What It’s Like to Be in Your Last Year of College: UWindsor Seniors Reflect on their University Careers and Experiences with Senioritis
You’re lying in bed, peacefully asleep, when your alarm clock goes off. You stagger awake, trying to force your eyes open for your 10:00 a.m. class., which is about to start in precisely 2 minutes. You maniacally grab your laptop, open Blackboard, and sit through your first class, half-assedly taking notes while inhaling a cup of coffee. Class ends. You go to your other classes, do your readings, write your assignments, and go back to sleep.
Rinse and repeat.
The days wear on, and your motivation wears out. By day 302, you’re skipping some classes, doing assignments at the last possible minute (or not at all), and neglecting your readings. Your grades are slipping, but you’re not sure you even care. You’re not even sure why you’re still doing this whole ‘school’ thing.
This is what it’s like to have senioritis.
Senioritis is a colloquial term for the lack of motivation and decline in academic performance that students in their final year of high school or college experience. After four or five years of postsecondary study, seniors are tired and lacking motivation, and knowing that graduation is near and likely guaranteed, they feel tempted to coast their way to the end of their university career with little effort.
Senioritis is not just some condition students have invented to give themselves an excuse to be lazy. Academics have started documenting the phenomenon, and it appears to be rather common among students reaching the end of their studies.
For instance, Professors Anne Lucieto, Meher Taleyarkhan, and Emily Schott of Purdue University have studied senioritis among 48 engineering technology students in their senior year. Their 2019 study found that most students in their sample experienced detachment and decreased motivation and were more prone to procrastination as a result of nearing the end of their studies. Many already had a job lined up for them after graduation, which decreased their motivation to put in effort at school. Others had already experienced work life through internships or co-op placements, and found it far more enjoyable than being in a classroom, which contributed to their senioritis.
To learn more about students’ experiences with senioritis, I spoke with three seniors at UWindsor: Abby Coutinho, a fifth-year in English Language and Literature, Hannah Hartwick, a fifth-year in Communication, Media, and Film and Drama, and Yasmen*, a fourth-year in History and Political Science. They talked about their symptoms of senioritis now that they had nearly reached the finish line. This also gave them the opportunity to reflect on their overall University experiences over the last 4 or 5 years and share advice they would give to younger students for school in general, and for dealing with senioritis specifically.
Abby is a fifth-year student majoring in English Language and Literature and minoring in Psychology. She described her experiences at University as being overall “fairly positive”. She has thrived academically and is glad that the program she’s in has a smaller faculty. “I’ve been able to form professional relationships with many of my professors, which has been very rewarding,” she explained, while sipping on what she told me is one of her favorite drinks—green tea.
Outside of the classroom, she has found a lot of fulfillment in her extracurriculars. The first club she joined was Students Offering Support, a charitable organization offering exam-aid review sessions, with all donations going towards projects to improve education in Latin America. “I was a Human Resources representative for 3 years,” she said, “until this year, when I became the head of Human Resources.”
She is also a writer and the co-president of UWindsor’s chapter of Her Campus, an online magazine aimed at collegiate women, a workshop facilitator for the Bystander Initiative, a campus-wide project for sexual violence prevention, and a student representative on the English Department Council.
She described her first year as being “rough” since she wasn’t really keen on the program she was in at the time. “I was enrolled in a program I wasn’t 100% passionate about,” she said, fiddling slightly with her hands, “having started as a Social Work major who switched into English in my second year.”
“I look back and realize I was doing the bare minimum of the University experience. I was keeping my head down, going to my classes, getting the grades, and coming home. I didn’t make a single friend in my first year. I also didn’t join any clubs or organizations in my first year, something I definitely regret since I’m so involved in extracurriculars now. I wish I would have gotten the jump on them sooner.”
She explained that she was pressured into going into Social Work by people who told her it held better employment opportunities than English. “I wanted to start with English,” she said, “but I had a bunch of people around me telling me that I wouldn’t get a job, so I settled for something “safer”. After a year of being miserable, I realized it’s better to just do what you love and take the risk, and if I’m passionate and good enough at what I do, I could find a job with anything.”
After instantly connecting with people in her new program and seeing improvement in her grades, she realized that “switching programs was one of the best decisions I ever made”.
