The Great High-School-Habit Fallacy


After having worked with college freshmen for over ten years, I have noticed a recurring pattern among the majority of my students. It crosses all lines of race, sex, intelligence level, and public/private school status. It affects jocks, nerds, prom queens, cheerleaders, and kids who have pledged the Greek system and those who have not. It seems to be slightly more prevalent among those who were the “smarties” in high school than those who were considered…slower…and it can rock the foundation of a student’s college GPA right out of the gates. It’s a terrible disease, it needs to be stopped, and it is totally preventable and curable.

It is the utter fallacy of “What worked in high school will work in college.”

Many, many of my clients did the barest minimum in high school and maintained a decent grade point average. They simply did not have to work that hard – and studying the night before a test, cramming in a couple of chapters of material, and memorizing a few definitions and key terms sufficed for an A or a B. These study habits were usually developed early on, and the constant reward of a passing grade or better made these habits deeply ingrained.

Now you’ve cleared the ACT hurdle, the acceptance letter is in, the dorm room has been unpacked and “syllabus week” has been mostly slept through. (More on THAT later.)  It’s the second week of school, the syllabus has been lost, and a quiz has been announced for next week.

No problem, right?

The second weekend of school is a blur, it’s the night before the quiz, and the student “looks over” his or her notes for maybe an hour (if we’re lucky). They saunter into the quiz confident, maybe even cocky…

And pull down a solid 55.

Some students consider this a harsh wake-up call and begin to change behavior immediately. Others chalk the poor performance up to “it’s the first quiz and we can drop three, so no big deal,” and wait until they tank the second quiz to start making changes. Many write it up as an anomaly and make no changes in study habits until after the first test…at which point it is usually far, far too late to achieve an A in the course, and sometimes a B. Some students even drop the course at this point.

College tests are usually covering more than a couple of short chapters of material. If a student is lucky, a class can have three semester tests and a final exam, which leaves some room for recovery. Other classes have one midterm and one final, the scores of which determine the bulk of the semester grade. Flub that first test and the kid begins praying….for a C. At best, a D in a class is a boat anchor on the GPA, at worst it means retaking a core major course.

College is not high school. It is difficult to get into, it is a fight to earn a spot, and (for all but a very scant few) it requires hard, consistent work. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that what worked in high school will suffice for the same GPA in college. It won’t. You worked hard to earn your spot here, now you must fight even harder to keep it.

By: Katie Kimberling

Founder and “Alpha Dog” of TutorPUG.