What to Do If Your College Student Is on Academic Probation

No college student heads off to college with the plan to be placed on academic probation and face potential dismissal.  Few parents, when they drop their student off for college in September, expect that their student will struggle to the point of being placed on probation.  But the reality is that, for many students, their academic work warrants the college officially notifying them that they are in danger of being dismissed.  Parents can be a tremendous asset, or can potentially make matters worse, when this happens.  Here are some suggestions about how you, and your college student, can cope with academic probation.

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Is Your College Student Academically At-Risk?

Colleges and universities want their students to succeed.  Whether the institution is a highly selective ivy-league college or an open enrollment community college, schools want to see their students accomplish their goals.  Unfortunately, not all students enter college with a level playing field.  Some students come to college with qualities that will make it more difficult to succeed.  Colleges often work hard to identify those students who may be academically ”at-risk” so that they can help them to overcome potential difficulties.  Understanding some of the factors that may place a student at-risk, as well as some of the strategies that colleges may use to help these students will help parents to better support these students.

Who is At-Risk?

It is important to understand that not every student who fits into an ”at-risk” category will truly be at risk.  Many students experience significant academic success in spite of tremendous hardships or difficulties.  However, research has identified some factors that may create difficulties for students.  Some of these factors include:

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How Parents Can Help College Students Value Their Mistakes

No one likes to make mistakes. We know we may not be perfect, but we try not to make too many mistakes — especially what we might consider ”stupid mistakes”.  College students don’t like to make mistakes either, but they will probably make some — perhaps many — mistakes throughout their college career.  It is difficult, as a parent, to watch your college student make what you might consider avoidable mistakes.  The problem may not be the mistakes themselves, but the attitude that both parents and students have toward their mistakes.

Making mistakes is a way of learning.  We may make mistakes when we try new things, or stretch our limits.  Others may have made the same mistake before us, but we may need to make the mistake ourselves in order to learn from it. It doesn’t matter what others have told us, we need to have the experience ourselves.  College is, in many ways, practice for life.  College students may stumble and fall at times — sometimes in small ways and sometimes in more serious ways — but, hopefully, they will learn from their mistakes and become wiser.  As college parents, we can help our students make sense of these experiences.

This post is not about specific mistakes that students make in college, but rather it is about how parents can help college students accept their mistakes as a valuable part of their college experience and learn from them.  Sometimes the mistakes that students make in college may be very serious, and have serious consequences.  It is important that parents consider carefully when to intervene. (Hint: it may not be as soon as we think.) Parents need to continue to find the balance between letting go and allowing their student to make a mistake and bear the consequences, and intervening when the student’s health or safety may be at stake.

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Helping Your College Student Avoid ”How Do I Tell My Parents?” Fears

Things happen.  As college students work at their increasing independence and responsibility, as they learn that some of the choices that they are making are good choices and others are not, as they strive to find balance, as they struggle to accept consequences for their actions, things happen.  Some of these things are good things, affirming that your student is growing and maturing and making wise decisions.  Some of these things are not as positive, and some may have serious consequences.  Some students have poor or even failing grades, some face college judicial or even legal consequences, some face health issues, some face social problems, some face serious money issues,  and some simply feel that they’ve made all of the wrong choices at this point in their life.

Whatever may be happening for your college student, it may be magnified at the midpoint in a semester.  The reality of midterm grades may be a wake-up call.  The urgency of the remaining few weeks may hit.  The immediacy of a break or holiday at home with family may dawn.  The tensions are increasing as the semester progresses.

No matter what your college student may be experiencing or feeling right now, the second thing that many students worry about may be ”How will I tell my parents?”  As parents, we like to think that our college students can talk to us about whatever may be bothering them.  However, for many students, concern about family reactions to college difficulties may be adding to an already difficult time.  This may be especially true for families that are, or have been, close.  Our college students don’t want to disappoint us.  They don’t want to let us down.  They don’t want to fail at their new found independence.

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Should My College Student Consider Withdrawing from a Class?

Your college student has received their midterm grades.  They may be pleased and feeling relieved, or may have some cause for concern.  Now is the time that your student needs to do some serious thinking about how they will approach the second half of the semester.  If all of their grades are good then your student knows that they are on the right track.  If some, or all, of their grades are weak, then it is time to think about a new approach.

Your college student may, or may not, share midterm grades with you.  If your student has some low midterm grades, they may view this as a failure.  You may need to help your student put these grades into perspective and make some decisions about the second half of the semester.