Now that she’s in her fifth year, she says that she’s been struggling with one of the tell-tale signs of senioritis—a lack of motivation—although it hasn’t shown in her grades. “If anything, my grades won’t struggle, but my health will,” she elaborated. “My sleep schedule is so messed up because I either stay up all night to finish an assignment or I get so burnt out during the day that I take a stress nap and then I can’t sleep at night.”
Abby still has a grad program to look forward to after she graduates this year, which has helped minimize her senioritis to a degree. Nevertheless, nearing the end of her undergrad still feels “surreal” to her. “School has always been a constant in my life, and I’ve always measured my worth through my grades, which I know isn’t healthy, so it’s a weird feeling knowing that in a few months it’s going to come to an end,” she said.
“It makes me nostalgic. It’s tempting to look back at everything I’ve accomplished over the past five years. Like I said, it’s surreal to imagine that five years of essays, exams, and late-night studying is soon going to amount to a piece of paper in a frame that I hang on my wall. I don’t know if this has made me feel more or less motivated.”
For Abby, senioritis might not be such a bad thing, after all. While petting her border collie Luna, who has decided to make a guest appearance during our interview, she adds: “I mean, obviously a lack of motivation isn’t the best thing in academics, but I think those feelings of fear or dread in the face of change are normal and should be expressed, perhaps even embraced”.
“I think the best thing students in their last year can do is practice self-care and be kind to themselves. The future can be scary, but it’s also filled with opportunity. I think it’s important to take the time to sit and think—really think—about what you want your future to entail. Visualize it, plan it, and work towards it, but also understand that your goals and plans might change, and that’s also okay. Just know that if you’ve made it this far. You’ve got what it takes to move forward and succeed in the future.”
Hannah is a fifth-year student majoring in Communication, Media, and Film and Drama. With her cats Chloe and Honey at her side, she shared her feelings about her University experiences with me.
Overall, she would consider her past five years at school as being pretty good, although the coronavirus definitely put a damper on things. “There have been a lot of cool classes I have taken and good teachers I have met,” she said. “It sucks that a good chunk of my University career and arguably the most important time in it was thrown off because of Covid, but that is something we were all in together.”
Like Abby, one of her regrets is not getting involved in clubs and organizations sooner. “However, I am happy with the extracurricular activities I have been a part of,” she qualified, “such as being the co-president of the University chess team, and having had that before Covid hit.”
“Another thing I wish I would have done sooner is network and get to know my profs more during the first couple years of University, but that was just a shell I had to break out of over time while I gained more maturity. I have had a lot of good times though, like meeting a group of friends in my program, filming on sets, and the extracurricular involvement I have had.”
For Hannah, senioritis has been a significant struggle. “In this last year of school, I find myself to be a lot less motivated to finish assignments and do school work because in the simplest way,” she explained, “I’m just over it.”
“As much as I’ve enjoyed my University experience, I’m really looking forward to starting a career and not having the constant homework shadow lingering over me. When you work a job, you go to it, work, and once you clock out, you’re done. Whereas you go to school and then have to go home and finish readings and essays and all this other work that just doesn’t stop for the whole semester. That constant worry about doing homework is just a stress that I can’t wait to get rid of.”
How can students stay motivated if they end up in this senioritic rut? “One thing that keeps me going and gets me through completing my assignments is seeing that light at the end of the tunnel, because if I flunk, then guess what—” she asked with amusement, “more school for me! So when writing a paper or doing whatever assignment I’m doing, I just think about how close I am to being done.”
If you ask Hannah, though, senioritis is sorta inevitable, no matter what you might do to try to avoid or alleviate it. She explained: “All of my friends who are also in their final year are so over it, and it’s hard not to be because you’ve been in postsecondary for four or more consecutive years with the constant stresses and anxieties school brings.”
“However, to all my fellow people affected by senioritis, just remember: you are so close! I also find that using a planner or writing things on my calendar helps me actually see how close I am to the finish line, which motivates me to finish.”
Yasmen is a fourth-year student majoring in History and Political Science and minoring in English. Her time at University has been characterized by “a lot of ups and downs.” On the one hand, she has gained clarity about who she is as an individual and enjoyed her academics.
“I think I’ve really grown into myself as a person at University,” she said. “ I’m still in this process, but I’ve been learning what things matter to me, what kind of life I want to live, what values I want to have. I think I’ve become more confident in who I am over the past four years.”
