Surviving senioritis: Keeping the fire burning when it matters most

Where did all that fire and passion go?


Wren Bulawin

As graduation draws closer, seniors begin to truly feel the effect of four years of chronic stress set in. Unable to hold themselves together, many succumb to burnout, causing a severe drop in grades and academic performance.

Wren Bulawin, Open Canvas Manager, Staff Reporter

In each graduating class, this is the question many seniors ask themselves as they trudge through their final year of compulsory education. As the finish line approaches, their pace slows; their grades drop, and every academic step takes far more energy than before. It’s almost like watching moths chase after a dying flame.

This is “senioritis”: the phenomenon where once starry-eyed students find themselves slogging through senior year, barely hanging on to the allure of graduation. While not a real illness, the senior slump is a euphemism for something worse: academic burnout, a condition typically caused by prolonged levels of overwhelming stress. Unfortunately, the severe pressure to succeed and the intense rigor of an Ivy-competitive course load places high school students as one of the highest risk groups for unhealthy chronic stress. A 2020 study found that the most common emotions felt at school were “tired” at 58% and “stressed” at nearly 80%. Additionally, with external stressors such as thinking about college, part-time jobs, and social obligations, high school students have a lot on their plate.

I’ve seen students receive A’s and then all of a sudden, [during] those last six to twelve weeks of school, drop to C’s, some even F’s. When kids don’t turn in their work, don’t engage in the classroom, [and] seem to be more tired, it’s probably [burnout].

— Elaine Maxwell, Expository Reading Writing Curriculum (ERWC) teacher

“The balancing of extracurricular activities along with the rigor of all the classes can contribute to burnout,” said school counselor Ms. Alexandria Sandel. “It’s just finding, [or] not finding that balance.”

But why seniors specifically? Most likely, students allow these stressors to chip away at their motivation throughout the years without properly acknowledging the symptoms — after all, burnout can easily be downplayed as simply “stress” or “laziness” in its early stages. The most common symptoms of general burnout include endless exhaustion, apathy, and a slump in performance, while academic burnout specifically fosters feelings of cynicism and inadequacy towards learning. Left unchecked for years, these symptoms can snowball into a destructive mindset of chronic procrastination and apathy, which can completely ruin a student’s academic performance. 

“I’ve seen students receive A’s and then all of a sudden, [during] those last six to twelve weeks of school, drop to C’s, some even F’s,” said ERWC teacher Ms. Elaine Maxwell. “When kids don’t turn in their work, don’t engage in the classroom, [and] seem to be more tired, it’s probably [burnout].”

Many seniors incorrectly believe that their final year does not matter; however, they must remember that senioritis can be a deal-breaker for many aspects of their future. For many colleges, a senior transcript can determine a student’s acceptance, and in the working world, serves as a show of work ethic. And those who successfully carry their burnout with them to university may find themselves quickly joining the 7.3% of college freshmen who go through their first year completely burnt out. 

“If you’re applying to colleges [and] don’t pass those classes at the end when you send your final transcript, colleges can rescind your acceptance,” Ms. Sandel said.

“Even if you don’t go to college, you’ve had this section in your life that you decided to give up because you’ve burnt out,” Ms. Maxwell adds. “If [you] continue on a pattern like that, then [you’re] not going to be as successful.”

So how can future graduates keep their flames burning strong throughout the storms of senior year?

First, find a motivation — something to keep you going strong. Whether it be getting into a top-ten college, making your parents proud on the graduation stage, or earning that dream career, having a goal to work towards can help senior year feel less like a slog and more like a major step in life. 

“Find something that you like. Have a passion for something that [will] take you somewhere that you’ll enjoy for the rest of your life and work towards that,” said senior Sarai Estrada.

If that doesn’t work, find people who can cheer you on, people who want to see you succeed, and keep going for their sake.

“[For me] my boyfriend’s cheering me on, just trying to keep me motivated. [I’m] also trying to set a good example for my little sister,” added Estrada.  

Second, practice self-care whenever you feel an onset of incoming symptoms. Keeping your mental health strong is important for weathering the greatest adversaries, especially when presented with the option to give up. Taking some time out of the day to clear your mind from these tempting thoughts can help get you back on track and focused.

“Do a little something for you. Take a nice bath. Go for a run, play with your dog,” said senior Anthea Castillo. “And once you start to feel a little better after a bit, then try to get yourself back on track.”

Luckily, Ayala provides many self-care and mental health resources, from its Virtual Relaxation Room to free support sessions in the library’s Zen Den.

“Something that students have to learn how to do is giving [themselves] the time to take care of [their] mental health and physical health,” said Ms. Sandel. “We have a lot of self care resources on our counseling website that students can use when they’re feeling overwhelmed.”

Finally, keep a consistent balance that your physical and mental health can handle. Don’t overwork yourself, but don’t leave everything to the last minute. Take a few small, managable steps to stay on track each day, and remember to keep your priorities straight — no more mindless TikTok doom-scrolling.

“Make yourself a schedule on your phone. If you have a big chore, put it into different chunks,” said Castillo. “Try to stay consistent with your stuff, even if it seems like a lot.”

While it may only be the ten-week mark, reevaluate yourself and try to catch those senioritis symptoms early — and whatever you do, don’t give up.

“Once you go through all 12 years in school, you finally get to walk [at graduation]. You don’t want to get that taken away,” said Estrada. “Just push through, because in the end, it’s worth it all.”