It is important for you as a parent to help your child to strike a proper balance between enjoying all that senior year has to offer (and the memories that certain activities will bring), with the importance of a strong academic finish to high school, not only because it may help college admission but, more important, because it almost certainly will help college performance.

As Pamela Horne, head of admission at Purdue University and a member of our Ask the Experts panel, recently told an audience of her peers, “The first three years of high school may get a student into college; senior year will ensure that a student can succeed in college.”

What does Pamela mean? Partly, I believe she means to disabuse families of the notion that 12th grade is a time to coast to the finish line, that it simply is a reward for performance over the previous 11 grades.

You – and your child – may think that senior year grades are not important, or even relevant, when it comes to college admission, but in some cases, particularly for selective schools, they can be critical.

In fact, it is not unheard of for a college to revoke an admission offer based on poor academic performance, or behavioral issues as exemplified by an arrest, expulsion or suspension from school.

Those instances are rare, but what is not so rare is for a college to ask for senior year grades before making an admission decision or for a college to look closely at the course of study taken during senior year to determine whether a student is pushing him or herself as hard as possible.

Colleges care about senior year grades and the difficulty of course of study because they have been able to track over the years how connected these indicators are to college performance. When it comes right down to it, colleges want to accept a class of incoming students that will, to the greatest extent possible, succeed in school and ultimately graduate. They get more than a strong hint from a student’s senior year in high school performance whether that will be the case.

So while late November may seem a time for a senior in high school to begin an easy coast toward graduation, it really is not. And therefore it is important for you, as the parent, to do everything in your power to keep the senior year on track for your child. Here are some hints:

  • Try to make sure that his/her second semester course load contains some strong core classes in the key disciplines of math, language arts and science. One “fluff” class is OK, but a group of easy classes is not good prep for college, nor is looked upon well by selective classes trying to make close admission calls;
  • Suggest to your child that they get some work experience or undertake some community involvement that may help to round out what they have already experienced in high school. This will prepare him/her to not only be a college student, but an exemplary – and disciplined – college citizen;
  • Investigate whether there might be an opportunity for your child to actually take a college course, while he/she is still in high school. This experience, however, should be looked upon as just that – an experience, and not as an opportunity to try to “double-dip” and gain college credit while also finishing high school credits. (NOTE: Some students may be able to fulfill some college credits early by taking classes above and beyond what is required for high school graduation, but each college and university looks at such classes very carefully and each has its own set of policies for granting such credit.); and
  • Consider supporting your child in the potential arrangement of an internship for him/her in a career field of current interest, or maybe in even in one that has been dismissed as an interest but which nonetheless would offer a great life experience. If a full-blown internship is not available or attainable, even a “shadow day” could offer some valuable life lessons.

We hope these suggestions are helpful, and we thank you for visiting the College Parents of America Web site.