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Archive for Monday, April 15, 2013

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Double Take: April can be tough time in college

April 15, 2013

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Dr. Wes: For most college students, April comes at the apex of the spring semester story arc — tantalizingly near the end of the semester, but not close enough to relax. In fact, relaxing right now is a great way to ensure the story ends badly.

For many college students, April is make or break. Our focus today is the break, or, more correctly in some cases, the breakdown. Sometimes a parent will see it coming. There’s a failing grade or more often a couple of classes “withdrawn passing,” just before they drop into the F-zone. Other times the downturn is a complete surprise. The student knows things are declining, but can’t admit it to himself, let alone the family.

Tune in for more

Want to talk more about how to salvage a young adult’s college career? Join Dr. Wes on Up to Date with Steve Kraske Tuesday at 11 a.m. on KCUR 89.3 FM We’ll be taking listener calls. You can also listen to the podcast later on www.dr-wes.com.

Earning a 1.8 GPA or worse threatens full-time status and financial aid. Hard decisions must be made as to the viability of college for the student at this moment in time and in this particular college. Yet far too often, those decisions are deferred for “just one more semester,” and then another, without really looking at the greater game plan and the student’s ability to run the play.

I’ve done a lot of college salvage work over the years, and if you’re facing a bad-news April, real reflection and planning is the only way back. It’s excruciating for families to give up on a specific college dream. Moving home at 20 or 24 seems like the ultimate in defeatism. It’s not.

At least half of the high school graduates who go to college aren’t really ready to be there. Some persevere, but most of the “unready” end up dropping out or delaying graduation by several years. Others graduate without functional career plans. Better to step back, take some time off and reconsider why you’re interested in college and what you meant to accomplish there. Working a few months or even a few years gives a much greater depth of experience than slogging through one bad semester after another.

Next week we’ll discuss the finer points of receiving a young adult back into the home after a college stint. Whether it’s been a few weeks or a few years, the dynamic gets, shall we say, a bit complicated?

Katie: As a senior in high school, I would say my graduating class is experiencing a collective cool-down period similar to an athlete’s post-marathon stretch. Most of us have secured passing grades, picked our colleges and completed rough sketches of our career plans. Isn’t the hard part over?

Not even close.

Getting into college doesn’t automatically put students on the path to graduation. When the margin between staying in and failing out becomes narrower than a nerve cluster, change needs to happen immediately, whether that means turning the GPA’s falling trend around or going to Plan B, C or D as Wes suggests.

A family’s strategy for handling an F-average will depend on what contributed to the student’s academic troubles and the financial resources available to fix them. Damage control becomes more difficult the longer it’s put off, largely because tuition and fees absorb money that might otherwise be put toward a solution. Continuing on after failing to receive credit in previous classes requires more semesters of college than expected.

If a student’s main obstacle is the difficulty of the curriculum, she will need to seek personalized academic help if the plan is to stay in school. Especially at big universities where lecture halls house 100 to 1,000 students at a time, it’s critical that struggling students approach a professor for guidance. Tutors, writing labs and summer school are great resources for those who are serious about pursuing academic success.

When the problem stems not from ability but from effort, the tough talk really begins. The student faces a decision between reforming his academics and reforming his future plans.

In both cases, the learning environment might be part of the problem, and transferring to a different school — even a different type of school — can make an enormous difference. A traditional four-year college education is not the only springboard for a young adult’s career. Discussing alternative options now could save time, money and heartbreak in the future.

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