May 20, 2013

Senioritis: A Crippling Disease with Serious Consequences

It usually strikes some time shortly after seniors receive college acceptance letters. For those with early decisions, it may occur mid-December. 

But for most, symptoms of "senioritis" coincide with the first scent of spring and reach fever pitch by the time the last Advanced Placement test has been completed.

And judging by the buzz  in my suburban neighborhood—before, after, and during school hours—it seems that a number of local college-bound seniors are succumbing to advanced stages of what can be a crippling disease.

Although easy to catch, senioritis is hard to cure. Symptoms include skipping class, neglected homework, failed tests, and way too many lapses in judgment or integrity. You can chart outcomes on a graph: as absenteeism increases, grades decline.

In extreme cases, a strong dose of discipline is required as students mindlessly indulge in troublesome behaviors including but not limited to pranks, truancy, substance abuse, or totally inappropriate postings on the internet.

And there are consequences. Colleges accept students on the condition that grades and behavior will remain acceptable.

Decision letters contain carefully worded statements that usually read, “Your admission is contingent on continued successful performance,” meaning the last official part of your application process will involve a review of your final transcript as well as a report from your guidance counselor.

Failure to live up to expectations can have very painful results such as
  • a rescinded offer of admission,
  • placement on academic probation before you even start college,
  • a mandatory gap year to grow up, or
  • a reduction in merit-based financial aid.
No kidding, it happens.  Students who earn a ‘D’ during second semester may find they have no college to attend in the fall or a serious reduction in scholarship dollars.

A few years ago, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) reported that 1 in 5 or about 22 percent of colleges surveyed revoked offers. And the average number of offers revoked more than doubled from 10 to 23 per school in one year.

At last year’s Joint Conference between the Potomac &Chesapeake Association for College Admission Counseling (PCACAC) and the Southern Association for College Admission Counseling (SACAC), representatives from the College of William & Mary, the University of North Carolina, and Emory University agreed that they annually revoke as many as 5 offers of admission and send as many as 15 warning letters to transgressing high school students—some demanding an explanation of poor behavior or declining grades.

In an interview with the Daily Pennsylvanian, Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said the Office of Admissions usually sends warning letters to admitted students if they detect a “pattern of lower grades” or a failing grades.  Students are asked to provide an explanation, after which a decision is made on an appropriate course of action.

And sometimes the letters come after graduation.  One local family was put to the test last year tracking down an errant son who had left for a trip to a remote part of South America.  After receiving a final grade report containing two “C’s,” the boy’s prestigious university sent an email demanding an immediate explanation with a clear threat that revocation of his admission was a distinct possibility.

After some considerable effort, the young man was located and provided access to fairly unreliable internet services which he used to email a detailed explanation and apology to the college. He entered his freshman year on academic probation.

Sadly, colleges have more incentive than ever to take back an offer. With record-breaking applicant pools, unexpectedly high yields, and huge wait lists, schools have lots of enthusiastic applicants happy to take the places of previously-admitted students who dropped key academic classes, let grades slip, or otherwise got in trouble.

The University of Virginia invited several thousand students to be on their wait list this year, and not all have been released yet. You can bet a bunch of those kids would jump at the opportunity to grab a spot regardless of how it becomes available.

Most seniors will finish the year knowing they’ve completed a job well-done. This warning is not for you.

For those who haven’t quite managed to turn in your last three English assignments, please come home from the beach now…

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