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From Readers

I receive dozens of emails each month, and sometimes readers ask me to share their sentiments.  Below are just a few, all names have been changed to protect privacy.  My comments are in blue.  Jeff.

“Hi Jeff, I hope you are doing well. I just wanted to update you and thank you for all your help. I successfully enrolled in a local community college. I had multiple appeals to get my financial aid approved; it took working up the chain of command, many phone calls, and emails before they approved it. I am currently in the honor society and have a 4.0. This was all possible following your advice. I was really stuck at a dead-end before at my previous university. Now, I am trying to find internships and looking forward to next semester. You really saved me from a situation I thought was hopeless, and I cannot give enough thanks for you offering me your time. You helped me navigate a situation that no one else was able to help me with and now I have a second chance to succeed.

With much appreciation, Elly”

Jeff’s comments:

I distinctly remember speaking with “Elly” a few times, her voice was very tiny, meek, and unsure. I was thrilled to hear back from her months later, and glad to know that I could help out. As a self-supporting student, she was trying to navigate her way through college after encountering problems. College is hard to begin with, but doing it with no parental support makes it even more tough. I’m so glad she found success.

“Jeff… Thank you so much for taking the time with us yesterday on the phone call about our son Ray. Clearly your expertise is helpful to so many kids facing this issue of drift in their college careers. We were reassured that you confirmed some of our intuitions about both the underlying reasons for drift, and the various options we might choose to create an effective solution. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience. I will mark the calendar to give you an update later in a few months.

Your time and kindness is much appreciated! Nothing is more important than our kids.

Best, Richard & Jennifer”

Jeff’s comments:

I speak with many parents that need clarity and guidance about what to do when things go wrong in college. Because of my background, I can understand and help to disentangle the different possibilities of what might have caused bad grades. Poor college choice or planning, lack of skills, hidden disabilities, and many more factors can be at play. But always keep in mind that, regardless of how much parents understand what is happening, it’s always direct intervention that brings positive changes.

“Dear Jeff,

I am happy to inform you that I received acceptances to both UVA and William and Mary last week. I would like to thank you for all the support and help you provided throughout the application process. Your guidance, expertise in the field of higher education and helping me with edits were all essential to this great outcome. It was also nice to get to know you and work together. The full list of schools I was accepted to now includes the University of Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, UVA, William and Mary and Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) (I haven’t heard back from George Mason and was strangely wait listed at James Madison). I hope you are doing well, thanks again.

Zachary W.”

Jeff’s comments:

I was surprised to get an email some weeks after “Zach” and I concluded working together because his grades had become so good after having problems. He was also interested in transferring, so I drew upon my advising background to help him do a search for a college to attend after having a very low GPA at his first school. There is no magic for getting restarted after failing, it takes time, patience, and the willingness to improve one’s academic performance to be in a better place to transfer. With professional help, Zach worked hard and earned it, and I was happy to hear that he got accepted at many of the schools he considered.

“Bright son.

Three Fs first quarter Northwestern.

Just found out last evening.

Your blog like a lighthouse in the fog.

Love to speak.

Gina and Michael”

Jeff’s comments:

When it comes to college problems, the world doesn’t make it easy to find solutions, as “Gina and Michael’s” short haiku-like message reflected. Colleges never tell you about the students that fail, high schools always portray that all will be fine in college, and even the internet prioritizes information that is popular over effective solutions. I’m glad that some readers find my writing to be helpful. I work directly with those bright students who somehow didn’t find success during college, and that experience is what allows me to understand what causes the problems as well as what leads to success.

“Hello, my name is Anton and I am 20 years old. I studied Mechanical Engineering at Arizona State University up to my sophomore year, but now I am taking a forced gap year because of my poor academic performance . I just read a few of your articles and you nailed it on the head. I could relate to every single anecdote in your article. I love mechanical engineering and I know I am a smart individual, but I fear my academic performance is too poor to save at this point. My mother doesn’t know that I am failing. I have spoken with several academic consultants, but I feel like you can absolutely help me best in my situation. I hope to discuss more of this with you. Thank you for the good work that you do.”

Jeff’s comments:

I often hear from students, separate from their parents, about what they can do to improve in college. There’s no easy fix, it takes a comprehensive and professional approach to the issues, which usually means getting parents involved. It’s very difficult for a student to do it on their own, but some will try. They conceal their bad grades from their parents and try to make their own efforts, but that usually doesn’t bring them the success they need. Only when parents are resolved to find help for the situation does meaningful improvement come about.

“Hi! I have read a few articles in your blog and our family is in the same boat as many of the others who have contacted you. Our son just finished his freshman year at SUNY in Syracuse, NY. He is struggling academically and will be on academic probation. He failed a core class for his major first semester while getting C’s and B’s. He is scheduled to retake that class this upcoming fall but now in spring semester he has mostly D grades. His GPA is below 2.0. We cannot put into words how sad, demoralized and stunned we are. We are trying to address this dark hole that he has dug himself and are at a loss as to how to proceed. He says he loves his school and wants to continue but just like your blog highlights there must be things going on like difficulties in managing his time, test prep, and study habits. This has been an emotional time for all of us and I think we need some direction as to how to proceed and how much we can/should intervene to get him on track. Reading your articles is a bit scary but also makes us a bit hopeful that we can turn things around for him. Thank you in advance for your time.  Joanie”

