What To Do When Disaster Strikes Your College or University Record

Academic Appeals: When Life Throws You a Curve Ball

I want to share with you something that very few students hear about until they actually need it. I’m talking about an academic appeal, something you hope you are never in a position to need. But should the situation arise, I want you to benefit from my experience working on the inside of the university system for many years. This knowledge will equip you with the information you will need to successfully submit your appeal.


Each year, thousands of young people set out to pursue college and university studies with every intention of doing well. For some of these students, despite their best efforts, life throws them a curve ball.

I’m not talking about the everyday life challenges like a strained relationship with your boyfriend or girlfriend or when your car breaks down on the way to school or the regret you had by taking on a much heavier course load than you should have. Instead, I’m referring to those exceptional circumstances that are beyond your control and have significant impact on your overall academic performance.

What constitutes exceptional?

Here are a few examples:

1. lengthy illness that incapacitates you for an extended period of time

2. recently diagnosed or recurrent illness

3. death in your immediate family

4. unexpected and grave financial problem (i.e theft of household belongings or loss of your house in a fire)

5. unexpected surgery

6. relapse from a diagnosed addiction or compulsive behaviour (gambling, alcohol, drugs, to name a few)

7. recently diagnosed learning disability

8. harm that was done to you (e.g. an assault)

9. other traumatic event

If you can identify with any of these examples you should investigate the academic appeal process at your college or university. Most institutions allow students who have experienced such exceptional circumstances to submit an appeal. Although the rules and regulations vary institution to institution, generally speaking there are common guidelines that each of them subscribes to.

For more information about academic appeals or how to succeed at college or university, check our my new ebook called Crush IT at College.

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Crush IT at College: A No Nonsense Guide to Succeeding at College and University.

For one-on-one advice, book an appointment with your personal 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.

Secret to Great Grades: Tip #3 - Hang Out With Other Hard Working Students

Up until now you’ve probably hung out with students who do as well as you do. Or, you are hanging out with students who intend to do well but never carry it out. These ‘friends’ may be nice people but they may not be a positive influence on your academic record.

You have two choices. Cut them off or keep them at a distance. You don’t have to be rude about it and it doesn’t mean they aren’t your friends anymore. It just means that you are taking charge of your own academic affairs.

Now, you need to zone in on the hard working students (because they usually do quite well) and befriend them. If your pride gets in the way, then you have to go back to your first objective: I will do anything to get great grades. Dave Ramsey, the financial radio guru, has a saying: if you want to be rich, do the things rich people do. To Crush IT at college, do the things “A” students do.

Secret to Great Grades: Tip #2 - Attend 100% of Your Classes

Attending 80% of your classes isn’t good enough. Attending 90% of your classes isn’t good enough. If this shocks you, good! After meeting with 8,000 students I can tell you for a fact that nothing short of 100% class attendance should be acceptable in your eyes. Besides, why would you pay for something you aren’t going to use? The truth is that professors cover too much material and move too quickly for you to miss any classes. Take charge and attend all of your classes.


Furthermore, if you are an auditory learner, attend a second or third time. What do I mean? Every laptop has a very good microphone on it, so record the lecture. If you want to get even more sophisticated, you can use the MS Word notebook feature which syncs the audio with your note-taking.

You can do the same with an iPad app like Notability will sync the audio with your notes as well. If you want to get even more sophisticated and combine hand-written notes with capturing audio AND making your notes digital, purchase a LiveScribe SmartPen; it syncs your hand-written notes with live audio, and then digitizes your hand-written notes and sticks them into Evernote. (Wow!)

Great more great advice like this. Contact your Academic Advisor today!

Secret to Great Grades: Tip #1 - Train Like an Athlete

Many students have confessed to me that they do well on everything in their courses but their exams. There are three main reasons to explain this:

1.    College and university level courses have far more weight placed on the final exam than high school classes.

2.     High school students are not used to comprehensive exams, that is, where an entire term or year of material is tested.

3.     Secondary school tests use regurgitation to measure understanding whereas college and university examinations use comprehension and analysis to measure a student’s understanding of the material.

As a result, students are not properly trained for their final exams. What is the trick to doing well on exams? The answer is train like an athlete. 


An athlete looks at the long-term goal and establishes a routine and discipline to accomplish that goal. For a university or college student this is achieved by fulfilling these steps:

  • Commit time (a minimum of 2 hours of study for every hour of lecture).
  • Commit to 100% class attendance.
  • Strive for 100% completion of the class readings.

