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Do Homeschoolers Get Senioritis?
Denise Boiko, 4/28/2011

Denise Boiko and her husband Ron homeschooled their two children from K-12, with their daughter Julie (Stanford University '10) now in an MD/PhD program at the University of Pittsburgh and their son Steve a sophomore engineering major at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Denise is the author of a new 400-page book, Homeschooled & Headed for College: Your Road Map for a Successful Journey, which details the entire college preparation and application process for a homeschooler. The book is available on her website www.HomeschoolRoadMap.com.

             Senioritis. Though it may not be listed in your physician's medical dictionary, it is a real malady that traditional students, parents, schoolteachers, and counselors recognize and even come to expect. In a classic case of senioritis, a student begins to lose focus, motivation, and “drive” for completing work with excellence as graduation approaches. In mild cases, students may simply feel a reduced motivation to finish their work—especially once college acceptances are in and the remainder of high school seems to consist of “going through the motions.” In extreme cases, however, students may actually receive D's and F's in their courses.

            Colleges, too, recognize this syndrome—so much so that they warn accepted students to keep their grades up for the final semester of senior year. To underscore the seriousness of their intent, they reserve the right to rescind offers of acceptance if a student's performance drops significantly.

            As a parent of two homeschool graduates, and now as a teacher of several group classes for homeschoolers, I began to be curious about whether homeschoolers, with their nontraditional learning style, typically suffer from this traditional syndrome. I surveyed a number of homeschool graduates, most of whom are now in college, to discover what their experiences were. As I expected, what I found was a mix of comments. Although a few did experience senioritis, most either did not, or experienced only a mild, temporary case. All in all, fewer students than I expected described themselves as having had senioritis.

            If you are a parent of a high school junior or senior, you might like to know how to diagnose, prevent, and treat this malady if it should strike your household. You may also take heart in the fact that many of the typical features of homeschooling help greatly in preventing and treating senioritis.

Causes

            Senioritis results from a complicated mix of factors. By senior year, a college bound student has poured his or her energy into three solid years of challenging courses. In fact, most juniors “load up” on advanced courses and take SAT, ACT, and AP exams so that these will be displayed on their transcripts for college application purposes. With the tough course load and a slew of exams, it's inevitable that some burnout will occur. In many students, burnout is already brewing at the beginning of the senior year.

            However, students have to pour on yet more power to do well in their fall courses and to prepare college applications, write numerous essays, sit for last rounds of SAT exams, and gather recommendations. Time- and stress-wise, preparing college applications equates to adding another academic course to the lineup. Once the second semester of senior year hits, the student may well be fatigued and burnt out, but now a different kind of stress arrives as the student waits for college decisions to roll in. Combining these factors with the fact that seniors frequently take a lighter load second semester, one can understand why many drop their efforts significantly during this time.

            In traditional high schools, seniors who have pushed themselves hard may also begin to feel that they have “outgrown” the high school environment—everything from the classes to the regimented schedule to the social scene. After contemplating a career and enduring the grueling grind of college applications, the daily mingling with a pack of giddy 14-through 16-year-olds no longer has much appeal. What they are now longing for is a personalized schedule, a glimpse of practical pursuits, and a clear track to their future interests. As you might imagine, homeschooling pre-empts this particular senioritis trigger.

Symptoms

            Among the homeschooled students I heard from, common senioritis symptoms included fatigue, lower motivation for academic work, taking longer to complete assignments, and, occasionally, lower grades. Homeschool parents (and I was one of them) may note with dismay that one or two courses slated for the senior year do not actually see completion until the summer—after graduation has already taken place. This creates stress in submitting that final transcript to the college in a timely manner.

            Certain students, while not experiencing academic symptoms, may show other manifestations of the transitions that are coming: anxiety over college acceptances or trepidation about going away to college. While most students are excited about college, some experience sadness or apprehension over the prospect of major changes in their lives. And these emotions may be expressed differently in different students. Homeschoolers, who have enjoyed close family relationships, may have more difficulty with this aspect of senior year than do typical students. Conversely, some homeschoolers may begin to “pull away” from their parents, or show independence. This can come as a surprise to parents who are not expecting any changes in interpersonal dynamics or who themselves are sad and wistful, wanting more time with their fast-growing students.

            Senioritis can be contagious. If a student's group of friends is experiencing low motivation, the peers and their use of their time can pull a “borderline” student a bit further into the senioritis malady. Social outings, festivities, and just “hanging out” with friends may increase now that the pressure is off from college applications. Even students who were not excessively social before senior year may now kick it into high gear and suddenly begin enjoying much more time with friends. This is can be a positive thing, since students should certainly be able to have some fun. The crammed social calendar  will begin to prepare parents for having students away at college—as parents often notice that they never see their students much anyway! (Thank goodness for homeschooling, which allows “together time” during the busy years of high school). Still, if the student is trying to do well in classes, the social time needs to be moderated to a reasonable level.

Prevention and Treatment

            Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for senioritis, but a few principles will help stave off the worst of the cases, and your patient will make it. Here are a few tips:

Help the student develop a healthy perspective on the entire college prep process so that he or she is not stressing too much about it.

Plan some interesting courses for senior year – especially if they are highly practical, creative, or just plain fun.

Advise the student to pace himself or herself as much as possible on tough courses in the junior year, and encourage an early start to college applications—even during the summer. This goes a long way toward preventing heavy burnout during fall semester, which can lead to a rip-roaring case of senioritis in the spring.

Encourage your student to harness his or her energy rather than “giving in.” Some less important activities may need to be scaled back. An exciting, motivating extracurricular activity such as a speech and debate league can definitely help keep up the momentum.

Investigate opportunities for internships or a part-time job in an interesting field.

Include some community college classes in the lineup during the latter part of high school. Interestingly, advice for traditional students frequently mentions that real-world internships and community college classes can help tremendously with a senior's bout with senioritis. The fact that homeschoolers are more likely to participate in such “bridge” activities in the first place may very well contribute to their lower incidence of senioritis.

One student's remedy involved “lots of parties and friends” but she also commented that being in a school play provided a fun diversion and actually helped her to focus.

Another student noted that her stress and demotivation improved after college acceptances, when she “stopped frantically trying to get stuff done and therefore burning out and giving up, and started relaxing back into the routine of things.” 

Keep up the communication between parent and student so you can each share your feelings about the approaching changes, and give each other grace and space as needed!

            With awareness of this common syndrome, as well as a little common sense and proactive planning, you can help your senioritis-vulnerable homeschooled student avoid this malady and get on with real life!


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