This post was written by Alex Khurgin.
Beware the “senior-spring” fallacy! It is NOT the case that you can “stop working” after submitting your college applications or even after being admitted to a college early-action or early-decision. Remember that almost all colleges do request your final transcript before you ship off to campus in the fall. And sometimes, the college will rescind an offer of admission based on this final transcript. A report published by the National Association for College Admission Counseling reveals that in 2007 over one-third of colleges and universities rescinded some offers of admission, and two-thirds of those schools did so in response to falling—not just failing—grades.
An engineer at Knewton relates the cautionary tale of a friend and high school classmate: “Timmy—not his real name—got into Williams College early decision, and had his life planned out: major in history, go to law school, then sip cocktails from a porch in Westchester into his golden years. But not wanting to burn out, Timmy decided to take a nice break, enough of one that his grades dropped from A’s to C’s and D’s, and Williams revoked his admission. He was forced to attend a regional campus of a much less prestigious institution.”
This is not an unusual case. Knowing that some percentage of students who are offered admission will not accept, most colleges keep a waitlist of qualified applicants who would be quite happy to replace an admitted student who chooses to go elsewhere—or one whose grades drop so far that he or she is no longer welcome to attend. More competitive schools with better waitlists—like Williams—are especially sensitive to such fluctuations in GPA.
Because letters of revocation might not be mailed until July or August, after final grades are submitted, revoked students are often left with only a few, unsatisfying options. Understandably, admissions counselors do not want to leave students, even pronounced senior slumpers, out to dry. Thus, to shield slacking teens from the profound shock and embarrassment of having their admission rescinded, some schools opt to send “letters of expectation,” rather than revocation, to call out students whose performance has suddenly dipped or who have taken on noticeably weaker courseloads than in previous academic periods; other underperformers are placed on academic probation as freshmen. Though this sounds like a slap on the wrist in comparison to being rescinded, trust us, you don’t want the threat of expulsion weighing you down the first semester of college—students freak out enough during finals without having to worry about spending the following year at the University of Your Childhood Bedroom.
Admissions counselors understand that the year leading up to the college application process is hectic and stressful and that blowing off classes to spend more time with friends is a sweet release. But it’s artificial sweetener compared to the real, cane sugar of attending the college of your dreams with hard-working, like-minded others. Take inspiration from a Knewton content developer’s success story, a testament to senior-year perseverance: “I was accepted to my first choice school, Oberlin College, after having been deferred early decision, by not slacking off during my senior year. After getting deferred, I became extremely determined to prove myself, signing up for additional AP classes in non-standard subjects like psychology and economics for my 2nd semester and asking more or less everyone I knew to write me a recommendation. One way or another, this all convinced Oberlin to take a chance on me, a decision neither the school nor I have regretted ever since.”
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