The Importance of Senior Year

Somehow a large number of you (and by you I mean, “high school students,” also known as, “Facebook users that find anyone over 25 on Facebook pretty creepy”) are either hitting the homestretch of your senior year, or you are in midst of selecting your senior year classes (or just picked them, or about to pick them – whatever, don’t quibble). A smaller portion of you (and by smaller portion I mean, “a lot” and you I mean, “people who believe that Coke and Coke Zero staff really have a serious rivalry going”) are under the bizarre and entirely mistaken impression that senior year is unimportant. In my ongoing quest to reduce cluelessness, I will hereby eradicate this myth once and for all.

But before I get around to the eradication, I’ll admit there are cases where it’s at least close to true. For some colleges and universities where your scores and grades are WAY above their average, the senior year may play very little role in the admission process, at least initially. Your performance through junior year may be sufficient for a decision.

For most of you, however, the admissions counselors/committee/computer will want additional data, and that data is most likely to be found in your senior year. That may mean, for you early action/decision types, looking at what courses you decided to take. For most, it will mean actually seeing your grades in senior year.

There are even those of you where the senior year is your chance to change things to a large degree. My hardest admission decisions usually follow that pattern. I had two this year that found their way to my desk after review by the admissions committee. Both had truly heart-wrenching stories behind them. Let me share that after 20 years in admissions it takes quite a bit to even nudge my heart, let along wrench it, and to have it happen twice in a season is fairly exceptional. In one case grades were terrible up until late in junior year. Then, suddenly, the student had spectacular grades, all the while in a very rigorous schedule. I waited to see most of senior year, and the grades held strong – clearly the student had moved past the awful experiences and found a way to succeed. The other student had a weaker schedule. Like student A, grades started to improve, but senior year was much less rigorous (no math or science courses), and the grades weren’t as strong. So student A was admitted, while I’m working directly with student B to find some other options – each decision based almost entirely on senior year performance.

Finally, and I hope most of you knew this was coming, even if we admit you, we still want to see your final grades. In most cases we only act on a pretty severe drop in grades, but there are exceptions. Enrollment has gotten harder and harder to predict as students apply to more and more schools, and that’s especially true with all the uncertainty about the economy. Many schools are saying they will admit more students, thinking fewer will accept their offer. If those schools are WRONG, they may end up with more students than they want. Not be a buzz kill, but if you are admitted to a school that ends up with way more students than they want, and your senior year grades go down at the end, that may be an excuse for that school to, and I yes I realize this is unfortunate choice of language, thin the herd.

So, senior year important. Take a lot of challenging courses, and do well in them – all the way to the end of the year. And you should also floss – it won’t help with admissions, but dental health is just plain important. Be seeing you.


37 Responses

  1. This somewhat scares me, since I’ve had a slight drop in my senior year, although I have various excuses and rebuttals, that are acceptable, to explain this drop. I’m still somewhat worried.

    If i go from a 3.12(cumulative) to a 2.98, basically because of one C in a senior year class, should I be worried?

    I am going to attend GMU by the way, and this is why I’m worried. I wonder if GMU may have to “thin the herd” since this years freshmen class will be bigger than ever.


    • Even if a school is thinning the herd, one ‘C’ really isn’t likely to trigger a deny.

  2. thanks for your help! I enjoyed hearing you speak at mason on sunday for the spring preview. Made me wonder if you chose this job over a career in stand up comedy!

    • Sadly I am only funny when doing my admissions shtick. When speaking on other subjects I am torturously boring.

  3. What if the C is a 2 period class?

    • For most schools that will look like 2 C’s. I suspect you’re fine, but I could see scenarios that would at least get you a letter wondering what the heck is going on – say you were getting an A in that 2 period class, and not only did that class drop to a ‘C’, but also your otehr classes have fallen off. It would also raise eyebrows in a core course, particularly if it was related to your major. As I said, I doubt that triggers a school to automatically revoke your admission, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you got a letter asking you to explain yourself…so you might want to start preparing that explanation.

      • Thank you for the reality check.

        Some more info……
        It was a B on the midyear report, so it is not the case of a star student suddenly deciding that it is ok to not do any work.

        My GPA for senior year is still higher than my freshman, sophmore, and junior years.

        Hopefully I can deposit too The Greatest School on Earth(George Mason!) today or tommorow. 🙂

        P.S. I’m sure your not boring on topics not relating to admissions either.

      • good answer! 😀

  4. Thanks this helped me out!

    But at the same time i have a question…. Will George Mason need to do some thinning of the herd for the 2009-2010 school year?

    • We are definately over target in deposited students, and still our class has increased again in profile – can’t say for sure…but I would definately keep your grades up if possible!

      • So as long as my GPA doesn’t drop I shouldn’t worry about GMU revoking my admission?

