I need to get better at this.
October 13, 2011 7:46 AM   Subscribe

I'm really stressed about college right now. My grades are lower than ever (though not terribly low); I'm afraid I just can't do my major or that I'll disappoint my parents or just suck at school. What should my next steps be?

I've always been an A student. I never skip class or assignments. However, I'm making Bs this semester (second year of college, engineering major) and one C. This really worries me.. I don't want to disappoint my parents or damage my prospects of getting a good job after college.

If I don't have better grades at the end of the school year, I'll lose one of my grants. Also, if my grades don't improve, I'm not sure if engineering is right for me. Since I'm already in my second year of college, I don't want to change my major if possible. I'm already behind (currently catching up on math and science, since I took humanities and electives freshman year), and don't want to delay my degree even further.

My biggest obstacles to improving my grades are A) procrastination and B) that when I take a test, I think I did really well and am truly surprised to see that I didn't score as high as I thought.

I've been so stressed out about this lately and I'm not sure what to do. I want to be a better student, improve my grades, avoid disappointing my parents or changing my major/getting further behind.. Where do I start? It's almost paralyzing thinking of continuing to perform below the level I'd prefer. I know my standards are high, perhaps unrealistically so, and I just feel so disappointed in myself when I don't meet them.

I could use some perspective, as well. How have you dealt with not living up to your own standards, or not performing well in school?

Throwaway email: sockpuppets39@yahoo.com
posted by anonymous to Education (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You don't mention anything about time management here either than your procrastination, so I have to make some assumptions about your use of time. There's a very simple answer: study more. Work harder. People who are accustomed to getting high grades, usually with little effort, can have difficulties when they hit their 'wall' and actually do need to step it up a notch. That solves A. B is not an obstacle, it's a symptom. Lose your confidence and you may be able to force yourself to work harder, instead of assuming you're going to do well.

Where... do you start? Make a study schedule, get away from distractions(plenty of locations to seclude yourself on campus), and do things ahead of time.
How to cope...? Do better! Stress compounds if you don't address it. Feel like it's too much to deal with on your own? Well, often colleges will have free (or low-cost) psychological services, either with peers or professionals, to talk these very issues out.

Your parents will love you no matter how you do, and you'll find a way to love yourself as well.
posted by MangyCarface at 7:59 AM on October 13, 2011

Breathe! Try to separate what is important to what is less important. Keeping your grants is very important. Worrying about how employers will view your grades after college is less important- I got a C or two in college, and it didn't ruin my life. Have you had a chance to talk with your professors about how you might be able to improve your grades? It's only October, you still have time to improve this semester. Also, how much more to do you have to do to complete your major? Getting through college on time is important, but if your major isn't something you are actually good at, it might be an uphill battle to get it done at all. Graduating a little late isn't the end of the world.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:00 AM on October 13, 2011

IAAP. IANYP. IANAEngineeringP.

Your first port of call needs to be your professors. Grab the exam, go to office hours, and ask how, exactly, you can improve your performance. (Don't phrase it as "Why did I get this grade?") Do what they tell you, whether that is tutoring, more time in office hours, study groups, or a combination of the above.

You may also wish to speak to your assigned adviser. "Bs" are not a sign of unfitness for a major, but if your grades continue dropping even after you take additional steps, then you might want to try a different major. Students change majors all the time during their second year--it's not necessarily a traumatic or apocalyptic experience.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:01 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

I bombed my way through college, because I was 1) lazy/bored 2) hella ADHD 3) working full-time 4) playing computer games almost full-time. Somehow, I graduated, (only) one semester late.

None of it really matters now. Sure, There are definitely some doors closed to me because of my GPA, but the overwhelming majority of those are doors I wouldn't want to go through anyway.

