A recent entry in The Choice, the NY Times’ college admissions and financial aid blog, by Martha C. Merrill, dean of admission and financial aid at Connecticut College, talked about the need for students to finish their senior year strong.
I don’t call attention to the article because I think there’s anything ground-breaking about Merrill’s suggestions. In fact, I agree with the underlying message – an acceptance to any college or university is not a green light for a student to mentally check out for the remainder of his or her senior year. However, I mention this article because I think a healthy discussion of the impact of applying to a highly selective school like Connecticut College has ensued.
If you read through the comments you will see a virtual back-and-forth of opinions. Some respondents argue that colleges and universities are placing too much stress on students while others argue that a student, once he or she has received admission, should be able to take a break and relax a bit.
To be honest, I think the reality is somewhere in between. I wouldn’t read Merrill’s comments with a knee-jerk reaction. She’s not saying that students can’t let an A in a course slip to a B as much as she’s saying, “don’t throw in the towel now just because you’re looking towards next year already.”
The admissions game has gotten out of control over the last several years especially for students who are applying to highly selective schools like Connecticut College. Merrill’s points may be construed as a warning, but I think there is a perspective to be gained from them if you allow yourself to read them in context:
Having said that, let me lend some perspective to each bullet in the order in which it appears in the article:
1. Students should finish their senior year strong. Hopefully, the courses they are taking were selected due to interest and ability rather than how good they might look on a transcript. More incentive to finish strong is that AP courses and coordinated college courses can lead to transfer credit, effectively lowering tuition bills while allowing the student more time to pursue experiential opportunities along the way.
2. A student’s admission is contingent on finishing the school year and graduating. A final high school transcript which reveals all D’s and F’s in the second half of senior year is a concern and the considerable drop off in performance will, and should, be questioned.
3. Like an athlete training for game day, senior year is an opportunity to build momentum while fine-tune academic skills heading into freshman year. Doing well in challenging courses senior year will only help a student be more prepared for their first year of college especially if they are applying for competitive pre-professional programs like engineering, nursing, pharmacy, athletic training or physical therapy.
4. If a school decides to send a student the “oops” letter, as Merrill calls it, it is an effort by that school to obtain clarification on the change in grades. The situation is rare but the more selective the school, the greater the chance that this can happen should a student’s grades slip significantly. If it does happen, the student should be prepared to offer a valid explanation.
5. The fifth point is introduced with a sense of doom and gloom; an approach which I think is misleading. Schools should be monitoring the progress of all first-year students as closely as possible. The adjustment to college life can be very difficult and it is critical to get off to a good start. Students should connect with their advisor, a faculty member, or even the dean – someone who can serve as a mentor and provide assistance when they need it.
6. Disciplinary action is what it is – students should exercise sound judgment and understand that there are consequences for their actions. This is a life lesson, not a school lesson.
If you have any thoughts or perspective on how seniors should approach post-acceptance letter life that you would like to share, please use the comment section below. You can also write me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a question about the college application and admissions process that you would like to see discussed in this blog.