A Five Step Plan to Help Your College Student to Salvage a Poor Semester

As many college students pass the mid-point in their semester, they begin to realize that the final results this term may not be what they had hoped for.  This is a point in the term when some students give up.  They may decide to withdraw from a class or drop out of college entirely; or they may simply drift through the rest of the term and wait for the inevitable failure or dismissal.  Some students, however, wonder whether they can salvage something from the term to build on later.

If your student is struggling at this point, and is willing to share their situation with you, you want to be able to help them value their mistakes and think about what to do — both immediately and more long term.

First, it will be important that your student decide whether or not they want to salvage anything.  Your student may not, and that may prompt a different conversation.  But if they want to try, you may need to help them think about whether it is possible and if so, what to do. Many students in this situation feel that they have lost control of what is happening in their lives.  The following plan may help them begin to take control once again.

Step #1 — Make a decision

The first step for your student will be to make a definite commitment to making a change, being proactive, and doing whatever they can to accomplish something in the final weeks of the semester.  It is important that this be your student’s decision, not yours.  If your student is not 100% committed to working toward this goal, nothing will be successful.

Step #2 — Gather information

Once your student has committed to trying to save something in the semester, they will need to gather enough information to consider the options.

  • What are the deadlines for options such as Pass/Fail or Withdrawing from a class?  If your student has not missed the deadline, these will remain options.  If the deadline has passed, your student will know that these are no longer possibilities.
  • What are the implications of possible actions?  If your student can still withdraw from a class or two, are there consequences if they go below full time credits?  Will there be an impact on housing or financial aid?  If your student fails a class, how will it impact their major or progress?
  • Who can your student talk to, perhaps their academic advisor or another trusted faculty member, to get the bigger overall academic picture?  If your student fails classes or gets very low grades, what will happen?  What is the academic probation policy?  What might warrant dismissal from the college?

This is a difficult step in this process.  Your student will need to consider the worst possible scenarios and investigate what might happen.  They may not like what they hear, but they may also discover that there is hope.  Your student may fear that they will be dismissed, but learn that there is a probation policy that will give them a second chance next semester.  Whatever they hear, your student will know the facts rather than simply assuming and fearing the worst.

Step #3 — Contact and Communicate

Once your student has determined the bigger picture and implications, they will need to tackle individual courses to determine their next actions.  For many students, contacting and talking to a faculty member is intimidating — and especially so when things are not going well in the class.  However, your student will need to speak directly to instructors to find out whether anything can be salvaged in a course.

  • Your student should act as quickly as possible to contact each professor for a discussion.  There may be a lot to accomplish in a class in a short period of time and there is no time to waste.
  • Your student may want to use the buffer of e-mail to open a discussion, but should follow up with a face to face meeting.  Sending an e-mail to ask for an appointment is a good way to start.  However, if the instructor does not reply quickly, the student needs to go to his or her office during office hours. Your student cannot afford to wait several days for a response.
  • If your student has not been going to class, they may want to ask whether it is OK to return.  Many students who miss a few classes are reluctant to return because they worry that they will be singled out and/or embarrassed.  An e-mail to the professor first may make going back easier.
  • When your student meets with the professor, they’ll need to ask a) whether there is any chance of passing the class and b) specifically what they need to do.
  • Your student should be as specific as possible about what they have missed and what lies ahead.  They should ask for concrete and specific recommendations of what they can and cannot do in the class and what the reality of a final grade might be.

Most professors want students to succeed and are willing to work to help students who are giving their best effort.  You can encourage your student to communicate honestly with their instructors and to try to remember that they want the best for students.

Step # 4 — Create a plan of action

Once your student has gathered all of the information that they can about the bigger picture and about each specific class, they will need to consider their options and create a plan.  They will start by looking at each class to decide what can be saved.

  • If there are courses that your student knows they will not be able to pass, and they can still withdraw, they should do so quickly.  If Pass/Fail is still an option and they can pass something, they should exercise that option.  If these options are no longer available, your student will need to remain in all of their classes.
  • If your student has determined that there are some classes that they cannot pass no matter what they do, they will need to stop working on those classes and put their efforts into any classes that they can pass.  It is obviously important that they have accurate information from professors before they choos to abandon a class.
  • For any class that your student might pass, they will need to be very specific about what needs to be done, have accurate deadlines, and attend every class regularly.  Being as specific as possible, using a calendar or assignment planner, working with a tutor if necessary, taking advantage of all support on campus, are all techniques that may help.

It is important at this stage that your student is clear about the differences between goals and action plans.  Your student may already have the goal of doing well, but they need specific plans that will help them achieve this goal.

Step #5 — Follow through

In some ways, this step may be the simplest step.  It is ”simply” to follow through with the action plans created in step 4.  Your student has already made the uncomfortable effort to talk to advisors and faculty members to gather information.  Having made that effort and realistically evaluated the options, having worked to break down classes and assignments into doable action plans, your student now needs to put that information and planning into place.  They will need to remain focused on realistic goals and the steps needed to get there.

Many students may have a difficult semester at any time in their college career.  Some of those students give up too early.  If your student is having a poor semester, they may not be able to turn the entire thing around, but they may be able to salvage enough to build upon later.  It is important that your student get a realistic picture, communicate with others and get support, and create a reasonable plan of action.  As a  parent, you can provide important guidance and suggestions, but it will be important, as always, that you let your student take the lead.

Related Posts:

Helping Your College Student Find Support on Campus

College Professors Are People, Too!

What to Do If Your Student Is Academically Dismissed from College

Why Your College Student Should Talk to Her Professor If She’s Struggling

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