Many teens slack off during their last year of high school. Once they get their college acceptance letters, they take fewer classes, drop out of extracurricular activities and let their grades slide. Those who aren’t going on to college feel free to “zone out” in class. After all, they believe they’ll never use facts about Shakespeare or the Civil War once they graduate.

Pranks, joy rides, “senior ditching,” spring break in Florida or Cancun, graduation parties and proms all add to the fun. After thirteen years of school, the end is finally in sight. It’s time to kick back and celebrate. Seniors with very bad cases of “senioritis” often take just one or two classes and spend the rest of their day hanging out with friends.

Experts in the field of education believe that the main reason for “senioritis” is the college acceptance process. Colleges and universities base their acceptances on a student’s high school record through junior year. Because senior year is irrelevant to the process, students have no incentive to maintain grades and activities. Although colleges can and do revoke acceptances if a student’s grades fall too low during senior year, they don’t do this routinely.

In the meantime, senior year often remains a waste of time, and many adults don’t care. They may view senior year as a transition year between childhood and adulthood. It is the last chance to be free before taking on the responsibility of a job and rent or the challenges of a full load of college courses.

The problem with this thinking is that many students get the shock of their lives when they enroll in college and find out they cannot do the work. Although 70% of high school seniors enroll in college, only half of them earn degrees. Many students spend freshman year in remedial classes to catch up. Literally all community colleges, four out of five public four-year universities, and six out of ten private four-year institutions offer remedial courses. If your child has to enroll in remedial classes, it may take him five years or more to graduate. That extra time in college will cost you thousands of dollars in tuition and costs plus all the money your child loses in salary.

Here are some suggestions to help your child prepare for college and careers during senior year.

  1. Don’t allow your student to slack off academically. Even if she only has a few required courses left, have her enroll in additional challenging courses like foreign language, science or mathematics. Your student should take a full load – at least four courses– during senior year.
  2. The California State University system provides testing to high school juniors to determine if they are ready for college courses. Those who test low find out that they have a lot of catching up to do before they enroll in college. Many who test high find new motivation, especially if they did not realize that they were college material before taking the test. Find out if your student can take similar tests in your state. He may not be as academically ready for college as he thinks.
  3. Find out if your local junior college or state university will allow your student to enroll part-time. The courses he takes now can count as college credits. If your student graduates from college even one semester early by taking college or AP courses senior year, you will save thousands of dollars in tuition and dorm costs.
  4. Don’t allow your child to quit extracurricular activities such as sports, drama or newspaper. Seniors usually take over leadership roles in such activities. Being in charge of underclassmen provides valuable, confidence-boosting experience for college and career.
  5. Think of senior year as a great time to explore career interests. Find out if your student can do an internship at an interesting work place such as a courthouse or hospital. Finally, even if your student has been on a college prep track all his life, senior year is a great time to take classes that serve as an introduction to interesting off-beat fields like culinary arts, forensics and web design.

Within the next five years or so, chances are very good that the structure of American high schools will completely change. The National Commission on the High School Senior Year has made many radical suggestions to the Department of Education about restructuring senior year, such as allowing students to graduate early or to earn Associate Degrees while still in high school. The Commission also recommended that high schools set up more internships and work/study programs so that students can use senior year to explore careers.

In the meantime, it is up to you and your child to make senior year a meaningful experience.