Now that second semester has begun, most seniors are looking forward to May 23: the day they will walk across the new field to get their diploma. With this excitement comes a “disease” called senioritis, which is characterized by a decline in academic performance and motivation among students in their last year of high school. What causes it, however, is cloudy.
In order to understand senioritis, it’s crucial to understand the psychology of motivation and why humans do the things they do.
Primarily, one of the most important theories in explaining the lack of motivation is the optimal arousal theory. This states that people will be motivated to act out of curiosity and to avoid boredom. If a task is not interesting or mentally stimulating, one is less likely to get it done. With 13 years of schooling, it’s no surprise that school can seem mundane.
AP Psychology teacher Ray Anderson explained that the blame can be placed partially on teachers for always following the same routine. He suggests that teachers utilize the optimal arousal theory and change up their teaching method frequently to keep students engaged.
Additionally, a reason for senioritis is an unnamed prison phenomenon. “As prisoners get closer to their release dates, many of them violate prison rules, even to the point of committing an offense that gets the time of their sentence extended,” Psychology Professor William Ickes said. Essentially, the prisoners can almost taste freedom; they are so desperate to get out that they stop obeying prison rules and start doing what they want to. For seniors, the proximity of graduation and their adult freedom causes them to stop doing what they are required to do: homework, studying and generally putting effort into school.
Conversely, senioritis can be caused by focusing on the future. For seniors who are touring campuses, applying to schools and writing essays for scholarships, those activities leave less room in their schedule for high school matters.
Additionally, Anderson said that once seniors are accepted into their dream school, they get comfortable and think their grades don’t matter anymore. However, many scholarships, including merit scholarships given by universities, require recipients to maintain a specified GPA even after the scholarship is awarded.
With all these possible explanations, seniors are left wondering what the cure is to this academically debilitating disease. Senior Kassidy Cook suggests eliminating all distractions (music, Netflix, social media, etc.) and working in time intervals to avoid getting overwhelmed. She added that although seniors may only have four or five classes, it is still crucial to stay on top of everything and make those few classes a priority.
On the other hand, some students work better with a little background noise. Senior Taylor Kelm prefers going to Starbucks and listening to music to study over doing assignments at home. While she did lose motivation around finals week last semester, she refocused herself on the bigger picture. “If you want to walk across that stage, you can’t let [senioritis] get to you.”.
At the end of the day, it’s important to think of your future and find what works best for you in order to conquer your senior year. Whether you want to head straight into the workforce or go to medical school, your hard work will pay off someday, and grades are important. Let that be a motivator; afterall, athletes don’t stop running when they see the finish line.