Countering Senioritis: Focus on Skills for College Success


Counterintuitive. Counterargument. Counterclockwise. That prefix “counter” means to go against: against instinct, against reason, against the typical way the clock hands shift. And this prefix is exactly how you can get your son or daughter to shake off the rising tide of senioritis and be prepared for living at college next fall. Let me explain...

A friend of mine has a serious sweet tooth that encourages her to eat ice cream practically every night. If she wanted to change this indulgent habit, sheSenioritis_Obstacles.jpg might set up a counter behavior to make it easier. For example, she could simply stop buying ice cream at the grocery store so that it’s not conveniently stocked up at home when the craving strikes. If she can’t resist that impulse in the store, she might send her husband grocery shopping and explicitly ask him to skip the frozen treats aisle. Whenever we set up a countering system, we increase the odds that we can change our behavior, thus increasing our odds of success.

Although the thought may seem remote during the waning months of senior year, your son or daughter will likely face obstacles in college that can impede success. In order to prepare for living independently at college, you can discuss these obstacles ahead of time, brainstorming countering behaviors or approaches for each. Below are a few of the more common obstacles and temptations for which a countering system can be just the ticket.

The Obstacle: Setting Boundaries 

    • The Context: As a parent, you are mainly in control of the household rules: You decide when your child’s curfew is, you determine what kinds of behaviors — or lack thereof— are grounds for grounding, and you often have a say in when your child hangs out with friends. But when young scholars head off for dormitory life, all of those boundary-setting decisions are theirs. Should they haul off to the library for an evening study session or go out to dinner with roommates? There’s no parent there to tell them that studying is the better course of action; instead, there are four friendly peers begging for company to the 50 cent wing night down the street.  

    • The Countering Behavior: Just like the ice cream example mentioned earlier, one countering behavior that your child can use to set boundaries is to develop maneuvers to avoid the temptation in the first place. If it’s a heavy study week, your son or daughter might hit the library right after class each afternoon for an hour to avoid the face-to-face invitation that could be waiting back at the dorm. Or, your son or daughter might activate the do-not-disturb feature on their tech devices to avoid seeing the tempting texts about appetizing appetizers. Another option might be to play offense, rather than defense. Your child could schedule a time with friends that works for his or her schedule, letting them know that the other nights will be spent comprehending the Federal Reserve System—  and other exciting Macroeconomics topics.

The Obstacle: Understanding Assignment Expectations

    • The Context: Many first-year classes have more than double the number of students-per-classroom that freshmen have been accustomed to throughout their prior educational experience. The teacher, therefore, typically communicates expectations in two ways: explaining them in class or writing them in the syllabus and assignment prompts. And for all their good intentions, some professors’ instructions are just not that clear. However, some students find it daunting to ask a clarifying question in a class of 15, never mind when they are sitting in a room filled with over 50 unfamiliar peers.   

    • The Countering Behavior: During the first three weeks of school, your son or daughter should make an appointment with each professor for a visit during office hours. This will ensure that your child knows how to get to the office, and knows when those hours are. Then, your child should consistently stop by, maybe every week to start, and then scaling back to a bi-weekly visit depending on how the semester progresses. The more comfortable your child is with the professor, the more likely office hours can be used to clarify assignment expectations, thus countering the tendency to become swallowed up in those large lecture classes.    

The Obstacle: Managing “Free” Time

    • The Context: A while back, we posted an article about the difficulties students face when dealing with unstructured time. The fact that students spend a lot less time in the classroom than they did in high school plays a trick on them: They think it means free time, but that time isn’t really free. It’s time that gets filled with competing demands: finish a reading assignment or go out for lunch with a roommate; begin researching for an essay or watch reruns of Friends; go to the gym or sleep in. For students who struggle with Goal-Directed Persistence and Time Management, having an abundance of time to fill— and having to constantly make choices about how to fill it— is a thorny problem in a student’s freshman year.

    • The Countering Behavior: One of the most useful things your college-bound son or daughter can do is to choose a tool which provides a visual of the day or week, versus a to-do list approach. For example, using the daily or weekly view on a Google Calendar shows your tasks as blocks of time. If it’s a three class day, it might look like only three hours are taken up with “stuff” to do, and most of the time is available. But once your child begins filling in time for activities that need to get done in the “free” space, it’s easy to see how much of that time will end up dedicated to getting homework assignments done, attending club meetings, and waiting for clothes in the dryer in the communal laundry room. Bonus approach? Use the reminders feature on the calendar so when your child feels tempted to binge-watch The Walking Dead rather than starting research for an upcoming history paper, the calendar can help him counter that impulse.

As coaches, we speak with lots of parents who worry about those tell-tale signs of senioritis in their soon-to-be-graduating high school kids: half-hearted studying because "it doesn't matter now", skipping a day or two when "everyone else is doing it", or simply abandoning the good habits of keeping organized and managing time that they worked so hard to build during their high school years. You can counter some of that senioritis with a reality check by anticipating with your child the obstacles that lie ahead.

Do you think your college-bound child could have a bumpy transition to self-management in the fall? Find out how online coaching supports students and provides peace of mind for parents.


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photo credit: Get to the top. via photopin (license)

About the Author

Brittany Peterson

Brittany Peterson is a college writing instructor, certified writing tutor, and senior executive function coach at Beyond BookSmart. She began her career in education at Quinnipiac University earning a Bachelor of Arts in English and Masters degree in Secondary Education. Feeling motivated to expand her pedagogical skill set, Brittany pursued a second Masters degree in Composition and Rhetoric at the University of Massachusetts Boston. After graduating, she became a full-time lecturer at UMass Boston where she currently serves as the Assistant Director of Composition and teaches first-year composition to a diverse classroom culture including English Language Learners and nontraditional students from a variety of academic backgrounds. Brittany's experience with adult learners, diverse cultures, and a range of learning abilities has enabled her to become a flexible educator who is sensitive to individual learning needs and intrinsically invested in their educational success.

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