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Articles / Applying to College / Finish Your High School Marathon

Finish Your High School Marathon

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | March 23, 2017

In just a week or so, college admissions decisions will be arriving for high school seniors. I liken this to reaching the 10K-to-go point in a marathon, not the finish!

I've run a few marathons in my day, including the Boston Marathon, and I can attest to the the physical and psychological effects of that 10K point. For high school seniors, getting those “Yes!" letters, emails, and packages are moments of glory. But, there is still that 10K to go — from that “Yes!" to graduation.

The college admissions aspect of the 10K Syndrome is definitely psychological. The thought process goes something like, “Whew! I made it. Now I can throttle back a bit." That's a dangerous attitude.

The reason it is dangerous is because your foot may come off the throttle completely and you may enter the cruise-control mode, just effortlessly (literally) gliding through to graduation. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, for starters, your glorious acceptances could be jeopardized. Don't be fooled into thinking that colleges just tuck away your file, placing it in to the “Admitted" pile, only to be forgotten as they move onto next year's prospects. What actually happens is an ongoing watchdog process where the same people who have let you into their institutions also keep a close eye on how you finish up your high school career.

They want to know how that final time period from acceptance to graduation has gone. Thus, stand warned about the perils of senioritis. It's real and very dangerous.

In thinking about this, I came across an interesting, if not sobering, article by counseling@NYU about senioritis. The Dangerous, Costly Phenomenon (That Only Affects High School Seniors) spells out some causes and consequences of backing off the gas post-acceptance. For example, it notes that …

Senioritis, a tongue-in-cheek term for a decline in high school seniors' motivation, is often treated as a “kids will be kids" phenomenon. But such a light-hearted take belies the harm senioritis can have on students' immediate and future academic performance. Here, we will take a closer look at senioritis, why it matters, how to address it, and how school counselors can make a difference.

… and goes on to explain:

If sweatpants have become the wardrobe of choice, skipping class a new routine, and homework a thing of the past, then senioritis may be to blame.

The first inclination of many parents, students, and school staff may be to laugh off senioritis. For example, consider the Urban Dictionary definition: “A crippling disease that strikes high school seniors. Symptoms include: laziness, an over-excessive wearing of track pants, old athletic shirts, sweatpants, athletic shorts, and sweatshirts. Also features a lack of studying, repeated absences, and a generally dismissive attitude. The only known cure is a phenomenon known as graduation."

However, such humorous definitions make light of a phenomenon that can have real consequences. Students who let the lull of senioritis tarnish their records may regret the decision down the road. Senioritis affects “second-semester seniors" — students riding out their last semester of high school before graduation.

Although second-semester seniors are known for their change in academic motivation, research shows that freshmen, sophomores, and juniors do not even suspect themselves as being vulnerable to senioritis. The graphic below shows how students responded to the prompt, “My academic effort will most likely decline in the second semester of my senior year," as part of a research paper titled “The Senior Year Enigma."

An interesting survey graphic shows the global gravity of senioritis (click to enlarge):

[Graphic courtesy Counseling@NYU's online masters in school counseling]

Attention juniors: You too should stand warned about the threat of senioritis. Soon, you will be rising seniors. I've cautioned you before about this:

“I remember clearly that when I was in high school (heck, even as far back as junior high school), the waning days of August were a bittersweet time for me. I had a love-hate relationship with school. I loved being together with all my classmates who became scattered over the summer, but I hated the thought of homework, tests, and my loss of freedom to lie in our hammock under the apple tree in our back yard and lazily read Archie comic books while following Mickey Mantle's quest for the Triple Crown.

Those days are long gone. If you are a high school student, even a junior high school student, maybe you share the same feelings that I had. Preparing to go back to school after a long (well, maybe not-long-enough) summer can be a chore. What should you do? How should you think? What will you need? How can your transition from summer bliss to homework and tests be made easier … and be an antidote to our topic of the day: senioritis?

