If your college student is struggling academically, they (and you) may be wondering how to improve the situation. You are probably encouraging your student to do everything they can to do better. Most students who are in difficulty — perhaps even on academic warning or academic probation — want to do better, but many do not know what to do. They say they’ll work harder, but they don’t necessarily know how to work smarter. Other students simply make the wrong decisions in an attempt to improve their situation.
Talk to your student about their difficulty. Help them try to analyze what has caused the problem. (This may not be an easy process.) As your student thinks about how to address their situation, encourage them to avoid many common mistakes by considering some of the following wise decisions to improve their GPA.
- Take ownership of the problem. Many students do not want to admit that their difficulty is the result of their actions. They allow themselves to become victims. They blame the professor, the subject matter, the time of the class, their fellow students, their roommate or living situation, or some other factor. If your student takes ownership of the problem, they will take the first step toward ownership of the solution. Your student will not simply hope that they get lucky or that things will get better, they will know that they need to take action to improve the situation.
- Withdraw on time from a course that is not salvageable. Sometimes students may recognize that there is one course in their current schedule they will probably not be able to pass, or will barely pass. Some students hope things will get better, or they simply do not want to face the reality of failure, so they wait too late to withdraw from the class. Hopefully, your student will not need to withdraw from a class very often, but sometimes it is the wisest decision because it allows the student to put their energies into the courses in which they may potentially do well — and to protect their GPA. Encourage your student not to wait. If they are not sure about the deadline or process for withdrawing, they should talk to their academic advisor or advising office. Your student should not assume that they will be given any special consideration after the deadline.
- Use a pass/fail option if it is available. Many schools offer students an option of taking a certain number of their courses (sometimes as many as one per semester) on a pass/fail basis. Students may choose not to receive a grade for a course, but to have it appear on their transcript as a P or F, while still getting the credit for the course. This means that, as long as the student passes the course, the course will not affect their GPA. Be sure that your student takes advantage of this option if it is available, and does not miss the deadline for requesting the option. Again, if your student is not sure of the policy, they should consult with their advisor or advising office.
- Get help. Most schools offer tutoring services or other support. Students in difficulty should seek this help early and often. Your student does not need to, and should not, struggle alone. Your student might also talk with another student who is doing well in the course and who might be willing to spend some time tutoring. Often, the best students are the students who are the first to seek tutoring help. Seeking help or tutoring is a wise, proactive step.
- Don’t forget about any Incomplete grades. Sometimes unexpected circumstances arise at the end of a semester and a student will receive an Incomplete grade. This means that your student still needs to do something to finish the course, and they will then receive a grade. Many students forget about the work that they need to complete when they get wrapped up in the next semester’s classes. At most institutions, an Incomplete grade will become an F after a certain amount of time. Your student should be sure to complete all coursework. Successfully turning an Incomplete into a quality grade can help a GPA.
- Repeat a failed course. If your student fails a course, they may never want to think about that course again. However, at many institutions, if a student retakes a course, the new grade may replace, or at least partially replace, the old grade. An improved grade obviously means an improved GPA.
- Plan a reasonable schedule. If your student has failed or withdrawn from many classes, they may recognize that they are now behind on earning credits and they may try to make up for that by enrolling for extra credits the following semester. You may encourage your student to ”get their money’s worth” from that high tuition. However, your student needs to think carefully how many credits they can successfully carry during any one semester. Attempting to take on a load that is too heavy may be setting your student up for failure. This is especially true if they have struggled in the past. Fewer credits, well done, will help your student gain confidence as a student as well as improve their GPA. It is possible your student may then need to take summer classes, intercession classes, or perhaps complete an extra semester, but they will do it successfully with the confidence that they are improving.
- Know themselves and make their own choices. Your student may need to resist the advice of friends who will suggest certain courses or professors because they loved them. Every student has different needs, or needs different styles or personalities in a professor. Some students thrive on well organized lectures, while other students need active group participation. Some students love a professor’s flexible, loose approach to a course, while other students need a well structured syllabus from the beginning. Your student should think carefully about what they want and need in a classroom experience and choose accordingly whenever possible.
- Take different types of classes. Your student will probably have a certain number of all-college required courses. They will also have courses that they need for their major or minor. There will also be courses that your student will want to take simply because they seem interesting. As your student plans their schedule, they should balance all of these types of courses. Encourage your student not to just ”take the requirements” or just take courses in their major. Encourage them to take a course in their major, take one or two required courses, and take something that they love.
- Listen to the advice of the professionals. Hopefully, your student will listen to some of the advice that you give them. Hopefully, your student will listen to their own advice as they think honestly about what they want and what they need to do to accomplish it. However, your student needs, also, to listen to the wisdom of the college professionals who want to see them succeed. They should meet with their professors, their advisor, academic support personnel, their resident assistant or residence director, and perhaps even a counselor. Encourage your student to take advantage of all of the help that is available as they take charge of their education.
Making wise choices and decisions is a learning process. Your student may make mistakes. The process of making mistakes is the process of learning and growing. Try to help your college student anticipate some of the mistakes that may happen, and try to help them avoid those mistakes, however, recognize that some mistakes will be inevitable. Step back and let your student manage their education. Although there may be difficulties along the way, you may be surprised — and you will be especially proud —when they succeed on their own.