The problem with senioritis

Senioritis is when second semester senior grades sag after college acceptance letters arrive. Talking about the problem “of senioritis” seems to lend this bad habit a legitimacy which I doubt it deserves – as if it is something unfortunate but expected. Rather like getting a cold in winter. Of course, having had my own kids go through that dreary last semester where they just want to have fun and move on with life and school seems so last year, I understand only too well how hard it is for students to stay motivated between admission and matriculation.

But I still believe it important for students to keep on with the good work that got them accepted in the first place. There are three reasons for it – philosophical, practical and political.

Firstly, we do not want to encourage students to think that high school is mostly about preparing for college application – as if you work hard, challenge yourself, and do community service all just to impress an admission office. Then you go on to college and start all over again, except this time the point is securing a good job or graduate admission another four years later. Perhaps we want to teach kids instead to extract value in the moment, develop a love of learning for its own intrinsic sake, and do good because the well-being of our communities require it.

Secondly, college courses assume a level of preparation on the part of incoming first year students. So high school is not simply about preparing to apply to college, but also about preparing to be successful long after the application process is done. Blowing off the remainder of senior year risks missing out on basic skills like good writing that may be crucial to success in college classrooms.

Finally, admission offices, especially more selective ones, do care about an accepted student’s grades after making an offer of admission, if only in preemptive self-defense. After all, an admitted student who gives up on his or her academics will likely show up a year later in committees that deal with students at risk of failing out of college. So admission offices not only request final grades, they actually look at them over the summer.

And when they do examine your final grades, they know well that most of them have craftily added a line to your offer of admission stating that they can withdraw that offer if your final performance nosedives! And sometimes, they do just that.

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