Fighting the ‘Senior Slump’

Help your child ensure their last year of high school gets them into college
By Dominique Padurano, Crimson Coaching
August 3, 2018 Last Updated: August 6, 2018

Parents frequently ask me, a college application coach and academic tutor, how they can prepare their children for college.  Those with young children should encourage them to read books, develop numeracy, and become independent learners who take intellectual risks and, occasionally, fail.  Once children enter high school, however, the rules of thumb grow a bit more complicated.

During the next four months, I’ll share tips for readying teens in each of the four high school years for college.  Since seniors have the least time left, we’ll start with them, and work backward each month until we reach freshmen in November. 

[Feel free to reach out to me before then at info@crimsoncoaching.com with any questions; we might be able to incorporate your concerns into future columns.]

Some high school teachers dread teaching twelfth graders because of “senior slump.”  The stress of junior year testing and applying to college in the fall causes many twelfth graders to disengage from high school right after early applications are due on November 1.  For some, “senior slump” has crept forward into September and October.

If this seems like your teen, she’s likely overwhelmed by the prospect of choosing and applying to colleges.  As a teacher, I once wrote a letter of recommendation for a student who applied to 23 universities on three different continents.  Is it any wonder so many seniors have slumped into procrastination mode by early fall?  How can you, as a parent, help your child maintain interest in high school and look to the future with excitement?

1. Remember that fear rather than laziness is often the source of procrastination.

For some teens, the prospect of leaving home for university kicks their work ethic into high gear.  For others, that thought can paralyze.  If you notice your child avoiding tasks related to college applications—from filling out the Common App to finalizing his choices of universities—sit him down for a heart to heart.  Share with him a time when you were afraid and how you overcame that fear.  Reassure him that with consistent effort, everything that he needs to get done will be accomplished.

2.  Help your teen maximize every day until the first deadline.

Whether your child started her personal statement in June or hasn’t even checked the Common Application website, acknowledge (and accept) the amount of time she has left until her first application is due.  Next, list the various elements that first application (or first several applications) contain(s). 

For example: (1) personal statement; (2) three supplemental essays; (3) demographic information for the Common App website; (4) two teachers’ letters of recommendation; (5) guidance counselor’s approval on the entire package. 

Since your child might have a hard deadline on the last item, you might want to consider that her due date instead of November 1 (the most common early application deadline) or January 1 (the most common regular application deadline).  Then, break each item on the list into as many smaller components as you can, and pencil interim due dates on a big calendar that you can both see every day. Check in with your teen each morning to see how progress on the previous day’s task went, and re-adjust the schedule as needed.

3. Keep your child excited about school—this year and for the future.

It’s a shame when twelfth graders “slump.”  They miss out on an important year of growth—and if a university waitlists them, its admissions office will request to see the senior year grades when making its final decision.  Slumping through senior year could derail your child’s hopes of acceptance into his dream college.

Regardless of whether a student stays committed to his studies during senior year, some will not receive acceptance to their top choices.  Parents can play a decisive role in shaping a child’s perspective during this time.  First, try to hide your own disappointment and never blame your child for the college’s decision.  University admissions are so competitive and based on so many external concerns, that it’s impossible to point to one factor that swayed the decision. 

Instead, reiterate that your child can have an amazing college experience anywhere.  Hopefully, she applied to a healthy mix of “reach,” “target” and “safe” schools and has been accepted to several among them.  If you’re able, visit her top two or three choices, and encourage her to envision herself at each one during the next four years.  By viewing her future with optimism, you may be able to coax her into making a choice that’s not only good for her future, but one about which you all can be excited and proud.

Next month, we’ll address what parents can do to get children college-ready during their junior year.  Till then, see you on Twitter (@CrimsonCoaching) and Facebook (Crimson Coaching)!

Dominique Padurano, Ph.D., is the President of Crimson Coaching™ (www.crimsoncoaching.com).  A magna cum laude graduate of Harvard, Dr. P. coaches students online and in-person through the college application process and teaches them skills, subjects and testing strategies.  Contact her at info@crimsoncoaching.com.