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How to Manage Senior Year of HS Amid COVID-19

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Your senior year of high school is likely to be starting soon, but it won't be like any other school year. The ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic plus the hovering threat of senioritis pose significant challenges. Let's take a look at what they are and how you can deal with them.


Outside of health concerns, the chief issue with COVID-19 and how it affects high schoolers, especially this year's seniors, involves financial issues. Many families have suffered from the pandemic due to job losses, reduced work hours, increased medical expenses and loss of health insurance, all while facing sharply rising food and other living costs. Even housing has been threatened due to late rent and mortgage payments.

For families with seniors, these hardships can influence the decision about whether to apply to college or choose an alternate, more directly practical — and affordable — path to employment. It's a complex, difficult time.

Study: Most Teens Concerned About COVID-Related Finances

How young people have reacted to these unprecedented factors has been quantified in surveys, such as the one conducted this past April by Junior Achievement, their JA Teens Survey: The Financial Impact of COVID-19, which, in part, revealed some important attitudes, such as:

  • More than two-thirds (69 percent) of teens surveyed said that they were "somewhat" or "very concerned" about the financial impact of COVID-19 on them, their families or loved ones.
  • Most teens (72 percent) said that they had a discussion with their parents or guardians about finances related to COVID-19.
  • Nearly half of high school juniors and seniors (44 percent) say COVID-19 has impacted their plans to pay for college.
  • Of those saying their plans have changed, most (58 percent) say that they are now more likely to take out a student loan to pay for college.
  • More than a quarter of teens (27 percent) say that their plans after high school graduation have changed.
  • More than a quarter (28 percent) responded that their parents or caretakers are working fewer hours as a result of the pandemic. About a tenth (13 percent) say that their parent or caretaker has lost their job as a result of COVID- 19.
  • Almost one-in-five (18 percent) have lost a job at an outside employer due to COVID-19.

Those are sobering numbers. Here's a key bar chart from the JA survey. This graphic appears in a CNBC article, Go to college or skip it? High school students face a new reality due to coronavirus, which comments on the JA survey and also cites some optimism form Dr. Wendy Swanson, pediatrician and former chief of digital innovation at Seattle Children's Hospital:

While it "isn't pretty" right now, it could ultimately give children a sense of resilience, Swanson noted. Knowing that they can go through this challenge is an "incredible strength tool," she said. "Once you get to the other side, a child knows and learns that they can actually endure something difficult," Swanson added. "It will serve us for the rest of our lives."

This year's seniors will be managing their academic, social and family lives in an entirely different — and difficult — world than they've ever known. They will be doing all this while their parents deal with their own pandemic-related circumstances, which, as the CNBC article notes, can be quite stressful.

Senioritis Also Creates Impact

Next, let's look at a familiar syndrome that has taken on new meaning, thanks to the coronavirus: senioritis. Every late summer and early winter, I warn about senioritis. If you're unfamiliar with the term, here's a definition:

Senioritis is a colloquial term mainly used in the United States and Canada to describe the decreased motivation toward studies displayed by students who are nearing the end of their high school, college and graduate school careers In some more serious cases where students allow their grades to drop quite significantly, universities and high schools may rescind offers of admission … senioritis in high school may cause incoming college freshmen not to be as adequately prepared for the rigor of college level studies, and may decrease their ability to gain entrance scholarships ...

College Confidential's discussion forums have many threads asking such questions as "Will my acceptance be revoked?" Colleges don't like to see accepted students suddenly getting Cs and Ds when they were once solid B+ and A students. Non-academic reasons for revoked admission can also include such factors as criminal behavior, but now, during the global health crisis, we can add pandemic-related circumstances and stress to senioritis causes.

Preparing to go back to school after a long, unconventional spring and summer can be difficult. How can college-bound seniors go from a homebound spring and summer back to the classroom and avoid stress-related (and general) senioritis? I have three suggestions:

Be careful about social media. Colleges can and do look at some applicants' social media pages to see what kinds of behaviors their aspiring students display. This may include a check on how applicants are observing various pandemic protocols. Images of your community volunteer work would be preferable to pictures of you chugging beer at a party, and show that your out-of-classroom energy is being well spent.

Set some specific family-related goals. One of the best ways to avoid stress is to take the focus off yourself. Find out how you can offer support to your family's situation. Can you help around the house with chores? If a part-time job is available, can you contribute to the weekly food budget? How about giving some extra help to pet care (walks, cleaning, etc.)? Do younger brothers or sisters need oversight while your parents are busy? These activities will keep you motivated for your school work, provide some application essay anecdotes, and limit your time playing Minecraft.

Stay healthy. This looks like one of those "DUH!" ideas, but in our current environment, it makes a lot of sense. Complicating COVID-19 dangers will be fall-winter flu season. Who knows what new perils it will present? Thus, carry your school's safety protocols home with you and by all means observe them when among friends. Missing a lot of school due to sickness can put a real crimp in your college application plans and add to the famous rationalization for senioritis: "What's the use of trying?"

Here's hoping that your COVID-19 senior year will be safe and successful. It's a brave new world out there now. Stay focused on achieving your goals!

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