Is it normal to fall behind? 

This college freshman is struggling with assignments. 

Our elder has some suggestions for turning things around: Schedule your schoolwork and wear a watch. You’ve got this!

Dear EWC

I am currently a freshman in college. Ever since the pandemic reached the US last year, my time management skills have suffered greatly. When I started college a month ago, my time management skills had not improved and it has shown. I have turned in many assignments late, showed up to class late, and even slept in my bed through a 9am class. Right now, somehow, I have As in all of my classes except my cyber class, which is an F right now. I had a meeting with my TA, and he said that the main reason my grade is suffering in the class is because I haven’t been turning in a lot of assignments. Is falling behind on school work and assignments a normal thing for college freshmen? Is it a normal thing for college students in general? I’m afraid to tell my parents about it because they are pretty strict and have high expectations for me. There are so many mistakes that I have made that my parents would not approve of. It makes me sad because I set a goal for myself to be absolutely superb and never make a simple mistake in college, and so far I have fallen on my face. There are a total of 16 weeks in a semester at my college, and so far week 6 has just ended for me. I do not want to drop the cyber class because I really want to do well. I know, I f****d up. It was not supposed to happen and it did. Is it too late for me to turn things around for my failing grade in that cyber class?

Cairnie replies

Thank you for writing. I suspect having your senior year of high school and now your first semester of college during a pandemic is very challenging. So, I certainly understand how time management skills can slip.

Having a 24-year career in higher education, I have to agree with your TA. I’m glad you spoke with the TA, and it sounds as if the solution is in your hands.

You ask if falling behind on school assignments for a freshman is normal. Well, yes and no. Some students do not have good academic habits, which definitely show up when they start college and have trouble keeping up with the pace and level of the schoolwork.

I don’t think that’s you. I think you have the smarts to do the work. Your grades show what your professors believe you have the potential to achieve. I urge you to meet your (and their) expectations for doing your best work. The only “normal” for college is what’s best for you.

Bottom line, it is not too late to turn things around, but I don’t think you have any more time to squander. Time to reframe your approach to schoolwork and develop time management habits to last you a lifetime. Here are my suggestions:

Break up time into manageable pieces. For example, you have a weekly class schedule, so you know where you have to be when. This is your priority to work everything else around. Schedule your schoolwork, exam dates, homework deadlines and other academic responsibilities around this weekly and semester calendar.

Wear a watch. Well, whatever strategy helps you be more aware of time. Use the alarm on the watch (or your clock, or your phone, or whatever works for you). Pay attention to when and where you need to eat, exercise, do laundry, attend meetings (clubs, sports, whatever activities you choose for yourself) and socialize. This is your second-tier priority – the stuff of managing your life. Schedule those on your calendar, too. Mark your deadlines and backtrack to when you need to start projects, studying and planning in order to meet those deadlines.

Consider also seeing if your college offers time management workshops (maybe through Student Services, Counseling Services, Health Education or another department on campus). They’ll have some great strategies to suggest, too.

These suggestions are the logistics of getting to class and handing in homework on time. I think the bigger issue is your expectation of perfection. That is unrealistic and unfair to you. Perfection is impossible to achieve, creates unnecessary stress, and sets you up for failure and disappointment. So my advice is to shift your expectations of yourself.

Aim instead for excellence. Live up to your potential while striving to do your best. That is really all anyone can do. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. I call those “learning opportunities.” Reflect on what you did, why you did it, and what you can do in the future to avoid doing that again.

You are in college now. Forgive yourself for past mistakes. Learn what you can from them. Know that your parents love you and want you to be happy. Whether or not they approve is just their way of encouraging you to do what’s best for you and your future. If that serves as a helpful moral guide for you, then recognize it as that, and take encouragement (rather than guilt or regret) from their love and support.

My best advice to you is to recommit yourself to doing your best, to eating healthfully, getting enough sleep, focusing on your academics and meeting your commitment to the coursework schedule. You know what to do. You know how to do it. College is an investment in yourself that will have wonderful dividends if you put the work in now.

Your future self will thank you. Make a commitment to yourself now to refocus on managing your time and excelling in your schoolwork. You can do this!

Article #: 480736
Category: School

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