Female college student feeling the lack of motivation while on her computer during her senior year.

The Home Stretch of Senior Year Can Drag Students Into a Downward Spiral

The loss of motivation seniors experience during their last semester at school is a problem faced by both high school and college students.

Senior year is supposed to be a wonderful time where undergraduates have the wiggle room to mess around before graduation. Yet, if you’re more studious, it’s time to really buckle down and raise your grade point average. But oh gosh, does it drag. At some point in the spring semester, your gas tank is sputtering on empty, but there are still 60 metaphorical miles until graduation.

There is a cute term for this sputtering — senioritis. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it’s defined as “an ebbing of motivation and effort by school seniors as evidenced by tardiness, absences and lower grades.” This time lands between the beginning and middle of the spring semester. On a personal level, the experience has been a slow spiral downwards toward not caring about classes so long as an above C-minus grade can be maintained. After all, isn’t the saying, “Cs get degrees”?

Yet the running theory, as mentioned in NYU’s blog post, about this “crippling disease” is that senioritis mainly affects high school seniors. In the case of high school students, the worry remains that a decline in academic performance can negatively affect students’ futures, especially with college admissions. Offers can be rescinded, merit-based financial aid taken away, and even the threat of academic probation during freshman year is likely. It is a heavy load to carry if you’re fighting senioritis.

However, there is less discussion of how this affects college students. At some point, there seems to be a shift into thinking college seniors have stronger wills than high school students. But the unfortunate reality is that it could be just as bad. Southern New Hampshire University academic advisor Abby Tincher warns that this is a real experience for many, so joking about it is unwise. Senior year, especially in the spring, is when students need to be pushing forward. She suggests taking classes that are of interest, joining clubs and thinking about the future as a way to avoid senioritis. But most of all, listen to your body and mind. “It’s okay to step back, just set a limit so you get back to work and don’t fall off completely.”

Knowing this, one can hope that senior year might not be so worrisome, right? It depends on each student’s circumstances. Some have health issues — both physical and mental — that could interfere with school. Maybe there is a family emergency or a changing financial situation that leaves students worrying about matters outside of class. Perhaps the largest unforeseen challenge to senior year comes from forces we can’t control, like a pandemic.

As senior year comes closer to the end for the class of 2022, senioritis takes its toll on many. We see the end of the tunnel with in-person graduations and trips planned for post-graduation. We try to keep going, but for some, the combination of stress, anxiety and depression that stems from two years of struggling to stay motivated during COVID-19 has our engines sputtering prematurely.

According to Shoshanna Hemley, a journalist for The Little Hawk student paper, students’ motivation was at an “all-time low.” Much of this can be attributed to students being isolated at home with online classes and little contact with outside communities. While Hemley’s article pertained mostly to high school students, senior year is senior year during COVID-19. Worldwide, the pandemic displaced students from apartments, campus housing and even countries.

For some University of Texas at Austin students, professors and classmates zooming in from their home countries meant later or very early class times. Professors were also dealing with learning how to run an online class. One example of this awkward acclimation can be seen at the Moody College of Communication, where a course on sports reporting and podcasting capstones can’t be easily translated online.

The exhaustion from not knowing how classes will go week by week, coupled with being stuck at home, has led to the class of 2022 seniors burning out by this point. Lance Leys from Tower Broadcast News stated, “Constantly working takes its toll on the human psyche — stress, anxiety and exhaustion are often associated with large workloads managed without attention to free time.”

This can lead to a pattern of overworking until you are burnt out. The unfortunate reality remains that the classes of 2021 and 2022 had to experience this as they finished out their senior year with senioritis breathing down their necks. Final grades often seem like life-or-death situations. If they were unlucky, one would probably be stuck with an upper-level French professor who was on a constant power trip. Either way, it’s understandable that the senior class is driving on empty or breaking down on the side of the road. Perhaps the next few senior years will witness residual impacts from COVID-19 mixed in with senioritis.

Going back to Tincher, she is right in saying that this “disease” is not one to be taken lightly. Having a support system is important when you have to deal with that check engine light on the home stretch. At the very least, she says, it can help to change things up and create a way to hold yourself accountable. Again, it’s okay to need a break. We can get through the rest of senior year to reach graduation.

Rebecca Trevathan, University of Texas at Austin

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Rebecca Trevathan

University of Texas at Austin

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