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If you feel like you’ve got a bad case of senioritis or are in a sophomore slump, it’s legit—and you’re not alone. It’s common for students to experience this lack of motivation in high school. STOCK PHOTO

By Rachel Tenuta, Fremd
and Laura Bartusiak, Woodlands Academy

As second semester begins, students get antsy—especially seniors. Acceptance letters pile up, scholarship packages are being discussed and final decisions are made. With all the chaos of college, seniors often forget they still have an entire semester of high school left. All the college talk leads to the inevitable diagnosis: Senioritis.

“It’s always been there, I had it. I wanted to get done. It’s something that’s natural I think,” says Fremd guidance, college and career counselor John Baima. “They are already starting the next level before they finish this one.”

A large misconception with senioritis, though, is that students aren’t doing their work at all while “suffering” from this high school malady. But for students such as Palatine senior Jessie Hedrick, college-related work just takes priority over everyday homework assignments.

“I would do homework that was due the soonest (first) and then I would work on my college (application) stuff,” she says. “I (felt) like there was more stress and more pressure on that because that’s my whole future.”

Once students receive acceptance letters from their top schools, senioritis really hits. Baima explains that a lot of the reason senioritis is so prevalent is because students find out about college so early. The long period of time between getting accepted to college and actually going affects seniors because they finally have solid future plans.

“Our system has created this,” Baima says.

Niles North senior Vi-Vien Bui says she thinks fellow students get senioritis because as they’re applying to colleges and being stacked up against their peers, “many of them see the futility of even trying in school anymore” because it’s already too late in the game to make a difference for their future. “After trying—well, some of them—for so long, it’s easy to give up.”

Eli Finkel, a professor of social psychology at Northwestern University, links senioritis with the psychological term “goal satiation.” This means that once seniors have accomplished their goal of getting into college, their motivation to continue doing well is substantially decreased.

“Given that many seniors presumably start to conclude that they will achieve their goal to graduate, or have already achieved their goal of getting into college or getting a job,” Finkel says, “this preliminary sense of satisfaction with one’s goal pursuit is likely to undermine their motivation to work hard on the goal.”
In other words: “…They slack off,” because they can, Finkel says.

While some students demonstrate goal satiation others just use senioritis as an excuse, according to Hedrick.

“It’s legitimately really stressful,” Hedrick says. “But I do think for a lot of kids it’s just an excuse of ‘Oh, I have senioritis, so don’t blame me.’ But it’s ultimately your fault … whether you get your homework done or not.”

While senioritis is talked about by everyone from freshmen to seniors, a lesser-known struggle is had by sophomores. After completing freshman year and successfully transitioning into high school, sophomores sometimes tend to get into an academic slump. No longer the new guy, but also not yet experiencing the intense pressure of college applications felt by upperclassmen, sophomores may feel they can coast for a bit.

Fremd English teacher Grant Dawson has taught freshmen and sophomores and acknowledges a difference, but avoids the term “sophomore slump.”

“(Sophomores) have that year under their belt so that they understand who they are as workers and as learners,” Dawson says. “It’s really just them understanding ‘OK, I know that math is a subject that I struggle in, I need to focus more on math, and English is something I know I can do pretty well at a high school level,” he says. “It’s just refocusing energy on different things at different times.”

Deerfield sophomore Elliot Lohr says that so far he has avoided this so-called “slump” phase.

“I don’t think I’m (going to get sophomore slump) because I’ve always been consistent with my grades,” Lohr says. “Preventing it would just be keep studying and make sure I don’t waste time playing video games.”

Finkel says goal satiation is also to blame for the sophomore slump mentality, and that it can also be observed in student athletes in high school and college, and even in the professional world.

For example, he notes “sophomore slump” is often applied to athletes or musicians who achieve major success during their rookie seasons or with their debut albums, but experience considerably less success for their second seasons or albums.

“Given that most professional athletes and musicians have worked hard to achieve their initial success, and that initial success certainly represents a major goal achievement, the sense of accomplishment may well undermine the motivation to work as hard for continued achievements,” just as with students, Finkel says.

>> How do you deal with senioritis or the sophomore slump? Let us know below in the comments.

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The Mash is the Chicago Tribune's newspaper and website written for teens, by teens. The paper is distributed for free each Thursday at Chicago-area high schools and is written largely by high school students.

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