Academic Probation: What Should My Son Do Now?

Just before Christmas, my son received his grades for the first semester of college. They were a surprise, to say the least. Merry Christmas – I’m on academic probation!

Our son complained that classes were getting hard in October and that he was beginning to have doubts about staying there. We advised him to keep trying, study his butt off, get help if it’s needed. He certainly wasn’t the first kid to have trouble during his first year of college and he wouldn’t be the last. The campus has many good resources, including tutoring, and if he put in the time and effort we were certain he’d get good results. He’s a smart kid, graduated high school with honors, so the ability to do well is certainly there.

When your college freshman is on academic probation

When he got his first semester grades, it was obvious that the time and effort were not spent in the classroom. I have an idea of where they were spent, and it is definitely not a classroom. Now, we realize that the first semester of freshman year is tough for many teenagers. The transition of living away from home mixed with the increased difficulty of college classes can make for a trying adjustment.

But even so – academic probation? I love the movie Animal House, but I never dreamed that one of my sons would have a GPA comparable to Bluto Blutarski’s. I mean, my son got a D in a 100-level English class. He did fine in English in high school. English is his native language. It’s his only language. He’s been speaking it for roughly seventeen years. I know he can do better than a D.

Our son didn’t get a job last semester because he said he wanted to focus on his classes. In comparison, my wife works in a special education classroom at an elementary school during the day and does hairdressing at night and on weekends, along with taking care of her little kid and her big kid (me.) She also takes two to three college classes per semester. This semester her GPA was 3.7, almost triple that of our son’s.

[More On Academic Mistakes that College Freshmen Make here.]

I sometimes think that our culture is partly to blame. Our son explained away his poor performance by saying that adjusting to college is often difficult for kids his age and that’s what second chances are for. All true, but the way he said it sounded like a prepared speech, like something he’s heard repeatedly. Everyone is given a trophy, and everyone is given as many chances as it takes. But the real world doesn’t usually work that way.

So where do we go from here? My wife and I can’t help but wonder if it is worth it for our son to stay in college. Education is very important to us. I don’t have a bachelor’s degree and I’ve always tried to impress upon my sons how much easier my life could have been had I gotten one. My wife recently earned an associate degree and is working toward a bachelor’s degree, two or three classes at a time. We hoped that seeing how hard we’ve had to work would make an impression. So far, it doesn’t appear to have.

An important consideration in all of this is money. Like most students, our son had to take out loans to attend school. Whether he passes or fails his classes, those loans have to be paid back. And if he has another semester like the last one, he won’t be eligible to receive any financial aid at all.

[More on Financial Aid here.]

After a lot of discussion about his academic probation, our son is going to return to school. We’ve stressed that he will succeed only if he is willing to be responsible. It’s great to have a social life and enjoy yourself, but finding the proper balance is key.

As parents, there’s not much left that we can do. Our job is done, for the most part. There are no more progress reports, no more parent-teacher conferences. All we can do is hope he’ll realize how important this is to his future and pray that what we’ve told him will sink in. I’m betting it will.


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About Gary Sprague

Gary Sprague is a freelance writer who lives in Maine with his wife and two sons. You can find him online at Twitter, Facebook and his blog, GarySpragueBooks.

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