Parents, Be Careful What You Wish For...

So many parents put pressure on their sons and daughters to earn all As and Bs, and this may not have the effect they are hoping for.

This may very well encourage students to take easy classes rather than the best classes, seek out easy professors rather than the best professors, and ultimately limit the overall academic risks they are willing to take. 

Recent studies in higher education have noted that many students have embraced a "credentialist-collegiate orientation" as they pursue a degree while exerting as little effort as possible.  These "credentialists" have only one goal -- to earn a degree.  For these students "success" is achieved through "controlling college by shaping schedules, taming professors and limiting workload" -- doing no more than is necessary to earn the A or B.  (College Life Through the Eyes of Students -- Grigsby, Mary) 

In Rebekah Nathan's My Freshman Year, students offered the following course recommendations:
  • "Take Professor Jones, the man to see when you need an 'A'."
  • "Don't take 302 with Smith because you can't understand what he wants you to know and he doesn't  give As."
  • "I loved 101.  It was sooo fun!  And sooo easy!"
  • "Need to boost your GPA?  Take 242."
  • "145 sucks.  Never take it.  You do 3 times the amount of work for the same credits and lower grades."
  • "Sign up for 235.  The course is boring but it's sooo easy, and there's tons of extra credit."
Believe it or not, some universities are actually enabling this easy-A-mentality by allowing students to view each professor's average grade distribution.  Thus, prior to enrolling in classes many students will go online to find out which professors dish out the highest grades.  Then, these students make their course selection based on schedule shaping and professors average grades.  

I highly encourage parents to re-frame their motivational ploys as well as the questions they pose for their college-age children.
  • Instead of inquiring about grades, inquire about what your son or daughter actually learned.  
  • Ask them what they took away from each class.  
  • Ask them how they might apply what they learned to their present life and/or future work.  
  • Ask them if anything they learned caused them to rethink past events in their life.  
  • Ask them if anything they learned might be of benefit to you (the parent).  
  • Encourage your sons and daughters to share advice or tips with you that might help improve your home or work life.
Let your children know that there is more to college than just earning As and Bs or earning a high GPA.  I for one will confess to having earned a high GPA as an undergraduate student while learning and retaining very little. 

Let your children know that you would rather them earn a lower grade while taking an interesting, engaging, challenging course instead of earning a higher grade in an easy, boring, blow-off course.  Encourage Academic Risk-Taking!!! 

Let your children know that there is a distinct difference between memorizing information and learning information (more on this to come in later posts).  So many students (including the past undergraduate version of myself) simply memorize information for exams rather than learning information for later in life.  What happens is that students do well on their exams and then immediately forget what they memorized.  Undergraduates are notorious for approaching academia with short-term rather than long-term learning goals.  

Here is one simple recommendation for students:  Keep a notepad or a document on your computer labeled "Aha Moments."  This notepad or document should be reserved for interesting information, stats, quotes, theories, etc. that jumped out at you.  There doesn't have to be any rhyme or reason for why it stands out to you.  If you find it at all interesting and think the information may be of use to you or anyone else, write it down.  Be sure to include enough information so that you can recall what the concept, idea, fact, or theory was about.  This document or notepad will eventually contain random thoughts or concepts from a wide range of classes and will help you begin to see how ideas can crossover from discipline to discipline.  This will also help you see how information in one area can prove applicable in areas of life you never thought possible.

In the end, you will have a notepad or document that will be full of insightful ideas that will act as a knowledge-filled artifact of the time, experience, and money you poured into your undergraduate degree.  This will be something that you can reference later on to remind yourself of specific things you learned.


  1. Another great blot. I had bad grades at one university and good ones at another, but I don't think I made the most of the experience at either. I was so focused on graduating that I just did the required classes to do so as quickly as possible. The classes I really learner from and loved, I just sort of fell into...

    I hope more students can really experience that a lot more with your help! They can be life changing.

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