Overcoming the High School Senior Slump

New Education Policies
Michael W. Kirst
Stanford University


Senior slump is part of American high school culture. High school seniors, from the top of the class to the bottom, view much of senior year as a time

they have "earned" for nonacademic pursuits, including fun, internships, and paid work. For the best-performing students, senior slump may begin in the fall, the day after they are accepted to college under early admissions. For other college-bound students, senior slump often begins soon after they have filed their college applications. For students not planning to attend college immediately after high school, senior slump may begin the moment they feel confident that they will graduate with their class.

Senior slump seems so much a part of American high school culture that some may assume it is a universal phenomenon, that teenagers worldwide feel entitled to several months of light academic duty before heading off to college, work, or the armed services. In truth, senior slump seems uniquely American. In Britain, for example, students take their A levels and O levels at the end of their last year in secondary school, and these examinations are crucial for their future life chances. Because performance on these examinations determines admissions to universities and to departments within universities, British students spend their final year of secondary school in intense preparation.

Given the various proposals by educators and legislators that the American high school academic year be lengthened (by lengthening the school day or shortening summer vacation or adding classes on Saturday), it seems appropriate to explore a large expanse of underused time that is already on the school calendar. By curtailing senior slump, we could add valuable months to high school students' education at a critical point in their intellectual development. This paper examines the causes and consequences of senior slump and presents policy directives that can help American high schools reclaim the senior year.

Suggested citationKirst, M. W. (2001, May). Overcoming the High School Senior Slump: New Education Policies [Report]. Policy Analysis for California Education.