High Achieving & Bright Students Who Fail In College

One of the phenomena that I’m seeing (and that most people don’t believe) is that high-achieving high school students can go to college and begin to do poorly or even fail.  They essentially did all the “right things,” like had high GPAs & SAT scores, and took AP classes.  How do I know that this type of failure is possible?  Because the majority of my clients are exactly these students.

The natural questions are “why does this happen?” and “what can be done to help them?”  The reasons can be broad, and the solutions will depend on the exact problems and how the situation progresses.  There are a few general pathways that it can take.  First, they might struggle on a semester or two of academic probation, trying to increase their GPA so they can stay at a college they like.  Second, they may be unsuccessful at trying to raise their GPA and are academically suspended.  And, third, they can become so frustrated and discouraged that they just drop out.  While they are still in college, they may need a combination of efforts, such as organization, academic skills, confidence building, or others.  Sometimes they may also need medical treatment or even therapy.  If they drop out or become academically suspended, the strategies to help them will be different, especially in the latter case.  It is extremely difficult to get any student in to a traditional four-year college if they drop below a 2.0 GPA, but it’s not impossible.  Students who fall below a 2.0 GPA often become trapped:  They want a second chance but don’t know how to get it.  Parents will often resort to sending them to a community college, only to find that they don’t do well there either.

Any possible solutions will get their best results if they are implemented in the context of other known factors for college success.  For example, student engagement is a strong correlate of college success, but can vary across college type.  Some studies show the importance of college choice, and the important factor of graduation rates varies across both individual and classes of colleges.  The parents I work with can tell you that I make all the success factors clear to them before proceeding.  Very often it’s their choice to ask me to work with their son or daughter at their current school, even if all the factors aren’t necessarily working in the student’s favor.

Prevention, of course, is the best strategy.  Making good choices during the planning phases for college is the way to minimize the chances of later problems and to help bright students perform up to their potential.  I work with a number of high school students and their families to make choices that will allow a student to reach their potential.  When it comes to college planning, I have a distinct advantage since I’m working with students who are actually in college, including those with disabilities.  I can see first hand exactly what happens during college, and bring those lessons to helping students choose pathways to reach their potential.  The reality is that even when a bright student does all the “right things” in high school, like taking AP courses and doing well on the SAT, these are merely predictors of future success.  There is much more to doing well in college, and high-potential students and their parents need to see beyond the traditional predictors to find college success.

**For a Q&A with the parent of a student who failed out, was academically dismissed, and is now back in school with above a 3.0 GPA, please read:  Q&A With The Parent Of A Successful Turn-Around Student.