Picture it. The year was 1999. I began my last semester of high school. In the fall semester, I filled out and sent off only TWO college applications (much to the chagrin of my college counselor). I received word back from both by January. After being admitted to both, one offered me $300 a semester for books. The other, my eventual undergrad alma mater -- Centenary College of Louisiana -- miraculously offered me a full scholarship covering tuition, room, and board. After doing some cost-benefit analysis, even I realized that fully free was better than a $300 coupon.
Indeed, life was looking pretty good for a young William Ryan Pritchard. After over a decade in school, I had made it. College for free! My intelligence and above average work ethic had been handsomely rewarded far better than I deserved. Mission accomplished! Clearly, I deserved to coast, right? Surely, I could allow the dreaded Senioritis to envelop me in its warm, lazy, hedonistic cocoon.
As it turned out, my college scholarship was contingent on keeping a 3.5 GPA throughout high school. Going into that spring semester of senior year, I hovered at something like a 3.52. If I had attended high school nearly anywhere else in America, keeping the 3.5 would have been a cakewalk. I didn’t attend just any high school, though. I spent my junior and senior campaigns at Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts, one of the most rigorous public high schools in the United States. Every quiz mattered if I were going to keep that college scholarship. Every assignment? Mattered. Every paper? Mattered.
In the end, I was forced to stay on my toes throughout the whole final semester of high school to set myself up for a more successful life. In the end, I was grateful that I did not have the option of coasting. Because I never had the luxury of downshifting from fifth gear to second (… or first… or neutral), I kept working as if the coming transition to college was not such a big deal that it required me to take a really lame four month vacation where I continued to show up to school but existed as an apathetic zombie.
Instead, during my first semester, I found myself surrounded by lots of other college freshmen who still had Acute Senioritis three to four months after they graduated high school. Students skipped 9 a.m. (even 2 p.m.) classes with reckless abandon. Dudes would just hang out in their dorm rooms for days at a time and play Goldeneye or Madden without regard for the normal rules of time or hygiene. The same dudes only ventured out of their dorm rooms for lunch and dinner in the dining hall. Like a sasquatch, they would lumber quietly into the cafeteria, grab a burger and return back to their overpriced increasingly squalid campus hovel.
Some of those students broke out of it after getting a less-than-desirable first semester report card (and an earful from their parents). They snapped out of it and realized the error of their ways, going on to become good students who eventually had meaningful lives and careers. To be sure, a senioritis diagnosis need not be terminal. It does create a habit of inertia that many people find is hard to overcome though.
Sadly, just as many of those students rarely completed college. They lost their scholarships by the end of their first or second semester. They ended up taking 100-level classes two or three times before finally just giving up and going home. Unfortunately, senioritis became a chronic debilitation that extended beyond high school into the rest of their academic lives. Even worse, those students who did not make it through college were now on the hook for student loan payments for the next decade.
Again, as a graduate teaching assistant and university instructor, I saw the same pattern hold true. Not all students who engaged in senioritis struggled in college and dropped out; however, every student I encountered in office hours who struggled in college and eventually dropped out had developed a habit of disengagement in their own education that dated back to high school.
Just to make sure that I wasn’t making this connection too quickly, I reached out to a couple of my previous Episcopal students who are currently in their Freshman year at large state universities. When I asked those Episcopal alums about the toughest part about the transition to college, most echoed the same sentiments. Going from a school like Episcopal where all teachers, administrators, and college counselors knew your name to a large university with large blocks of time between classes where no one checks in on you was tough. One student claimed, “Everyone warns you about academics, too much partying, and living away from home, but nobody really ever talks about how having such an inconsistent schedule can pose a problem when beginning college.” This student did not fall prey to senioritis in the final year at Episcopal, but wondered in our conversation how someone could let off the gas in high school and still handle the transition to a place like LSU, Texas A&M, or University of Alabama seamlessly. “I absolutely think it would be harder,” she said. “It takes a great deal of self control and time management to be able to negotiate a schedule like I had with ease.”
So, as seniors round the bend with graduation and college in sight, I have some suggestions about how and why to combat senioritis:
Seniors, stop thinking about life as having a finish line. You’re never actually finished. The dynamic, interesting, and successful people never reach the finish line. At least none of the ones I’ve worked with or encountered in my relatively short life. They always keep one eye on the present and one eye looking for the next adventure. Read any biography of a person you admire who has had long-term success in business, athletics, politics, or any other pursuit. Nearly all of them talk in terms of never settling but also sticking to it.
Dr. Billy Pritchard
Dr. Billy Pritchard is a native of Winn Parish, Louisiana. He and his wife, Lisa, came to Episcopal in 2015 after spending the previous decade in Buffalo, New York. Dr. Pritchard is a 1999 graduate of the Louisiana School of Math, Science, and the Arts. In addition, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Centenary College of Louisiana, a master’s degree from Ole Miss and doctorate from SUNY-Buffalo. Dr. Pritchard teaches U.S. History, Honors AP U.S. History, American Presidency and the Civil Rights Movement.