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Making the Most of a 5th Year in CollegeVicki Nelson
Every student at some point in their college career will find themselves dreading the end of a difficult semester, and worried they won’t be able to find a way to save their grades.
There are lots of reasons a student may be staring down a D or an F right now in one or more of their courses. On the surface it may seem straightforward — they didn't do the work, attend class regularly, get the academic support they needed. But often the real reason is something deeper: a mental health issue that didn't get addressed.
Balancing mental health needs with academic pressures is always challenging, and it can take a student all four years to figure out the importance of putting themselves first.
Throughout my time in college, I watched quite a few friends struggle with personal issues while juggling classes and other responsibilities. What many students don’t realize is that their college has an assortment of resources to help them prioritize their mental health needs. Alongside traditional therapy and counseling, your student's school may offer specific programs for dealing with an experience of trauma, or the death of a friend or family member.
Health challenges will crop up throughout the course of your student’s life, and it’s essential that they learn how to seek help and take the time to heal.
This year more than ever, with so many pandemic-related stresses, students have been hard pressed to tend to their mental health. When grades suffer because of a mental health challenge, there are a number of options your student can consider.
If they’re struggling in one particular class more than others and worry their GPA will suffer for it, your student can choose to withdraw from the course and take it at another point in time.
Of course, students hesitate to do this for numerous reasons — not wanting all the work they put into the class to go to waste (not to mention the cost of the tuition), fighting that sense of failure, etc.
Take the time to talk this over with your student and help them understand that putting their health first is a victory in and of itself, as well as a crucial life skill for them to develop. Make sure they know you support them wholeheartedly and love them unconditionally.
The timeline and rules for withdrawing from a course vary by school, so you and your student should research this on the registrar's page of the college website. It's also strongly recommended that your student meet with their academic advisor to compare options. Keep in mind that dropping a course late in the semester may impact your student's GPA and also their financial aid.
In some cases, it's possible for a student to take an Incomplete rather than a W. Again, this varies from case to case, so your student will need to ask their professor or department head directly to see if they qualify for this.
The language may differ from school to school, but essentially an Incomplete allows a student to finish the coursework over the next few months or within a specific time frame depending on the course and college. Sometimes time just runs out while a student is juggling other things, and they may have a better chance of submitting quality work given a little more time.
Colleges grant medical leaves of absence for a variety of physical and mental health reasons. A medical leave of absence essentially allows your student to withdraw from all of their classes far past the add/drop deadlines and may even include a partial tuition reimbursement. A student's GPA will be unaffected by any grades earned that semester; at the same time, they won’t receive credits for the unfinished classes.
A medical leave of absence allows a student to step away from college and take the time they need to recover, while leaving them the option to return to school and resume their studies when they're ready (the length of the leave permitted differs from school to school). Check in with your student’s school to find out how your student can qualify for a medical leave of absence and also to see what resources are available to help your student throughout their leave.
Students sometimes forget that professors are there to help. If it’s been a particularly difficult semester, encourage your student to reach out to their professors and explain their situation as best they can. If they are honest and transparent, and own up to their own mistakes (missing assignments, lack of communication, not asking for help sooner), it's more likely the professor will be willing to work with them on a plan for making up those lost points.
Assessing the situation with the professor will give your student a better idea of how they can succeed while also getting a second opinion on their options for the semester. Their grades might be salvageable, especially if they have the bandwidth now to fully focus their attention on the work!
College move-in is approaching! Help your student prepare by making sure they have everything they need for a successful freshman year.