If your high school student gets low grades during their freshman year, it’s easy to feel like the next few years will be particularly rough. The good news is that your student probably has plenty of time to learn the skills that can improve their grades by graduation.

What do Colleges Think about Freshman Year Grades?

Yes, grade transcripts are a big part of the college application package.  But the vast majority of colleges won’t judge a student too harshly for a tough freshman year.  Admissions officers are doing more than looking at grades.  They are assessing a student’s readiness for the rigors of college academics.  Admissions officers are more interested in continuous growth in grades and effort and will likely look more closely at the course choices and grades, especially those in the latter hight school years.

Some colleges even recalculate a student’s GPA based on factors most important to the school’s mission and priorities. For example, an art school might scrutinize performance in an AP Art class, while forgiving a more humble grade in physics.

Most colleges weigh sophomore, junior and senior grades more heavily than freshman year. For example, the University of California and California State school systems recalculate student GPA from freshman summer through junior summer. Equally, Stanford University also does not include freshman year grades when calculating overall GPA.

The reality is that college admissions officers will contextualize a rough start to high school. “It’s not the end of the world,” notes Missy Moreland, head of college advising firm Moreland and Associates, and the former head of admissions at Trinity Washington University. “Colleges want to see students rise to the occasion and bounce back from a weak freshman year.”  That resilience and willingness to grow can overcome a rocky start. 

Colleges evaluate students holistically.  That is, they don’t just look at GPA — freshman or otherwise.  The rigors of course selection and depth and leadership in extracurriculars play equally important roles in admissions decisions.

Getting on the Right Path

If you want to see your student improve high school grades, it begins with a clear vision for the future. Initiate an honest conversation with your student about their long-term plans and goals, including prospective colleges, majors and possible careers.

Next, walk the student through how poor academic performance can jeopardize these plans.  They need to understand how bad academic performance can derail their more immediate plans. Students need to recognize the more unexpected consequences of not taking school seriously.  In truth, a low grades throughout high school may keep them out of the colleges of their choice and, in turn, affect their ability to get their dream job.  Help students understand that today’s grades can create tomorrow’s opportunities (or consequences).

Improving Grades: Shore Up Those Study Habits

Now, work with your student to figure out where they need help.  Take stock of whether have the skills to support effective independent learning —  solid study habits. Use this checklist to make sure they have all the building blocks in place:

  • To Do List and Calendar: How does your student track assignments?
  • Backpack and folder organization: Can they find past worksheets or tests?
  • Note-taking technique: What is their system for taking (legible) notes that they can refer back to later?
  • A quiet and tidy place to study
  • A regular, daily block of time to study
  • Adequate sleep

You might be surprised to discover the outsized role that organization and good study habits play in your student’s academic performance.  Sometimes small tweaks to the study habits highlighted above can help students improve grades and boost confidence.

Develop a Study Schedule Rhythm and Stick to It 

An organized and predictable daily schedule offers plenty of perks. First, it helps students escape the scramble of last-minute studying. Students can break a larger assignment into smaller, daily chunks. Reviewing content regularly and steadily improves understanding and long-term retention.

Second, a regular schedule defuses stress. When homework happens during the same block of time every day it becomes a habit.

Promote Accountability

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to establishing a new study routine. The best way to meet your daily, weekly, and monthly goals is to have an accountability partner. This can be a friend or even a family member who helps you stick to your aims even when you’d rather be doing something else.

You can be your child’s accountability partner when it comes to improving those study habits. Try checking in at regular intervals for certain things, including whether they have completed all homework and have studied for upcoming tests. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your child’s teachers or regularly check their school’s online portal so that you can track assignments and grades more effectively.

Also, if you have a good handle on a subject your child struggles with (such as math), try to sit down and have regular study sessions. In addition to improving accountability, this provides for some unique bonding opportunities with your son or daughter. And when you reach the limits of your knowledge, you can always hire a reliable tutor.

Fill Knowledge Gaps

Study habits aren’t the only culprit that may be affecting a student’s classroom grade. Often, students also lack certain foundational academic skills or knowledge.  These gaps may not be their fault.  For example, maybe your student, who had an illness that kept them from attending all sessions of middle school Spanish, feels hopelessly behind when expected to speak and write at the high school level? Or perhaps they transferred schools and missed an entire unit of pre-algebra during the transition?

It’s critical to take an inventory of skills that need to be reinforced and create a plan of action to fill in the gaps. There are options for every challenge and every budget. Parents can help with homework, students should seek out teachers during their office hours or hire a tutor.

Tutoring For High School Students: Your Next Move

Academic tutoring is always a valid option to help your student navigate the difficulties of high school. Tutors are trained to provide individualized help to each student so that everyone can develop their best possible study strategy. Furthermore, experienced tutors can adjust their lessons to suit your student’s learning style. They can also diagnose and redress the problematic study habits that may have contributed to bad grades freshman year.

Here at Tungsten Prep, we specialize in helping students reach their full potential via tutoring and standardized test prep services. To see what we can do for your child, just contact us today!