Getting a grip on your GPA


How and where to get academic support 

You’ve seen it in just about every movie about college you’ve ever seen — the cliché slacker dude who sails through his classes without cracking a book or waking up for lab. Then there are the stoners who fail their classes because they’re too busy taking bong rips to remember how to string a sentence together. What’s the third option, in Hollywood’s version of college? The bookworm who aces everything but only because he or she forewent having fun or making friends in favor of the library.

Believe it or not, college is not exactly what the movies crack it up to be. You can do well in your courses and join a fraternity. Likewise, you can run track while dating and still finding time to write research papers and study for exams.

How is it done, you ask? Lots and lots of coffee. Oh, and a little help from academic advisers, RAs, professors and tutors. They know you’re trying to find your way, and when you see yourself struggling to write that English essay or to understand complex equations in calculus, they’re there to help. Really. Because doing well in school is the whole reason you’re here in the first place, right?

“The transition from high school to college can be an incredibly exciting but often overwhelming experience,” says Lelei Finau-Starkey, first-year experience coordinator and open option adviser in CU Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. “It’s perfectly normal to need help in a class, feel like you don’t fit in and wonder what you’re even doing here.”

Contrary to how deans and resident advisers (pretty much any authority figure, really) are depicted in films like Animal House and Old School, these people truly are on your side. They want to see you succeed and, what’s more, they’ve helped dozens if not hundreds or thousands of students before you. So they know what they’re up against.

“It’s so important for our newest students to know there is a whole campus here to support them,” Finau-Starkey says. “All they need to do is ask.”

Aside from the obvious professors, RAs and academic advisers, there are several other resources on campus to help students who are struggling in their classes. Students can receive free tutoring if they live in the residence halls, attend workshops on study skills like notetaking and seek advice and help with personal development and learning disabilities. Some schools — including Finau-Starkey’s College of Engineering & Applied Science — also offer their own tutoring and mentoring programs.

Many times, because there are so many options for getting help, an academic adviser like Finau-Starkey is the best place to start.

“With academic support, students should also keep in mind that everyone has different learning styles and professors, TAs, tutors all have different teaching styles,” she says. “In addition, what worked in high school may not necessarily work in college.”

When it comes to approaching a professor, it doesn’t have to be all that different from approaching a high school teacher. And don’t let the fact that you’re one of 100 students in a huge lecture hall deter you from standing out from the crowd, getting to know your prof or teacher’s assistant and setting yourself up for success.

“Faculty really are eager to help you if you’re ready to help yourself,” Finau-Starkey explains. “I usually advise students to start going to office hours right from the start of the semester, even before they need help, so they’re comfortable with their professors before they need academic assistance in the class. Just stop by, say ‘hi’ and introduce yourself.

“Later on, when you go to office hours to get help, be sure you’ve looked at the problem first and then be as specific as possible with your professor about what you need help with,” she continues.

If the issue seems less straightforward, or you feel you’re still struggling after talking with your prof, you might benefit more from simply forming a study group among your classmates or signing up for ongoing tutoring sessions. The Academic Support Assistance Program (ASAP) offers free tutoring for students living in the residence halls. All you have to do is sign up. And additional resources, including skills workshops and even financial help for tutoring aimed at first-generation and low-income college students are available through the Student Academic Services Center (SASC).

“Students should know that if ever they go to office hours but don’t feel like they got what they needed, to not let that stop them from going elsewhere to get the help they need,” Finau-Starkey advises. “Again, different strategies will work for different people.”

So, before you throw in the towel and decide you’re doomed to fail Spanish, look to your fellow students, academic advisers, RA and other resources for help. You’re not in this alone.

“Whenever in doubt, talk to someone,” says Finau-Starkey.

For more information on ASAP´s free residence-hall tutoring programs, long onto For more on financial help with tutoring as well as study-skills workshops through the Student Academic Success Center, log onto

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