Go to a therapist or counselor (maybe look for one that specializes in learning strategies), stop worrying about what other people think, stop worrying about the vastness of things ahead of you. Change your major if you don't think you're doing the right thing -- it's not a big deal. If you take an extra year in school, that's also not a big deal. In five years you'll barely remember school.
posted by wrok at 8:02 AM on October 13, 2011

Seek support from someone you trust, be they friends, family, or a counselor. You are getting a lot of good practical advice here but please don't fall into the trap I once did, of thinking that you need to fix it alone so that nobody near you will know. I know from personal experience that the anxiety you are feeling can snowball into a full-on paralyzing depressive episode. In my case, I failed out of school and set myself back eight years while I taught myself lessons about personal forgiveness and the value of social support. If I had sought help, I might not still be working on my BS at 27. Please don't think you need to go it alone. Memail me if you want to talk.
posted by Scientist at 8:07 AM on October 13, 2011

The (successful) engineering majors I knew in college were all in study groups, and made use of professor/TA office hours and tutoring sessions. It seemed to me that this was not so much because they weren't smart enough to grok the material, but that being accountable to other people (Gotta make headway on this problem set before study group tonight!) really helped with the procrastination. Try not to get caught in the spiral of "Oh god I did poorly I'm not very smart therefore it doesn't matter if I leave the homework until the last minute because I don't understand it anyway" - it's unhelpful in the extreme. You're not alone - lots of people go through this, in all majors (former procrastinating history major here!), and it's a good sign that you're reaching out for help.
posted by rtha at 8:10 AM on October 13, 2011

when I take a test, I think I did really well and am truly surprised to see that I didn't score as high as I thought.

Talk to your professors. They don't set office hours for any other reason than to be available to you. If this is a frequent occurrence, it's indicative of either not understanding the material, not understanding the scope of the exam, or not studying properly for the exam. Regardless of which it is, you need to fix it to be successful in your classes.
posted by litnerd at 8:16 AM on October 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

Also, if my grades don't improve, I'm not sure if engineering is right for me.

Engineering, and especially the second year, is hard. Really hard. Washout rates are probably the highest of all the programs in your school. I nearly quit, too.

Something to bear in mind, however is that the dude with the lowest GPA on graduation day from Med school is still called "Doctor". Some jobs will select based on GPA absent relevant skill or experience, but after your first one, nobody cares.

You're not failing. You're struggling and you're also making progress. You need to keep your chin up.

One more thing to remember - second year engineering sucks ass. You learn nothing fun, can't do anything interesting, and the coursework is hard and sucks and is boring.

This changes in your third and fourth year, considerably. You don't mention what field you're in, but there are groups you can join (I was an EE, and did the robot club) that will have you rub elbows with upperclassmen who can offer much needed help, guidance and best of all perspective.

Talk with your professors and your dean and find some help. Above all, keep your chin up. You can do it.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:28 AM on October 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

In engineering tests, there are typically some questions with small but significant details that change how you approach a problem. If you're not doing as well on them as you think you did and it's not a situation where "I understand the material but don't finish the test in the time allotted", you may be missing these subtleties. Or, the test may not be as well-written as one would hope.

To some extent, how well you test in engineering classes can be related to how well you understand the professor's test approach. Study sessions are invaluable for this.

In some schools, libraries have copies of previous years' tests. In others, upperclassmen are your ticket - most fraternities and some clubs keep official class files; otherwise, the suggestion of meeting upperclassmen is a good one. This is not mooching or cheating - it's a study tool to help you succeed.

If you came from a background of easy A's, you may not be putting in enough review time. Set aside review time, figure out what test prep works best for you (for me, it was going back over my (copious) notes and compiling a "study guide"), and find a spot that works as a no-distractions homework/study area. Ask questions when you get stuck, preferably ahead of when your homework is due, from professors, TAs, other students, tutors, or study groups.

Starting with sophomore year (especially if you didn't take many math classes last year), engineering curriculae become difficult as they attempt to retrain your brain and the way you think and approach problems. It'll typically become easier again once that is accomplished and you learn different subjects within your chosen engineering discipline.

However, if engineering really isn't for you, there's no shame in switching majors. Honestly, if you don't enjoy engineering, why chase it for the theoretical payoff of a good (engineering) career? I know a lot of people who, since graduation, have switched to fields they find much more enjoyable, like teaching English or homesteading. Unfortunately, I know some people who hate what they do, but have to pay off their (sizeable) college loans when they've known they hated engineering from pretty early on.