Jeff’s comments:

Unfortunately, what “Joanie” describes is not a rare occurrence in college by any means. Students can create a situation where their grades become so low that, numerically, there aren’t enough points left in the term for them to pass even if they earned an “A” on all remaining tasks. Moreover, students personally can get in to their own “black hole” where they feel lost, helpless, and simply give up. There are typically multiple factors being at play, not just one single issue, even though they may be bright. They may suddenly discover that, despite doing well in high school, they never really learned how to study, can’t write to score points on assignments, lack focus, or are chronically disorganized. But there can also be hidden challenges like anxiety, depression, cognitive processing issues, or they simply chose a college setting where they were not likely to succeed. There is never one single causative factor when it comes to college failure, it’s usually multi-factorial in nature, and professional knowledge is needed to help disentangle the issues and get them back on track to graduation.

“Good Afternoon, I just finished reading some of your articles, I am the exact student you described. I came into college with 23 units from AP classes and tests, scored exceptionally well on the SAT and am having such a hard time in college. I’m scared because I have to apply to be reinstated and I don’t know if they will accept or not. I don’t want to fail my mom or dad, I don’t want to disappoint them. I was a 3.0 gpa student in high school but in college it’s a whole other level. I am so scared I will keep repeating my past cycles of failure but I was more afraid of not getting a degree at all and having this looming regret for the rest of my life. I don’t know what my disconnect is and I don’t know how to break this cycle. I don’t want to keep failing through college but I also don’t want to live with regret my whole life if I would have just completed what I started. Eric K.”

Jeff’s comments:

College failures can and do repeat themselves, which can start a vicious cycle where more failure discourages the student, which leads to them ultimately giving up. Even if a student changes colleges, majors, or makes other rudimentary efforts to improve they may still not see success. They can become paralyzed with fear, give up hope, and other issues they have been struggling with can overwhelm them. Add to this carrying the guilt of having to lie to their friends and family just to maintain a semblance of normalcy, it can all become too much for them.

“Our family relationship had a life changing experience because my daughter (freshman in college) was making very bad choices. I was going to switch her from her dream college as a result. I ended up letting her continue. Now she says life should have punished her, not me by threatening to pull her out of her dream college. She says things will never be the same between us (we had a great relationship previously), she hates me. What can a mother say to this?? Margaret”

Jeff’s comments:

I’ve seen college failure destroy parent-child relationships, even far beyond what “Margaret” described. I’ve had parents who lived in upscale neighborhoods ask me “what do we even tell the neighbors?” about why their child is at home not and at school. Because of conflict with their parents, I’ve seen students refuse to return home from campus and say they’d just get a job due to being angry at their parents for “forcing them” to leave their friends. Not having a clear plan from the start, and lacking effective intervention if things go wrong, lets the situation evolve in ways that can often shock parents.

“My daughter is a freshman at University of Arizona. She is failing at college. I am unsure how to help. Her mother and I have tried the carrot and the stick method, but nothing has changed. But right now we are desperately seeking advise to make meaningful change in her approach to college and how we parent through this. Her attitude towards school has always been positive and she has always performed well, until this freshman year at University of Arkansas. Her cumulative GPA is below a 2.0. Her self confidence is gone, along with her motivation. J.P.”

Jeff’s comments:

There is no way to “parent through” a student failing in college because of one simple reason: College academic problems are not a simple parenting issue. There is nothing that a parent can directly say, or a parenting technique that will work, to improve post-secondary grades. College is a very different situation from high school, so things are no longer that straightforward.  It takes skilled and comprehensive higher education intervention to attain the “meaningful change” that J.P. mentioned. You can’t simply “parent” a student out of failing in college.

“Good morning Jeff, I stumbled upon your page this morning as I continue to process the news that my son just failed all of his classes this semester. This is actually his second attempt at a “first semester” of college, as he already failed all of his classes last fall at a different university.

We foolishly thought he was doing much better, as he actually had made friends at this second school and was proud to show us the B’s he achieved on his tests in the first half of the term. But apparently he fell apart in the second half of the term, and did not communicate this with us (and I think we were enjoying living in a state of unrealistic hope that he’d figured it out).

I’m trying to sort out what his options even are at the university. If he can even go back in the fall, but meanwhile, my husband is (understandably) not excited to waste any more money right now on college classes. I also know the frightening statistics for young men who drop out of college, but I have real concerns about a third failed attempt (even if that is an option). I wish I’d found your website sooner! I’d love a call or an email when you get a chance. Thank you so much! Best, Valerie”

Jeff’s comments:

College failures repeat themselves, both from one semester to another, but also to a next college as well. This is why professional intervention is needed to address the problems.  If the problems that caused the failure were not identified then addressed in the first place they are likely to emerge again. Her son’s “second attempt at a first semester of college” is very telling in that Valerie’s son may have concealed prior attendance when he applied to a second college, which schools typically do not allow. Colleges take issues like academic dishonesty very seriously, including in admission applications, and a student can even be expelled if this was discovered.  But because failures tend to repeat, the problems at the second college were entirely preventable since they could have been caught if they sought intervention help. Too often the impulse to quickly move on to “what’s next” overrides the reality that the situation will simply repeat if you don’t effectively address the underlying issues.