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Posted at 1:00 PM ET, 04/24/2010

Senior slump: A cautionary tale

By Valerie Strauss

My guest is college admissions consultant Bruce Vinik, president of Vinik Educational Placement Services, Inc., in Cabin John, Md.

By Bruce Vinik
Senior Slump. It’s a reality for thousands of students at this time of year.

As high school graduation gets closer and the weather warms up, it becomes increasingly difficult for many 12th graders to focus on their school work and do what they need to do. As the beginning of May approaches, even high achieving students give serious consideration to skipping their Advanced Placement exams and heading to the beach.

But senior slump is serious business to colleges.

Most of those highly coveted acceptance letters that seniors receive include a friendly warning that their admission is contingent upon the successful completion of 12th grade.

And colleges do check to make sure that incoming freshman have successfully completed twelfth grade by reviewing their final high school transcripts over the summer.

Here's a cautionary tale: Toward the end of July last year, I received a phone call from a mother who was quite upset. Her daughter, who was about to begin the process of packing for college, had just received a thin envelope from the university where she planned to spend the next four years.

Inside this envelope was a letter from the dean of students who had reviewed Louise’s final high school grades and was not convinced that she was ready for college. The dean was extremely concerned about the drop in Louise’s grades during the second half of senior year from A’s and B’s to mostly C’s.

He asked her to produce a detailed plan of action for the first semester of college but made clear that submitting a plan would not automatically allow her to keep her spot in the freshman class.

Over the next week, I worked with Louise to devise a strategy to help her make a successful transition to college. It included regular meetings with her teachers and her advisor, limits on extracurricular activities and a reduced course load. Louise submitted the plan and, after a few anxious days, received a stamp of approval from the dean.

Louise became an official member of the class of 2013 again, though she was placed on academic probation for the first semester.

While colleges understand that seniors are still teenagers and that a certain amount of slipping toward the end of 12thh grade is inevitable, they do expect students to take their academic responsibilities seriously up to graduation. Fortunately, most do.

But those seniors who decide that summer begins in late April may well find themselves in for a rude awakening when a thin envelope arrives in the middle of their real summer vacation.


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By Valerie Strauss  | April 24, 2010; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Bruce Vinik, College Admissions, Guest Bloggers, High School  | Tags:  college admissions, getting into college, grades and college, senior slump, senior year grades  
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If you're a senior and you're not slumping you're missing out. Shoot, even if you're not a senior you should be slumping. People who excel in school do not necessarily excel in the workplace and vice versa, have as much fun now while you can and then work hard on the job where it really matters.

Posted by: PowerBoater69 | April 24, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Valerie this sort of post acceptance anecdotal scare from a person who makes money from students' angst is unhelpful. What would be helpful is if you have some hard data to suggest how often colleges act on threats to withdraw admissions' offers and under what circumstances.

Posted by: patrickmattimore1 | April 24, 2010 10:33 PM | Report abuse

PowerBoater69, that's the worst advice I've ever heard. How are you going to work hard on the job if you can't get a job to work hard at because you flunked out of school and couldn't get into college?

Posted by: sarahee | April 24, 2010 10:36 PM | Report abuse

Senior slump doesn't just happen to seniors. I teach 5th graders who are on their way to middle school. This is the hardest time of the year. Same thing with the 8th graders going to high school.

With all the reform proposals being kicked around these days, I am honestly surprised that going from a semester to trimester type of year isn't one of them.

Posted by: flteacher05 | April 25, 2010 8:36 AM | Report abuse

First, the colleges insist that students get admitted long before the end of senior year. Then they even admit them earlier if their grades are good. Then they complain that the students who are admitted don't work as hard.

Why am I not surprised? You don't see concert-goers sitting in line at the ticket window once they have gotten their tickets, do you?

Let's go back to the days when a high school graduate could show up on campus in August or even September, hand over his transcript, take a few tests, pay his tuition, find a boarding house to live in and a part-time job, and be set for the semester.

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