A Few Thoughts on Academics and Grades

A few thoughts on academics today.  Occasionally I receive a message from a parent or family member (or sometimes the student him/herself) about grades.  Typically these are from freshmen students or parents, and the questions are in the vein of ‘I wish the grades were better and how does a student improve?’

Disclaimer: this is just my take on the situation, a starting place, and not the final answer.  It takes a village, so students with these kinds of questions should talk to their faculty members, the Office of Academic Advising, and other trusted sources to get a variety of opinions.

So any time a student comes to me and says his/her grades are not where they wish they were, I ask some basic questions:

  • Have you been going to class, or have you been cutting? If you have been cutting (other than for established and valid reasons like illness), you need to stop ASAP.
  • Have you been to see your professors during office hours? Either to get specific help on issues, or just to show your face and get to know the faculty, so they know you are engaged and trying your best?  Sometimes a faculty member knowing who you are, and knowing you are motivated enough to come to office hours, helps form a bond that makes it easier both in class and out to ask for help.
  • Have you taken advantage of some of the tutoring options? For papers, there is a Writing Center.  For math, there is a Math Center.  For chemistry, there is a Chemistry Center.  Those are all great places to start.  In addition, we have a Learning Assistance Center that provides individual and group tutoring on many basic and divisional classes.  Graduate assistants in the LAC can also meet with students to talk about improving study habits and effectiveness.
  • The Z Smith Reynolds Library can also help students be more effective.  Students can sign up for an individual research session with a librarian.  There is also a LIB100 class that helps teach students how to use effectively library and internet resources.
  • Can you look yourself in the mirror and say you’ve done absolutely all you can to perform to your best capacity? Spent the requisite time working on homework, studied effectively, got a tutor if needed, made sure you aren’t doing too much playing and fun stuff and too little work?If the answer is Yes and you’ve done all those things right, the grade you have may be the very best you can do.  At this point, if you’ve done your very best, let it go.  We can’t all make As in everything.  If, on the other hand, you haven’t been disciplined in some or all of those areas, you should try from here on out to do more – and see if the grade improves.

My personal experience – and that of the vast majority of my advisees, is that the first semester grades tend to be the worst.  The reality of the first semester of college for most of us is that we find the pace and the depth of the work is a lot more than we bargained for, and things we did fairly well at in high school (As and Bs) might be things we struggle with in college (Bs, Cs, or even Ds).  Example: I got almost all As and the occasional B in Biology in high school and my Wake bio class darn near killed me.  I was working as hard as I could, and I barely scraped by.

So if a student had all As and a few Bs in high school and now has lower grades, I would not yet panic.  While I know they probably don’t want to see a C on midterms or finals, it can be very difficult for most first semester students to get all As and Bs.   The key to improvement might lie in using the resources outlined in the bullets above.

In the second semester, if students have a lot of new activities they are involved in (Greek Life, a theatre production, a larger role in some other organization, etc.), they need to be careful to prioritize academics over the extracurriculars.  If they spend 80% of the time on the fun stuff and 20% of the time on classes, their grades might very well suffer.  So time management and discipline can be incredibly important.

One student who graduated a couple years ago spoke at a New Student Reception for our office and described his time management strategy: treat college like a job.  You go to work at the same time every day (8 am, 9 am) and finish at 5 pm.  During the day, whenever you are in a class, that is like a meeting.  When you are not in class, that is office time/work time.   You take your lunchbreak, but you spend the bulk of the daylight hours studying in a place that suits you best (and for every student that can be different – their room, the library, Starbucks, a quiet place in a campus building) but you really work at everything during the ‘workday.’  Then at 5, once you’ve spent all day studying and doing homework, you have the rest of the evening to play and have fun (and get enough sleep).

So those are some initial thoughts on academics.  We do have great resources for students to use, but they must ask for them.  They must also do their part by prioritizing their academics and devoting proper time and effort to them.


— by Betsy Chapman

Categories: academicslibrary


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