The second-semester senior slump isn’t just a challenging time for seniors, it’s also a challenging time for you as a high school counselor.

While some backsliding is understandable—students may drop their electives in favor of study hall, A’s can slide to B’s—a larger slide may impact admissions decisions. If you have a student who’s letting their grades plummet during their second semester, it can be tough to motivate them out of their slump during their senior year. Here are some strategies you can use to help a student who’s suffering from acute senioritis.

Do Colleges Look at Second Semester Grades?

You’ve heard it a million times from your students: Only the first semester of senior year “counts.” Of course that’s not true. Slacking off academically or getting into trouble can lead to the loss of scholarship funds or even a revoked college admission. It can be helpful to give your students a reality check about how colleges handle a second semester slide. For example, Harvey Mudd College in California will call and ask students for an explanation if their second semester grades have demonstrably slipped, and this conversation can be followed by a warning or even an admissions revocation. The University of South Florida reserves the right to revoke admission and wants to see consistency in the second semester.

This certainly isn’t the most enjoyable part of the job, but you have to outline these risks if your student is in danger of these scenarios, says independent educational consultant Sarah Langford. Her approach: “I try to remain positive and point out all the good in a situation. At the same time, I’m a little old-school and feel it is important to be honest with students about the risks involved with having an academic record that isn’t consistent with the rest of their high school career.”

Even if your student’s grades aren’t slipping enough to warrant a change in any of their acceptances or scholarships, slacking off can mean they aren’t preparing themselves for the transition to college, says Matt Romanowski, counseling department chair at Queen Creek High School. “It is important for students to see the connection of what they’re doing in high school to what they want to do after high school,” he says. He explains that drawing that connection for his students has done wonders for their motivation.

Get Them to Write It Down

Encouraging a student to not just set goals but commit to writing them out can be highly effective, according to Tami’ka Jones-Tabbs, a College and Career Educator in the Philadelphia school district. She’s found that seeing goals visually and crossing them off as they’re accomplished can help a struggling student stay motivated. When the slump hits, Jones-Tabbs recommends getting micro with these written goals and suggesting the student make daily checklists. These smaller daily tasks can be accomplished quickly and give the student more opportunities for mini celebrations. A little positivity can go a long way when a student is dealing with tanking grades and minimal motivation.

Take the Focus Off the Academics

If schoolwork isn’t enticing to your student, Jeffrey Horton, a former college and career center specialist at Queen Creek High School in Queen Creek, Arizona, suggests guiding the student to focus on non-classroom work and activities. It may seem counterintuitive to hope a student improves their grades by not focusing on academics, but Horton explains, “Getting involved in extracurricular activities will help boost the student’s desire to get out of the slump. When the student knows they are counted on or when they have some other responsibility, I’ve found that they are more energetic and motivated to do better all around.” Help your student think of extracurriculars to pursue like teams, clubs, jobs or internships. Their outside interests could invigorate their academic performance.

Align with Families and Teachers

Anticipating the senior slide can help it from becoming a second semester problem. It might be helpful to have a conversation with teachers and hear how they handle it within their classrooms. Do they have tips and tricks they could share? For example, some teachers may decide to frontload graded work in the first half of the year and use the second semester for more holistically-based projects. It might also be beneficial to have workshops or conversations with families about what to expect and how to monitor second semester grades so they can catch a problem before it becomes a major issue.

Remember, by finishing college applications, your second semester seniors have just completed a major milestone. Guiding them toward a productive balance of relaxation and hard work is a skill that won’t just help them this semester, but throughout their college experience.

Applying to college? We can help.
Start Here