Curbing Senioritis: How Colleges Review Final Grades


Seniors! Got a bad case of senioritis? Is dragging yourself to high school like a punishment right now? You’ve (hopefully) read the fine print somewhere in your offer stating your offer of admission is “contingent upon continued academic success.” Any good lawyer would tell you there’s some room for interpretation there. What exactly defines “academic success?” Do you just have to graduate? Maintain your GPA?

The reality is that colleges will rarely define EXACTLY what you have to do (or not do) to keep that offer. There’s wiggle room for a reason. The cynical, experienced side of me acknowledges that — right or wrong — sometimes how close the institution landed to its target number for enrollment might drive how strict or lenient they are when reviewing final grades over the summer. That’s true. But also what drives the final decision on how final grades might be handled is the reality that behind every report card is a real student with a real life and real experiences that don’t always fit neatly into a black and white policy. Here’s what would happen at one institution where I worked…

What Senioritis Can Do: Option One

Every entering freshman had to submit a final report card to the Admissions Office before they were “cleared” to enroll. When the office received the final report card, it would be routed to the processing team. These employees would scan each report card with a highlighter in hand. Most students offered admission to this institution had a mix of A’s and B’s with an occasional C in a tough class.

On final report cards, anything that came in with “multiple C’s or any number of D’s or F’s” in the final grading period was highlighted and flagged for review by a member of the Admissions Committee. Each institution likely has some kind of system they use – maybe more selective institutions flag anything with a C. Some less selective institutions flag it if the marking period GPA is below a 2.0.

Once the report card was flagged for review, there were three things that could happen. The first was to do nothing. If the student had earned multiple C’s before the offer was made and was still earning C’s during the last grading period, there was no argument for a downward trend. Or maybe the student was flagged because they had one D in AP Calc BC while they had had a B in it at mid-term but they had actually written an essay about how challenging the class was but they were going to persist for the exposure.

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Sometimes there might be very evident reasons to turn a blind eye to multiple C’s or a single poor grade. In this case the student would never even know they had been “flagged” for review.

What Senioritis Can Do: Option Two

The second option was to send the student a letter saying, “Hey, your downward trend didn’t go unnoticed. We’re letting it slide and you get to keep your offer but here’s a list of resources for academic assistance you might want to check out when you arrive on campus.” A downward trend at the end of senior year doesn’t bode well for freshman year success. Ultimately, the university really does want you to be successful once there.
The third option would be to send a strongly worded certified letter giving the student 10 days to provide in writing an explanation of what the heck happened at the end of senior year.

What Senioritis Can Do: Option Three

In the unusual, but not rare, instance the third option would be invoked, once received that student letter would be routed for review first to the member of the Admissions Committee who requested the explanation and then next to the Director of Admissions for a second opinion and final review and action. While the letter was generally never sent unless the downward trend had been really bad, no offer was automatically pulled – no matter how bad the grades. The letter existed to give students an opportunity for explanation.

Real Reasons

Sometimes there are very good explanations for a significant downward trend. I read heartbreaking stories of battling cancer, the death of a parent, the suicide of a best friend, etc. Not everyone who got the “bad letter” got their offer of admission pulled. But, I also heard a lot of lame excuses trying to blame the trend on something or someone else. So yes, it does happen. Universities don’t make empty threats about this. It had to be a significant downward trend and it had to lack a legitimate and compelling explanation.

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There are the occasions when students just stopped working at the end of senior year and there is no excuse for that. Those are heart wrenching calls to make. Don’t be the kid whose parents have to hear you’re no longer welcome to show up to Dreamschool University in August because of grades in the last quarter of high school. Your parents probably already bought Dreamschool University Mom/Dad sweatshirts at Orientation and already applied the bumper sticker on the car. They won’t be happy. You’ll be embarrassed and devastated and have to completely regroup with a Plan B in the middle of the summer. You’ll feel like everything you worked so hard to achieve has been ripped away. And for what? One month of fun at the end of senior year.


Finally, I’m not saying every school operates like the one where I worked. It’s safe to say, though, that final grades do matter. Just don’t get senioritis. You’ve made it this far, don’t blow it. Take the extra 30 seconds in the home stretch to wash your hands.

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