Avoiding the Second Semester Slump

Jan 10, 2012

For More Information Contact

Rachael Pocklington
Parents Program
Contact Rachael Pocklington
404-385-3920

Vince Pedicino
President, Georgia Tech Academic Advisors Network
Academic Advisor, Sam Nunn School of International Affairs

Happy New Year! I hope that you had a wonderful holiday and enjoyed spending time with your Georgia Tech student, even if it meant mountains of laundry. My name is Vince Pedicino, and I am honored to be serving as the president of the Georgia Tech Academic Advisors Network for 2011-2012. I want to talk to you about this coming spring since second semester has been a time when - historically - we’ve seen a drop in GPAs relative to the first semester. This can be nerve wracking, especially when there’s a HOPE Scholarship on the line!

As an instructor and as an advisor, I get a unique perspective from what I hear students tell me during advising sessions and what I witness in the classroom. Seeing a student struggle academically can be difficult, so I want to share with you my predecessor’s, Dr. Amy D'Unger, research on what the GPA numbers really show, why it might happen, and how you can help your student get through spring semester, particularly if (s)he is a first-year student.

Take a deep breath and congratulate yourself, and your student. You made it! And, in fact, most students DO make it. The second-year retention rate, or those students who make it through their first year and continue on to their second year, has been 93 percent for the last two years - a rise of about 8 percent since 1993. For those students who like to take their time, the seventh-year fall retention rate is 82 percent - most of Tech’s students stick it out to graduation, even if it takes seven years! However, retention is not equal across all groups. According to the Annual First-Time Freshman Retention Study conducted by the Office of Institutional Research and Planning, women, Georgia residents, students who take GT 1000 or participate in the Freshmen Experience Program, and students who are in good academic standing at the end of their first spring term are more likely to return as second-year students. Students who live on campus and those who participate in fraternities and sororities are also factors that can have a favorable impact.

While there is a drop in GPA from fall to spring semester, it’s not extremely large. Looking at the first-year cohorts for the past three academic years, the drops were only about 0.01 points on the 4.00 GPA scale. For example, first year students in fall 2008 earned an average GPA of 2.85, while those same students earned a GPA of 2.84 in the following spring semester. A similar trend can be seen in looking at lower level courses (i.e., those at the 1000 and 2000 level), which tend to be populated by first-year students. Over the past six years, GPAs tended to remain the same or decrease up to 0.05 points from fall to spring. That’s not much, but it certainly can mean a lot when it’s the difference between having the HOPE Scholarship and losing it!

So why does the drop happen and what can you do to help your student through the second semester, particularly if (s)he is in the first year at Tech? Let’s take a step back and recognize that most students come to Tech having been the “best of the best” at their respective high schools. Being at Georgia Tech is often the first time that they have experienced (a) working really hard to get good grades, (b) working really hard and not getting the results they expect, and (c) coping with the feelings associated with not being the best. Combine that with an amazing amount of newfound freedom and activities, plus an intense desire to make the family proud, and you can find yourself with one stressed-out student.

After completing the first semester, the students who are not as successful in the spring seem to have gone in one of two directions: they are either immensely proud of having survived fall and are convinced that they’ve “got it all figured out,” which leads to some slacking in studying and an increase in socializing OR they are quite upset about their lack of success in the fall (which often means not receiving the grades that they did in high school) and tend to worry and withdraw. The first group usually sorts things out on their own or with a little help, but the second group is more of a concern. Depression and alcohol/other substance abuse are problems on all college campuses and can hamper academic performance, so watch for signs of both of these.

From the perspective of both a faculty member and an advisor who has had many a parent call the office, you can be supportive from afar, but you also have to let your students make their own decisions! Here are a few good tips to follow this spring…

First, remind them that you support them and love them - even with a 2.93 GPA. Students communicate to me the high levels of stress induced by perceived parental disapproval, even if you’re not expressing it.

Second, don’t try to pick their classes - please! Even if you’re a Tech alum. Professional academic advisors are here to assist them with that, though it will require your student to reach out to his or her advisor for assistance. We’re here, able and ready to help! The best thing you can do for your student is to encourage him/her to seek out their advisor. Visit the Academic Advising website to find your student’s advisor.

Third, advisors cannot give you detailed academic information about your student. We are not being difficult - it’s actually a federal law (the Family Education Right to Privacy Act, or FERPA). Lines of communication really need to be open between you and your child to learn how things are going academically (and socially and emotionally as well). Plus, this most often yields far better results than a phone call to the advisor.

Fourth, know that there are many resources on campus to assist with a variety of concerns. Encourage your student to explore options such as one-on-one tutoring with the Center for Academic Success, meeting with a member of the Office of the Dean of Students, or “talking it out” at the Counseling Center. If your student isn’t aware of the available resources, encourage him/her to talk to their advisor.

Fifth, be supportive of change. The majority of students change their major at least once, especially once they have discovered what their chosen major actually is or the amazing diversity of choices that they have at Georgia Tech in engineering, sciences, computing, business, architecture, humanities, and social sciences.

There are many resources out there for parents too, including the Georgia Tech Parents Program www.parents.gatech.edu. There is a wealth of information on the Registrar’s website (www.registrar.gatech.edu), including all the policies and procedures of the Institute as well as important academic deadlines. Each school/college also has a website with information on its respective curriculum, as does the Georgia Tech catalog (www.catalog.gatech.edu).

So remember, there is a fantastic, smart, Georgia Tech student who is counting on your support to “survive” the second semester slump!

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