Given that the fall semester will be coming to a close for college students in the coming weeks, the topic of grades may be surfacing in conversations with parents. For some students, they will hit their stride immediately and earn similar or better grades compared to their high school experience. Other students may start off on a surprising or disappointing note, but we should remember that this situation is far from uncommon, and improvement is certainly possible.
Parents need to remember that college is a very different ball game than high school as far as how students are evaluated in classes. In high school, students usually have multiple opportunities to earn grades on papers, quizzes, homework assignments, etc. In college, students’ grades are often heavily based on midterm and final exam/project performance. In addition, college students are responsible for learning more material as required reading for classes is higher than what students encountered in high school. High school students need time to adjust to a new set of expectations for how they will be graded.
The transition from high school to college is significant in that it involves adjustments that students need to make as they further their lives academically and personally. Students are learning lessons both within and beyond classroom walls. How to better manage time, become more independent, and build new relationships with peers and mentors are just some of the many skills that students are developing and strengthening in college. While students don’t receive formal grades in these efforts, they are tested on them frequently, and the lessons learned during those tests will endure for years to come. If students are learning, growing, and maturing in college, parents should feel proud and confident that their college investment is worthwhile. A disappointing grade or two in the first semester is not a definitive forecast for struggle or failure in the days ahead. Those grades could be a reflection of students getting acclimated to new standards and expectations for grading, as well as learning to balance the demands of college classwork with new social life opportunities.
Parents should be encouraging and supportive of students regardless of what the first set of college grades yield. As long as students are doing their best, nothing else can be asked of them. If parents feel disappointed when seeing lower than average grades, their children likely feel worse, though they may not openly share their concerns. Asking what their child thinks of the grades and if any supplemental help (meeting with professors during office hours for extra help, etc.) would be useful are productive questions to ask. It’s important to understand why the grades are what they are and what is needed for improvement. With a sensible plan in place, the potential for better grades in the future is certainly possible.