College can be a stressful time, and few things are as intense and stressful as finals. That part of the academic calendar can be almost as stressful for you as it is for your student. It is no wonder, then, that so many parents try to help their students get through those tough exams.
The question is – should you ask to see your student’s grades, or should you simply step back and let her figure things out on her own? It can be tempting to demand access to measures of academic performance, especially if you are the one footing the bill. Keep in mind, however, that college grades are protected under the FERPA laws – you can ask to see them but the school is prohibited from giving that information without the student’s consent.
That does not mean that you cannot ask your student about the grades he has been receiving throughout the academic year, or that you need to step back completely as finals approach. In fact, final exam time can be a great time for you to support your student and help him through the stress of those important tests.
The key is balance. First, remember to be respectful of your student’s privacy and make sure that your help is wanted. Look for ways to talk with your student in a positive and supportive way – without criticism or hostility. Your student may be more willing to be open with you about her grades if you can communicate clearly that you are asking so that you can support her through the stress of finals, not to criticize or complain. If she does open up to you about grades, listen first. Let her tell you about her classes and how she plans to address her grades before jumping in with your own thoughts and advice.
If your student’s grades to this point have been disappointing, there are support services available to help them improve. Just about every college has some sort of tutoring program in place for struggling students, but your student may be too embarrassed or intimidated to ask for help. This can be a good place for you to encourage him. Remind your student that he isn’t alone; many students need a little assistance with classes. After all, that’s why universities start tutoring programs and encourage professors to have open office hours.
You can also help your student get off to a better start in the next semester. If she is struggling to raise grades through her finals tests, or finds that she doesn’t have enough time to study as much as she would want to, criticizing her about her lack of preparation or telling her what she should have done will not help. Instead, after finals are over help her come up with a plan to make sure she is in a better position this time next semester. Talk to her about finding help right away when she’s confused, studying little by little throughout the semester, and using the services available through her university.
In the end, parents need to walk a fine line between taking too much interest in their students’ grades and not taking enough interest. It is important for college students to experience the independence that campus life can bring. At the same time, parents can help by being supportive, and by making sure their students know they can reach out for help any time they need it.