The Role of Senior-Year Grades and Course Selection in the Admissions Process

August 19, 2022
College Admissions

You may have heard of the infamous “senior slide,” also referred to as “senior slump” or “senioritis.” These terms traditionally refer to that post college-admissions period when high school seniors fall into the trap of believing they can coast their way to graduation. And for many seniors, the slide can begin even sooner, coinciding with the start of the new school year. But can this affect your ability to gain admission to your university of choice? Absolutely, it can! Here is some advice for seniors as they enter their last year of high school. Stay focused on your grades. Be smart with your course selection. And finish your senior year strong!

“Senior Slide”

You worked hard for three years in high school. You took the most rigorous courses available to you and have a strong GPA. You enter senior year, and rather than maintaining a challenging course load, you opt for an easier one, whether it be so you can focus on college applications or because you don’t believe senior year grades are all that significant. This is a mistake! Regardless of whether you apply early or regular decision, colleges will receive your senior year grades as part of your application. And while second semester grades are typically only used to ensure coursework completion, first-semester grades are frequently a considerable factor in admissions decisions. This is especially true in the case of applications for regular decision. All of this is to say that students should remain focused, ambitious, and productive as they complete their senior year courses. Colleges have a lot of applicants! They do not have space for senior sliders.

Senior Year Course Selection - Why It Is Important

Beyond actual grades, your course selection can also play a meaningful role in admissions outcomes. If colleges see that you completed a progressively more challenging course load throughout your first three years of high school only to coast through your senior year, this will almost certainly have a negative impact on how your application is viewed.

If you wish to be as competitive as possible with your college applications, then your senior year course load should not be any less rigorous than that of your junior year. High schools typically offer seniors a wide range of advanced courses to enroll in and colleges evaluate the rigor of your chosen classes through your senior year. Taking advantage of this and challenging yourself will reflect favorably on your applications. That is why it is imperative that you pursue challenging courses during your senior year.

It is also important to bear in mind that many of the courses you complete your senior year serve as the academic foundation for those you take your freshman year of college. For instance, if you plan on majoring in economics, taking AP Macroeconomics your senior year will provide you with meaningful preparation for economics courses in college. If you do well on the AP test in the spring, you may be able to bypass introductory-level courses and head directly to more advanced courses. This will free up time and space so you can enroll in other electives of your interest, double-major, or even graduate early! So, it is important to remember your senior year plays a much larger role not only in the college admission process but also your college experience than you may realize if you are focusing only on the traditional admissions timeline and advice.  

The Bottom Line

As outlined above, it is a myth that colleges do not care about your senior year grades. They absolutely do. Even if you apply early (by a November deadline and before you have your quarter or semester grades), colleges will inevitably view them and won’t hesitate to deny or rescind your application if they see you have not applied yourself during senior year. So take your academics as seriously as you would your junior year. It matters!

Furthermore, you should use your senior year courses to help strategically prepare for your freshman year of college. This can mean signing up for as many advanced courses as possible, taking math and science, continuing with a fourth year of a language, and searching for interesting electives that will make your course selection stand out to colleges. Do not use the workload of the college application process as an excuse to take fewer or less rigorous courses. You should generally aim to be well-positioned with the completion of your applications by sometime in September (especially if you want to apply early). So, while it might be tempting to coast your senior year, it could mean sacrificing not only your grades but also entry to your top choice colleges. That is surely not a risk worth taking!