(Remember that low cost textbook Gates grant I wrote about a while ago? We are gearing up for a huge milestone and I’m in charge of that milestone. So, please be patient if I miss a few blog steps. In the meantime, with the timing of the term, I had planned to blog about failing grades… again. I’ve received two student e-mails recently about the topic. This one really got to me, so I’m diverting from Word. Wednesday. to feature it. I know many, many students are in this student’s same position! My hope is that many of you will comment with some supportive feedback, as well. As usual, any identifying factors have been removed).
I just finished my first year of college and I’m not doing so hot. I will most likely be placed on academic probation. I was planning on living away from home next term but will have no way to pay for it nor classes, books, etc. if my financial aid is taken away.
I haven’t talked to my parents about it yet because I’m waiting to see if I’m actually placed on probation first. I am scared because they have no idea I’ve been doing this poorly in school.
I’m a first generation college student and have been figuring out everything involving college on my own.
Please, any information or advice you can give would be greatly appreciated.
Here is my response (and I’d love for this student to hear yours!):
First of all, I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been struggling, but know that you are not alone! There are a ton of first-year students in your same situation. It isn’t broadcast, but the students are there. I know that doesn’t necessarily make your situation better, but feel heartened to know that you are far, far, far from the only student who has come to college and had an extremely hard time the first year.
Second, can you give me some insight into what happened with your classes and what you believe is leading to the possibility of academic probation? Let’s keep this focused on the work and the process of the work, not on any self-blaming because that’s not productive and we can’t go back and fix that, right? You can only look at what is required for your classes (i.e., X-number of study hours) and what you need to do to make that happen. Were you overwhelmed by the amount of work? Was it the time factor? The teaching style of your profs? Did you seek out any assistance? Did you talk to your profs about the struggles you were having?
What concerns me about your note the most is this statement: “I’m a first generation college student and have been figuring out everything involving college on my own.”
Oh goodness… why?
There is a whole college full of people who are there to support you . Professors, academic advisers, counselors, librarians, tutors, all sorts of support staff… You are not meant to do this alone!
If I can encourage you to do nothing else in this e-mail, I want you to PLEASE get those resources going before you go back to school, and this includes going to meet your profs early and say, “I have been struggling my first year in college. I really want to do better this year. I would like to meet with you on a regular basis to monitor my progress. Do you review work early?”
Third, I totally get the part about being a first-gen student. I was a first-gen student, too. I’m wondering about the lack of dialogue with your parents regarding college. Is it possible that you might have gotten a lot of support from them, knowing that you were the first in the family to go to school? Of course, I don’t know the dynamic within your family, but in many cases, transparency and proactiveness is typically so much better than secrets and reactiveness–even with the hardest of situations.
I bet your parents really want to see you succeed. Would they would join your academic success team, so to speak? I would bring them into this conversation immediately, if for no other reason than to just take the weight off of yourself. Sit down in a quiet moment and say, “This is a very difficult conversation for me to have. I’ve been concerned about your reaction and have wanted to solve it myself before coming to you. School has been extremely hard for me and…”
Of course, BEFORE you have this conversation, I would find out about a) the academic probation and if you are actually on it; and b) the ramifications to your financial aid. Get your facts first so you and your parents can make some informed decisions.
Student (I did use the student’s name here…), I have seen many, many students at the end of their degrees who started their education this way… struggling, failing, wondering if they were going to make it through. It takes a lot students time to find their way in college. But the key is that YOU have to get the college resources to uphold you. The support is there. If that is the lesson that you had to take away this first year, then I think that is one valuable lesson!
Failure is part of the journey for many of us. I failed out of a whole term when my father died. It took me six years to return to school (maybe you saw that previous blog post). The failure or the academic probation doesn’t have to define you. What will define you is what you do now that it’s happened. So, let’s figure that piece out.
I’m glad to continue corresponding. I know you can get through this!
Programming Note: I have heard from this student and know a little more about the particulars of the situation. It is far, far from hopeless and is actually very hopeful. But I’d love for the student to hear from more voices other than mine. I’ve asked Student to watch the blog. I’m going to continue with the dialogue in the upcoming days. My hope is that if there is another student out there struggling–please work through the particulars of your situation–and go get the support you need from your family and from your college!