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Freshman 101: What To Do If You’re Struggling Academically

Fall semester is officially in full swing, and plenty of freshmen have already taken their first exams. Whether you didn’t do as well as you wanted or you’re already questioning your choice of major, Penn State offers plenty of resources to help you succeed academically.

Here are some of the academic tools you can find around campus, as well as some additional tips on how to get help if you’re struggling:

Study through Penn State Learning

This university resource offers peer tutoring sessions and study groups free of charge for various subjects. 220 Boucke Building and 7 Sparks Building provide helpful tools like computers, study spaces, and teamwork areas. You can also visit Pattee Library – Search Bar, Sidewater Commons to visit with writing tutors, technology tutors, and research consultants.

Learn more about Penn State Learning hours, tutoring schedules, and available resources.

Check out LionTutors

While LionTutors isn’t directly affiliated with the university, plenty of students turn to this downtown service to help prepare for exams. A student tutor will lead each session, and you’ll receive two packets upon arrival: One is the review packet you will work through during the session itself, and the other is a take-home practice exam.

LionTutors offers sessions for courses like STAT 200, CHEM 110, and ECON 102. You can check out more information on LionTutors as well as the schedule of sessions offered here.

Take advantage of technology resources

One of the most confusing parts of starting school for many freshmen is learning how to navigate all of Penn State’s online databases. You’ll have to use tools like Canvas, WebMail, and LionPATH on a daily basis — and it’s not always easy to figure out how. Luckily, Penn State offers a variety of resources specifically to help you out technologically.

Information Technology Services can give you quick assistance with anything to do with technology. Students often use this resource for common issues like WebMail password problems or even cracked phone screens. You can check it out by visiting either 204 Wagner Building or the Knowledge Commons in Pattee Library.

You can also consult ITS for a variety of learning opportunities regarding the online applications Penn Staters use daily. It’s possible to either register for online courses or instructor-led, in-person training. Click here for more information on which courses are available.

Consult your advisor

Your academic advisor is one of the best resources you have at Penn State. If you’re struggling with a class, they’ll be able to help you decide whether it’s worth it to stick it out or if you should drop the class altogether. If you decide a class isn’t for you, your advisor can give you plenty of suggestions on alternative courses you can take in the future that will fulfill the same requirement. It’s important to note you should never drop a course without consulting your advisor first.

If possible, try to schedule an appointment with your advisor ahead of time instead of stopping by during walk-in hours. The more time you have for your appointment, the more easily your advisor can work with you. Advisors can even help you develop a full four-year mapped plan of courses you can reference each time you schedule for a new semester.

Talk to your peer mentor

Depending on your academic college, you might have received an email over the summer from an older student assigned to serve as your peer mentor. These students are incredible resources — they’ve taken a lot of the same classes you’ll take and they know enough about the campus to help you navigate your first semester.

If you don’t have a mentor already assigned through your academic college, Penn State offers plenty of additional mentor programs. Transition Partners aims to help international students feel comfortable during their time at Penn State, while BLUEprint works to create an academic, social, and cultural support system, primarily for students of color. You can also reach out to your academic advisor to see which mentor programs are available through your specific college.

Additional tips:

  • Don’t wait until the last minute to get help. Most upperclassmen have been there, and you can avoid major stress if you tackle your academic worries early. While it’s easy to feel like you’re only a number at a school as large as Penn State, great resources are there if you take the time to use them.
  • Your professors want to help. Don’t be afraid to go to office hours or talk to your professor after class if you’re struggling. It’s easy to feel intimidated in a lecture hall with hundreds of students, but your professors are there to make sure you do your best. You’ll be glad you took the time to build a relationship with them.
  • Manage your time wisely. It’s one of the most important rules of college, but it’s often the easiest to forget. You might’ve gotten away without using a planner in high school, but you won’t be able succeed at Penn State without keeping yourself organized. Nothing is worse than opening Canvas and realizing you missed a major assignment or exam. While professors want you succeed, they also expect you to manage your assignments on your own.
  • Go to class. We’re all guilty of skipping a lecture that technically has no attendance grade, but it’s a bad habit to get into so early in your college career. You should also try to avoid missing a class you don’t feel motivated to go to because you’re struggling in it. Until you officially drop, it still goes on your transcript, no matter what your grade is.
  • Be patient. College academics are a shock for many freshmen after they first arrive on campus. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and don’t be too quick to give up on a certain class or major.

About the Author

Claire Fountas

Claire Fountas is the student life editor for Onward State, as well as a junior pursuing a double major in journalism and psychology. She lives in a suburb of Chicago and strongly disagrees with anyone who hates the Cubs or the Blackhawks (so, pretty much anyone at Penn State). You can follow her @ClaireFountas or email her at [email protected]

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