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What if I Continue to Struggle in My Science Coursework?


If you find you continue to have difficulty with your science coursework, here are some tips to help.

1. No one enjoys receiving negative feedback.  As hard as it may be, if you receive a disappointing grade, take it as an opportunity to gain valuable insight.  Instead of blaming the professor for not covering the material in a way you could understand, or making an exam “too hard,” ask yourself what you may be able to learn about your study skills, your approach to material, your academic strengths, and academic weaknesses.  Even though you may not like a professor’s teaching style or a course topic, try to focus on what you might gain from the experience.

2.  If you have been earning grades of C or below in science courses it is important to acknowledge that the methods you have been using have not been working.  While it still may be possible to pursue your dream career in healthcare, it is clear that you cannot do so by continuing to do things just the way that you have.  Clearly you will have to do things in an entirely different way.

3. Sometimes it helps to completely clear your schedule of extracurricular activities and simply focus on academics for a semester to see how well you can perform under optimal conditions.  Then once you have your academic performance under control, you can decide on adding back a few select extracurricular activities.

4. Ask yourself if you have truly been working as hard as you could in your college courses.  Many students will say that they have been working hard, but maybe not as hard as they could.  If you are in this situation, you may find yourself feeling trapped, going from semester to semester earning grades that do not seem up to your standards, but unsure about whether you really could have done better. 

5. If you know you have not been working as hard as you could, consider making a contract with yourself to work as hard as you reasonably can for a semester to see what difference, if any, it makes.  Test out what it's like to work with the dedication of a medical or graduate student - you'll have to work with this intensity one day, so try it out now.

6. If after working for a semester with the intensity of a medical or graduate student your grades have not improved substantially, it’s likely this is a sign that no matter how hard you try to work, you may not be able to perform at the level necessary for admission to, and success in, an intensely rigorous graduate-level health professions curriculum.

7.  Do not allow your dream of a healthcare career to jeopardize completion of your undergraduate degree!  If you find that continuing to take premed/prehealth coursework is putting you at risk of academic probation in your school or major, or at risk of dismissal from the university, these are serious warning signs that you are on the wrong path.  Consider changing your major if necessary to ensure you can graduate with a college degree that will be valuable in seeking employment or further education. 

8.  Consider how many credit hours you already have earned, how many more semesters you have before you graduate, and if there is a realistic chance that you can earn much higher grades that will allow you to raise your GPA to a more competitive level.  Are there study habits or time management skills that you can identify for improvement so that you have a clear idea of how you might try to improve your academic performance?  If not, it may not be realistic to continue on your current career path, and you may want to consider moving in a new direction toward another career goal that you would still find fulfilling.

9.  Have you truly engaged in career research?  Information is available on this website on a variety of healthcare careers.  The Health Professions and Prelaw Center provides services that are focused on law and healthcare careers, but many other offices at IU provide support for career exploration.  The Career Development Center provides help with researching careers, graduate school application processes, resume writing and opportunities to meet with potential employers.  They offer career fairs and other events as well.  Make use of any resources offered by your school or department on career exploration as well.

Check out the variety of resources available at IU for career planning and exploration:

Career Development Center and Arts and Sciences Career Services

School of Public Health Office of Career Services  (for students in the School of Public Health)

Informatics and Computing Career Services  (for students in the School of Informatics and Computing)

Alumni Career Services 

Library Career Reference Collection

10.  Consider how you got interested in the field that interests you.  What do you truly hope to achieve through your life’s work?  Whatever that may be, there are probably many other ways to accomplish what you hope to accomplish besides the one single profession that you set out to pursue when you started college. 

11.  It is crucial to engage in contingency planning, and develop alternate plans so that you will be prepared to respond to changing circumstances.  It is important to prepare for the possibility that you will need to seek fulltime employment directly after graduation, even if you hope to one day pursue professional or graduate school.  Develop skills in resume writing, interviewing, and researching job opportunities now.  Having well-developed contingency plans can actually alleviate some of the anxiety prehealth students experience.  Knowing that if your first choice did not materialize you have developed a back-up plan to guide your actions can provide reassurance.  Some students express that they are afraid that if they admit the possibility that they might not be admitted that doing so might sabotage their plans (“If I think about the possibility I won’t get in then I won’t get in”).  That simply isn’t the case.  Rather than sabotaging one’s success, fully exploring options and being prepared to respond to changing circumstances can be the keys to success.