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Falling Behind in College? Here's What You Can Do

This article will cover what causes students to fall behind academically, what you can do about it.

Nov 13, 2023
  • Student Tips
  • Education
Worried student

5-second summary

  • College students often struggle with adapting to the heavier workload (45-60 hours per week) of college courses compared to high school.
  • Use your college's tutoring services and attend professors' office hours to help you tackle the course material.
  • Work on your time management skills in order to maximize your study time for the best outcomes.

Many students, accustomed to less rigorous demands in high school, find themselves struggling to adapt to the increased workload and complexity of college courses.

If this is your situation, read on - we'll go over why students fall behind in class, and what you can do to get back on track.

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How much do you need to study?

The transition from high school to college catches a lot of students off-guard.

For every hour in class, college students should plan for two to three hours of study - which amounts to 45-60 hours a week.

This workload equates to a full-time job. This change in pace can be particularly jarring for those who managed high school with minimal study time.

A Brookings Institution study further illustrates this point, noting that only 38% of high school students spend six or more hours a week on homework, ranking below activities like socializing and exercising.

While both of those other activities are important, these numbers illustrate a potential discrepancy between the perception that students are "studying all the time" and the reality of the actual chunk of time spent on focused study.

How to get back on track

If the above sounds like you, don't worry - you can always get back on track!

The following sections will go over strategies and tips you can implement to catch up in your academics, as well as common pitfalls you should avoid.

College Catch-up Cheatsheet

Tip #1: Manage distractions

📱 Moderate social media use

While social media is a fantastic tool for staying connected with friends and family, excessive use can impact your academic performance.

That said, studies have shown that spending too much time on social media can lead to lower academic outcomes - poorer grades, less focus and academic motivation.

To avoid this, try to:

  • Limit your social media usage, especially during study hours.
  • Set specific times for checking your accounts.
  • Consider uninstalling the apps or deleting your accounts.

This moderation can help you stay focused on your studies while still enjoying the benefits of digital connectivity.

🎧 Create a distraction-free study environment

A distraction-free space can significantly enhance your focus and efficiency.

Find a tidy, quiet space where you can study without interruptions, such as:

  • A corner of your dorm
  • A spot in the library
  • A quiet local café

✍️ Work on your task prioritization

One of the keys to academic success is the ability to prioritize tasks and manage your time effectively. To do this, you should:

  • Develop a workable study schedule
  • Use digital calendars to keep track of deadlines
  • Give yourself enough time for each task

If you know your exam is in a few days, make sure to postpone any other non-urgent tasks in order to maximize your study time.

💡 Pro tip

Consider using the Eisenhower Matrix to optimize your study time by categorizing tasks based on urgency and importance.

This method involves dividing tasks into four quadrants:

  • Urgent and important
  • Important but not urgent
  • Urgent but not important
  • Neither urgent nor important
Eisenhower Matrix for Students

To illustrate this tip, you can prioritize assignments and exams that require immediate attention (urgent and important) while scheduling time for long-term study goals (important but not urgent).

🗓️ Balance social activities and academic duties

Engaging in social activities is a part of the college experience for many. The key is to enjoy these activities without letting them interfere with your academic responsibilities.

Plan your social outings around your study schedule, not the other way around. This way, you can enjoy the best of both worlds without compromising your academic goals.

Tip #2: Leverage college support resources

Most colleges offer a range of tutoring services and writing centers, which can be incredibly beneficial.

📚 Look for college tutors and advisors

Tutors and writing advisors in these positions are often students who have excelled in their fields, so they understand exactly what you're going through.

👩‍🏫 Pay your professor a visit

One in three first-year college students rarely met with an advisor.

But stopping by during your professor's office hours can be very beneficial, because it allows you to:

  • Ask questions and seek clarification on the course material
  • Show that you're engaged and proactive with your learning
  • Build a rapport with your instructors (great for future academic references or guidance)
  • Get insights that aren't typically covered in lectures

🧑‍💻 Consider joining a study group

Study groups provide a platform for collaborative learning, where you can share ideas, discuss course material, and tackle assignments together.

What's more, one of the biggest advantages of being part of a group is accountability for your study commitments and can make the learning process more enjoyable and less daunting.

Tip #3: Focus on yourself

It's easy to fall into the trap of comparing your academic progress with that of your peers. Such comparisons can be misleading and potentially harmful to your self-esteem and motivation. Instead, shift your focus to your own learning journey.

Second, recognize that everyone learns differently. Some students grasp concepts quickly, while others may need more time to fully understand new material. Embrace your personal learning style and pace in order to develope an effective and enjoyable study routine.

If you're a morning person...Dedicate those early hours to study when your mind is freshest
If you're more alert in the evenings...Plan your day so that you have enough rest time before your study session

Tip #4: Stay positive

One of the key aspects of navigating college challenges is maintaining a positive outlook. Remember, adapting to the college academic environment is a process that requires time and patience.

Unlike high school, college presents a diverse range of subjects, teaching styles, and expectations, making it a unique learning curve for every student.

  • Recognize that you're not alone - many of your peers experience similar academic challenges.
  • Learn, adapt, and become stronger from these experiences.
  • Set achievable goals to keep your academic journey on track.

Common mistakes that lead to students falling behind in college

  1. Poor time management: Without a structured schedule and good time management skills, you may find yourself overwhelmed by deadlines and unable to allocate sufficient time for studying.
  2. Underestimating course load: Many students underestimate the amount of work college courses require, thinking they can pass their classes with minimal work like in high school.
  3. Inadequate study techniques: Relying solely on last-minute cramming or passive reading without active engagement can hinder effective learning.
  4. Skipping classes: Regularly missing classes can result in missing vital information, lecture notes, and participation points.
  5. Not seeking help: Pride or hesitation to ask for help can prevent students from addressing academic challenges early on.
  6. Overcommitment to extracurriculars: While extracurricular activities are vital for a well-rounded college experience, overcommitting can lead to falling behind your studies.
  7. Excessive socializing or partying: While socializing is an important aspect of college life, prioritizing it over academics can lead to falling behind in studies.
  8. 'Grade entitlement': Expecting high grades without corresponding effort.

Bottom line

College is an intricate blend of academic learning and personal development.

Facing and overcoming academic challenges are integral to this journey. Building resilience, adapting to new environments, and developing perseverance are just as important as the academic knowledge gained.

These experiences not only contribute to academic success but also prepare students for future life challenges.

Sara Evans

Author

Sara is the Content Designer at Keystone Academic Solutions, in charge of creating and curating content for students across the globe. Due to her background in UX and teaching, she's always in pursuit of new ways of presenting information more clearly.

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