Students who suddenly find themselves doing poorly or even failing in college often try to go it alone. In some cases, they can resolve the situation themselves. But in most, the situation doesn’t improve and can even become worse. When parents try to help, the student can distance themselves or even feel worse. For students, here are five key points to think about if you are doing poorly or outright failing in college:
1. What was your definition of “college” before attending?
Before entering school, what did you actually know about “college?” Was it the image that the media cultivates of football and good times? A sibling’s experience? Or did someone bother to inform you of the realities of higher education? For example, before college, did anyone tell you that only 36% of students, on average, finish in four years? Most students and families don’t know the facts on the types of schools where students do better, even by gender. If you’re reading this, the odds say that you’re a young man at a public university, where success rates are low and only 25% see graduation on time. Students and families are rarely if ever told about the state of higher education, and may have planned better if they did. One study sponsored by the Gates foundation found that most students who did poorly had little planning or guidance prior to college. Not understanding the facts ahead of time amounts to taking a long, expensive trip without ever having looked at a map. There’s an ancient saying- “without a guide, one only becomes lost in the bush.”
2. Trying to fix it yourself just might make it worse
If you don’t want help, you’re probably set on finding a solution yourself. That’s great, and a positive sign that you have initiative. The fact of the matter is that even if you do get help from someone, whether a parent or a professional, it will be you who will be solving the problem. Why? Because if you’re age 18 or older, you’re an adult, and all efforts must officially come from you. Any conversations you have or efforts you make become part of the official record, so you must be absolutely correct in what you do. If you’re forced to take action, you must take effective actions, and there’s no dishonor in having help. Every important person, ranging from generals to presidents, assembled a panel of wise advisers from whom they would seek counsel. Your solutions can be made better by the experience of others, and it shows wisdom to get feedback on your plans. Attempting to fix it yourself might be as helpful as self-dentistry. You could try, but you could definitely make things worse.
3. Transferring schools will not solve the problem.
Almost every student and family that I’ve worked with adopted one key strategy prior to our meeting: Try another school. There are a few reasons why this may not work. First, the new school will have its own transfer standards, such as a 2.0 GPA, or even much higher for some programs. Some schools even want a reference from your last college ensuring that you’re in good standing and can return. In other words, your past academic performance will follow you and could interfere with getting in to any other school. Second, courses below a “C” grade will not transfer, and could wipe out any number of credits that may have applied at least in some way at your old school. And third, it’s possible to transfer to a school that’s just as bad or even worse in terms of the characteristics that would make you successful. If you’re going to start over, you need to do it correctly to avoid further problems.
4. The past can and does repeat itself.
If you do manage to transfer to another college or stay at your current school, you need to understand what happened to not have a replay of the same issues. I’ve seen many students who failed consecutive semesters, only to wind up with an academic dismissal. If you have prolonged failures, even if you have a good explanation, you may wind up being “untouchable” by any college for a couple of years or more. Taking the right actions at the right time will be your only hope of not going further astray. Whatever factors that affected why you did poorly in school, you need to deal with them, no matter who you are. I’ve had clients that were exceptional students that went to great colleges, and then failed out. Trust me, GPA, SATs, IQ, AP courses, and all of that are not insulators against failing in college. I work with bright students every day who never would have guessed they’d have problems in school. The trick is knowing when you’ve hit your capacity and need some help. It beats spending a year at home, working at the local quickie-mart, waiting for your academic suspension to expire.
5. Focus on why you must get it right
Understanding why you must get it right is your impetus to act. Yes, you want to solve this yourself, and as I explained earlier, you will. But, you need a plan, an effective plan that is based on experience and gets results. We’re talking about your future, and there are lots of people out there who only have “some college” and a lot of regrets. Did you know that 47% of Americans with student loan debt didn’t earn a bachelor’s or associate’s degree? Come on, take the help. Turn to your parents, and if they’re at a loss, find someone that can work with all of you and the school to get it done. It may take a transfer, appeal, working with the college, or even a couple doctor’s visits- maybe a lot more. But whatever you have to do, completing one’s education is among the most important things in life. In comparison, asking for and accepting help to make it through school is a small price to pay.
Jeffrey Ludovici, M.A., is a national-level higher education consultant based in Pittsburgh. He has worked with students, families, colleges, and other professionals for more than 10 years. He specializes in understanding why students can end up doing poorly in college, as well as what can be done to address the issues.