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Advice for Talking to Your Student About Grades

Adina Glickman


With midterms happening, it seems timely to share some thoughts on grades, particularly parental access to them.

In many ways, your student’s college grades are a microcosm of their increasing distance from you. Many students don’t want to show parents their grades, and because of FERPA, most schools will not release grades to parents without a waiver from the student.

If you’re in that frustrating boat, here’s what I want to tell you — and I've framed this advice as a response to a letter CollegiateParent received from a mom named Marcy:

My daughter refuses to show me her grades, and the school’s policy is not to release them to parents. I want to know how she’s doing in school! College isn’t cheap and I don’t want to be paying for something that she’s not getting any value from.

Dear Marcy,

Of course you want to know how she’s doing! I hear your love and care. But just like your daughter no longer shows you the splendid creation she made before you celebratorily flush it down the toilet together, she is not inspired to share the splendid successes and failures she is producing at school.

Indeed, as our kids grow up, we get to know less and less about them. Parenting a college student is a ripe time for many excruciating letting-go moments. Most of us long for the halcyon days when letting go meant accepting that they were trading the hummus and cucumber on pita lunch we carefully packed for the Skippy and grape jelly on white bread their friend brought in.

I hear love and fear mixed into your question — love for her as a human being and how she’s doing, and also some anxiety that she may be wasting your money. Perhaps a deeper understanding of the worry is that, if she’s tanking, you don’t have the opportunity to get in there and help her. Or maybe she’s pushing herself too hard for straight A's and you want her to take it easy and get a few B's.

Either way, the Herculean task of being the parent of an emerging adult is getting comfortable with (or at least tolerant of) not knowing. You’ve been incrementally stepping into the practice of not knowing since she was little. And you will continue to get good at not knowing as she becomes more and more independent.

To be fair, does your mother know what exactly your boss said on your last performance appraisal? Sometime between showing us their potty performances and being professional grown-up people in the working world, our kids stop sharing everything and we become okay with it. Not showing us their grades is an important move towards adult independence. Try to think of it more as an ownership of her college experience than a door slamming in your face.

Still, there is that need both of you have (whether she admits to it or not) to stay connected. So talk to her about the less obvious stuff. Has she found any nice places to take a walk? How’s the food? Is the dorm noisy? Are any of her classes what she thought they’d be like? Granted, nothing is quite as she might have hoped during this unusual pandemic year, but the basics of the adjustment to college are the same and your original question of wanting to know how she’s doing in school stretches well beyond her grades. When she’s ready to tell you about how she’s doing academically, she will approach you with the alliance and love you’ve expressed through your interest in the things that are seemingly peripheral to academics. Leave it to her to bring it up, and meanwhile get used to wondering.

True, you are paying for college, and that is a significant commitment and investment. And if it’s a hardship for you that’s no small tension. But the tension of your finances shouldn't create a distraction for her. No kid wants their parents to stress about them or what they cost on top of what the demands of college bring. Your job is to manage your stress through your own support system and let her stay focused on her job, which is to immerse herself in college learning without wondering if she’s disappointing you.

So keep asking the answerable questions about her life, and be ready with love and belief in her when she does decide to share something more personal, like what she got in chemistry.

Adina Glickman is the founder of Affinity Coaching, which offers academic, life and career coaching to young adults. She is the former director of learning strategies at Stanford University and is the co-founder and director of the Academic Resilience Consortium, an association of faculty, staff and students dedicated to understanding and promoting student resilience. Learn more at adinaglickman.com.

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