Poor grades don't have to derail you: Experts



Underperforming or disillusioned students can use a career assessment to determine where their skills and interests lie, suggests Sue McDonald, a counsellor at Seneca College.


The transition from secondary to post-secondary education can pose a huge challenge for any student.


Whether entering college or university straight out of high school or returning as a mature student, choosing a major program that will determine a later career path is daunting and often stressful.

Of course, that path can shift dramatically based on a student’s grades. Failing exams, underperforming, or worse, failing entire courses, can force a student to reassess his or her career aspirations.

I found myself in that very position after an unremarkable start at the University Of Toronto, where I was angling to eventually become a lawyer. My marks floundered in years one and two, only to rebound dramatically in the second half of my four-year degree program.

Mediocre marks and changing interests — not to mention an enjoyable reporting gig at U of T’s newspaper The Varsity — shifted me away from an eventual career in law and towards a far less lucrative, but (from my perspective) far more satisfying one in journalism.

Poor performance is a problem, but it doesn’t necessarily have to derail an academic career.

According to Felicity Morgan, assistant director of career development at the University Of Toronto Mississauga, the first step for underperforming students is to ensure they’ve set themselves on the right academic course.

“For some students, it’s a matter of stepping back and asking, what do you want?” Morgan says. “If you feel that university is not the place for you or, you’re going to get your degree, but graduate or professional school isn’t going to happen due to your marks, you need to step back and ask, what do you want to do?

“It’s not a pleasant thing, but once students can work through not getting exactly what they want, they often find there is a lot of stuff they can do that satisfies what they were looking to do in the first place.”

Morgan says students can often pursue degrees with financial success as a principal motivator, or under pressure from outside sources, only to realize they dislike the subject matter.

Sue McDonald, a counsellor at Seneca College, recommends underperforming or disillusioned students use a career assessment to determine where their skills and interests lie.

McDonald adds that sometimes poor grades can be attributed to a learning dis-

ability — every college and university has programs and policies to aid students with these problems — or simply the stress of transitioning into a new and virtually unsupervised academic world where students are responsible for managing their own learning.

“I’ve often recommended job shadowing, volunteering or travelling — or whatever it takes — to get a better understanding of yourself and what you really want to do,” McDonald says for those who feel they need a break to reassess their priorities.

But the main piece of advice both Morgan and McDonald offer to students is to make use of free university and college aid programs such as tutoring and counselling to help bolster academic success.

After all, you’ve paid enough in tuition, you may as well use the vast array of services your post-secondary institution has to offer.