By: Samantha Bernstein-Naples
As we enter second semester, a noticeable energy shift amongst seniors can be felt echoing throughout the increasingly empty classrooms of Conard. At last, the pressure to maintain a high GPA, extensive involvement in extracurricular activities, and to study for standardized tests has started to release as a pervading attitude of relief that all materials under consideration by colleges have been submitted is accompanied by drops in attendance, effort, studying, concentration, and drive. To last a day without hearing the word “senioritis” whined in the hallways or whispered in classrooms would be a tremendous feat as anticipation for the approaching June 14th graduation date grows. While some will insist that senioritis is nothing more than a petty excuse used by seniors to justify slacking off, research has indicated that senioritis is, in fact, a condition from which many students suffer. Academic advisor Abby Tincher of Southern New Hampshire University confirms that senioritis, primarily defined as a decline in motivation and performance, “is a real thing that people experience” (Wallis, 2018). With the finish line in sight and the external motivation upheld by the promise that colleges and universities will see and assess all academic and extracurricular pursuits, essentially in the rearview mirror, it stands to reason that the tank of fuel that kept even the most highly-motivated students pushing themselves to perform at the highest possible level is dipping for some, running low for others, threatening to run out all together well before graduation day arrives. By reading this article you will learn what it means to experience senioritis, the extent to which Conard seniors are suffering from this affliction, and a number of strategies and coping methods.
First I want to acknowledge that although senioritis is an arguably unpleasant experience for both students and teachers, the decline in the pressure that students feel is not inherently unfavorable. From my own experience as a predominantly honors and AP student, I have felt incredible pressure over my high school years to never allow my grades to falter nor miss an assignment, to study for hours for every exam contributing to my experience of significant stress and anxiety. As opposed to viewing the decline in pressure that is often associated with senioritis as something negative and in need of reapplication, I firmly believe that this shift in expectations can be appreciated and used to allow ourselves to breathe; however, instead of using lessened pressure as inspiration for laziness or inattention, students might use this as an opportunity to seek out new, positive learning motivators. Teachers might also be inclined to search for new ways to encourage or promote learning, methods that aren’t reliant on “learn the material to get an A, review to get a 5 on the AP exam.” Perhaps second-semester senioritis could be used as an opportunity for students to find and for teachers to help them rediscover the joy of learning by shifting away from a grade and test-driven mindset.
The experience of senioritis is unique to each student, however, there are a few common threads that run through many seniors’ experiences as well as some behavioral patterns that can serve as indicators that one is being impacted by this affliction. Feeling a lack of motivation and interest in classes and course material, low energy, and difficulty concentrating, are all common to the senioritis experience. A survey of 146 of Conard’s 367 seniors revealed that 82.9% of respondents have begun to suffer from low energy, 69.7% from lack of interest in getting out of bed, 67.1% from diminished ability to concentrate, and 61.4% from excessive daydreaming. Behavioral indicators include a drop in grades, procrastination, failure to complete assignments, and poor attendance. Of Conard Senior’s, 73.6% have fallen into the pattern of severe procrastination and 62.9% feel a lack of concern about upcoming exams, from which it can reasonably be concluded that time spent studying and preparing has decreased. The staggering number of seniors suffering from low energy illustrates one of the dangers of senioritis. Sufficient energy is key to productiveness and experiencing enjoyment/satisfaction as well as mental and physical health. When energy is depleted and feelings of burnout intensify, it makes even the completion of simple tasks challenging. A severe lack of motivation and difficulty focusing makes studying, doing homework, and even attending class and absorbing new lessons feel more challenging and burdensome thus procrastination and dips in grades and attendance are understandably accompanying factors to the senioritis experience. To disregard senioritis as purely a front put up by students ready to give in to their lazy instincts would be to ignore the 72.6% of Conard seniors surveyed, who have affirmed that they are experiencing this affliction, based on the way their bodies and minds have begun responding differently to the school routine and environment. Writing this article as a second-semester senior, fighting the urge to let my mind wander, to shut my eyes and rest for a few minutes, to wait until tomorrow to finish, I can affirm that to experience senioritis is not a choice that one makes. The drop in energy, the difficulty concentrating, and other symptoms of this affliction are the mind’s natural response to entering the uncharted territory of not having the same reason to perform at a high academic level. By nature AP classes are test-driven, however, for many second-semester seniors, the weight held by the grade and the test has been radically reduced, thus inclination to focus, motivation, and willingness to pour energy into work does not necessarily drop consciously but may have fallen subconsciously, making it incredibly difficult for students to operate in the same manner as in previous semesters. So if grades and tests are no longer adequate motivators, perhaps it's time to find new ones.
As a community, we must confront the problem of senioritis head-on. The easy route for teachers would be to declare senioritis a fabricated, silly excuse for poor behavior, for students, to deem it an inevitable and undefeatable evil that must be accepted or even embraced. Both responses are sure to lead to nothing more than frustration and negative experiences for seniors, teachers, administrators, and family members alike. However, strategies and coping mechanisms do exist to handle senioritis effectively and intentionally. The key to overcoming an affliction defined by the experience of diminished motivation is to find new, positive sources of motivation or incentives for continued effort, attendance, and attention. First, communicating openly about the struggles one is experiencing with people like counselors, teachers, trusted friends, and family members, can help in connecting students to people capable of motivating them. Seniors talking only with seniors having the same senioritis experience will only lead to more severe cases and the refreshed idea that one’s condition is hopeless and unchangeable. It is necessary to find people who will offer you support and will encourage you to persist, who will be there to remind you why the work and the effort you are putting in is significant. Setting goals and looking to the future can also be useful tools. Setting goals that are reasonable and make sense for what you are genuinely interested in accomplishing is deeply valuable, as it gives you something you truly care about to work toward. If what you care about now extends beyond the boundaries of high school and is connected to your plans for next year, looking towards the future and thinking about what you can do now to move closer to where you want to be in the coming years is tremendously helpful in feeling newly motivated and ready to continue working to cross the finish line. Staying organized and setting small goals for the day or the week can also be useful in helping you to accomplish tasks that are compelling to procrastinate. Shifting gears to focusing on what interests you and what you are truly passionate about is also important. While this doesn’t mean abandoning all other responsibilities, it does mean finding renewed energy in doing things that fill you up. Your energy may start to be restored when you can discover or spend more time focusing on aspects of courses or school activities that you truly have an interest in. In addition, giving yourself incentives for completing the tasks that feel the most burdensome can both help in feeling more positive and fulfilled, as well as more accomplished and productive. Giving yourself intentional breaks and mindful periods of rest is greatly beneficial as well. Instead of feeling like you have to complete all of your missing assignments in one day, suddenly overwhelmed by the idea of the three exams you have tomorrow, taking purposeful time to yourself to do something that makes you feel physically and mentally better, is critically important. Reading or listening to music, going for a walk, or exercising, these balance factors are key to avoiding sinking into a depressed rut of feeling unproductive and completely depleted in energy. Lastly, variability and an optimistic mindset are essential. It is profoundly necessary to find ways to break your daily routine, the robotic pattern that school life can create, the complete indifference and paralyzing boredom with all things standard and academic, with life itself. We can all make it to June 14th feeling strong mentally, physically, and emotionally by reminding ourselves of the positive things to come, communicating and leaning on people there to support and motivate us, pursuing interests, making time for breaks, finding ways to insert change into our lives, and maintaining optimism.