I hope this helps - feel free to MeMail me if you have followup questions.
posted by bookdragoness at 8:40 AM on October 13, 2011

Are you a woman? I just read something about how women who are getting Bs in Engineering or other STEM fields think they're bombing, while guys who are getting Cs think they're doing just fine.
posted by mareli at 8:53 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

College is hard, and engineering courses are even harder at the beginning. Even very smart people need to work more than they are used to. Are you utilizing your tutoring center? Do you have study friends in your classes? There's nothing shameful about changing a major, but I'd hate to see you do it just because you never learned how to study.

I got a D in 2 sophomore-level math courses because of some outside issues I was having and I thought my only option was to drop out and move to India. I, too, did all of my homework. Calculus had been so easy that I'd let my study habits atrophy. I had never failed at anything before, and I genuinely thought that my life was over. I felt like a stupid failure who would never amount to anything. Thankfully, I was totally wrong. I pulled myself together, took the classes again, and got As. I also got top grades for the rest of my undergraduate scholastic career. Sometimes, a small failure can be a catalyst for your success. Get the help you need, put in more hours than you think you should, and I bet you'll be back on top in no time.

After getting back one particularly poor exam, I retreated to the restroom to cry my teenage eyes out. A chemistry professor found me bawling and told me that the only course she had ever failed in undergrad had been chemistry. Get back to your dreams; I think these sorts of things happen to almost everybody.
posted by 200burritos at 8:53 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

I can't speak to the engineering curriculum, but I fumbled my way through undergrad procrastinating in quiet panic because I was afraid to disappoint my family by asking for help or by letting them know that I was struggling. This fear also kept me from approaching my professors for help or advice.

It turns out that my parents would much rather have known about my struggles, and are still proud of me even though I failed some classes and barely graduated (really, it was down to my last final exam). Don't shoot yourself in the foot because you think someone might be disappointed in you. I am willing to bet other people will be much more forgiving and understanding than you expect, and that the person most disappointed in you is you.

Absolutely talk to your professors or TAs if you don't understand why you received a certain grade. Who better to explain your grade than the people who assigned it? Talking to them might also give you some insight into whether engineering is what you want to do.
posted by treefort at 9:03 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Worrying will get you no where, but making a plan and committing to it will. Don't fret too hard about getting a bit lower grades than you are use to. Most people seem to hit a wall, I know I did. Some people fuck up, I did. I spent a year or so worth of classes fixing up classes I dropped, failed, or even received a grade lower than a B. I also was able to enter grad school even with a blemished record. The thing was, the directors of my program were impressed I took initiative and retook classes, even if it didn't change my GPA.

The best thing you can do is to make a daily plan and execute it. I find by writing down what needs to be done lowers my stress and allows me to schedule my day around things that are important.

Even more so, go talk to your professors. They want you to do well, and explain the situation. Most often, a professor will work with you to identify where you are making mistakes, and how to avoid them going forward. Your grant is important, and you should just push through your work to maintain that avenue of funding. You can do it, you just need to execute a plan and formulate relationships with your professors. Stressing is counter productive, but can be a good motivator if you are aware of the repercussions if you don't follow through.
posted by handbanana at 10:14 AM on October 13, 2011

Do you like engineering and the potential jobs that will be available to you if you graduate with that major? If yes, then don't quit because of grades! Sure, with a slightly lower GPA it might be hard get some interviews for your first job, but once you have an interview, the grades won't matter, what will matter was your ability to talk about what you've learned and how you overcome challenges. And once you have your first job, then the grades REALLY won't matter ever again.

So if you like what you're studying, then keep studying. Do what everyone else suggests - go to your professors, ask for help, get tutoring (most colleges have a free tutoring program set up), network, etc. And stop procrastinating. Every night, make a detailed schedule for the next day that allows for X hours studying for this exam, Y hours for HW for this class, Z hours for goofing off and hanging out. And make the schedule list stupid stuff like wake-up time, meals, shower, time for errands, etc, because I find that's when a lot of time disappears without me realizing it. Follow the schedule. And join or start study/HW groups with the kids in your classes.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 1:44 PM on October 13, 2011

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