Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Heading Off Academic Trouble in College

Over the past few weeks we have heard from a number of college students who were dismissed or suspended from their schools because they had failed one or more courses or did not meet the required GPA standards set by their programs. Some of these students had long standing learning challenges; others had never previously encountered academic difficulties. But they all had some things in common and their experiences may help you or your college student avoid going down the same road.

  • Medical and emotional crises can take a toll on academic performance. If your son or daughter has a medical problem - mononucleosis, an extended bout of the flu, or a sleep or eating disorder - it's important to monitor how their illness is impacting their ability to attend class and complete their work and exams. Likewise, students with depression -- whether long-standing or newly evident -- may be unable to meet their school obligations. When these situations arise it is often best to take a medical leave or arrange for "incompletes" in the affected courses. This is preferable to one or more failing grades.
  • Keep in mind that colleges have no obligation to remove a failing grade from a student's record, no matter why that student might have failed. An "F" on a transcript stays there, even if the course is repeated successfully later, and this can have an impact on graduate school or employment applications, as well as driving down a student's GPA.
  • The sooner students with diagnosed disabilities of learning, attention, or executive functioning arrange for accommodations with their college's Office of Disability Services, the better. Accommodations -- things like extended time on exams, special arrangements to get class notes, and other helpful supports -- are never offered after the fact. If a student needs accommodations and doesn't arrange for them with the Office of Disability Services, or gets them but doesn't use them, there is no "do over" for the classes involved. 
  • When a student without a history of learning problems suddenly runs into academic difficulties in the more demanding setting of college, it is time to investigate why this is happening. A neuropsychological and academic assessment, such as the kind we do here at The Yellin Center, can shed light on previously undiagnosed learning, attention, or emotional problems and provide strategies to help the student succeed.
  • College students are legal adults, but the fact remains that the part of the brain that is involved in decision making, judgment, and other executive functions -- the prefrontal cortex -- continues to develop until around age 25. As difficult as it may be for parents to monitor their college student's academic performance or medical or emotional well-being, parental involvement can be crucial for a student who is struggling with academics because of these kinds of issues.
  • Colleges generally have procedures for academic warnings during the course of a semester and for appeals from academic suspensions or dismissals. However, by the time a college has determined that it is necessary to suspend or dismiss a student, the college administration generally believes that "taking a break" from school may be in the student's best interests. Re-admission may require the student to demonstrate that he or she has taken steps to deal with their problems, including showing satisfactory grades at another school in the course or courses that the student failed. 

By monitoring your college student's academics and being proactive when problems may arise, families can help their students avoid academic failures and make sure that they are on track for success in their college careers.

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