Say you’re a freshman, right in the middle of your very first college semester.
The past few weeks have been some of the most exciting, although hectic, you’ve ever experienced. Still, you’ve managed to adjust to your new life pretty seamlessly.
Having easily earned a solid 3.5 GPA throughout most of high school, you consider yourself to be a natural when it comes to school. Things just seem to come easily to you.
And since your study habits have worked well for you so far, why bother changing them?
You skim through weekly reading assignments, try out a few practice problems every once in a while, and even squeeze in a few late night study sessions.
But then midterms come around and you blow it.
All of a sudden, that shiny 3.5 GPA is suddenly a 2.9. And you panic.
Your scholarship requires a minimum 2.5 GPA, so you’re safe- for now at least. But the degree program you’ve got your eye on requires at least a 3.0.
So what now?
This so-called freshman slump is a very common experience for students just starting out in their college careers. But understanding why it happens and how to steer clear of it can help students avoid the stress that comes along with a sudden drop in grades.
Why Freshman Face The First-Year Slump
They have less information than ever before.
Students are used to a system that consistently tells them exactly how they’re doing in a class. Throughout high school, they receive feedback and grades weekly, if not daily.
And if they happen to fail an exam early on in the semester, there’s usually plenty of assignments and future exams for them to make up for it.
But the same can’t be said for college courses.
Instead, students only receive grades a handful of times per semester. This is a drastic change in barometer for how well they’re doing in a class or how well they’re understanding the material.
Additionally, students are used to having direct contact with their teachers, someone who continues to encourage them when they’re doing well and guides them in a new direction when they’re not.
Again, this changes when they reach college, as many freshmen attend seminar classes alongside a few hundred other students. It’s common for a student to go through their entire first year without ever actually “meeting” one of their professors.
It’s their first time in the driver’s seat.
High school provides students with daily direction.
But once they reach college, they’re expected to take full ownership over their academics. Students are handed a syllabus on the first day and then sent off to do the work largely on their own.
Guiding themselves through the curriculum, making sure they’re staying on pace, and truly understanding the new material is a much bigger responsibility than what they’re used to and requires more initiative.
They’re right in the middle of a pretty big transition.
Freshman year is a time full of many firsts.
For most students, this is their first time living alone and away from their families. It’s their first time having to manage their own finances. And maybe it’s even their first time having to form new relationships outside of their usual friends.
And nearly all freshman are still learning to develop skills like time management, organization, and personal productivity- skills that are key to a successful college career.
They’re used to earning the easy grade.
There are a handful of students who are able to slide through high school, earning easy-As without much effort.
But just because good grades came easily in high school doesn’t mean the same will be true in college.
Instead, students will likely find themselves needing to adjust their own expectations or work levels in order to accommodate new academic challenges.
In short: college may be the first time some students find they’re actually going to have to study to earn the grade.
How To Avoid The Freshman Slump
Cover the basics.
Show up to class every time. Read, and make sure you fully understand, all reading assignments. And don’t forget to set aside time exclusively for studying.
This might all sound glaringly obvious, but most students who find themselves struggling have likely skipped over at least one of these basics.
When attendance isn’t taken, it can be tempting to hit the snooze button on your alarm and skip a lecture. But class is where you learn what you need to know and can actually save you time later on when you’re reviewing information for an exam.
It’s also worth mentioning that not going to lectures is a waste of money. After all, attending classes is why you’re there in the first place.
Another thing that students all too often skip over are the reading assignments. In high school, you may have been able to get away with skipping over the reading. But it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to do the same once you reach college.
Reading is a central part of the learning process and not doing it means not capturing essential material.
Finally: study. Yep, that’s right- in order to earn the good college grades, you’re gonna have to study.
Your old high school strategies of last-minute cram sessions and half-baked assignments just won’t do it here.
Making sure you’ve got the basics covered should be your starting point to keeping your grades steady.
Take ownership of your studies.
College is about independence. And while most students think of this in terms of no curfews and the freedom to eat whatever they want, independence should also extend to their academic careers.
In order to succeed in college, you’ve got to take full ownership over your classes. Simply put: no one is going to be there to hold your hand.
Now, there are plenty of resources on your campus for you to get help when you need it- tutoring services, help centers, and academic counseling just to name a few.
But none of these resources is going to reach out to you. Instead, you’ll have to take the initiative to ask for help when you need it.
Perhaps the biggest part of owning your academics is learning time management. Mastering skills such as prioritizing, scheduling, and reducing procrastination are key to your future success in college and beyond.
Realistically, don’t expect to get anywhere without these.
Understand college expectations.
An early lesson for many college freshmen: hard work doesn’t necessarily translate into an A grade.
Many students go into a class thinking that if they simply check all of the boxes- read all of the material, complete the assignments, take the exams – they’ll earn a high grade.
But going through the motions alone just isn’t enough.
Instead, earning a college A or B requires taking time to really understand class material. This is where skills such as analytical reading and critical thinking, both crucial skills for your future, come in handy.
Being an analytical or critical thinker means being able to take pieces of information and put them together to see the bigger picture.
So instead of just reading through assigned chapters, take time to really understand what’s being said, why the information is being presented in the way it is, and how all of the different concepts being covered connect to one another.
Delving deeper into the material in this way will help you gain true understanding over what you need to know and get you closer to earning the grade you want.
Give yourself a little time to adjust.
Last but not least, have a little patience with yourself.
As mentioned above, the first semester of college is a time of many firsts. So it’s completely normal that you’ll need to take some time and adjust to all of these changes.
If you find yourself experiencing the freshman slump, understand you’re not alone. But learn from your mistakes and try making changes to your time management and study skills.
And as a final quick note, if you find that you’re putting in a ton of hard work for a class but are still seeing less than adequate grades, remember you do have options.
Find out your school’s withdrawal policy early on in the semester so if you feel like you need to drop a class you know important details like the drop deadline or what next steps you’ll need to take after removing a class from your schedule.
Being mindful to cover basic study habits, understand the expectations of all of your classes, and practice key skills such as time management can make your transition into college a much smoother experience and keep you from feeling the freshman slump.