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Why Your Son Failed His First College Semester

Updated on June 17, 2015

Your son never really liked school

It’s been a struggle since the beginning. Your son never really liked school. Even in the early grades, the idea of being in a structured environment where he was required to keep his hands to himself, use an indoor voice and sit at a desk for what seemed like endless hours wasn’t his cup of tea. But, because of on-line learning choices, alternative high school options, GED classes or accommodating high school programs, your son finally earned a high school diploma.

After the high school diploma

You both know that college is the next and necessary step and despite his less-than-positive k-12 experience, your son wants to attend. He chooses a nearby college and you are more than happy to help him complete the on-line forms to get him started. He registers for a few college classes and he’s off and running as a first semester college student. Things seem fine but when the semester ends you learn he has failed his classes.

The first failed college semester

Although you might be disappointed with his results, remember he doesn’t feel good about himself either. Often parents don’t realize the immense stress associated with falling behind in class, not handing papers in on time and failing tests.

Parents might feel that the remedy is simple. All that needs to occur is for their sons to go to class, complete their assignments and study but it’s just not that simple.

Despite the fact a high school diploma has been granted, many young men are not prepared for college-level work, don’t have an understanding of college deadlines, and lack the time management skills necessary to juggle their academic, personal and economic responsibilities.

With your son’s first semester ending in failure and his self-esteem taking another academic hit, he might believe college isn’t for him and think about not registering for the next semester.


Having an open and supportive conversation

Having an open and supportive conversation with your son about his first year experience that includes what went well (taking time to complete financial aid forms, being responsible about attending orientation, being brave enough to attend college and give it a try) but also what areas that could be improved might help him review his experience and come to his own revelations about what changes need to be made to foster success. An open conversation will also let your son know you understand the challenges of higher education and the time management and sacrifices it demands.

Below are specific college success strategies that will help your son be ready for his next college semester.

College success strategies for your son

  • The question needs to be asked, “What are you willing to give up, not forever, but for a few semesters so you can be successful?”. There needs to be an understanding that sacrifice is necessary to be a successful (passing) college student. Motivational speaker, Eric Thomas, says it best when he says, “Are you ready to sacrifice who you are . . . for what you will become?” It’s next to impossible for students to maintain their previous work, social, and sleep schedules while going to college and passing their classes. Students who think they will be able to put hours in at work, sleep several hours a day, attend classes, complete homework assignments, meet study responsibilities and continue spending multiple hours on entertainment (video games, clubbing, golfing, hunting, lifting weights, etc.) will find themselves falling quickly behind.
  • Suggest setting a specific study time into his daily schedule to help keep him focused. Waiting until he “has time” to study rarely arrives. Students often delay studying because they know once they begin it will take more time than they want to commit. Just the thought of sitting and studying for long periods of time, seems overwhelming. This is especially true for young men who need intervals of movement and change to stay engaged. Encourage your son to set the alarm on his phone for several scheduled study sessions. When he begins his study session he should also set the timer on his phone for sixty minutes. During that hour he should focus intently on his course work and assignments. When the timer rings your son should take a 20-minute physical break; shoot baskets, take a short run, lift weights, etc. Young men need to be active. Then, after the break he can return to studying and repeat the process. Studying for sixty-minute intervals with active breaks makes the tasks less overwhelming and provides a physical and refreshing pause to look forward to.
  • Remind your son to access campus resources such as tutors and mentors before he finds himself in trouble. By the time your son is in college he’s already lived enough life to understand that once he’s behind (no matter how behind he is; financially, judicially, academically, etc.) it’s difficult to get himself out. It’s far easier to maintain than recover. It would be wiser, for example, for him to get a math tutor to review the day’s assignment with after each class for the first four to six weeks of the semester. After that point, if everything is ok, he can quit meeting with the tutor and move on by himself. Waiting until he’s behind to seek out help is too late and will put him at a great deficit at trying to catch up. The most common reason students cite for not seeing a tutor is that they don’t have time because of their class and work schedules. This is where a review of priorities needs to take place and sacrifices need to be considered. What can be given up to make time to see a tutor for two hours each week?
  • A good rule of thumb is to take only two classes with a full–time work schedule or three classes with a part-time work schedule and a full-time class schedule without working at all. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, for your son to take more than two college classes and hold a full-time job. Going to class isn’t difficult, but finding time to read, write papers and study is. Some will argue that many students are able to juggle a job, taking classes, studying and still find time to sleep but those students are probably the ones who were familiar with how to manage school long before they started college.
  • Remind your son that if he finds himself falling behind or failing his courses, to keep attending. He should try to get as high a grade as possible. First, when it comes to financial aid a 1.0 or even a .5 is better than a zero. Second, if he quits attending a class that he’s failing, when he retakes it he will be no further ahead than he was before. But, if he continues to attend and fails, when he retakes the class the material will all be review and he can come back strong.

Persistent and consistent encouragement

It's crucial you consistently encourage your son to keep moving forward. As long as he remains a student there is potential for his academic success. Remind him, often, of the long-term benefits of a college degree and celebrate his small successes.


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