Withdrawing from a college class is not the same thing as dropping a class early in the term.  At most institutions, students have an option in the first few days of the term of dropping a class.  This is important for students who find that they are in the wrong level of a class, or that the class is inappropriate or of no interest to them.  Classes that are dropped at the beginning of the term generally do not show up on the student’s permanent record.  Withdrawing from a class later in the term usually results in a ”W” appearing on the student’s transcript.  The ”W” has no effect on the student’s GPA (Grade Point Average).

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Why Is My Student In ”Developmental Classes”?

The step from high school to college may actually be better termed a large leap.  Students need to make important changes in their expectations, approaches, habits, attitudes and responsibilities.  For students who are moving away and living at school the challenges are even greater.  Although most students understand that there will be significant changes in their social world and in their independence and responsibilities, many students — and their parents — underestimate the significance of the academic differences between high school and college.

Although they may be ready for college in many ways, a portion of students may not be ready for college level academic work.  Most colleges recognize that some students need to improve academic skills or fill in gaps in order to enhance their chances for academic success.  These students needing extra readiness skills may be placed in ”developmental courses”.  Although these courses may have different titles or designations at different institutions, their purpose is the same: to help the student gain proficiency in basic skills in order to help him succeed.

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Why Your College Student Should Talk To Their Professor If They’re Struggling

Many college students, even the best college students, struggle at one time or another.  It may be a difficult time for the student, it may be a difficult subject for the student, or there may be a teaching/learning style issue with the instructor.  Whatever the reason for the difficulty, it is often hard for a parent to watch a student struggle.  Parents may feel helpless and may want to step in to help.  Parents can be helpful, as always, by being supportive.  However, they can also be helpful by encouraging their student to address any difficulties.  By encouraging your student to take some action, you are sending them the message that you believe that they can take charge of what is happening in their life.

The first and best place for the student to begin dealing with the issue of academic difficulty is to talk to their instructor.  Students and their professors have the same goal: the student’s success.  This involves a shared responsibility.  A conversation with the instructor is a good way to explore the problem and begin to formulate a solution.  Most difficulties only get worse when they are ignored or when there is no communication.

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Ten Suggestions to Help Students Through the Stress of Midterm Exams

Midterm exam time is a stressful time for most students.  For many students, midterm exam time comes as a wake-up call.  The beginning of the semester has progressed smoothly, or so it seems, and then suddenly your student realizes how much there still is to do on that paper or project, or how many chapters are yet unread, or how much material must be memorized for an exam.  Although some students may have had large midterm or final exams in high school, for some students this may be a new experience.  This may be one of the first big college reality checks for your student.

College parents may feel helpless as their college student begins to worry or even panic over exams.  This is one of those college moments where your student needs to figure out how they will cope.  However, there are a few things that parents can do to help students through this stressful time.

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

Your college student may have been an outstanding scholar in high school, or he may have struggled throughout his academic career.  His patterns of being a student have been set for years.  However, college provides a new academic start for students.  Students who breezed through high school may find themselves challenged for the first time.  Students who found themselves labeled as poor students in high school may find that the fresh start gives them new energy and perspective on their studies.

Whether your student is encountering academic difficulty for the first time in college, or has fought this battle before, you may receive the phone call in which your student worries about her grades, complains about the amount and difficulty of the work, is aggravated at the professor, and is generally discouraged.  Academics in college are very different than in high school and they often require a new approach.

What is a parent to do?  First of all, listen.  Let your student vent.  Sometimes, that may be all that is necessary.  But second, ask some questions to help your student try to figure out what he can do to make things better.  Help him think about taking action.  Here are twelve questions that you might ask your struggling student to help him think through the issue.

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Two Habits That Will Make Your College Student Stop Listening To You

As a college parent, you experience a changing relationship with your college student once they head off to college.  During their growing years, you have functioned as caretaker, worrying and working to make sure that all has gone as well as possible in many areas of their life.  Once your student goes to college, you will have less contact with their everyday life.  This doesn’t mean that you will necessarily have less communication with them.  Conversations change from “Where are you going?”, “When will you be home?” and “You need to pick up your shoes,” to more interesting and potentially more meaningful topics.

Most of us value our conversations and discussions with our college students.  We want to know how their lives are unfolding, what they are thinking and feeling, and we want to share our thoughts with them.  Chances are that our students want the same thing – even if they don’t always admit it.  However, even with our best of intentions, there are two conversational habits which are what Rebecca Shafir in her book The Zen of Listening calls “listening stoppers”. We probably don’t even realize that we are doing these things.

Take some time to consider whether you might be guilty of either of these habits.

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