Tutoring, Mentoring, and Support

Strategies for Academic Success

Nearly all Northwestern students did very well in high school. Some are less successful in college classes. Some students have clear evidence that they are doing poorly—low grades on papers, exams, or other coursework. Others just suspect or fear that they are doing poorly. For example, they may have difficulty understanding reading assignments or may feel confused by instructors' lectures.

If you feel—or know—that you are doing poorly in a class, you should act on it! Don't wait till the end of the quarter, when it may be too late to constructively deal with the situation:

  • See your professor or TA to discuss your situation and to get extra help.
  • Meet with your College Adviser or with your freshman seminar instructor, if you are a first-quarter freshman.
  • Think about changing your approach. If you've been studying alone, you might set up a study group. If you've just been reading over class notes before quizzes, think about highlighting key points or outlining important information.
  • Take advantage of University resources available to help you do better in your classes.

If you are disappointed with your academic performance, keep in mind that lots of Northwestern students share this experience—even though they may not tell you. This doesn't, of course, mean that doing more poorly than you'd like is good. Sometimes, though, you may need to readjust your expectations. You may need to recognize that courses at Northwestern really are harder than most high school courses and to acknowledge that you will be less successful in some areas of study than in others.

Poor performance in your Northwestern classes can have serious consequences. If your overall performance falls below certain standards, you may be put on academic probation. You should also be aware of the limits on how C- and D grades can count toward College requirements.

Take advantage of University resources

Various campus resources can help you improve your study and test-taking skills and use your time more effectively. For example, you may benefit from working with a tutor or a formal peer study group. The Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching has information about learning resources that can help you hone your academic work and about tutoring and support programs. The Academic Services Division of the Department of Athletics and Recreation provides academic assistance and personal guidance to varsity-level student-athletes.

If you're having problems writing course papers, or if you'd just like to improve your writing, consider a visit to The Writing Place. Located in the University Library, The Writing Place provides carefully trained and supervised student tutors as well as reference works such as dictionaries, style manuals, and research guides.

You might also consider a visit to CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services). This can be a good idea if you think personal problems may be interfering with your academic performance, if you are very upset by your less-than-ideal performance, or if you're just feeling confused about your situation.

Consider dropping a class or requesting more time to complete it

If you are struggling in a class, you should meet with your College Adviser (or freshman seminar instructor, if you are a first-quarter freshman) to chat about the implications—good and bad—of dropping it. You can drop a class through the sixth Friday of the quarter; see the Registrar’s Class Schedule for the exact deadline. (The deadline for tuition reductions is the end of the first week.) You shouldn't drop a class without a good reason, but you also shouldn't stick with one just because you're "not a quitter."

If you think you will be unable to finish all the required work for a course by the end of the quarter, getting an Incomplete (a grade of Y) and finishing later may be an option. Permission to receive a Y grade is granted only when circumstances beyond your control prevent timely completion of the course.

You should also be aware of possible consequences of missing class meetings, whether for health or other reasons—and take steps to address them.

Retaking a course

If you finish a course with a low grade, you may need to consider repeating it and trying to do better. This circumstance usually occurs when a student earns a grade of D in a course where a grade of at least C- is required, such as a course in your major or in the final quarter of a two-year foreign language sequence. Also, sometimes students retake courses that are prerequisites for more advanced courses or for graduate or professional programs. When you take a course for the second time, both instances appear on your official transcript. Both the original grade and the second grade count toward your GPA. However, only the credit earned in the quarter in which you received the higher grade counts toward the minimum of 45 units of credit required for graduation from Weinberg College.