College Freshmen and Bad Grades: A Complete Guide for Parents

Entering college can be a surreal experience for freshmen just as much as it can be exciting. Rather on-campus or online, freshmen will also typically be nervous and perhaps even anxious, and a lot of this revolves around the college grading system. Although most introductory freshmen courses will typically build upon initial concepts learned in high school, bad grades can and do happen for many different reasons. 

There are so many different reasons as to why freshmen get bad grades. It could be something as rudimentary as confusion in a course to something as irresponsible as too much partying and social media. This guide will explore a wide range of possibilities, and how you as a parent can notice these signs, address bad grades, and work towards helping your new college student improve their grades after addressing the problem. 

What Causes Bad Grades During Freshmen Year?

Bad grades, freshmen year of college, parental expectations, social expectations, lack of free time–these are just some of the many thoughts circulating within any college freshman’s mind. We all want our kids to enter the adult world with a superb education but we also have to stop and remember that life, and all its variables, are still going to confront a college freshman. 

We will talk about ways to help your new college student deal with those facts, but let’s first take a look at some of the common causes for poor grades during freshmen year. 

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The Intensity of Courses

College is hard. If you went through college, you already know this and you likely have told your child this many times. But one of the most surprising things for many college freshmen is when they discover that nobody is going to hold their hand, least of all their professors. This is because the essence of academic scholarship comes from the desire to learn and not necessarily the pressures to receive a college degree. 

But freshmen are usually unable to see this aspect, and they may become bogged down in complex academic coursework that they feel is a losing battle. This takes some responsibility to overcome (more on this below), but more importantly, it takes the willingness of freshmen to reach out to available resources that can provide help if they are lost. 

Some professors may help or schedule some private tutoring sessions with a student but the best course of action is for your child to utilize the assistance that nearly all colleges have available. Intense courses can and do result in bad grades but only if the student shrugs off not reaching out for help, which will be mandatory if the course is required to obtain their degree. 

Social Pressures

College is also supposed to be enjoyable and one of the major aspects of freshmen year is to meet a wide range of people from different places and even different cultures. But there are some potentially dangerous attributes that can come with social pressures. 

Most college freshmen will be exposed to all types of personalities, and even social circles typical of college, like fraternities or sororities, or even academic clubs, can bring with them a certain type of expectation and pressure to fit into the group dynamic. Fraternities, sororities, or sports teams may glorify a certain type of body image, and this can be seen in the prevalence of eating disorders with new college students because they desperately want to fit this ideal. 

Eating disorders destroy the body slowly but they also cause extreme mental fatigue which will certainly translate to poor grades. 

The pressure to adapt to high I.Q.’s can also be a problem that causes your child to focus far too much on some studies while ignoring others, which can cause bad grades in courses that students avoid studying in. 

If your student is experiencing problems brought on by social pressures, be sure to guide them in the right direction by expressing the importance of college and how it will help their lives when they enter the career world, and not to focus too much on short term social pressures. Be sure to immediately seek help for your child if they are displaying signs of an eating disorder. 

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Lack of Responsibility

All too often, freshmen can become burned out. Academic burnout is a very real thing with college students, and there are ways to treat it, but burnout can also occur from boredom or procrastination. 

Freshmen have to arrive at a point where they take college seriously in their own right. Responsibility is an often unspoken learning strategy enforced by colleges, and your child has to be willing to take on responsibility and see the virtue in it. 

Students should keep in mind that some careers will likely also look at GPA (grade point average) performance overall and not just that a degree was received. This is one way that sectors weed out the competition of fresh college graduates, and getting bad grades will not do your child any favors. 

Responsibility is symbiotic with surviving freshmen year, and students will have to be responsible to avoid receiving bad grades. 

Too Much Partying, Too Much Alcohol, Too Many Distractions

Most college freshmen will be under the legal drinking age during their freshman year, but the presence of alcohol and ease of finding it will be great. In fact, poor grades in college due to alcohol are attributed to about 53% of college students aged 18-22. 

But it’s not just alcohol that causes bad grades from extracurricular activities, simply partying with or without alcohol can become a habit for freshmen. 

