My daughter just started college and her grades are bad

Your Life
Dr. Cathleen McGreal
November, 2015

My daughter is in her first semester of college, and her grades have slipped since high school. I tried calling her academic advisor, but nobody will talk to me. What can I do?

After 18 years of parenting, it can be challenging to accept how much your role changes as your child reaches adulthood. In this case, the government established laws reflecting one of these changes. When you tried calling your daughter’s academic adviser, it is not surprising that no one would talk to you because you may have been asking school officials to break the law!

The Right to Educational Information. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) has been in place in the U.S. since 1974. As a parent, you’ve been familiar with family rights during the K-12 years. You could review your daughter’s school records and decide on the disclosure of her personal information. But there are key changes when children reach college; your daughter’s educational information is now in her hands. If the institution receives federal funding through U.S. Department of Education programs, then FERPA must be adhered to by school officials. There are exceptions to the law, especially with regard to the health and safety of your daughter. But this situation provides an opportunity to encourage her growth as an adult.

College presents a new learning environment. When recent high school graduates look at their fall semester schedules, it may seem as if there is an abundance of free time. But having classes scattered through the day requires a conscious decision to use free time in a wise manner. Few students realize that for every one hour of class, there are about three or four hours of reading, preparation and other assignments. Professors may provide a syllabus and expect students to complete assignments without the reminders that are more typical in high school. Many students must work as well. Colleges have resources in place to help students who are negotiating these challenges of freshman year.

Follow your daughter’s lead. Your daughter has shared her concern about her grades. Rather than attempting to solve the problem for her, you can encourage her to brainstorm various options to improve her grades. What strategies, if any, has she tried to bring the grades up?  Empower her to follow up on her own ideas about changes in time management, interactions with professors, etc. The life skills she acquires when changing her behaviors will prove useful in college and beyond. The emotional maturity and confidence she gains through these experiences will be assets as she begins a career.

Our catechism notes the changes that occur at this age. Adult children “should assume their new responsibilities within a trusting relationship with their parents, willingly asking and receiving their advice and counsel.” (CCC #2230)