Dear Dr. Linda,

I’m a biology professor at a local college. I’m curious if you know of any strategies that would get first- and second-year students to study rather than party with friends? I know that seems impossible, but they come into my class as pre-med students and don’t seem to make the connection that you need to pass bio if you’re serious about becoming a doctor.

The most frustrating part is that I’m available to them if they need any help. One student came to me every day and even though she received a C-, when she got the grade she hugged me. But there are those that don’t come in for extra help, are doing poorly and blame me. I expect that behavior from high school students, but not from college kids.

Sign Up for E-News

Mary Ellen

Dear Mary Ellen,

You’re right. It shouldn’t be happening at the college level. But statistically, there is always a percentage of first- and second-year students who flunk out. Since they were accepted to the college in the first place, the admissions committee obviously believed that they would succeed. Even so, there are basically five reasons that they don’t make it.

1. These students have not learned to accept responsibility. They will blame the professor, their roommate or even the college for their failure. It’s always somebody else’s fault. They don’t realize that if they are doing poorly and struggling in a class, it is they who have to “change the dance.” Instead of having the perseverance (or as some now call “grit”) to explore all their options so that they do pass, they blame their troubles on others.

2. These students may have had the grades to be accepted, but they are not developmentally ready to accept responsibility at a level required of college students. Despite popular belief that 18 is synonymous with adulthood, the brain of an 18- or 19-year-old is not fully developed. They may have a goal of becoming a doctor, but they either don’t know what’s required or aren’t ready to do what they need to do to achieve that goal. They may have to wait a few years before trying college again.

3. These students may not have the perseverance, the self-confidence or the study skills they need when they do start to struggle—and they will. They may simply shut down, unable to determine what to do when they have too much work, feel overwhelmed or think something’s going to be too hard for them. They walk away instead of dealing with the problem, and often don’t know what the problem is. They need to learn how to make a list of their options and then explore those options if they truly want to succeed.

4. These students may not have had the academic grounding to step into a college level course. Even though they may have received high grades in high school, there is no way of knowing if the coursework was rigorous enough to prepare them for the demands of college level courses. Every high school and every state has different standards and different curricula.

5. Finally, these students may have underlying learning disabilities and have been given support and accommodations all through school, but now have to fend for themselves.

I recommend that you talk to each one of your students to see if and how you can help. Until that happens, there’s not much more that you as a teacher can do. The ultimate goal is to have them understand that in the long run, they need to take responsibility for their learning. If they really want to be doctors, they need to first commit to the goal, find out what their options are for meeting the requirements, and explore which options will best work for them—all life skills that will help them in more than your classroom.

Dr. Linda