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How Much Does Senior Year Actually Matter for College Admissions?
Every high school senior has experienced it — a late night spent cramming for a test or completing a project that you probably shouldn’t have put off for so long, right eye twitching with exhaustion, clock striking midnight. You ask yourself: is this worth it?
As senioritis claims your classmates one by one, it’s tempting to succumb as well. But how exactly does your performance in your senior year impact your chances of admission to your dream school? What other unintended consequences can result from taking it a little too easy? Read on about the importance of your senior year.
How Senior Year Affects Your Application
You might think that because your applications are submitted so early in the school year, your grades from senior year can’t matter all that much; after all, many schools’ applications are due in November — before the grades for your first semester are even finalized.
In truth, senior year grades (at least for the first semester) can actually weigh pretty heavily on an adcom’s evaluation of your application. For example, Princeton’s website says the following about senior year grades:
It is important that you continue to excel in your classes during your final year of high school. If you are admitted, your counselor is asked to send us your final grades for the senior year with the Final Report. Admission is conditional upon your successful completion of the senior year.
Even if a college’s deadline for application is before the finalization of grades for the first semester, colleges usually require a mid-year report for each student that includes their final grades for the first semester. If your grades drop significantly or you take a noticeably lighter course load, this can harm your chances of admission in a serious way.
This is true not only for grades but for extracurricular involvement as well. Don’t ignore your responsibilities as club president or team captain; in fact, senior year is a great time to excel in all your leadership roles, as that can help you snag glowing recommendations or collect impressive accolades just in time to add to your application. Even if you qualify for the state competition for debate or are named MVP of your sports team later in the year, you can still send updates to colleges via email or through admissions portals.
The Importance of Second Semester
First semester usually isn’t when senioritis is most likely to strike; actually, it’s the spring months (when staying up past 10 pm to finish your homework seems physically impossible) that are the most dangerous time for a senior’s GPA. Even if you muster up the motivation to earn straight A’s fall semester, once you’ve already been accepted into college, pulling all-nighters to keep your grades up may not feel worth the effort anymore.
However, getting an acceptance letter isn’t a guarantee you’ll be allowed to study on campus come fall. In addition to mid-year reports, counselors also send colleges end-of-year reports that include your grades from second semester.
If the difficulty of your course load and your GPA aren’t up to par with your previous performance in high school, your offer of admission can be rescinded; essentially, the school “unaccepts” you. Poor extracurricular involvement and disciplinary issues can also result in rescinded admission.
Getting off the Waitlist
If you’ve been waitlisted at your top-choice college, closing out your senior year strong — both in academics and extracurricular activities — is your best bet for turning a wait list letter into an acceptance letter.
When selecting students for admission from the waitlist, admissions committees are looking for students who are both extremely interested in matriculating and most qualified to attend the school in question. If you slack off senior year, you’re sending a message that you a) aren’t particularly concerned with getting off the waitlist, and b) you aren’t ready to handle the academic and extracurricular challenges of college.
Performing well during your second semester is especially crucial for cinching those waitlist spots. If you slacked off first semester, that could have factored into adcoms’ decision to place you on the waitlist in the first place, and reaffirming your dedication to academics and your extracurricular pursuits will show you’re ready and able to succeed at their institution.
Gunning for the Valedictorian Spot
If you’re vying for a valedictorian or salutatorian position, keeping your grades up should be a top priority. No matter how well you did in freshman, sophomore, and junior years, if you allow your performance to slip senior year, the odds of nailing a spot at the top of the class are not in your favor.
There are practical reasons to aim for the valedictorian, salutatorian, or other top spots in your class other than bragging rights. Many public university systems grant automatic admission to students in the top 10% of their high school class, or another similar percentile. Receiving poor grades senior year might bump you out of the top percentages and endanger your guaranteed spot. A high class rank can also factor into qualifications for certain scholarships — which brings us to the next point.
While you can (and should) begin applying for scholarships as early as possible, most students focus their scholarship search efforts in the spring. Accordingly, first semester, senior-year grades are usually considered by scholarship committees. In their eyes, poor performance senior year can indicate you’ll perform poorly in college as well, and they’re unlikely to award money to students they don’t believe will excel once they start college.
There are also minimum GPA requirements for many scholarships. Allowing your grades to drop senior year and drag down your cumulative GPA can disqualify you from many valuable scholarships you would have had a shot at otherwise.
A falling GPA can have an impact not only on private scholarships but institution-granted funds as well. If you’re planning on receiving merit aid, doing poorly in school, allowing your extracurricular involvement to flag, or running into disciplinary trouble can jeopardize your scholarship or your place in an honors program.
Ignorance may be bliss when it comes to how much senior year can truly make a difference in your academic career; you’ve put in the work over the last few years, and it’s tempting to lie back and place your responsibilities on hold until college rolls around. However, armed with the facts on how your grades, extracurricular involvement, and disciplinary record factor into the admissions and scholarship granting processes, you’ll be on track to finish high school strong.
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