I’m Struggling in College... Now What?
By Carrie Mesrobian on 12/06/2021
Everyone begins their college experience with a fresh slate—excited to learn and meet people who have the potential to become lifelong friends. But what happens when the lofty rhetoric of college being the “greatest time of your life” isn’t quite lining up with reality? What if you find yourself falling behind in college instead of excelling?
Struggling in college isn’t uncommon, and the sinking feeling that comes with poor grades can discourage even the most determined student. But that doesn’t mean you need to throw your hands up and call it quits. Whether your difficulties stem from a lack of preparation, competing demands from work and family, or just a stretch of poor effort, the important thing is that you refocus yourself and do what you can to correct the issue.
So, what should a struggling college student do? Let’s start with following the advice and strategies of those who know what it takes to recover from college struggles.
6 Ways to overcome struggling in college
We asked several professionals who work with college students on a daily basis to provide their best advice for students who are looking to get back on track. Take a look at what they have to say—you may just find the nugget of wisdom that helps turn things around.
1. Tap into school resources
Struggling with various classes, time management and navigating new relationships are challenges that colleges expect students to encounter. Many schools offer resources and host organizations to assist with these challenges.
Tammy Hopps, learning services coordinator at Rasmussen University, recommends connecting with peer educators who can help better acquaint you with your school’s structures and online systems.
“Get in touch with someone who ‘knows the ropes’ of courses and college life,” advises Hopps. “A peer student is ideal for this because they know what you are experiencing—they’ve experienced it too. They can give you the tips and strategies that can save you time and effort.”
Hopps also recommends taking advantage of any tutoring support you can. Most schools offer some form of tutoring or academic support services—don’t be afraid or embarrassed to use them.
Tutoring can help students build on existing academic skills and introduce you to new study strategies and test-taking tips. At Rasmussen University, peer tutors give one-on-one support and assistance with academic questions, as well as direct students to resources that can be useful in general, like APA citation guides.
“Boost your skills so you are working more efficiently,” Hopps says. “The goal is to work smarter, not harder.”
2. Ask for help
Though an obvious step for a struggling student, reaching out for support and acknowledging you need a little help can be a bitter pill to swallow for some students.
“Needing help is not an indication that something is wrong with a student,” says Hopps. “On the contrary—the opposite is true. The students who reach out are generally the most successful.”
Remember, instructors don’t take any pleasure in seeing you fail—their job is to teach you. Most will appreciate the fact you’re willing to admit you need help and will do what they can to clarify a subject.
“Office hours do exist, and so few students use them,” says Katherine Demby, head of higher education at Wanderlust Careers. Demby explains that your professors may be willing to provide some leeway—whether that’s giving a second chance at an assignment, a deadline extension or providing a first pass review of a rough draft.
“But you'll never know unless you speak with them and explain why you're struggling,” Demby says.
3. Review and reaffirm your goals
College offers plenty of opportunities to explore and try new things, but at times it’s easy to lose sight of what you’re going to school for in the first place. Reminding yourself exactly what you’re trying to accomplish is a simple but excellent way to keep yourself focused.
One way to do this is to connect with others who are further along in their academic journey.
“The best way to find your way in college is to talk to people who have done the same,” advises Demby. “Talk to other students you trust; talk to others in your class who seem to have it together.”
This is also a good way to find mentors, as professors aren’t the only people who can fill that role. Administrators, tutors and career services advisors are also mentor possibilities.
Demby believes that reconsidering your major is also a worthwhile exercise.
“Everything is more of a struggle when you don’t like what you’re doing,” Demby explains. “Are there classes you do well in—why? Make sure you’re in the right major. College is a place to discover who you are. You’re much better off doing very well in a subject you love than doing poorly in a major you hate.”
Whatever your goal is, create specific tasks to help you achieve it. Ask yourself if the classes you are taking, the clubs you join and the friends you choose will support you in achieving the goal.
4. Trust yourself, and be honest with your struggles
“Students don’t just lack time management and study skills,” says Clarissa Guillen, founder and academic coach at She Rocks At College. “They lack self-trust and confidence that they are capable of doing any better.”
In her work, Guillen encounters students confused by the mixed signals they receive regarding failure.
“On one hand, we tell students to embrace failure, while at the same time creating a culture where failing a class is unacceptable,” Guillen explains. Normalizing the process of learning, where not doing as well as you’d like is a reality, is one way Guillen finds reframing a student’s perspective useful.
“No one wants to share when they’re struggling,” Guillen adds. “Which gives the perception that everyone always understands the professor, everyone is receiving 95s on their exams and that everyone else has this perfect study schedule they stick to all the time. It’s an illusion.”
On the other hand, if you’re someone who has been successful when it comes to high school courses or your job performance, you might suddenly you assume these struggles mean you’re just not good enough.
Hopps recalls witnessing this exact situation with various students.
“Even though students may have skills to be successful, they may doubt themselves,” Hopps explains. “This can lead to giving up easily instead of fulfilling their potential.”
Many make the mistake of assuming your ability to learn is based solely on your “natural” intelligence—but in reality, much of it is tied to your work ethic. You have what it takes to succeed academically, even if it doesn’t always come as easily as you’d like. Attitude is something you’ll always have control over, so stay positive and try to trust yourself.
5. Fix your study habits and environment
One seemingly small factor that could be having a large impact on your academic success is your study environment. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of what is the ideal study environment, but there are some factors everyone should consider. Are there too many distractions where I study? Is it too quiet or too loud there? Am I studying at a less-than-ideal time of day?
Addressing your study environment is just part of the equation, though. If you’re struggling academically, it’s certainly worth your time to reflect and reevaluate the way you’re approaching your coursework—are you taking good notes? Do you plan ahead or set aside time to do your work? Set yourself up for success by controlling what you can.
6. Take care of yourself
It’s easy for self-care to fall off of a college student’s list of priorities, particularly for students who are working while attending college. But failing to take care of yourself or being overstressed can quietly damage your ability to learn and retain information.
Stress-reducing activities like working out and incorporating healthy foods into your diet can help give you the energy you need to maintain focus during intense lectures and lengthy study sessions. Many schools offer wellness programs, mid-term study break initiatives and online resources that can help you manage stress and connect with others.
It’s time to bounce back
These tips should help you realize that struggling in college is a common challenge you can overcome. Remember, a rough patch academically isn’t the end of your college career. Work hard and follow the advice above, and you’ll be on the road to recovery before you know it.
If you’d like to learn more about the helpful resources available to Rasmussen University students, check out our article “11 Surprising Student Resources You Didn’t Know Rasmussen University Offered.”