This is the first of two posts about the senioritis sometimes experienced by college seniors. In this post we look at some of the roots or causes of your student’s feelings. In our next post, we’ll consider what this senioritis may look like and how you, as a parent, might help your student cope.
We hear a lot about senioritis and high school seniors. It’s that apathy and lack of motivation that hits in the latter part of their senior year when they’ve been accepted to college and they let their guard down and struggle to keep their grades up and stay focused on school. Severe senioritis in that last year of high school could even result in having a college rescind a student’s admission, so it can be a serious ailment.
We hear less about senioritis during the last year of college, but it exists. Often, it looks much like high school senioritis. Your student has been in school now for sixteen or more years, and he is tired of being a student, loses focus and motivation, skips classes, does poorly on assignments, and generally appears unengaged.
College senioritis, however, is often more than simple “school fatigue.” College seniors may experience this malady for some very different reasons than apathy about school. College seniors may feel a heightened level of anxiety and stress. If it appears that your college student may be suffering from senioritis, consider some of these possible causes before you and your senior discuss the problem.
- Finality – College seniors are often like a “deer in the headlights,” not knowing what to do now. They have suddenly come face to face with the realization of the finality of this last semester. They are at the edge of the cliff facing the abyss of the unknown. Although many high school seniors are anxious about beginning college, they know that what is ahead is more school. Your student has been a student since she began pre-school. It is part of her identity. Although she may be looking forward to being done with classes, she is not sure what lies ahead for her, what it will be like, or who she will be when she is no longer a student.
- Job pressure – There is tremendous pressure on college seniors not only to find a job, but to find the “right” job. Just as high school seniors may feel the pressure to find the one perfect college for them, college seniors feel that there is only one right job for them and they need to find it – now.
- Life – Finishing college comes with a host of other life questions. Where will your student live? Will he be able to support himself? Will he be leaving, moving in with, marrying a partner? Will he be able to maintain a social life? Will he be able to continue to function without a support system around him? Some students even graduate from college already concerned about saving for retirement because they have watched previous generations struggle during the recession.
- Expectations – Your student may be feeling the expectations of friends and family weigh heavily. College was a big investment and the pressure is on to make it pay off.
- Debt – Most students today graduate from college with huge debt. Students are aware that they will need to begin repaying their loans within six months of finishing school, and they know that they will likely be repaying that debt for many years. It is a heavy burden to assume.
- Friends – Friends will be spreading out – possibly all around the country. When your student left her hometown for college, she knew that it was possible that friends would be returning home, at least occasionally, because family roots were there. Now, college friends may be returning to far flung places. Even with today’s technology to help stay in touch, your student may worry that she will be losing her social circle.
- Graduate school – If your student is going on to graduate school, there is, of course, the pressure to find just the right school, but also to narrow down his field of study to an area of specialization.
- Priorities – Your student may be struggling with a shift in his priorities as he balances finishing school and having one foot in the “real” world. He may have an internship, practicum, or capstone experience that places him daily in the world for which he has prepared. He may question the relevance of finishing some of his classroom work. He is becoming increasingly focused on life after college and beyond his classes. He is impatient to be done.
- Stuff – Your student may quite simply be overwhelmed by all that needs to be done during this last semester. Not only is she expected to have her resume and cover letters perfected, she should be interviewing and applying to jobs. She may also have tasks that need to be done to complete college: Intent to Graduate forms, checking and completing degree requirements, attending senior events, ordering cap and gown, finishing theses or capstone projects.
- Comfort – Your student may be realizing how comfortable college really is. No matter how much he has complained over the years about the food and the conditions of the dorms and the laundry, he now realizes that having someone cook for you, clean (at least some areas) your home for you, having your friends in the room next door, and having entertainment (often free) a short walk away is really pretty nice.
- Independence – Although there is an appeal to no longer have to attend classes and live by residence hall rules, your student may be realizing that a job may mean 9-5 work five days a week – and that the reality is that she may be returning home to live with her parents as so many in the boomerang generation do. That freedom that she covets may not be what she had hoped for.
- Realism – Your student has hit a moment when optimism hits realism. That career that has sounded so ideal, those skills he has been honing, the dream job he has been coveting, may now lose some of their luster as he realizes that he’ll know less than most people he will be working with and he’ll be at the bottom of the career ladder – if he can get a job at all. He may feel discouraged and desperate.
- Adulthood – The appeal of being “an adult” may not be as bright as we think. Recent studies on this emerging adult age group indicate that these individuals are in no hurry to become adults. They are not as impatient as earlier generations to take on the responsibilities that society often thrusts on them.
The reasons that your college student may experience senioritis may be more diverse than you realize. While most students don’t experience all of these causes, think carefully about whether any of these might apply to your student. Some may be hidden reasons, but understanding the root of your student’s possible fears is important as a beginning to addressing them.
In our next post we’ll talk about how college senioritis may manifest itself and offer some suggestions about how you, as a (still) college parent can help your student to cope.
(For some practical suggestions that your college senior can put into place right away, see this recent post on HuffPost College.)