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 of the term may not be good.  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 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 his situation with you, it will be important that you be able to help him value his 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 he wants to salvage anything.  He may not, and that may prompt a different conversation.  But if he wants to try, you may need to help him think about whether it is possible and 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 she 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, he will need to gather enough information to consider his options.

  • What are the deadlines for options such as Pass/Fail or Withdrawing from a class?  If he 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 he can still withdraw from a class or two, are there consequences if he goes below full time credits?  Will there be an impact on housing or financial aid?  If he fails a class, how will it impact his major or his progress?
  • Who can he talk to, perhaps his academic advisor or another trusted faculty member, to get the bigger overall academic picture?  If he 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.  He may not like what he hears, but he may also hear that there is hope.  He may fear that he will be dismissed, but learn that there is a probation policy that will give him a second chance next semester.  Whatever he hears, he 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, he will need to tackle individual courses to determine his 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. He cannot afford to wait several days for a response.
  • If your student has not been going to class, he 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, he’ll need to ask a) whether there is any chance of passing the class and b) specifically what he needs to do.
  • Your student should be as specific as possible about what he has missed and what lies ahead.  He should ask for concrete and specific recommendations of what he 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 his 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 she can about the bigger picture and about each specific class, she will need to consider her options and create a plan.  She will start by looking at each class to decide what can be saved.

  • If there are courses that she knows she will never be able to pass, and she can still withdraw, she should do so quickly.  If Pass/Fail is still an option and she can pass something, she should exercise that option.  If these options are no longer available, your student will need to remain in all of her classes.
  • If your student has determined that there are some classes that she cannot pass no matter what she does, she will need to stop working on those classes and put her efforts into any classes that she can pass.  It is obviously important that she have accurate information from professors before she chooses to abandon a class.
  • For any class that your student might pass, she 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 she needs specific plans that will help her 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.  He will need to remain focused on his 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, she may not be able to turn the entire thing around, but she may be able to salvage enough to build upon later.  It is important that she get a realistic picture, communicate with others and get support, and create a reasonable plan of action.  As a college 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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