The Academic Epidemic: Some Seniors Lose Motivation Once they Enter Second Semester

The Academic Epidemic: Some Seniors Lose Motivation Once they Enter Second Semester

Photo Illustration by Kristin Kuwada and Kitty Luo

After discussing genetic mutations in AP Biology, the conversation took a lighthearted turn to talk about a condition more relatable to students. The symptoms for “senioritis,” including lack of motivation and oversleeping, seemed all too familiar to Eitán Sneider ’17. While he listed the side effects, Sneider’s teacher stared unfalteringly at him, confirming his diagnosis.

“I probably pushed back some assignments more than I should have, but I also definitely started putting in less effort,” Sneider said. “I think as soon as I got accepted into a school that wasn’t my safety, almost all of my motivation went straight down the drain.”

He said he felt he could afford to slack off second semester because he had performed well in his academic classes in the beginning of the year.

“I still completed all of my assignments even if it was last minute, and I would often find myself cramming for a test the minute before,” Sneider said. “I got sent an email that reminded all admitted students that our admission was contingent upon receiving our final transcript, and I was a little worried, but ultimately my grades didn’t drop too much, so it wasn’t that bad.”

According to data collected by Upper School Attendance Coordinator Gabe Preciado, Sneider’s attitude is not uncommon among seniors. In the 2016-2017 school year, students reported 4,829 absences in first semester. During second semester, that number went up to 8,772 absences as of press time.

The number of tardies also increased, going up from 327 first semester to 563 second semester. Reasons for absences include illness, appointments, sports, college trips and field trips.

“After spring break is when things start changing,” Preciado said. “That’s because of Coachella and other activities that seniors partake in. It’s a cycle. Once they start missing school, then it becomes easier for them to miss on a regular basis.”

If a student has 20 absences in a full-year class or 10 absences in a semester class, they run the risk of not receiving credit for that class. Any absence that is not resolved within two school days or any reports of cutting class warrant a detention, Preciado said.

To combat this trend, Preciado suggested aligning the school year to the AP season in early May, so that the year begins and ends earlier.

“A lot of times, seniors might have certain periods that they only have on their schedules, so they’re less inclined to come,” Preciado said. “The main hook for juniors is that they still have college looming over them. Seniors don’t have that, so that’s a big part of it. For them, it’s already in the bag, so why go to class?”

After sitting in on an Unconventional Leadership class, President Rick Commons also thought of alternatives for senior schedules by introducing optional classes.

“The students who provided those ideas acknowledged that if it were optional, people might very well not come,” Commons said. “The downside is that this is a really fun time of year for seniors because they suddenly have, after a very, very intense period of time, a lot of space to enjoy school and spend time with friends.”

Lexi Block ’17 said she still worked to maintain her grades second semester but was able to decrease her stress levels because she felt more secure about life after high school.

“Knowing for so long that I got into a school, even if it wasn’t my first choice, was the biggest relief,” Block said. “It’s not even so much that you’re doing all that much less work, it’s just less pressure to do well, to reach a certain standard, because it matters so much less, so you can kind of relax a little bit and just enjoy the work rather than being forced to do it.”

She said that once AP classes were over, she was able to focus on the classes that she was most interested in.

“Second semester, it’s easier for me to come to school because I have so few classes, so I get to sleep in, and it’s just the fun stuff,” Block said. “The work is more fun to me and it becomes less tedious when you have less to do, like working on projects and not having to do the random assignments that I don’t feel like doing.”

Upper school dean Jennifer Cardillo said she notices her students beginning to disengage from their schoolwork during second semester and wants them to still be motivated to learn.

“I love to see students learning for the sake of learning, and so I always hope that their academic lives won’t be completely outcome-driven and that some curiosity and interest in course material will continue to animate seniors at the end of the year,” Cardillo said. “I want students to want to learn, regardless of whether anyone is watching.”

She said while seniors tend to care less about their grades as the end of the year approaches, Second semester grades can still help certain students in the college process.

“Many of my seniors ended up on waitlists and would have loved to be able to report details of strong second semester academic work to boost their odds of getting in off of those waitlists,” Cardillo said. “The colleges in which seniors enroll will see their second semester grades. They have worked hard to impress those schools before they applied. They might want to continue impressing their school of choice with their second semester accomplishments.”

If a student’s grades drop drastically, Cardillo explained, they run the risk of facing enrollment or academic consequences from their college.

“Poor academic work during senior spring can spark genuine concerns about a student’s college-readiness or can make it tempting for a school to offer a spot, instead, to a strong and eager student from the waitlist who remains in excellent academic standing at the end of the year,” Cardillo said. “They might send a letter expressing their concern or disappointment and asking for an explanation. They might notify a student that he or she will begin freshman year on academic probation. And they can rescind an offer of admission if their concern is serious enough.”

Kevin Wesel ’17, who was placed on the waitlist for one of his top choice colleges, said he made more of an effort to keep up his work ethic.

“I definitely was more compelled to keep my grades up than my peers who had gotten in early, but it wasn’t a huge problem for me to spend an hour each school day working,” Wesel said. “After results came out, I was happy I did, since I could choose to send third quarter grades to those colleges knowing that they either would be helpful or wouldn’t matter.”

While he said he was glad he worked hard until the end of the school year, Wesel said it was difficult to have a different college application experience than his peers.

“It was a little sad to not know for sure where I was going to college,” Wesel said. “After December, many of my friends felt calm and free and could really enjoy the rest of senior year. But while I still had a positive experience, my college process finished five months later.”

At Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences, where AP classes are not offered, senior Noah Simon said he thinks attendance levels for seniors remain relatively constant throughout the year.

“I think people relax into their college choices and care more about their friends and their high school experience in general,” Simon said. “In lieu of working toward a single test, more students are motivated to work until the end. There is a dip in effort for a lot of people, but not necessarily a large one.”

Marlborough School seniors finished school May 17 this year because they do not take finals. After their last day of school, they went on a class trip to Hawaii from May 20-24.

“Ending school early pushed me to want to finish strong, knowing the finish line was right around the corner,” Marlborough senior Lily Grigsby-Brown said. “Personally, I showed up for all of the day because I knew the end was near and wanted to spend it with my friends, regardless of if I only had one class left.”

Loyola High School senior P.J. Shoemaker said seniors at his school experience senioritis from as early as first semester because of a special schedule.

“Seniors finish first semester one month before the rest of the school, during the month of January, and do a community service project,” Shoemaker said. “This kind of starts us off in the second semester already checked out. I definitely feel less motivated to work and show up to class.”

He said that once APs are over, it’s up to the individual teachers to decide the curriculum for the remainder of the school year.

“Typically an AP class after the exam will give a long-term project due at the end of the year that we work on during class periods,” Shoemaker said. “Some of my teachers graded easier and others graded even harder to try and force you to work.”

History teacher Francine Werner said she does tend to grade seniors slightly different in first quarter.

“If a grade is marginal first quarter, then I’m more likely to give the benefit of the doubt, like I would for a sophomore or junior at the end of the year,” Werner said. “I’m more likely to do that at the beginning of the year then toughen up a little bit, but most of them try pretty hard up until the end.”

She said that while the work might drop off for some seniors, the class dynamic still depends on certain seniors.

“In any class there’s a critical mass, and if your critical mass is still there, then what happens to an occasional person here or there doesn’t have an effect on the entire class,” Werner said. “Senioritis is the only thing about high school that I have no innate sympathy for. I don’t like the lame duck attitude, and I don’t like people thinking they can skate through APs. If you sign up for something, you finish what you started. I don’t think badly of anybody who suffers from it, but I certainly don’t encourage it.”

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