without noticing that defensive back angling in from behind. Then, BOOM! He's either tackled short of the score or, worse yet, fumbles. Fumble. There's a good word to describe one possible outcome of senioritis. You can easily fumble your admission by thinking that you're too many runs ahead to lose (to make a marvelously mixed metaphor).

The classic Senioritis Mindset (TM) goes something like this: "Hey, I must be a desirable college applicant! I got into a GREAT school before the New Year. I'm on a roll! I think I have enough momentum to make it to the finish line, no sweat. I'll just ease back on the throttle a bit and enjoy some stuff that I missed while I was knocking myself out the first half of the year with all that college application stress." This is textbook "What could possibly go wrong?" thinking.

Well, plenty can go wrong with an attitude like this. Right off the top, if you throttle back enough, your vaunted and cherished admission could be revoked. Don't believe me? There's evidence enough of that on the College Confidential (CC) discussion forum. At the very least, the admissions people at the school(s) where you were accepted early could begin an inquisition as to why your mid- or year-end report(s) showed a downturn in your academic performance. That's not what you need in your busy life right now, is it?

Anyway, the topic of senioritis came up on the CC forum, so I thought I would offer up some samples of the student and parent comments relating to the dangers of taking it easy after being accepted. Here are some samples from that discussion.

The issue:

So I've been accepted to my ED school and have been a 4.0 student throughout high school. This semester I want to relax a little and would be ok with getting 3 or 4 B's. However my parents insist I continue to get all A's. I find this unfair as I believe I should be able to not be as stressed this semester. Any ideas of how to convince them?

Some responses:

- My daughter threw in the towel once her acceptances were in. She had some health issues mid-year, senior year, so relaxing a bit on school was probably good. You just have to walk the line, so your grades do not drop too much.

- A word of advice, a A to A- change would go unnoticed. However, I interviewed someone to do a research project with me (I am a prof and parent). part of the application required a HS transcript. I immediately rejected a student who went from all As to all Bs the senior year- sorry, it just says something about you. There may be instances where a HS transcript is required in your future.

- Here are the pros and cons, and you can tell your parents.

I'm a MD and thus have had to get admissions thru a ton of different levels...undergrad, med school, internship, residency, fellowship. I have learned to study efficiently so as to not burn out...it's a long road. D wanted to let her grades drift downwards after her SCEA acceptance last year. I was totally fine with it. I did start to stress when a few of the 3rd quarter grades were coming in at high Cs. D pulled them up but gave me a little fright. Her 4 year cum GPA, with the Bs on it, excluded her from cum laude recognition. However, most schools will not see the awards earned in Spring of Sr year (National AP scholar, cum laude). Now that she is in college and applying to other things (internships, jobs), so far no place has asked for her HS transcript. But if they did, her overall GPA is lower due to a few Bs in Sr year.

- Before you make the decision to "let your grades slide"...or...to put it another way-not do your best....make VERY sure the school who accepted you ED is not one where you would loose your acceptance.

With that being said....as a parent...we told our DD it was never about the grade-it was doing your best-whatever that was. Live with no regrets, and know that if you choose to not do your best, there may be repercussions. If you have a lot on your plate-then you will have to make tough decisions-but they are your decisions.

The call is yours to make.

- I feel like there are mixed interpretations of what senioritis is--and when it is and is not ok.

In my experience (with myself and my friends), it meant a bit less of an emphasis on school. Hear me out: we were the straight-A dorks who never went to so much as a birthday party on Saturdays because we were too busy studying! Second semester, we went out on the weekends to see a lot of the movies that were nominated for the Oscars that year; hit the malls to do some shopping; even--gasp--went and got coffee some days after school. Our grades didn't slip or anything. It was just a nice time for us to visit with each other more and put school into perspective.

On the flip side, I know people who really screwed up their second semesters.

My thought is this: relax a LITTLE. I'm not saying that you shouldn't study (not at all), nor am I saying that you should aim for B's, or scrape by and do the bare minimum to get B's. But what I am saying is that you should take advantage of this unique time in your educational life. If there's something you really want to do (within the confines of decent moral behavior), I don't personally view this as a time when you should say, "well, I could go to this [interesting event], but I should stay home and do my homework instead."

Honestly, you should use this time to learn to balance extracurriculars and academics, because that's what college is all about.

- Senioritis is not about intentionally letting your grades slide, it is about enjoying the experiences of your senior year. Yes, go out for coffee, go see movies, go to parties, but I am surprised that someone who has worked hard for their grades for 3 1/2 years suddenly would be ok with not working and achieving. Truthfully, you need to be sure you are doing it for yourself, not for your parents. They instilled the work ethic but it is up to you to keep it going. They are not going to college with you, it has to come from within. What you need to find is the balance between enjoying life and working hard.

- In a former life, I taught in a prep school. We had a student who was into Princeton and then got a D and an F his second semester senior year. Princeton made him take a year off. While he did not have to reapply in full, he did have to show them he had done something worthwhile with his year.

I would try to have your cake and eat it too by lightening the load a little and still aiming for A or A- in all classes.

One way it can really come back to haunt you is if you ever want to transfer.

- Don't let your grades slip.

But if you were participating in any extracurricular activities just to make yourself look good (rather than because you genuinely want to participate in them), it wouldn't hurt to decrease your participation. If they're non-school-related activities, you could drop some of them altogether.

The college is going to check on your second semester grades, and I suppose there's a remote chance that the final report from your school might indicate whether you're still involved in the Spanish Honor Society or the Key Club (although it probably won't give any details about whether or not you're still chairing a committee or leading a fundraising activity for one of those organizations). But your college is not going to check to see whether you're still volunteering at the local hospital or playing in the community youth orchestra.

- Only you can decide how much effort is "enough" this last semester. Many incredibly creative, analytic, intense, and even perfectionist types have an essential talent -- that of knowing when they must focus deeply on the work in front of them and when they can take a break and let loose a bit. And when they take that break they're not suddenly transformed into dilettantes and lose their intensity and focus when the next crucial challenge comes along. The break is not the precursor to the fatal disease of sloth.

If I were interviewing you for a summer position I wouldn't think twice that your last semester grades were Bs rather than As. I would assess your interest and fit for the job that I had, and I would look at your entire high school transcript, and (in a major way) take into account that you've gotten into a top college.

Once you're 18 your parents won't have access to your college transcripts. Perhaps you're already that age. I don't quite understand why they would worry about some possible Bs in your last semester high school report. I would think that it's their problem and not yours. Manage it diplomatically. Your last semester grades good or mediocre will be soon forgotten.

- How hard was it for you to get those A's? Horrid, beastly, nauseating, stomach turning?

If so, consider whether or not you want to go on like that the next four years. If you feel you still kept a sense of humor, kept up with friends and occasionally fell in love, then relax and see how well you do when taking off some of the pressure. Being a grown-up is overrated, try to keep as much of your teenage life as free of bone crushing pressure. Your parents will miss you when you are off and gone, this is also the time you are still home and have fun with them.


I hope you found some of those comments helpful, especially if you feel a major case of senioritis coming on. There's no better cure for the malaise of impending sloth than a cold dose of reality in the face. Bottom line: Be proud of what you have accomplished, both in the classroom and in your college quest. However, you aren't yet at the high school finish line. Keep up the pace that got you this far, then raise your arms triumphantly as you cross that finish line in May or June. That's when to party and regroup your strength for the biggest race of your life so far: college!


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.


Admit This

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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