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When High School is a Drag: Avoiding Senioritis

A recently graduated high school student was once asked, "What was the best thing about the senior year?" The student responded, "Getting out!" This response is not unusual because high school seniors are notoriously uninterested in the last days of high school. In fact, a term was coined to describe this phenomenon, "senioritis."

Senioritis might be defined as: Diminished interest in the conventional aspects of high school during the waning days of the academic year prompted by long-term exposure to the stressors of the senior year. Parents and faculty are often puzzled by the symptoms of senioritis, lack of interest in studies and extracurricular activities, profusion and excuses not to go to school and a preoccupation with the beach, MTV, and "Scream" movies.

Understanding the reasons for senioritis is relatively easy. High school seniors, particularly those who are college bound, have been under tremendous pressure from the first day of the academic year. Many have weathered the storms of the college admission process with all its uncertainty, and are now safely admitted to a college of their choice. It may not be the college they longed to enter but it is probably a good alternative. With that pressure alleviated, there is a natural tendency to want to relax. Hard pressed seniors see the end of the year as their well-earned time to kick back and hang out.

The end of the senior year is also a period of false bravado. Seniors at this stage of their careers are pretty cocky. Or, at least, they want to give that impression. They see themselves as outward bound and more attracted to the glamour of the incipient lives as college students than to the pallid predictability of more high school classes.

High schools often make the fundamental error of not allowing for this attitudinal shift on the part of seniors. The schools insist on strict adherence to the rules and give the senior little room to exercise their need to unwind. Seniors may compensate for a lack of such opportunity by creating such things as their own unofficial "senior ditch days" which are not condoned by the school but which school officials are powerless to stop. Seniors may also compensate by increased indulgence in alcohol or drugs. This behavior is a flaunting of the authority/restrictions, which they now find so onerous, and also foreshadows the freedom they sense is just over the horizon.

I find that the three groups most affected by this phenomenon (seniors, parents and teachers) may benefit from a thoughtful approach to understanding and addressing the issues of this transitional time for tired teens. Here are some issues to remember that are related to senioritis and techniques for avoiding and alleviating the condition.

Seniors

  • There is a very practical reason to avoid senioritis. Remember that your offer of admission is contingent upon the successful completion of your senior year. The admission office will carefully review your final high school transcript. If there is a significant slump in your academic performance or if you drop a number of challenging courses you will be asked for an explanation of your delinquency by the dean or director.

  • The end of your senior year is an important time from the standpoint of your academic preparation for college. Significant reduction in your level of interest and activity in your courses will mean that you are less ready for the rigors of your college courses.

  • Senioritis may lead to negative behaviors such as increased use of drugs and alcohol.

  • Choose your courses carefully for your second semester senior year and find ways to make your studies more interesting such as forming study groups and working on independent study or field work doing research off-campus.
Parents
  • Don't worry so much about senioritis if your student is managing to keep their grades up and honor their commitments.

  • Find ways to give your senior more responsibility with such things as expanded curfew hours, trips, and continued planning for college. These additional benefits entail acceptance of the responsibility that the student will not abuse these opportunities.

  • Parents should work with the school counselor and teachers to find ways to engage the interest of the seniors and relieve some of the tedium of the last days of the senior year.

  • During this time, it is important for parents to remember not to nag the students too much regarding how they are spending their time. Seniors are adept at doing more with less time. They know the high school system very well. Allow them to exercise the freedom that comes with their fully-ripened senior status.
Teachers
  • Do not take personally the reduced interest of your seniors in their academic work. It is a natural phenomenon and one that you have undoubtedly seen before.

  • Find ways to make your classes more interesting. Have the seniors teach the course for a day as a team. Plan field trips that will hold their interest. Let them work in study groups and make presentations using multimedia, skits, or other creative approaches.

  • Take time to tell them what they can expect from college faculty who teaches in your discipline. So often freshmen are bowled over by the expectations of the faculty. Suggests reading lists and other materials that will help them prepare for the academic demands of college.

  • Help them improve their reading and writing skills. It does not matter what your discipline is--college freshman will benefit from learning how to cover the material and complete writing assignments. Skills in writing research term papers would be especially useful.
The end of the senior year is a bittersweet time of anticipation for the end of high school and a dawning nostalgia for the good times and successes that marked the years in high school. Senioritis is an understandable component of the last days of school. Seniors who compensate by taking steps to maintain their productivity will be well served.

Those of us who touch the lives of these students need to understand their special circumstances. With help, seniors can keep their focus and still have fun as the golden days of high school recede like echoing footsteps in the empty halls they will soon leave behind.


Contributed By:

R. Fred Zuker, Ph.D.
University of Dallas
Dean of Undergraduate Admission,
Financial Aid and Student Life


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