Now that the holidays have passed and everyone is returning to their normal routine, it’s time to look at grades and make some adjustments.

With fewer than 40 percent of college freshmen graduating in four years, academic probation is often the first sign of trouble ahead. But, it can also be a much needed wake-up call that many students need to take school seriously and establish habits that can serve them for a lifetime.

“Being organized is not an inherent character trait, but a learned behavior. Kids go from a highly regulated and supportive environment to huge college lecture halls with little guidance. That’s why we created a program to help them make this transition and learn the executive function skills necessary to succeed in college.” Brandon Slade, founder of Untapped Learning, took his middle and high school program and developed a college program curriculum to help with the big adjustment between academic levels.

Here are five tips to help ensure college students turn academic probation into an opportunity. We recommend parents and students discuss the following and create a plan with clear check-in points.

1. Don’t Panic – Poor grades can undermine a student’s self-confidence, but don’t panic! One in five college students has been on academic probation. View this as an opportunity to develop a plan and commit to new habits that will help your student succeed.

2. Establish a Routine – Encourage your student to develop a routine. Consider “Academic Hour,” which is a set amount of time every school night dedicated to homework assignments, studying, getting ahead, etc. On Sundays, students should evaluate the week ahead and schedule time for schoolwork, as well as sports or music practices, professor office hours, peer study sessions, and anything other upcoming commitments they know of. Visualizing the week ahead and planning accordingly is a habit that will serve students far beyond college.

3. Schedule Organization – Every student should create a ritual of organizing their backpack, binders, folders, and Google Drive. Spending a few minutes at least twice a week saves time when students are rifling through their backpacks looking for assignments or trying to find notes from class.

4. Embrace the Importance of Sleep, Diet, and Exercise – Students need to eat a balanced diet and get consistent sleep and exercise to be healthy. It’s difficult to stay on top of your game if you’re tired and worn down. Movement is a key part of engaging the frontal lobe, which maximizes focus before sitting down to work. Before scheduling a big study session, students should plan a walk around campus, a trip to the rec center, or even a jog around the dorm. Plan it with a friend to make it more fun!

5. Accountability – How is your student held accountable? Untapped’s college program helps alleviate the constant battle between parents and students. Parents don’t have to embody the “helicopter” mindset to ensure their student is staying on track – their mentor provides that support. If you can’t work with a mentor program, discuss how students can hold themselves accountable and what support they need in being held accountable by others. Decide on a clear system that works for everyone. For example: set up a bi-weekly or monthly FaceTime call to specifically discuss grades and organization. Instead of “nagging” during regular communication, decide how you can tackle this together during scheduled calls.

Make academic probation the best thing to happen to your student. Use it as a springboard to practice the executive function skills that usually aren’t on a college curriculum, but are necessary to succeed. Being organized is often dismissed as a personality trait rather than a learned behavior, but this simply isn’t true. Help your student master executive function skills and they will find college – and their career – to be much more manageable and enjoyable.

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    Evaluating personal quality of work and understanding of material is difficult for many students. When assessing themselves, students often struggle to differentiate intelligence from their understanding of a topic, or from the quality of their work. Self-assessment isn’t about how smart a student is; it’s about their strengths, areas of opportunity, and most importantly, what can they adjust to achieve better results.

    For students with executive function challenges, this can be especially hard. They spend so much time trying to “prove” themselves to teachers, parents, and friends that it can be tough to approach their challenges from the perspective of “how can I improve and understand better,” and not “other students get this but I don’t.” (Some of our students are very self-aware socially, but lack self-assessment academically.) As educators, mentors, and parents, we need to help our students navigate this topic while building their confidence.

    Breaking through a student’s defensive barrier takes a strong relationship and rapport. This relationship, built on trust, is important to help students self-assess and develop a more cumulative understanding of themselves. ​Additionally, many of the students we work with live deeply in the moment. Although it’s an admirable quality, this can lead to a lack of perspective, and very little time is spent on self-reflection. Here are some questions – and more importantly, follow up questions – we can ask students to help them build self-assessment skills and encourage reflection.

