Many parents write to me about advice on how to help their student who did poorly or are failing in college. In some cases they underperformed in some way, but in others they were placed on academic probation or suspension. While I would need to know the specific details for the student’s situation to be most helpful, there are general recommendations that parents should consider when trying to help failing students:
Don’t Wait To Act
There’s everyone else’s time, then there’s college time. The college semester is always like a 15 week sprint toward the finish line, with the reward being finals week. Under the fast pace and pressure, even small problems can magnify in to enormous ones. For example, if the student isn’t putting in the time to study consistently, they could start the semester with bad grades that become a “hole” they find impossible to emerge from.
Be The Adults In The Situation
Many students I worked with actually wanted parents to intervene, even if they protested at first. In fact, I’ve had many students tell me that they expected their parents to help them because they didn’t know better. At some level students want guidance and often resent it if parents don’t prevent them from making “stupid” mistakes.
Don’t Over-Rely On Conventional Systems
When a student does poorly, many parents expect the college to help, or they take the student to their doctor to see what might be wrong with them. The higher education system is 100% effort based, and the student must complete all the work on their own. While the student can access services like tutoring, it’s still the student who has final responsibility. This is also true for students with disabilities who go to college. There is no reduced workload or different standard for them. While they can request accommodations for their disability, they must do exactly the same amount of work as other students. The healthcare system, including psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists are targeted toward treatment. While successful treatment might be important for some students who have done poorly, these services don’t translate in to direct academic support, especially during the hard-and-fast college semester. These services, however, can help to define the problem, which is key. I work in collaboration with many neuropsychologists, psychiatrist, and psychologists. While they can make excellent recommendations, too few actually have the background to implement them in the field. I do, which is why I can work seamlessly with these professionals, and translate their recommendations in to practice.
Examine Your Game Plan
What was the plan for the student when attending that particular college? How was the school chosen for the student? In most cases, when I trace back to how were decisions were made prior to college, the root of the problems become apparent. Too often college decisions are based on what I call “non-success factors,” such as school popularity, sports teams, or a blind acceptance of where their guidance counselor said that they could “get in.” There are many known factors of college success and failure, and in most cases no one had ever discussed these with the student and their parents.
Reformulate Your Plan And Act
Once parents have stepped in and have begun the process of defining the problem, the next phases will need to include reformulating the higher education plan for their student. Are they at the right college based on known “success factors?” What type of academic supports do they need? Will the identified problems be addressed during the hectic semester? There are many issues that can come in to play when trying to get a student who did poorly or failed back on track. The reformulated plan is literally everything at this point, especially if the student was academically suspended. It’s possible to get them re-started, but if failure happens again they’ll be out of college for a while.
The issue of a student failing in college rarely fixes itself. Invariably, parents tell me that they tried to address it alone and got a poor response from the student. Considering how important higher education is in modern life, it’s imperative that parents find effective ways to help their failing college student.
Jeffrey Ludovici, M.A., is a national level Higher Education Consultant based in Pittsburgh, PA. He’s worked with students and parents across the U.S. about college issues since 2001, and is a member of CSRDE that focuses on best practices in helping students. He is also a member of NACADA, the national college advising association in the U.S. Please see the program page for services Jeff offers.