How to Recover from a Low First-Year College GPA

Bad grades happen, especially to new college students. College is notably more difficult than high school, and it’s all too common for first-year students to struggle in their first weeks or even months at their new school. Students face new challenges during their transition to college, like feeling lonely, adjusting to college life, and getting accustomed to college classes.  But, that doesn’t mean you have to give up, or let your entire education fall apart. If you take the right action quick enough, the ship can be set back on course. 

Coming to Grips With Bad Grades

That sinking feeling after seeing your first poor grade at college can feel like a stomach punch. Whether you are the student receiving the grade or the parent of a struggling student, a bad grade early in freshman year can be demoralizing. Even worse, students and parents often worry about the impact of bad grades on grad school opportunities. 

The first step to ensuring that a few bad grades don’t spiral into something worse–like academic probation–is to come to grips with it. It’s important that you don’t let you-or your child’s- bad grade serve as an excuse for harsh criticism. Layering on the guilt will do nothing except make you feel worse and increase your odds of performing poorly in the future. 

Instead, to accept the problem, you must come to grips with the bad grade, as well as its consequences—“roll with the punches,” as they might say. Once you’ve accepted the bad grades, you can set the groundwork for improving them and getting your college career on track. 

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How to Recover from a Low First-Year Gpa

You may have heard the term ‘the best defense is a good offense,’ meaning that the best way to get ahead of a problem is to attack it head-on, before it becomes too big an issue to handle. This is the best mindset to have when correcting poor grades at any phase of your education–but when doing so early on in your college career. 

Here are a few small things that you can do to help keep your focus where it needs to be:

Take Inventory of the Damage

The first thing to do is assess what immediate damage or threats to your enrollment might be present. This means assessing how close you may be to losing any academic scholarships, grants, or other financial aid due to poor grades. You should also see if you are on the verge of academic probation. You never want to wait and find these things out after it’s too late. 

Once you find out what your academic status is, work towards preventing the damage from getting worse. Find out if you have any classes you can retake—even if it means doing so over break. Most universities will be lenient towards students who are willing to correct their errors quickly. 

Improve Your Time Management Skills

College is a time to grow academically and personally, so one of the best lessons to learn is time management. Pay attention to your study habits: where, when, and how often you study and remember the golden rule of studying: every 1 class credit hour requires 2 hours of study time per week.

The University of North Carolina’s Learning Center provides some additional helpful study tips.

Monitor Your Grades More Closely

Financially savvy people regularly monitor their bank accounts. They check their balance daily, making sure no odd charges occur, and that their expenses are all accounted for. The same tactic can be applied to your grades. You should check your grades regularly, to know exactly where you stand at all times in your courses. 

Almost every university has a portal for checking grades online. These portals usually also allow you to view assignments that are upcoming, assignments you may can retake, and assignments you’ve missed. You should monitor these assignment lists daily to ensure you are on top of your work. Make checking your grades and current course progress are a part of your regular routine! 

Talk With Your Professors

Many professors realize that college-level courses are difficult and are more than willing to help out students who want to do well–even if that student is currently struggling. Talking to your professor about the issue can go a long way towards rectifying it before it goes too far. Meet them during office hours and ask them about opportunities for extra credit, such as taking on extra assignments or participating in extracurricular events. 

It never hurts your case to seek out extra credit to improve your grade. The worst-case scenario is that no extra credit is available. The best-case scenario is that you can turn your grade around! 

Lighten Your Load

No one says high school is a cakewalk. But it is certainly easier than college. That’s kind of the point. Unfortunately, though, this rapid change in difficulty can lead first-year students to overestimate their ability to manage their time and workload. Often, first-year students take way too many courses and extracurriculars, thinking they can handle the same workload they had in high school. 

Sometimes, the best course of action is to lighten your load. If you are overwhelmed, talk to your faculty advisor or  about how you can drop some unnecessary courses or extracurriculars. However, make sure you don’t drop below your required course minimum for graduation!  

Don’t be Afraid to Call in Back-up! 

You don’t need to be in middle school to turn to a tutor. Many university students employ tutors to get through their more strenuous courses. There is no shame at all in asking for help when the course material becomes difficult to understand. 

A tutor can help you better grasp your professors’ lectures, and successfully process that information for assignments and tests. Tutors can help improve your grades and teach you to manage your workload better. A good tutor can make all the difference in a freshman’s life! 

Final Thoughts

College is hard. Everyone who has ever gone can tell you that. It’s a stressful time when students need to make many life adjustments—particularly in the first year. Learning to manage your course load, time, and mental health is the key to having a great and productive time in college. 

Don’t let a spurt of bad grades destroy your drive to be an excellent student. All it takes is a proactive attitude—and a bit of effort—for anyone to turn their bad grades around! 

We at HelloCollege aim to help you get the most out of your university preparations. For more information about college admissions, testing, and practice, feel free to read our other blogs or contact us to learn how we can help you!

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The Hello College Team

HelloCollege CEO Andrea Emmons has spent the last 15 years guiding students and families across the country on their path to college. Andrea knows the profound impact proactive college planning has on the lives of students and is passionate about mentoring families through the process.
Kevin Krebs - Founder of HelloCollege

About Our Founder

Kevin Krebs

Inspired by his parents, Kevin’s journey from a first-gen, diverse, low-income background to Northwestern University shaped him. After experiencing challenges, including student loan debt, he founded HelloCollege and has spent the last 25 years helping students successfully navigate college admissions.

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