After working hard for nearly four years to create a solid academic and extracurricular standing and finally getting their college applications in the mail, many high school seniors fall victim of a common ailment: senioritis.
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“A lot of seniors think that their future plans are in the bag…and that they’ve done all that they need to do to secure their future college plans and prepare for the future but they couldn’t be more wrong,” says Erin Davis, director at McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
Once the college applications are sent off and admission letters start rolling in, students may feel as if they have nothing left to prove and let their grades or class attendance fall to the wayside.
But experts warn waning performances in the final months of senior year can bring serious consequences. Many colleges require a final transcript post-graduation and slacking students risk having their college acceptance letter revoked, says Jon Reider, director of college counseling at San Francisco University High School.
“Look at it this way—you’re going to be up on the stage and when your name is called, you’ll go and get your diploma. You want to feel good about yourself, you want to feel that you’ve earned it, and you want to feel that you’ve finished with honor and dignity,” he says.
High school seniors might be itching for their independence, but parents need to keep their seniors on track and out of trouble this year.
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Parents should sit their senior down at the beginning of the year to discuss expectations and make sure everyone is on the same page in terms of attendance in school and performing academically, suggests Davis.
“The biggest thing is to make sure they know that there is the expectation from a parent’s perspective that prior performance has to continue,” she says.
Equally as important, seniors should express their own expectations, as students are more likely to be successful if they are internally motivated and want to do well on their own, says Shaan Patel, director of SAT Programs at Veritas Prep, a test prep and admissions consulting company.
“Making students aware of their own aspirations will not only help them perform better academically year-round, but also help them bounce back resiliently when times get tough at school.”
Set small, attainable goals
Experts say setting small goals throughout the year can help students keep focused, whether it’s maintaining a certain GPA, completing college applications by a particular date or holding a part- time job.
“One of the most important life skills that a high school senior can learn is multi-tasking and juggling several important things at one time,” says Davis. “These are skills that will prepare them for being able to do this independently when they enter college and there won’t be a mom or dad looking over their shoulder and checking with them every day to ensure that they’ve done these things.”
Patel suggests parents keep their senior motivated by having them write down three goals at the beginning of the year (getting admitted to a particular school, winning a scholarship) and put them on the refrigerator door as a daily reminder to finish off senior year strong.
Encourage taking interesting classes
After completing more mandatory classes, seniors can explore classes that interest them and will keep them engaged. Parents should work with their seniors to identify interesting and applicable classes, especially since students will be picking their course load in college, says Patel.
“When they enter college, they will be ready to select interesting classes, transfer out of undesirable classes at the beginning of the semester, and decide the right major,” he says.
Students will also have the chance to get a sneak peek into courses they may be interested in pursuing at the college level.
“It’s a great opportunity to explore and play around with different disciplines to see what you like and what you don’t like—it exposes them to a variety of things and it shakes things up a little bit when they may get a little bored,” says Davis.
Limit social distractions
Senior year is a time to have fun with friends before going separate ways, but it’s easy to get distracted and into trouble.
While parents can’t control everything that goes on outside of school, it’s important parents explain and enforce responsible behavior.
“There may still be a measure of immaturity that parents need to help them through--being involved with who their friends are and how they spend time with those friends that share that the same values as your family, following curfew, keeping school nights free of distraction so that they can stay focused on their academics,” Davis says.
Although seniors may be impatient for their freedom from parental rules, it’s essential for parents to stand their ground and keep open communication, says Reider.
“There is a reason for rules and that’s to help you lead a moderate, balanced life and we’re trying to teach you good habits,” he says. “College is not about freedom, though it may feel that way. College is about responsibility.”