College Student Confidential

End of semester advice and the need for self-assessment.

Posted Nov 07, 2017

Thanksgiving is a little over two weeks away. Students on the quarter system should be finishing up and those on the semester system will have about four or five weeks left of classes. If you are a college student (or know one), it’s time for a bit of self-assessment regarding where you stand in your classes and their remaining assignments.

Assess your grades.

You should have reasonable confidence about where you stand grade-wise in each of your classes. Many instructors will put their grading scheme in their syllabi. Take a look and assess (conservatively—you are unlikely to bring a low "C" up to an "A" so no wishful thinking) what grades you would receive if the classes ended right now. If you are satisfied with your grade projections, then keep on doing what you’re doing until the end of the quarter or semester.

What if you’re not satisfied?

If a course grade or grades are lower than you’d like, it’s time to regroup. Make a list of what assignments (quizzes, papers, presentations, tests) remain and then make a calendar so you can determine how much time you have left to study, write, and do whatever needs to be done. Make a plan and then get started. Begin big projects (e.g., term papers) now and save the quick stuff for later, closer to their due dates. Save the low hanging fruit for later, do the tough stuff or at least get started on it.

What if you’re only borderline, that is, barely passing a class?

You need to decide whether it’s worth staying in the class or dropping it (if you still can. Some colleges and universities have a date past which you can’t drop it or by doing so, you get a “Withdrawn Failing” indicator on your transcript. You don’t want one of those unless you are going to receive an actual grade of “F” in the course; an “F” will drop your semester and overall grade point average). Go speak to the instructor during his or her office hours and do so immediately. Find out if you can still pass the class.

Don't turn any remaining assignments in late. 

If you do, you will lower the grade on the assignment as well as do harm to the final grade. Don't ask for any extensions—taking another day or two to submit a late paper will only keep you from doing the other work. You will still be behind. Submit all remaining work on time, come what may.

Forget about extra-credit—it won’t help much.

Don’t ask if there are “any extra-credit opportunities” to raise your grade now, at the 11th hour. First of all, if there are, they are a waste of your time, a way to procrastinate from doing real work that can salvage your grades (see above). Second, the amount of extra-credit you receive won’t be that much and it is unlikely to replace a poor grade on some previous assignment. Again, no wishful thinking, please. Skip the extra-credit and get going on the big projects.

If you have solid grades that satisfy you, then focus on the class where you have the lowest grade.

Even if you have a solid “C” in a class, you may be able to bring it up to a “C+” or a “B-“. Make the effort. Every bit helps your semester and overall GPA. Or, that solid "B" could make it within striking distance of an "A-".

Don’t just focus on classes in your major (or majors) to the exclusion of other courses.

Quite a few students focus on major courses and let non-major electives or general education courses languish. That is a foolish economy: A low grade or grades in any of these classes will still pull your overall average down, keep you from making dean’s list, and create a spotty record on your transcript. In the future, potential employers and graduate schools will want to know your overall GPA and they will examine whether your academic performance was consistent. A pockmarked transcript—an “A” here, a “B” there, and a bunch of “Cs” or even “Ds” doesn’t impress anyone. It suggests you couldn’t get your act together or that only did well in certain areas—or, worse, you only out effort sometimes. Being as steady and consistent as you can is what will help you in your future. Unreliability is never a good thing.

Take advantage of available tutors.

If there are tutoring sessions available for those classes where you are doing less well, by all means, go to them, and do so religiously until the end of the term. You may still be able to pull your grade(s) up.

Take your final paper drafts to the college or university writing center.

Once you have a rough draft of any class paper, take the paper and the assignment to the writing center to have a fresh pair of peer eyes to read both. Listen to the suggestions the peer or professional gives you—he or she was hired because of writing skills. Attending to such feedback can be enough to pull your final paper grade up a bit—maybe even a full letter grade and, in any case, any improvement is an improvement to help the bottom line.

Try not to get sick.

Unexpected illness or being worn down can undo your best intention. Get a flu shot. Get regular sleep (no more than eight hours, please), eat well, and try to get some exercise.

Appreciate the privilege of being a student.

You chose to be student—enjoy that fact and do the best you can. Many people would love to have the opportunities—and yes, the coursework–you have. They would trade places with you in a second. But don’t worry, the end of the quarter or semester will be here soon enough.