Ten Wise Decisions Your College Student Can Make to Improve Their GPA

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 probationwant 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.

Related Posts:

How Parents Can Help Their College Student in Difficulty

Should My College Student Consider Retaking a Course?

Is Your College Student Investing Enough Time Studying?

Are There Secrets to College Success?

Helping Your College Student Be a Better Student: Twelve Questions to Ask

4 thoughts on “Ten Wise Decisions Your College Student Can Make to Improve Their GPA”

  1. I try not to be too pushy and not to interfere in my son’s studies. But when I found out that his GPA dropped to 3.0 in two semesters, it was impossible not to do something. He’s not the type who doesn’t care about his studies, he was just having a hard time fitting in. But now there is a lot of work to do to get his grades straightened out.
    Here are worthwhile articles for students and parents who want to help: https://www.wv-hsta.org/resources-events/student-resources/ This includes an article on why GPA is important. We really need to get our GPA up to apply for suitable scholarships otherwise no one will even consider applications without it.

    • Thanks for sharing these resources, Sue. Yes, GPA is important, but one of the interesting things I learned from our interview with Janet MacDonald about scholarships is how many other factors also matter. Scholarship committees can look at a lot of different factors, and some of them may not go to only the very best students. Don’t give up hope! Keep looking and working on scholarship applications.

  2. Ryan – Your story should be inspiring to many students. Your new start shows determination and that things can be turned around. I suspect that most admissions offices look at the complete story and will certainly take into consideration the difference between your original transcript/grades and your more recent efforts. Be sure to tell your complete story when you apply, and perhaps request an interview as well if it isn’t required. However, I wouldn’t leave it all to guesswork. I’d suggest a meeting right now with the admissions office of the school and/or department to which you plan to apply. Ask them what they are looking for. Ask them what you should do over the next few months as you take courses in anticipation of applying. They are likely to be willing to work with you and suggest what will help. Or . . . if they tell you now that you will not be able to be admitted to the program that you want, you will have time to be flexible and either consider another program at the same school or another school entirely. You don’t have to wonder and work in the dark. Contact admissions early and talk to them. Best of luck.

  3. I have a question and am feeling bummed at the moment and was hoping to find an answer or hope. I was a lousy student (though never received academic dismissal or probation) at the local community college for my first two years and my first year at University. I stopped taking classes (2003) and started working. I have been working for the past 10 years and after the birth of my second son I decided that I would go back to finish my degree (while working 40hrs+ per week). I am taking classes at the local community college right now and am studying harder than ever before, currently (though we’re only 3 weeks in to classes) posting As in all three classes. I just met with an advisor whom told me that my likelihood of gaining entry into the program at my college of choice was a very long shot because of the rigidity of the requirements for the program (3 tries on a class **I have two withdrawals on one of the gateway courses**). My intention is to complete the engineering transfer associates degree (about 12 classes) and in so-doing demonstrate to them that I am a completely different student than I was 10 years ago. Would this help my case for an appeal to the college in case of an immediate denial (by to the college I mean I can get in to the SCHOOL, just don’t know if I can get in to the major)? Is life happenings an acceptable appeal? Should I be honest and upfront about how I was a terribly ignorant and arrogant younger student not cut out for college? Any help would be greatly appreciated.


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