May 21, 2014

When ‘senioritis’ becomes epidemic

Penn sends warning letters to some admitted students every year.

For high school teachers and counselors, the symptoms of “senioritis” are all too familiar—an “I don’t care attitude” characterized by lack of motivation and general bad behavior.

It usually strikes some time shortly after seniors receive college acceptance letters. For those with early results, symptoms may appear as soon as mid-December. 

School administrators report, however, that the onset of senioritis usually coincides with warm weather and only becomes epidemic once the last Advanced Placement test has been completed.  It tends to be very contagious among second semester seniors, who are “so over” high school, they put social before school.

The CDC doesn’t track senioritis.  But judging by the uptick in daytime activity at the mall—before, after, and during school hours—it seems that huge numbers of 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, dropping out of extracurricular activities, failed tests, and way too many lapses in judgment or integrity. You can chart outcomes on a graph: as absenteeism increases, grades decline.

And devoting class time to Instagram and Twitter may be a sign that senioritis is out of control.

For 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 school 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  • a rescinded offer of admission,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 begin college,
  • delayed or second semester start
  • remedial coursework
  • a mandatory gap year to grow up, or
  • a reduction in financial aid.
No kidding, these things happen.  Seniors who earn D’s during second semester may find they have no college to attend in the fall or a serious loss of 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.

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 it can be really costly.

For example, Wilkes University (PA) gives merit-based financial aid based in part on class rank. "[Students] were awarded one merit level based on their class rank at the point of application, but final transcripts showed that their class rank had fallen to such a level that they no longer qualified for the original merit level," the dean of enrollment services reported on the NACAC website. "The damage ranged from $1,000 per year to over $3,000 per year in merit aid."

Sometimes the alert doesn’t come until after graduation.  One local family was put to the test tracking down an errant son who took off for a mission 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 possible.

The young man was eventually located and provided access to internet services which he used to email a detailed explanation and apology to the college. He entered his freshman year on academic probation.

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

In March, University of Virginia invited several thousand students to be on their wait list, 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 math assignments, please come home from the beach now…

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