Get-togethers and socializing with friends can easily become longer and more frequent than they should be to the point where freshmen forget the main reason for attending college. Social media is a huge detriment to freshmen who simply cannot stop checking their profiles and commenting and tagging. 

Most professors will not allow phones or tablets to be out during class but there is nobody around to stop students from constantly watching YouTube when they have a term paper due. Freshmen can also take a while to shake off the dynamics of the high school environment and getting caught up in gossip and drama. 

These are things to know about and to pay attention to as the activities will certainly clash with coursework and likely cause bad grades. 

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Consequences for Poor Grades in College

We know the reasons, so what are the consequences of poor grades in college? First and foremost, a student’s GPA suffers. The GPA builds cumulatively from the very first course to the very last, and unless a student retakes a failed class and achieves a higher grade, the GPA will plummet. 

Students may not be able to reach the required GPA to attain honors for their bachelor’s degree, and failing one class could be enough to completely prevent this. 

As mentioned, if a student fails a required course essential for attaining their degree, they will have to retake it until they pass, and all of this activity will be reflected on the final transcript. Even failing an elective will bring down the GPA. 

A low GPA could cause a future employer to go with a candidate with a higher GPA in the same degree field; a low GPA could also affect your child’s chances of getting into graduate school. 

Additionally, poor grades in college, especially during freshmen year, cause students to develop low morale and could even lead to depression or worst, dropping out of college altogether. College moves fast, and the more a student receives bad grades, the further they will drop behind and it can become nearly impossible to balance it all out. 

As a Parent, How Can You Help?

As parents, you can and should always check in with your college freshmen and there is nothing at all wrong with asking to see grade reports. You may feel like you are boxing your child in, but they are still your kid, and being proactive about their well-being has no age cap. 

If distractions or any of the above problems give you suspicions, always talk with your child and inquire about their social activities and what they get up to when they are not in the classroom. The same helpful guidance also applies if a student is taking online classes as well or is choosing not to live on campus–bad grades still happen. 

If you discover bad grades, have a talk with your child, and get to the root problem of what is causing it, be sure to keep all of the points mentioned above in mind. Ask if they are socializing too much, on social media too much, if pressures from social clubs or sports are starting to cause difficulties with academics. 

If the course concepts are going over their head, encourage your child to reach out to campus assistance as many campuses offer tutoring. Encourage them to open a dialogue with their professors or, you can reach out to a student’s professor directly and hear their critiques or concerns. 

Many students become discouraged or bruised when they receive criticism on assignments. Just be sure to explain to them that this is natural and only exists to ensure that you fully grasp the learning outcomes required by the course. The professor means no harm or malice, they are just scholars of their field and want to make sure every student grasps the material and writes clearly and logically. 

Most of all, try not to be too harsh or domineering; tough love has its place, but the most important thing is to keep your college freshman motivated and determined to master the concepts of a course. 

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How much do freshman grades matter in college?

Freshman grades matter a good deal. This sets the template for how well your child will do going forward in college. The intensity rises all the way to senior year, therefore, it is important that students master key foundations in the first year. It’s a bit of an oxymoron that freshman year is also a college student’s introduction to free will and socializing but getting good grades and passing courses teach freshmen how to multitask. 

What happens if you fail a class in college?

When a college student fails a class not required for their degree, they can either retake the class to help improve their GPA or, they can choose another class instead. All required courses will have to be retaken until a passing grade is received in the course. 

The GPA will lower dramatically if a student fails a class in college. 

Can you retake a failed class in college?

Yes, you can always retake a class in college but the retake will have to be paid for again. If you pass the retaken course, the highest grade or passing grade will be reflected on the GPA; however, the failed course will likely still show up on the official transcript. 

How to deal with failing a class in college?

The best way to address a failing class is to address and correct the problems causing it. If it is proving to be too tough academically, reach out to the professor and consider tutoring to grasp the concepts. 

Final Thoughts

There you have it, how as a parent to understand and address a college freshman receiving bad grades in college. Always remember to keep track of your child’s academic progress, especially during the freshmen year when new surroundings and social pressures are the strongest. Bad grades can always be fixed and most of all, addressing the issues causing it can prevent your student from failing a course.