Tired of Failing at College or University? Examine Your Aptitude

Is hard work on its own sufficient for college success? The short answer is no. As a College Advisor I often speak to students about the ingredients for academic success. Why do I have that discussion on a daily basis? The reason is simple, because I meet with thousands of students who have dismal grades.

Top ingredients for academic success.

My top ingredient for academic success is interest. Following closely behind interest is one very important ingredient that is often overlooked -  aptitude. 


What in the world is aptitude?

Aptitude is a student's cognitive ability to comprehend and apply subject material. It is the 'get it' factor. In other words, how well a student understands the material will impact their score on exams. If you have strong aptitude, you are likely to do well.

The unbelievers.

For those who disagree and believe academic success is all about hard work and drive, explain that to the thousands of students I've met who have done all they could to succeed and yet failed calculus, or an engineering course, or organic chemistry multiple times. Does it take multiple failures to figure out you lack aptitude? No, but many students wait until it it is too late - they are either quick to blame other people for their poor grades or they are under so much pressure to succeed that admitting defeat and changing programs is not an option.

Yes, there are bad instructors. Yes, some exams are written poorly. And yes, some institutions may not provide enough support for struggling students. But these alone do not explain consistent academic struggles. 

Who cares about aptitude anyway?

Something else that may surprise you. Colleges and universities measure your aptitude at three stages in your academic career.

1. Admission - Colleges and universities require a minimum aptitude for admission to their institution. In other words, there are minimum academic requirements, standards, or grades that you must present to get into a college or university.

2. Good Academic Standing or Continuation Requirements - Colleges and universities require students to maintain a minimum aptitude while pursuing their studies. In other words, if you don't meet the grade requirements you will quickly find yourself on academic warning or probation.

3. Graduation - Each college or university requires you to meet a minimum academic grade (as a result of your aptitude) in order to graduate.

Action Steps: Top 4 things to consider if you lack aptitude.

1. Consider dropping the course(s) that are negatively impacting your academic record.

2. Consider changing your degree (science to liberal arts), or academic route (degree studies to community college studies).

3. Examine your personal life. Are you struggling with personal issues? It could be that you don't lack aptitude but rather are suffering from a hurt, habit, or hang-up that you have never addressed. If so, book an appointment with a personal counsellor.

4. Seek out academic advice from an Academic Advisor. A good advisor will not sugar coat your problem. He/she will ask the right questions and review your academic record to determine the cause of your academic struggles. 

Your Success

There's nothing wrong with you if you lack aptitude. Everyone has gifts, skills, and talents and many of those may have nothing to do with your academic abilities. If you want to know where you are likely to excel, I suggest talking to someone who knows you well.

Although career assessments and aptitude tests can be helpful, so can the support, encouragement, and kindness of someone close to you. Often, the people closest to you know you better than you know yourself and certainly much better than a computer program. 

Finally, if you lack a support network then consult with a trusted academic advisor.




Fries With That BA? The Declining Value of a Degree

This was the headline of a Globe and Mail article published in April 2013. It paints a dismal and dreary picture of the Bachelor of Arts. While, I agree with the article in many ways, I do think that it falls short to offer hope for students pursuing a B.A. or who have graduated from a B.A.. 


It is unfortunate, but the reality for many students today is that a Bachelor of Arts on its own is not enough to compete in the job market.
There are three reasons for this:

  1. The surplus of degree holders in the marketplace has allowed employers to demand even more education from its workers. For example, although a B.A. used to be enough to secure a management level position, it is now common for many employers to ask for a graduate degree even though one may not be required. Students understand this and now commonly remark that the B.A. is worth no more than what a high school diploma once was.

  2. Our economy has been become knowledge-based, requiring greater levels of specialized training. This is why so many universities have partnered with trade colleges. These agreements allow a student to either earn a degree and college certification/diploma at the same time or they guarantee a certain number of credits are transferred when applying to the sister university or college.

  3. Our society has become credential happy. If you aren’t certified in something, you will probably struggle in the job market. Many unaccredited professions have now formed associations in the hopes of bringing greater legitimacy to their professions in the eyes of their customers.

The Good News

I often recommend that students consider college training before or after completing a B.A.. College training can be a wonderful complement to a university degree even if you cannot see the relevance (and vice versa). I remember explaining to a student how the skills learned in his B.A. in Economics will translate well into his career as an electrician. Did he need a B.A. to become an electrician? Certainly not, but since he had earned his degree it was important for him to understand how the critical skills acquired in his B.A. would serve him well in college and in his future career as a tradesperson.

As a final word on this subject let me say this: even if you have regrets about pursuing a B. A. instead of college, trust me, it was not a waste. The skills are transferable and will be with you for a lifetime.

For more insight on the B.A., check out my new ebook entitled Crush IT at College: A No Nonsense Guide to Succeeding at College and University.

For more advice on this subject, book an appointment with your personal Academic Advisor.