College is the end goal for most high school students– whether that is community college, a private institution or a state university. The promise of higher learning carries with it the ability for higher earnings and a more stable future. However, for many students, even a rigorous academic experience in high school can't prepare them for all of the challenges that they'll face in college. Academic challenges aren't insignificant, but students entering college may find a slew of challenges they didn't expect and will need to overcome.
Coping with Academic Challenges
For many students, the shift from secondary school work to university work is a difficult transition. This is true even for strong students. There are many examples of challenges in school. The reading is denser and more voluminous at the college level, and the level of discourse and writing that most students are required to produce far exceeds even the heaviest workload in high school.
Regardless of the discipline that you're studying, you're certain to have moments where you feel overwhelmed, unprepared, or ill-equipped to deal with the work you're assigned. There's a list of academic problems that face students who are attending their first-year college, and should you face any of them, know that there are resources in place to help you. This feeling of struggling with an academic problem is very common, and there are ways to cope.
If you're feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work that you're required to complete, it may be helpful to examine how you manage your time. Having a good strategy is key to academic success. If you're finding the content of your coursework to be more challenging than you feel capable of learning, maintaining regular discussion with your professors or teaching assistants may help you to get a handle on what you're finding so difficult.
Depending on the sort of school you're attending, you may be able to "test out" of certain classes that are required for graduation, thereby freeing up time in your schedule to focus on the classes you find more challenging. Seeking out friends and classmates who are taking the same classes you're may be a way for you to study together and learn from one another which can make the work easier.
It's also a good idea to research the resources your college has in place for students experiencing challenges with their academic work. The best way to overcome college challenges is to strategize and problem-solve, and by looking into the resources your college has made available to students, you may be availing yourself of trusted advisers and some very helpful guidance.
Feeling Overwhelmed By Coursework
For many students, the feeling of being overwhelmed by the volume of coursework they are required to complete is a common facet of life during their first year of college. If there's a particular course or class that you feel is exponentially more challenging than you were prepared for, try having a frank and honest discussion with your academic advisor if you have one. Otherwise, it’s a good idea to seek out the professor who is teaching the class and ask if he or she would be willing to give you some extra help.
Whether that means tutoring one-on-one or simply allowing you to have more time to complete assignments, it's always a good idea to be honest and forthcoming about the trouble you're having right away so that your work doesn't pile up and become totally unmanageable. While it may be embarrassing or upsetting to have to admit to a professor that you're having a tough time in their class, the faculty at your college is there to make sure that you do well and learn as much as you can.
In some cases, you might decide that the course is more challenging than you're ready for. If that is the case, and the course isn't a necessary requirement for moving on in school according to your plan, you may choose to drop the course altogether and replace it with something that is a better fit for you. Academic performance looks different for everyone.
If you notice you’re overwhelmed and it’s difficult to process your emotions, consider visiting an on-campus counseling center. Most colleges offer counseling services at a low cost, or even free of charge, that are a valuable resource for coping with the challenges of being a university student. It’s important not to forsake your mental health in pursuit of a grade.
For many college students, their first semester is their first experience with low grades. This isn't uncommon because most college freshmen are used to being graded at a lower academic standard during high school than they are at college.
College evaluation and grading standards are significantly more rigorous than they are even at a challenging high school, so you should expect that your work when you first arrive at college, might not be up to a college-level instructors standards. This isn't cause for despair. This is how you learn. When faced with a lower grade than you desired you may feel your self-esteem take a hit and start to question whether you're in fact as intelligent and capable as you thought.
The fact is that you just need to get used to thinking and working at the college level. It may seem very difficult at first but with practice, application and good study habits you'll soon find that your grades are improving and your ability to work at the college level is increasing.
Dealing with a change in grading standards is one of the most common academic challenges college students face. Most universities calculate gpa’s on a different scale than what is used in high school. If you find that your grades are consistently low, however, it may be a good idea to talk to your professors or academic advisers about where you're falling short and what, specifically, you need to improve.
Perhaps, your low grades are due to an undiscovered learning disability, such as Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which is common among college students. Inquire into whether your university has a disability center that can provide guidance and assistance to unique learners such as yourself. One-on-one tutoring services may be available to assist both new students and returning students with individualized learning.
