With the college admissions process finished, many students cruise into college assuming that the hard part is behind them.

For these students, the transition to a world where they’re the only ones responsible for their own academic success can be a difficult one. They may be accustomed to their prior status as the “big fish in the pond”, but their new surroundings encompass a much deeper pool of talented student peers. Their class schedules are different, they’re living with a stranger for the first time, and there’s more choice than ever in terms of their area of study. All of this adds up to a real concern for students entering their first half of undergraduate study: how will they perform without the extensive family and peer support they had in high school?

The challenges that freshmen face involve managing their newfound independence intelligently.

Getting involved makes the transition easier.

As a student ventures onto a new campus for the first time, it’s important that he or she takes a proactive approach to joining clubs and organizations.

28% of college freshmen don’t stay.

Not only is the transition often difficult, many students are also unprepared for the fast pace and independent studying expected in college courses.

From the very start, every grade matters.

Academic performance as a freshman in college is critical for success not only in an undergraduate major, but as a precursor for future graduate school opportunities.

Time management is an incredibly important skill that all college students must master in order to be successful.

College students spend much less time actually sitting in class than they did in high school, and they’re expected to accomplish much more coursework outside of class time.

Rather than smaller daily homework assignments, students can expect to tackle larger assignments, and they’ll need to become experts at breaking these into smaller pieces and planning backwards to ensure they can give them the time they deserve. The first half of a student’s undergraduate experience is all about establishing balance. Students will be constantly juggling academics with social life, coming to terms with greater independence and responsibility, and doing all of it without the safety net of home and family.

Opportunities for Growth

A Students

For academically high achieving college students, it is key to consider the possibilities beyond simply achieving an A in a given class. Developing their competence as a learner is key; reflecting on all of their academic processes, searching for inefficiency or potential sources of inaccuracy, and learning from the habits of other accomplished students can yield large rewards down the road.

As the high-achieving student progresses through the first two years of college, it’s important that they connect their work in the present to potential future graduate study and career options. One great way to do this is for students to connect with professors that conduct research in a field they have interest in. Office hours aren’t just for asking questions about the material at hand, and can provide a great chance to get advice about future directions. Beyond seeking advice from professors, engaging in research directly as an undergraduate is an excellent opportunity for the college student who’s already succeeding in their coursework. Every college has ample opportunities for undergraduate research, and even as a freshman a student can secure these as long as they seek them out.

B Students

College students who are commonly earning B letter grades in their undergraduate coursework have a more urgent need for improvement than they may suspect. In high school, the occasional B may not have been a big deal, but in today’s career market and competitive graduate school admissions landscape, maximizing undergraduate GPA is key!

Most commonly, the difference between a B and an A student in college-level courses is engagement in the class and an active stance towards seeking help. If B students sought out help from their professor, peers, or a tutor, they’d likely build the understanding needed to improve their grade to an A. Students shouldn’t wait until it’s too late – after the first lecture, if things seem even a little murky, that’s the ideal time to identify a plan for getting assistance.

A significant part of this push to the top of the grade scale will be continuing to culture and hold a student mindset that even as a college student, and beyond into graduate study and a working career, he or she can always improve learning and performance outcomes.

C or Below Students

College students that are receiving predominantly C grades or below, particularly in the first two years, still have a significant opportunity to improve their academic performance and significantly improve the Grade Point Average that appears on their undergraduate transcript. Graduate school admissions will often give greater weight to grades earned on the more challenging upper-division coursework that students pursue within their major, and elevating overall GPA is useful for job application even if graduate study is not desired.

Learning to actively seek help for classes in which they struggle is a fundamental area of development for the average student earning C’s or below. Students shouldn’t wait until it’s too late – after the first lecture, if things seem even a little murky, that’s the ideal time to identify a plan for getting assistance. Every college has an Academic Advising department whose sole purpose is to help struggling students by connecting them to both free and paid resources that can help them interpret and understand the material.

It’s also important for struggling college students to connect their academic work with their personal interests. Perhaps they’ve chosen courses in a major because they originally thought it would be the best choice for their career options, or because their parents heavily influenced the decision, but now it’s time to really determine if they have the passion they’ll need to see the work through. In most cases, students can make a significant direction shift in their college major and still stand a reasonable chance of graduating on time. This lack of real interest in coursework is often the reason behind a student earning C’s and below in most of their classes.

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