4 things you need to do when you find yourself in academic trouble
A few months ago, a brand new semester was beginning and you were getting ready to crush it. Now you’re just crushed.
Maybe that paper you pulled an all-nighter to finish didn’t get the mark you were counting on. Or your prof just told you that you’ve violated the university’s academic integrity policy. Or you got that dreaded letter—the one that says you’re on academic probation or, worse, required to withdraw.
Reading that letter, having that talk or receiving that email was a shock. Or maybe it wasn’t. Either way, it probably stings. This isn’t something you planned for, and it’s not the way your education was supposed to go.
So what do you do next?
1. Don’t panic
Getting the first notification that something is wrong can be devastating, but take a moment to catch your breath. If you can’t, then reach out for help.
“This isn’t the time to keep the struggle inside and tell yourself you can handle it,” says Duncan Wojitaszek, SAMU’s director of advocacy and political affairs. “Talking about what’s happening is almost always going to lead to a better outcome.”
This probably isn’t what you wanted to hear, but the first thing you should do is almost always to go talk to your prof.
“Sometimes it comes down to a misunderstanding or a mistake, so your prof is definitely the first place to start in almost every case,” says Duncan. “If you’re challenging a mark or how a test was run, it can be stressful and feel a bit awkward, but even university policy says it outright—informally talking to your prof is always the first and best step.”
That conversation may feel impossible at first, so take a bit of time to come up with a plan before you fire off a hasty email. Write down your concerns, summon your courage and try to practice not sounding defensive or accusatory. Then book a time to meet with them during office hours.
It might be difficult to have that in-person conversation, but remember: Your profs are human and they want you to succeed.
3. Consider your options
If the “talking to you prof” ship has already sailed—take a look at the many services the university provides.
While your situation may be serious and can seem bleak, it’s probably not as dire as you think. Use the resources and be honest and upfront with the people you talk to. Honesty is the best policy.
If your next step does involve a formal appeal process or a hearing, SAMU’s Advocacy Office can help you prepare for that too.
“It can be intimidating to go through the appeal process or a hearing, but it’s important to remember that while the people involved are thinking of the institution, they are also thinking about you,” says Duncan. “You need to be prepared and ready to articulate what you think is fair.”
4. Find the opportunity
Duncan says that finding a path out of almost any academic situation is possible. “It may mean working harder than you have been or putting strategies in place—especially at the beginning of the term before you find yourself falling behind—but you can find academic success.”
Even if you find yourself on academic probation or facing an unplanned year off after being required to withdraw, that doesn’t mean your academic career is over.
Take time to think about what you want to do and consider what compromised your academic performance. If you have to take a year off, find a way to take a course, earn some money, refocus and prepare to be successful the next time around.
This story is part of Changing Minds: Creating a healthy campus – an initiative that makes mental health a priority. The program connects training opportunities, support services, resources and stories from real people across the MacEwan University community.
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