One of the best parts of college life is, unlike high school, you'll not have a full day of classes, and your free time is yours to schedule as you see fit. This is certainly a bonus and allows you to do work and study at times convenient for you, but it can also present academic difficulties.
Students who come from high school backgrounds with strict structures aren't used to managing their own time. These students may have relied upon authority figures at school and parents at home to create an environment where they completed their work in a timely matter. This is especially true for students who did not have a part-time job and who only had to focus on schoolwork. For these students, an excess of freedom in their schedule can spell disaster for their studies.
It's important to remember that your academic work is the primary reason you're at college. That means that your academic challenges and classes take priority, and everything else should be scheduled after that work is completed. While social life, athletics, relationships and artistic pursuits are key pieces of your life in college, your academic work should be the organizing principle of your schedule.
If you find that the surplus of free time with no guidance is making it difficult for you to complete your work, talk to an adviser. If you don't have an academic adviser, see if your school offers any resources that can help you manage your time more effectively. By using your time to your advantage, you'll find that you face less panic when completing assignments and that you have time for your social life and other personal pursuits.
When You Dislike a Class
Unfortunately, it's very likely that at some point during your first year of college you're going to have to take a class that you dislike. Many universities have course requirements, especially for first-year students in particular programs. You may find that you very much dislike one of the courses you're taking, but the course of study you have enrolled in requires it.
The first thing to do is to speak with an adviser or counselor to see if there's an alternative to taking the class. There's a chance that the academic department in charge may agree that an independent study project on the same topic will satisfy the course requirement.
There also may be a different class that you can switch into that will satisfy the same requirements and be significantly more enjoyable to you. In the case that you have to take a class that you find boring, tedious or exceptionally difficult, the best thing to do is to do a little bit of work for it every day, so you don't have to spend many hours at a time completing your assigned work.
Classmates and Study Groups
Finding classmates you get along with and forming study groups with them is one of the best ways to address the academic challenges that you may face in college. For the most part, college life presents a much larger social network than high school.
Everyone is new, everyone is meeting each other for the first time, and everyone is slowly getting used to their new surroundings. You may find yourself thrown together with roommates or housemates who are very different from the people you went to high school with or who are studying very different topics than you're. This may make it difficult to enlist them to study with you.
On a personal level, you may find yourself in classes with people who seem very different from anyone you have known before and find it difficult to relate. To make this even more challenging, you may find that your school has an enormous and complicated social scene that's very difficult for you to navigate. Regardless of the structure of your school, building relationships within your academic classes and department is an important way to build friendships, and also to ensure that you're doing your best possible coursework.
Changing Your Course of Study
Wanting to change your course of study is among the most common on the list of academic problems students face. Many students enter college thinking that they want to study a particular discipline or subject, only to find that when they get there, they are more interested in another course of study, or they simply don't like their original subject as much as they thought they did.
It can be frightening and overwhelming to look at your academic trajectory and feel that it's no longer what you want to be studying. It may make you feel that you have no idea what you want to do with your life, or you may feel that you've discovered something unexpected that you now want to study more deeply. Either way, don't worry.
Your first years of college are for figuring out where you want to have your focus. It's a mistake to press on with a course of study that you don't find valuable. If you're experiencing dissatisfaction with your course of study, you should speak to a registrar or your adviser to see if they can provide guidance as to your next steps.
In some cases, you may find that you just need to switch some of the courses you're taking. In other scenarios, you may discover that you're enrolled in a specific academic program that you now want to abandon. Some students may discover that they want to change their university altogether, and attend a college where they can study a different discipline or subject area than what is offered at their current college. Any of these issues should be discussed with a guidance counselor or adviser. They have seen years of cohorts of students and they have the expertise necessary to help you make decisions about your academic future.
Ashley Friedman is a freelance writer with experience writing about education for a variety of organizations and educational institutions as well as online media sites. She has written for Pearson Education, The University of Miami, The New York City Teaching Fellows, New Visions for Public Schools, and a number of independent secondary schools. She lives in Los Angeles.