She disagrees with people who claim that UWindsor is a bad school, and points to the advantages of attending a smaller University. “Well, I feel like UWindsor is a mediocre school,” she argued. “It’s not the best school on this planet, but I don’t think that the education is terrible. It’s not like we have poor-quality education, we’re just not an institute that has the kind of supports that larger institutes have, like cutting-edge research. But I also think that there’s a large advantage to that in some ways. Because we don’t have a lot of grad students, I’ve been able to get some TA jobs and get to know my professors pretty well. And it helps that I’m in two small programs—history and political science—” she said, laughing before adding, “and that I’m talkative.”
On the other hand, being in smaller programs has meant less diversity in terms of course material and in terms of people, which Yasmen says has deeply affected her. Although she has made lots of friends through the Discord server for one of her programs, she feels like an outsider in her other program. “I don’t think I fit in very well culturally there with other students,” she said, tentatively. “I’ll leave it at that.”
For example, Yasmen says that she has had to deal with incidents of racism in some of her classes, which has caused her a lot of mental pressure and added to her senioritis. “That can really get to somebody,” she added with a sigh, “especially for someone like me, someone who cares about stuff, about social justice.”
In telling me about her experiences of senioritis, she makes a point to distinguish between high school senioritis and college senioritis. “I would say that I’m afflicted with senioritis, but not in a fun way,” she explained. “I feel that in high school, people are afflicted with senioritis in a ‘I’m just gonna chill and hang out with my friends’ type of way, but I’m afflicted in a burnout type of way.”
What has contributed to her senioritis?
For starters, there’s the endless stream of assignments. “I really do feel like the University system is a bit designed for you to fail,” she speculated, “especially for students who have other difficulties, like mental or physical illness, or family issues and conflict. There’s this upkeep of assignments for you to do every week, so I feel like it’s a bit designed for you to burn out. Especially too because the semesters are shorter than in high school. It happens to me every year, especially in the second semester.”
The fact that school has been mostly online has aggravated Yasmen’s senioritis, too. “I find myself perking up more in my in-person classes,” she said, “and being around people, I have so much energy. But with online school, where you don’t have live classes all the time, it becomes harder because things are not in front of you, so it’s easier to neglect things accidentally.”
Finally, Yasmen has applied to teacher’s college and is confident she will be admitted. Given that her grades from this year won’t be considered in her application, she doesn’t feel motivated to put in as much effort into school as before.
All these contributors, coupled with the fact that she hasn’t had a break from school for four consecutive years, has created the perfect storm of senioritis for her.
She has seen a slight decline in her grades this year, and she admits that it has affected her self-esteem and the way she views herself. “There’s two conflicting sides of me. One is this identity of a good student, who always gets 90s, always does her work, and never asks for an extension. And that makes me feel really bad about myself when I’m not getting things done properly. There’s a bit of an identity or self-esteem hit, that my grades are slipping a bit. And also having classes that are a bit harder, that’s making me feel a certain type of way about my intelligence and self-worth,” she told me.
And yet, senioritis has arguably given her an opportunity to re-evaluate her values and priorities. “On the other hand,” she begins, “and going back to what I was saying about University helping me figure out my values and all of that, I’m really questioning, like, is this something I value right now? I have other things in my life right now that need my attention, so is this the most valuable thing to be doing, if I don’t need it for teacher’s college?”
“I could value my self-care a little more, I could manage my physical health better if I’m going to sleep instead of doing schoolwork, I could value having fun more—because that’s not gonna happen as much as I get older, I’ll have less free time. I could get by with doing the bare minimum if I wanted, and there’s a part of me that wants to do that, because why not? I think that once I have a decision in hand [from teacher’s college], that feeling is gonna intensify. Like, I can skirt by and do the bare minimum, because I have this decision in hand and I can’t lose it.”
Yasmen only has two more years of schooling after her undergrad, and she’s realized that pouring all her self-worth into her grades won’t do her any favors in the long run. “I’ll move into the working world after that, so I just need to make sure that my entire identity isn’t just being a student, because there’s not gonna be grades after this,” she concluded.
She would advise other students going through senioritis to strike a balance between caring too much and caring too little about their academic performance. “Don’t go into your last year thinking ‘oh, who cares, everyone is going through this’, but also don’t start hating yourself, thinking everyone around you is successful,” she said. “It is a common problem, so find that balance.”
Lucieto, A., Taleyarkhan, M., & Schott, E. (2019). Senioritis from the Student’s Perspective. IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE). DOI: 10.1109/FIE43999.2019.9028556
* Students who requested to remain semi-anonymous had their last names retracted.