When the grades aren’t great: How to have The Talk

Another school year has come to a close — all that's left is to see those final grades. They'll be posted on CentralLink May 16. Students who are not in good academic standing — if their grade point average is below a 2.0 — will be notified via email.

Hopefully, there's reason to celebrate.

But this may have been a challenging semester for your son or daughter.

What to do if the grades aren't what you all hoped?

Despite your disappointment, this can be an opportunity to forge a strong bond between you and your student, encourage them to take full responsibility for the choices made during the semester, and create a plan for the future.  

Jane Johnson, associate director of academic advising, offers tips on how to have that conversation:

  1. "First, take a deep breath," Johnson advises. "You might want to put off the conversation for a day, to give you a chance to mull things over, get your thoughts together."

  2. "Recognize that your son or daughter probably feels worse than you do," Johnson says. "They're probably embarrassed. They're not happy with themselves. They feel they've disappointed you."

  3. "Help your student reframe the experience as a chance to re-evaluate their goals," Johnson says.

    Bad grades can be a learning experience — a chance to become stronger, both academically and personally.

    Freshman year, especially, is a big adjustment, Johnson says.

    "Everything they do is a decision, and that's stressful," she says. "They have a choice whether they go to class, do their reading, do homework. All their old routines are gone."

  4. "Bad grades are not a catastrophe," Johnson says. "It may seem like it. As a parent, you may have spent a lot of money for what seems like little reward. But not all rewards are immediate.

    "Use this as a time to re-evaluate goals. Have a conversation about what's important and not important."

  5. Talk about what went wrong. Did your student get caught up in the social scene? Attend class regularly? Need help with study skills? Have other issues that overshadowed academics? 

    "Try not to judge," Johnson says. "Ask questions. That's more valuable than offering a lot of advice. Ask how your student feels about their grades. Did they really give it their best shot? Ask what they did when they had difficulty in class. Help them explore what happened, then figure out where to go from there."

  6. "Don't encourage them to be dependent on you to fix this," Johnson says. "Encourage them to reach out. Help them figure out how to do that.  You're supporting them — not doing it for them."

  7. Talk about next steps and a fresh start. Remind your son or daughter about the myriad of resources at CMU available to help them, Johnson says.

    Among them: help from their professors, free tutoring, writing and math assistance centers, review sessions, academic advising, student success coaches, a counseling center, and counselors in the residence halls.

    Encourage your student to reach out for help.

  8. "At the end of your conversation, ask, 'Has this been helpful? Is there any other way I can help?'" Johnson says.

  9. Remind your student that you love them. Your trust and support are so important to them.