“Here are a few of my thoughts:

“- Concentrate on the entrance requirements of the colleges that have caught your eye. You can go to the Web sites for any of these schools and see what they're are looking for in their applicants, as far as language, math, test scores, etc. prerequisites. Then, even though you can't say, 'I want to be a marine biologist!' for sure, you can say, 'I'd like to consider the following colleges and here's what I need to be a competitive applicant.' Then, your counselor should be able to help you adjust your schedule to meet those requirements. That's what counselors do (or should do). This kind of mental activity can go a long way in keeping you focused and help you avoid the gravity of the senioritis black hole.

“- In my opinion, social media are both one of the better and worse inventions of mankind. It is true that colleges can and do look at some applicants' Facebook et al pages to see what kinds of behaviors their applicants display. Common sense dictates that you shouldn't post pictures of yourself chugging beers or setting cars on fire. Additionally, don't dilute you school days ('daze'?) by covertly craning your neck checking who just texted you. I think there's an app for that. Focus on your schoolwork! 'Social media' can sometimes be spelled 'Senioritis'!

“- I mentioned above … the sad tales we see on College Confidential every year about seniors who turned off their academic spigots and had their ED/EA and even RD acceptances revoked because of a precipitous nosedive in their school work. Once you're in at your first-choice school, you may think that there's nothing left for you to achieve, so you back off. BIG mistake! You have to keep up your effort, the effort that got you into that first-choice college, until you cross the finish line (graduation). Don't be fooled. Colleges keep an eye on their admitted applicants. Don't be one of those about whom we'll sadly read on CC. Respect senioritis as the threat it is!" …

Counseling@NYU offers similar cautions …

… Long term, there are a number of negative effects that can result from senioritis. Too often, seniors think their college admission fates are sealed after the acceptance letter arrives. However, colleges typically include a clause that allows them to rescind their offers in the months after acceptance is granted. Many colleges don't receive final grades until June or July, so if the final report doesn't align with the information in the application, students may find they've lost their spot at the college of their choice. …

… as well as recommendations:

Students can turn to school counselors for help to combat senioritis.

“They work with students and consult with teachers, parents, and guardians providing support and collaborating on interventions to deal with stress," says Suzuki. “This includes senioritis."

School counselors do a variety of things to help mitigate senioritis, including helping students engage in tasks that are relevant to their personal interests and goals. The College Board recommends an approach that supports deeper student engagement by encouraging students to:

  1. Maintain a challenging course load — including the most rigorous courses available, some of which may count toward college credit.
  2. Enjoy their senior experience — but do it responsibly through positive activities that will also keep them out of trouble.
  3. Commit to an internship or career-focused job — that will help inform career choices down the road.
  4. Keep a calendar of deadlines and other important dates — to help them stay on track and not overextend themselves.
  5. Avoid obsessing over the college admission process — which can put a damper on senior year and negatively impact the balance they need to maintain. …

The College Board also has some thoughts about that final 10K of high school:

… Colleges may reserve the right to deny admission to an accepted applicant should the student's senior-year grades drop. (Many college acceptance letters now explicitly state this.) Admission officers can ask a student to explain a drop in grades and can revoke an offer of admission if not satisfied with the response.

And because the colleges do not receive final grades until June or July, students may not learn of a revoked admission until July or August, after they've given up spots at other colleges and have few options left …

… Colleges expect seniors to complete courses they enrolled in, including high-level courses. Many college applications ask applicants to list senior-year courses, with information about course levels and credit hours. College admission officers are interested in academic commitment and course completion … remain excited, active and focused throughout [your] senior year …


Think it can't happen to you? Think again. Bottom line on this issue: Be who you are consistently.

If you were good enough to get into that cool school early, then keep showing them that you're still that same person. For you juniors, during your upcoming senior year, your mid-year report will expose any cracks in your academic resolve, and, as a senior, your year-end grades will finish your profile's portrait. Keep up the great work that you've done so far.

When you finally see the finish line, you'll know that all those miles and occasional miseries were worth it.


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles on College Confidential.

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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