Excelled in High School but doing Poorly in College

My Kid Excelled In High School, Why Is She Struggling in College?

Posted on February, 17, 2023 by

Riley, a second semester freshman at the University of Maryland was a superstar in high school and is currently on academic probation. Her mom had no idea she was having issues and is in a panic, “I was shocked, she told me all semester things were going well.”

I knew what happened even before her mom told me.  Riley is extremely bright, and academics always came easy to her.  She rarely studied in high school because she could get high grades by just listening in class and mostly keeping up with her homework. If she knew she wouldn’t make a due date, she could usually talk her teachers into giving her a few more days to finish. People tried telling her she would have to study and get assignments in on time in college, but she said she knew that and would be fine. But, old habits die hard. She tried asking for more time to turn in work in a few classes in college but was told “due dates are due dates, no exceptions.”

The first few weeks at college were great. She was having fun, meeting new people, going to parties, and keeping up with her work. However, the first round of exams came, and Riley received her lowest grades ever. She couldn’t believe it, she thought she had done well.  Riley had studied a little and went over her notes, but she never developed strong study skills in high school because she didn’t need them.

Thinking she now knew what to expect, she felt she would do better on future exams. But assignments piled up and Riley’s attempts at managing her time wasn’t working out. Stress started to keep her up at night, making her morning classes hard to get up for and even harder to keep focused when she was there.  She fell behind in her work but kept telling herself she would catch up – she just needed to spend more time in the library.

In the next round of exams, Riley performed even worse.  She really tried this time and couldn’t understand what happened.  Her stress turned into anxiety as the workload became increasingly overwhelming and she still hadn’t made time for those extra hours in the library.

Riley had not developed coping strategies and did not know what else to do. She procrastinated and avoided doing her assignments and didn’t look at her grading portal. Meeting with her professors may have helped but this never occurred to her.  She was too embarrassed to tell her parents, afraid of disappointing them, so she just kept telling them things were great.

Riley’s story is surprisingly common.  Many students who are bright and admitted to competitive universities are hit with the reality that being smart does not always translate into academic success. If executive function skills and strategies are lacking, the chance of underachieving is greatly increased.  It’s best to begin working with an academic coach to develop these crucial skills in high school, but if that ship has sailed it’s okay. Having according to a study by Colorado University Boulder an academic coach in college has shown to improve grades and increase graduation rates.

Riley is now taking part in academic coaching with me each week and is on track to have a much more successful semester. Some skills that I am working on with her are strong study strategies, creating schedules and routines to help manage her time better, and seeking the help of her professors and other school resources when needed. She has already put all the due dates for her assignments and added her assessments to her Google calendar and checks it several times a week. Once a week we check the grading portal and make an action plan for the week. Riley’s stress level is lower, and she is enjoying college life.

If your child will be entering college soon, try academic coaching while they are still in high school and there is time to build and practice those crucial skills for college success.