No matter the circumstances, being placed on academic probation is upsetting. Even students who had a feeling that they did poorly – really poorly – on their finals, may be shocked to find themselves in this situation. Academic probation means that your cumulative G.P.A has fallen below the good standing cutoff, and you’re at risk of being dismissed from law school. If you find yourself on academic probation – or close to it – at any point during law school, it’s understandable to feel confused, distressed, and maybe even a little embarrassed. This is likely the first time in your academic career that you find yourself falling outside the top ranks of the class, and it can be disconcerting to say the least. Most law schools only give you one semester to inch your G.P.A. back to good standing, so there’s no time to waste. To turn things around after a disappointing semester, start working through these steps ASAP!
1. Do the Math
As soon as the initial shock wears off, you need to pull out your academic handbook and figure out what G.P.A. you need to meet in order to be in good standing. Then, calculate the grades you need to get in the current semester in order to meet that mark. Are you a mere one hundredth of a point away? Or are you significantly below the standard? Are the grades you need a realistic goal given your experience so far? This is a difficult conversation to have, but it’s also a necessary one. I’ve seen plenty of students come off probation after a successful semester, but I’ve also seen students with very unrealistic expectations, which leads to even more frustration and disappointment. It can be difficult to objectively evaluate your situation, so reach out to an academic advisor or academic support person for guidance. That’s what they’re there for!
2. Assess Your Feelings
As you’re doing the math, you also need to reflect on your feelings about law school. Ask yourself: Do you enjoy law school or do you find the whole experience miserable? Are you here because this is your dream or are you here simply to justify your existence for three years? Honestly assessing your feelings about law school, and your future goals, is crucial because you’re going to need a high level of commitment and determination to turn things around. If your heart is not in this process, you need to consider whether you want to continue this journey or whether you would be happier taking a different path.
3. Get Motivated
Once you’ve assessed your situation, both mathematically and emotionally, you need to get motivated. Making positive changes will take persistence and hard work, so you need to be motivated to take on the challenge. To help you get motivated, try writing down a list of all the reasons why you want to graduate from law school. Reminding yourself of your goals and how law school can help you achieve them is a great way to get yourself more enthusiastic about the process.
4. Conduct a Post-mortem
Now it’s time for some of the nitty-gritty work. Look back over the last semester and figure out what happened. Whether it’s procrastination, a family crisis, or health problems, you probably have some idea as to what went wrong. Write down everything – academic and non-academic – that contributed to your results. As you’re creating your list, don’t make excuses or blame others. You can’t control what other students will do or how the professor grades, but you can control your actions, so that’s what we’re going to focus on.
5. Review Your Final Exams
A key part of your post-mortem should include reviewing your final exams. I know this can be a brutal process, but it’s an important part of identifying the academic skills you’ll need to focus on this semester. As soon you can, make an appointment to go over your exam with each professor and try to get some feedback about the specific flaws in your answer. Did you miss issues? Was it disorganized? Were the rule statements inaccurate? Take notes and be detailed.
6. Resolve Non-Academic Distractions
Now that you’ve identified the factors that contributed to your results, you need to take action! Start by resolving, or at least minimizing, any non-academic distractions. This process can involve hard choices and sacrifices, both from you and your family, but it’s an essential step if you want to ensure that you have the time and energy to focus on studying.
7. Use Your Resources to Improve Your Skills
A good study schedule and a plan to improve the academic skills you struggled with last semester is a crucial part of getting back on track, but you shouldn’t go it alone! Make an appointment with academic support or start working with a reputable tutor. These experts can help you isolate the areas you need to improve, craft a plan of attack, and keep you accountable to your study schedule.
8. Plan Ahead and Follow Through
Last, but not least, prepare yourself for setbacks, unforeseen events, and waning enthusiasm. Everyone encounters distractions during the semester or experiences moments of disinterest. Prepare yourself for these eventualities ahead of time, and it will be easier to get back on track when they do come. For example, you may want to build a few catch up days into your study schedule so that you have some leeway if you get behind for any reason. Or, if maintaining motivation is difficult, you may want to keep the list of goals you created in step 3 in a visible place so that you’re constantly reminding yourself of why you’re working so hard.
Rest assured, committed students can go from academic probation to successful law school grad, bar exam passer, and lawyer! Get to work, and you can turn your semester around.
For more helpful advice, check out these articles:
- So You Didn’t Get an A: How to Deal with Your First Law School Grades
- Five Steps to Setting Yourself Up for Second-Semester Success
- How to Right the Ship if You Are Struggling in Law School
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