      • In general institutions (Mason included) will only revoke admission if there is a significant change in record.

  5. I was wondering whether they’re were any special scholarships, or grants by the Military, etc. for non-citizens. I am interested in pursuing medicine, or computer science.

    (Also, am I even eligible for scholarships ?????).

    My situation is basically that I am a Canadian citizen, living in Virginia (paying the state taxes/ on a dependent visa). Thus, money is pretty tight!

    -Thanks (for reading my contorted sentence structure).

  6. Which grades are compared to know if there is a change in record? The first and second quarters compared to third and fourth quarters or the midyear compared to the final grade?

    • that all depends on the school and the student. Usually in the midst of the admission process we are looking at midyear or 3rd quarters. After we get final grades we are looking at your most recent semester/year compared to whatever semesters/years we had on your record when making your admission decision – does that make sense?

  7. Which grades are compared the First semester grade to the final grade or the acual quarter grades?

  8. Hey, I for accepted into a university. My Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior years were mostly comprised of normal classes. I received all A’s and B’s. I took all honers classes my junior year and got mostly B’s and A’s. In my senior year I received mostly D’s and a B and a C and a A. I am taking a AP class this year. Most of my teachers were fired from their positions that i had last year because they did not know how to teach. I point my drop in grades to the bad teachers I had last year to the good teachers I have this year. Will they still deny me?

    • Sadly it is unlikely that most schools will accept that you had a year with all bad teachers, unless your school wants to send a letter to that effect (which would be SO weird!). Bear in mind, without seeing you whole record and knowing what else a school wants, there is no waty to predict what income those recent grades will have (see a slew of my earlier posts. If, however, the grades do negatively impact your admission to a highly competitive school (as I suspect they would, I suggest thinking about a less competitive school or admission or a community college where you can get back to your strong grades and prove yourself.

  9. So I’m a junior this year and I just forecasted for next year last week. I’m taking French 5 (weighted), AP Statistics, Senior Inquiry (double weighted University class) and some child development courses and an independant study in Psychology (I want to major in child psychology) does that seem like a rigorous schedule? My grades were not spectacular last year (2.9 GPA but I’m working on retaking a class to raise it) but I got a 4.0 freshman year, and a 3.5 first semester this year. I’m just worried that my sophomore year ruined everything. 😦

    • Sarah, you can’t really “ruin” everything, since there are LOTS of options out there. That being said, here’s an honest take on your schedule. I would have to go to your school profile right away to find out what Senior Inquiry is, and hope that its a combination of Science and English since I don’t see either one on your scheudle. AP Stat reasonably covers your math, great that you’re in 5th level of a language, but the independent study and child development courses don’t jump out as much as the lack of an obvious senior English and Science course.
      Of course, the schedule you describe may actually be intensely rigorous, and a reviewer more familiar with your school may know that right away. I’ll be curious to see how others view your schedules – and if others are want to put theirs up as well…
      The 2.9 sophomore year, again, isn’t “ruining” you, but it does present a challenge – great that you have a big upswing this year, and hopefully you can maintain that and carry it into your senior year, which will argue well in committee for overlooking a short term dip in your grades.

      • yes, Senior inquiry is a language/science/social studies class taught by university professors at my high school.
        I was also wondering if things like taking honours in highschool are looked at by colleges? ( I’m working towards a thing called an Honors Diploma at my school, and was wondering if it looks as good as I think it will on my applications)

      • You might want to put in an explanation about that Senior inquiry course – unless the reviewer knows your school they won’t know that intuitively (although I’m sure your school makes it clear on their profile).
        Honors looks good, but most students won’t have the honors diploma designation by the time they apply, as many are awarded at graduation. Some transcripts will note that the student is a candiate for Honors diploma – I wouldn’t say that it has a very big impact either way.

  10. I am a Junior and I took an AP combined studies course (American Lit. and U.S. History) and I failed. To rebound, I dual enrolled in Comp. I and II at a community college. How bad or good will that look to colleges?

    • failure is always bad, but choosing to take on extra work an doing well to make up for it is good – owning your mistake and showing you can do the college level work is especially good, so on the whole I think you’re on the right track.

      • Thank you. That is something that has bothered me ever since I found out I failed AP (well, half of AP seeing as it is a year long class).

  11. Hey, I’m a junior and i am taking pretty tough classes this year- Honors U.S History, AP English, AP Human Geography among other things- and I was wondering if colleges compare freshmen and sophomore grades to junior grades. I had pretty much all A’s 9th and 10th grade but now i am getting lower grades mostly B’s but some C’s.

    Also, Same question but specifically a language class. I had A’s freshmen and sophomore year and now i am getting a C.

    (just one more question 😀 ) If i am interested in science and math and tough classes, what classes should i take next year that colleges “like”?