    What time of day do you perform best?

    After a difficult day, how do you recover in order to study or complete your nightly routine?

    If forced to learn something quickly, what do you do?

    What type of people do you work best with?

    How long can you study before “zoning out?”

    For each of these questions, dig deeper and ask these open-ended questions to spark reflection:

    What works for you, and why?

    What are some examples?

    How can we use this to make you a better student?

    Use the answers from these questions when:

    ● Creating routines (the hardest tasks should be completed at the time you perform best)

    ● Deciding what time to study and complete homework

    ● Determining if/when to attend office hours and other formal study groups

    ● Deciding where to study

    Thinking through questions like these, especially open-ended questions, will help students develop a stronger understanding of how/when/where/etc. they learn best. ​It’s important to revisit these questions frequently; students are constantly evolving!

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      Updated: Oct 15, 2019

      Over an extended period of time, our students often shift from a “below average” student to a “good student.” A student’s progress is typically measured by improvement in grades, work ethic, work completion, etc. Students begin to feel proud and excited about their success, as do parents and mentors. After a student moves from “below average” to “good,” there is a next step. (There’s always a next step!)

      At Untapped, we have a conversation about going from “good to great” with our students. This leap from good to great can be even more challenging than the shift from below average to good. To ensure success as a great student, habits need to become more disciplined and students’ advocacy skills must advance and strengthen.

      Here’s what we recommend to help your good student become a great student.

      Utilizing Resources

      Great students can recognize when they don’t understand a concept, and they ask for help from either a teacher, tutor, or peer. They don’t let their egos get in the way of their motivation to succeed, and they use resources like office hours and designated study sessions. They know that teachers thoroughly review material that will be on exams during study sessions, and they take advantage of this opportunity. Great students utilize their resources because they know that the most successful people have the most help.

      Maintaining Routines

      We always emphasize the importance of routines, and the transition from good to great is no exception; great students have disciplined routines. As students get older and take more advanced courses, consistent routines ensure they miss nothing and maximize their attention. Additionally, routines decrease stress because students know what to expect.

      For example, the average college student might pull an all-nighter to cram for a final because they didn’t prepare adequately or have a set study routine. When they take the test the following day, they’re fatigued, anxious, and don’t do as well as a “great” student who followed a set study routine the week leading up to the final. This great student retained the material by committing to short and frequent study sessions for at least a week leading up to the test. Their routine was solid and fended off any stress or anxiety.

      This applies to school work outside of studying as well. Great students split large assignments and projects into manageable, actionable pieces. Knowing how to break down these assignments and staying disciplined in completing the small tasks leads to large results.

      Interacting with Materials

      Good students sit still in class, take notes, and understand the materials, but great students take it a step further. Great students deeply engage with the class and the materials by frequently asking themselves questions, connecting the material to their background knowledge, and attempting to understand why the material is important and relevant to “the bigger picture.” For instance, a good student will memorize the dates of famous battles during the Civil War. A great student will learn those dates, but also study what preceded each battle and the universal questions surrounding leadership, our country’s values, and succession. This engagement on a deeper level will transfer across content areas, and great students will remember the new information better because they’ve given it more meaning. Great students are the people professors and teachers are truly passionate about working with.


      Self-care is an incredible life skill that leads to a happy and well-balanced adult. As parents, you know that you need to take care of yourself in order to best support those around you!

      Great students understand the importance of getting adequate sleep, eating a balanced diet, and incorporating movement into their life. Neglecting any of those daily necessities results in the collapse of that balance. Additionally, great students are often involved in extracurricular activities and are invested in their school community and relationships to their peers. This involvement forces them to schedule their time carefully, which often results in better performance academically (in addition to success in their lives outside of school).

      Students have to maintain balance. Time for themselves, friends, and family is crucial to self-care. Great students, despite being busy, organize their schedules and carve out time to engage with those people most important in their lives.

      Implementing these tips will help any student striving for greatness to succeed in school and beyond their academic careers!

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