Hitting the Academic Wall: How 11th Graders Can Break Through at the End of the Year

Most of the juniors I am working with have entered the “blackout period,”  the time of year when their top priorities are preparing for AP exams, prepping for SAT subject tests, and finishing their junior years with a strong performance.

This is a very difficult time for them. I can tell that they are starting to feel burned out, and as the days are warming after a long winter, they seem to want to just throw the books out the window and burst into the spring sunshine. Who can blame them? Even though it can be hard for students to acknowledge, this is the most important time to delay gratification and keep up the strong work. What they don’t know is that even though they have worked very hard for the last five semesters, what they do over the next two months will either help them realize the college opportunities they have worked towards for so long, or put them out of reach.

I’m the father of a college freshman, and I can recall having tough conversations with a junior who was starting to question whether he could muster the energy to finish strong. Not unlike the marathon runner who hits “the wall” at mile marker 18 (been there), your high school junior may be hitting his or her academic wall.

The experiences seem to me to have a lot of similarities. For the runner looking at what seems like an insurmountable task of pressing on for six more miles, they need to break down the distance into something easier to get their head around. “I’ll run to that next telephone pole, I can make that,” is a mantra that is awfully similar to, “Just 30 more minutes studying Le Chatelier’s principle will really help me prepare for the AP Chemistry exam.”

In running, the water stations provide you with the extra moment you need to slow down, get some needed fluids, recharge a little, and press on. Students need their psychological breaks too. A 20 minute run (or 20 minutes of Titanfall) may be what they need to take on chemistry again. Those water breaks are important; you can’t make it without them.

Without approaching the end of the race the right way, you’ll find your high achievers making small missteps. They might end up with a three on the AP exam when they should have earned a four or five, or finish with AP Chem with a B that could have been an A but for those two quizzes. These little stumbles can cost them in the committee room at highly selective colleges.

So ask yourself, are you cheering on your runner or adding to the weight of their fatigue? There is only a little more race left to run in this all important year. Help them give it all the effort they can. Lean as far over the rail as you dare and cheer them on with all the enthusiasm you’ve got. In June, when the final steps of their academic race have been run, they will hopefully look back at the effort they put in and know they did everything they could. They will have learned something about their limits and surprised themselves by how far they could push themselves beyond what they previously thought possible.



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Written by Kennon Dick
Kennon Dick is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Prior to joining College Coach, Kennon was as a senior admissions officer at Swarthmore College, Drexel University, and Johnson State College.