Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Grades Gone South? Get Some Help Advisers Offer Tips on Time Use, Course Choices

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Grades Gone South? Get Some Help Advisers Offer Tips on Time Use, Course Choices

Article excerpt

Each fall at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., hordes of freshmen rush to sign up for engineering studies. And each spring, in an equally swift exodus, many retreat to some other - almost any other - discipline.

This mass change of heart has played out so regularly it is almost a joke to some close observers. But it was no joke for Frank Sanni.

As a Tufts freshman he, too, thought he would be an engineer - and so did his father. Then Mr. Sanni discovered that calculus, a basic building block for an engineering degree, was tougher than he was. "I bombed in it," he says, "I was so miserable I didn't want to study."

Each year, academic stumbles like this befall freshmen making the transition from high school to college. Call Sanni's problem Academic Pitfall No. 1: Getting off on the wrong career track.

It's one of many trip-ups that can send inexperienced students into an academic tailspin. A quarter of all freshmen do not return sophomore year at the same four-year college where they were freshmen - often because of personal and academic missteps. But whether the problem is too much partying or having a roommate who doesn't like to study - there are resources available to give students a hand. To avoid being overwhelmed and getting bad grades, students need to seek help from the academic resource office on campus, experts say.

"Students find themselves in academic difficulty for many reasons - but not usually because they are not qualified," says Nadia Medina, director of the Tufts Academic Resource Center. "It's just that they haven't developed college-level study strategies - or maybe they're choosing the wrong career because they want to make money."

To help minimize problems, many colleges now offer semester-long orientation courses on everything from time management to avoiding plagiarism.

To avoid "crashing and burning" in a single intense discipline, for example, Sue Yowell, dean of students at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh advises starting with a range of courses first semester - then narrowing the focus.

Academic counseling from more than one adviser to see how the advice compares is also a good idea. Or take a self-directed test to identify career potential. The key may be persuading parents footing a hefty tuition bill to fund the academic exploration, says Joe Moon, associate dean at Oxford College of Emory University in Oxford, Ga.

"If they get early career counseling, they can discover they have freedom now to explore," he says. "But mom and dad may still have to be convinced. They may say: 'What do you mean you're going to be a sociology major?' "

Fortunately for Sanni, he refused to become mired in self-doubt, and his parents supported him. He began taking other courses, including psychology. It clicked. After graduating in 1996, he landed a job he enjoys with an ad agency in San Francisco. …

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