5 Common Academic Pitfalls and Traps

The Transitional First Year

Regardless of your student's high school academic record, new college experiences bring with them opportunities for new behaviors to develop. Our office joins you in the hope that your student's new behaviors are those that constitute increased maturity, intellect, civic responsibility, and social skill.

On road to this growth, students new to a four year college can experience some academic growing pains. It is critical that students and their families be aware of, and take preventive measures to avoid, common pitfalls that can seriously affect their academic status.

From our extensive experience advising primarily first year students, we have found that students in their transitional year are more susceptible to at least five types of "traps:"

1. Social & Recreational Traps

Faced with new freedoms, some new students spend a disproportionate amount of "free" time in social or recreational activities, much to the sacrifice of their studies. We put "free" time in quotes because most of that time isn't really free. Just because an assignment isn't "due" the next day, doesn't mean there isn't anything to be done. Composition instructors encourage the submission of rough drafts, humanities instructors tend to have extensive reading to be done to keep pace, science and math classes often assign online problems, most instructors post work and assignments on your student's Moodle site, etc. There is no way a student would have "nothing due" on any given day.

Having 24/7 access to socializing with a new diversity of friends is a perk associated with college, but your student must develop resistance strategies to the constant requests for hanging out or going out, engaging in social time only when their work is done. Trust us: there is plenty of time for both! Failing to balance the social elements of college with their primary academic responsibilities can lead to dire consequences that new students tend to deny.

2. Basic Lifestyle Traps

Many high school students had help getting up in the morning, making breakfast, keeping their academic and social calendar, and even reminding them to go to bed at a decent hour! In college, the student must discipline himself or herself to sleep, eat, and manage time in a way that permits focus and attention in classes, whatever hour they take place and regardless of the attendance policy.

Starting off the semester by sleeping in and missing classes makes it easier for the student to continue missing that class - and it will show very quickly in their grades. The student must also use between-class time wisely. Sleeping in until 11:30 for a noon class, then wasting time before the 4 p.m. class, only to stay up half the night cramming is not a lifestyle conducive to academic success. Making an hourly plan and "to-do" list the night before helps to structure the day ahead. Also helpful is a regular sleep schedule, not a jagged 9am one day and 1pm the next, in order to build a rhythm.

3. Digital Traps

Rapid technological advances have, no doubt, enhanced our lives in so many ways. Whether for entertainment, information, or keeping in contact, students take great pride in their digital bounty - which is a mixed blessing indeed. Access to technology has ushered in a new set of student behaviors that are counter-productive -- often devastating -- to their academic success. As well, they may only attempt communication with faculty and staff through digital shortcuts instead of making meaningful interpersonal connections when necessary.

Beginning work time with some Facebook, YouTube, xBox, or just plain surfing the Internet can quickly melt away hours of prime study time. Having both a computer and cell phone on provide constant messaging and notification interruptions that woo the student away from concentrated work. In fact, some will barely be able to focus in class because of the pull toward checking SnapChat or returning to a NetFlix binge. Studying in their rooms when others are playing videogames creates too great a temptation. Students must have the discipline to remove themselves from these digital traps for at least a couple hours per day by retiring to a quiet environment for studies.

4. Personal Issue Traps

Occasionally, a student experiences medical, psychological, financial, family, relationship, or other personal issues with which he or she might not be equipped to cope. In these instances, the dramatic elements of the issue - however big or small it might seem - can swamp the student's ability to function academically. Sometimes students wait far too long to get help with personal issues, when it is already too late to repair academic deficiencies.

Especially if your student comes to college already knowing she or he is contending with personal issues (e.g., grief, depression, anxiety), it is important that she or he obtain assistance early on in order to avoid negative consequences on their academic performance. If something new does arise, it is just as important the your student speak up and ask for help from the college personnel, service, or office s/he is most comfortable with.

5. Academic Immortality Traps

Traditional aged college students are part of what's called "The Millennial Generation." One of the many characteristics of the generation is that they are conditioned to believe that bad things can't happen to them, including academic problems. Most students have always had a safety net to catch them. In high school, missed assignments might have been forgiven or could be made up. Teachers were sometimes lenient, as long as the student showed eventual proficiency in a subject, and students could advance to the next level of a subject.

In college, instructors are incredibly desirous of student success in their classes, but the student must put in the time, do the work, and take initiative to seek help where needed. Students who believe there's no way they can fail may have lulled themselves in a false sense of security. SUNY Plattsburgh - like most colleges and universities - has academic standards which are attainable but must be adhered to. Students must maintain a 2.0 grade point average (GPA) - which is an overall C average - or fall under Academic Progress Review and risk academic dismissal from the College.

"Best Practices" for Families

Students may overcome those common academic obstacles and traps by engaging in a few practices exhibited by our most successful students. We encourage families to discuss the following with students so they experience fun AND high GPAs in their first semester and beyond:

HaStudyingOnBed_1.jpgve a Really Big Conversation

Consider talking about these five common pitfalls, even before college starts. As it is said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We understand you will probably hear, "I know, I know!" from your student, but keep at it. They won't fully understand all the traps until they get here, so continuous attention to them is a best practice for families.

Practice Makes Perfect

If getting up on time, keeping one's own schedule, and managing one's own academic paperwork are basic requirements of college, there's no time like high school or the summer before college to practice higher levels of self-management. Students are more likely to keep academic commitments and follow through on their important academic affairs if they become accustomed to these responsibilities through family mentoring.

Advise, Then Step Back

There is a well known adage that we should never do for children (little ones) what they can do for themselves. We give children the gift of autonomy when we teach, guide, then let it happen. The result is such mutual pride. The same is true for your adult student. Calling every office for your student, resolving routine problems, registering for your student's classes, and managing all affairs can seriously cripple their ability to develop life skills -- independence, problem solving, follow through, self-advocacy. College is an impressive training ground for these and other skills (abilities they need every day, and soon when they hit the workforce on their own)!

Study Buddies

Being social and being scholarly do not have to be separate virtues! If your student has good college friends with whom she/he likes to "hang out" or "chill," encourage your student to study with people they enjoy. Make sure your student is hanging out with others who are willing to work hard, rather than those for whom academic life is not a priority and who can over time derail your student's success.

Knowledge is Power

The College duly informs students of deadlines and other important academic information. So do your student's advisors and professors provide announcements and notices. Encourage your student to attend to the information sent (through Plattsburgh Cardinal Cloud email and posted on MyPlattsburgh), and be responsive to the information, so that he/she feels on top of their college experience and can take advantage of the vast resources and options available.

Contact Information

Academic Advising
Office Location: Feinberg 101-103
Phone: (518) 564-2080
Fax: (518) 564-2079
Email: advise@plattsburgh.edu