    • Tough classes are good, especially math and science. Unfortunately, colleges dolook at your trends in grades. It would no doubt be helpful for you to bring your grades back up the rest of this year and early in your senior year.

  12. is it to late to reply?hope not- anyway!
    I am currently picking my senior schedule and I have chosen everything…except for my science.
    The two choices I am interested in are Forensics or Physics
    Physics is an Honors class and I already have a demanding schedule so I’m not sure I want to take that on…but I’m wondering if it is a course colleges look to see and would be more enticing than my second option.
    According to the school counselor, Forensics goes a long with the AP psych class I will be taking and won’t be so rigorous, but is still a “lab” science which apparently colleges like to see.
    so which would a college admissions counselor such as your self like to see?
    thanks for your time

  13. I understand senior year is important and a challenging course is what i intend to take while still finding a subject that suits me best. Thanks Dean Flagel for your heads up.

  14. I’m a junior and this year my grades were horrible. My grades dropped even more second semester of junior down to Ds and even an F, but I’m taking all honors classes. If I do well senior year, will colleges still accept that?

  15. I love your blog! I laugh, but mostly I am impressed with your perspective. I don’t even know how I found it but I applaud you because I have looked more carefully at your school as a result of it (I should add that I am a parent but as the person holding the wallet that should at least account for something!). Could you add your perspective to this..say, hypothetically, you have a student who has a 4.4 GPA and a 33 ACT with lots of leadership, ECs, and awards and a disability. Senior year schedule- AP Calc, AP Gov/Econ, AP Art History, AP Env Sci, and Regular English (got an A in AP Lit, a 36 in reading and a 35 in English but does not like the teacher for AP Lang, this is all hypothetical of course!). He, hypothetically, has already taken AP Bio with an A and Honors Chem with an A. I think he should take physics- they offer AP Physics but,even though he has always earned an A in math, it has always been his most challenging subject. He says that if he takes regular physics instead of AP Enviro it will actually drop his GPA even if he gets an A in both subjects…as an admission person what do you think???? His plan is to major in business or something like that – so nothing science or math related. Thanks for your input!

    • Common admissions advice: take the most challenging courseload possible, and physics looks more challenging than Enviro
      The more sane advice (mine): Odds are which course a student takes, when both are science AP’s and not trading an AP course for study hall or underwater basket weaving, won’t make much if any difference, while GPA is a much more likely influence on admissions decisions and scholarship awards
      My sanest advice: don’t pick classes based on what colleges might or might not weigh in any particular admissions process. By that, I mean, assuming a strong set of courses that are sufficiently challenging, it is far better to pick courses of interest. I wish that families felt less compelled to make decisions based on unknown admissions factors, freeing them to make the best educational decisions for each student.
      More on that in a future post, but in the meantime, AP Enviro is great course, and I don’t think either decision will hurt much with your student’s very strong profile.

  16. So…say I have a 4.0 (there’s no weighting in my District) through Junior year, taking all I.B. classes. Then say I maintain 4.0 with my senior I.B. classes. Would it be nearly 100% guarenteed that I would not fall victim to the thinning og the herd?

    P.S. Maybe you can answer this question, too. When looking at course loads, are AP or I.B. given more weight? Or is there even a difference?

    • Sadly there are no guarantees in this entirely confusing process – another good reason to make your choices based on the best educational decisions for you, and not based on what colleges might (or might not) want.

      AP and IB are generally given the same weight, although some institutions, particularly those that receive few applicants with IB, may be less familiar.

      • Ah, well then. Thanks for the response!

  17. I was accepted to the 2009-2010 school year, but I’m SUPER worried about the possibility of my admissions being revoked. Towards the end of our third quarter, I had to get surgery while I was overseas, and then the volcano (who’s name no one can pronounce) erupted and I was trapped in a Flemish hospital in Europe with stitches in my stomach. I take 5 AP classes and an honors class, so when I came back (right before AP testing began) after missing a month of school, I had almost no time to catch up on a months load of work that I had missed. My grades were pretty decent the first two quarters, but I ended up failing almost every class for the third quarter. I tried to do what I could fourth quarter, but my grades are pretty mediocre, and definitely aren’t a representation of me, as a student. I do get to graduate with an advanced diploma, but I’m currently enduring sleepless nights at the thought of having my admissions revoked, and that I won’t have a chance to go to GMU- it was my number one choice and I am so afraid of the idea of not being able to attend.

    I do floss every night, so my dental hygiene is on point, but how likely is it that I will a victim to this thinning of the herd?!

    • I have to say that may be the best reason for a down turn in grades I’ve ever heard. You have illness, natural disaster – throw in being chased by spies and I think you win the prize (whatever that might be).
      THe safest bet if you know if you have a downturn in your grades is to go ahead and send a message to the admissions office explaining your situation – generally if you have a good reason for the downturn it won’t cause a school to change their decision.

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