Browse through the extensive canon of films about high school seniors and you’ll mostly encounter plots centered on road trips, parties, prom, romance, and social drama. For understandable reasons, foremost a lack of dramatic tension, few films show seniors in the classroom, quietly and maturely maintaining steady academic performance as they await admissions decisions from their prospective colleges.

Fighting off senioritis may not be exciting enough to grace the silver screen, but it is incredibly important for college-bound seniors. This is because institutions require the submission of something called a mid-year report from already accepted seniors as well as those awaiting admissions decisions in the regular round.

What is the mid-year report?

Your guidance counselor is required to send a mid-year report to each of the colleges to which you have applied or been accepted into during the early rounds. The basics of the mid-year report are: GPA, class rank (if applicable), and an updated transcript. However, additional information, positive or negative, can be communicated to prospective colleges. The Common App asks counselors to check whether there have been changes in a student’s schedule, disciplinary record, or criminal status. Some institutions will ask similar questions in a more open-ended format. For example, Georgetown University’s mid-year report asks counselors to, “Please comment on any significant additions to or changes in the candidate’s academic, extracurricular, or character record since your previous report and ratings.”

For those accepted ED/EA

For an easy sports analogy, think of this as playing with a lead and running out the clock. You don’t need to impress your future school; you simply need to avoid catching their eye for negative reasons. While it is uncommon to have your offer of admission rescinded, it does actually happen. UC Irvine typically withdrawals 150-200 acceptances per year over plummeting grades (this is separate from their recent enrollment controversy). Texas Christian is famous for sending a “Fear of God” letter to about 100 accepted students each year in response to declines in academic performance. Gonzaga pulls back offers of admission only a couple of times per year, but sends far more stern warnings to slacking seniors.

For those in the regular applicant pool

For borderline students whose application package may be teetering precariously between the proverbial thin and thick envelope stacks, a strong first semester performance can have a significant impact. Use the first semester as a showcase of your talent, abilities, and overall upward trajectory. There are several ways to do this beginning with…

Smart course selection

This one is more of a prevention strategy to be employed before senior year even begins.

Account for the realities of senior year when planning your schedule. Challenge yourself with as many high-level classes as you can handle while accounting for things like extracurriculars, prom, volunteer work, enjoying your fleeting moments with cherished childhood friends, and, of course, filling out those college applications and financial aid forms. Remember that while stretching yourself by enrolling in five AP classes senior year will impress admissions officers in the fall, a transcript filled with C minuses will not please anyone at mid-year reporting time.

Another warning: don’t plan on signing up for an all AP/honors senior slate and then pulling the old switcheroo, dropping your rigorous courses for extra study halls and P.E. periods after gaining acceptance. Colleges don’t look kindly on this maneuver.

Retake standardized tests

If your standardized test scores were not quite up to a given prospective college’s own definition of par, this is your chance to study hard and sit for another test administration. Retake the SAT or ACT in order to fully take advantage of Superscoring. Also consider adding an SAT Subject Test or two to your credentials. Even at schools that do not require the submission of Subject Tests, high scores in areas of strength will still impress an admissions committee.

Get the best grades of your life

Sure, an admissions officer would love to see four years of unwavering academic glory, but not everyone breezes through high school in a parade of As. If you have always been a B student, really buckle down senior year and earn As. An upward trajectory that reaches its crescendo during the first semester of senior year tells your colleges that you have fully matured as a student and are ready to excel in a higher education environment.

Key Takeaways

  • Colleges will look closely at your first semester senior year performance
  • While not overly-common, schools do sometimes rescind offers of admission to those with free-falling grades
  • If applying regular decision, bolster your credentials through first half performance
  • Set yourself up for success, with a realistic course load—stretch but don’t overreach
  • Retake the ACT/SAT and/or add an SAT Subject Test
  • Work harder than ever before, earning As. Show colleges that you are ready to make the dean’s list on their campus next fall.
Dave Bergman
Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent education consultant. He is a co-author of the book The Enlightened College Applicant: A New Approach to the Search and Admissions Process (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).