Begin to build your level of concentration to mimic an exam setting. You can’t expect to concentrate during a three hour exam if you haven’t trained for it. Increasing your ability to concentrate for long periods of time takes practice. Start your training early in your academic career and you will be pleasantly surprised how good of shape your brain is when it comes to the final exam.

So if you start your training in the first month of your first term of your first year, lay a solid foundation, be consistent in your work ethic, and commit to the training model, you will find yourself one step closer to academic success.

Great more great advice like this. Contact your Academic Advisor today!

The Low Down on Student Debt – How Far in The Hole Are You Willing to Go?

Pay for Courses When You Can Afford Them

One of the best ways to avoid student debt is to pay for courses as you can afford them. Many students overlook this option for three reasons:

1.    It will take you longer to complete your studies.

2.    It can be frustrating to have to put your future career on hold.

3.    The perceived loss of income – the money you would have otherwise earned had you completed your studies on a full-time basis.


While there are advantages of completing a program on a full-time basis there is also the reality of the interest you will have to pay on the total debt. In the end, it becomes a cost-benefit analysis for each student. There’s no question that pursuing courses as you can afford them will leave you debt free or with a significantly reduced debt load.

Balancing work and school is more important than you may think. In an effort to graduate debt free and complete their program in a normal time frame, many students make the mistake of working too many hours while maintaining a high course load. This often has dire consequences. The most notable consequence is the rate at which students burn out. Burnout can result in poor academic performance, even failure, and consequently the need to repeat courses. In many cases, students pay to repeat failed courses by working as many or even more hours than they were before. This cycle often continues until graduation.

In the end, these students graduated debt free but they have also:

  • worked far more hours and paid more tuition while failing and recording many low grades because of a lack of balance between work and school
  • compromised the integrity of their academic record and unintentionally limited their admission to professional and graduate studies
  • put their mental and physical health at risk

Students who decide to work while attending school need to accept the possibility of taking longer to complete their program while maintaining their academic record, their bank account and their mental health.

Call our Academic Advisors for more great advice!

Interest is the #1 Ingredient for Academic Success

When I ask students what they believe to be the number one ingredient for academic success, no one ever mentions interest. The ingredients for academic success students suggested most often are:

  • strong time management skills
  • hard work
  • good class attendance
  • good study skills
  • solid organizational skills

While these are important ingredients for success, I would place them in a distant 4th place relative to the critical importance of interest.


Lack of interest is the most obvious and least discussed cause of poor academic performance. After meeting with more than 8,000 university students one-on-one at every year level and in every conceivable academic program, I would say that a lack of interest accounts for almost all academic struggles and failures. Now I’m not talking about a lack of interest in a course, program, or even degree. Students regularly make changes to their academic career to either investigate an interest or to better reflect a known interest in a particular subject. What I’m talking about is a lack of interest in studying at university.

If you think that would be uncommon, I challenge you to read the abundance of literature that points to academic disengagement. Universities across the country are establishing new research centres for student engagement, expanding student support services, hiring high-priced consultants to fix retention problems, and paying top dollar to support staff to work with students who continually struggle. Because it is impossible for the system to increase your interest, they are left with trying to fix everything else.

Universities are moving at lightening speed on this issue for two simple reasons: the first is that they are being held to a greater account today by taxpayers for the percentage of students they successfully graduate. The other reason is that the problem of academic disengagement, failing students, and ultimately drop-out rates has grown exponentially.

If you lack the kind of interest I’m referring to, my advice has always been to immediately withdraw from university studies before you invest more money, potentially sink into more debt, and further damage your academic record.

Instead, consider community college. It takes a lot less time to complete than a full fledged degree. It's cheaper. And finally, it equips you with job ready skills for the marketplace.

Have similar questions about academic success? Contact us today.

To drop or not to drop university/college courses.

Fear - a powerful emotion that paralyzes students from making rationale and objective decisions about their education. I want to offer three solid reasons why 'dropping' (a course) is not something to be fearful of! Had I been given this advice when I was first year student, I would have saved myself from three D's on my permanent academic record. Now they are with me forever.

Consider this: you are in a first year course where the mid-term is worth 50% of your grade and the final exam is worth 50% of your grade. On the mid-term, you barely pass by getting 25 of the possible 50 points. That means you'll need a perfect grade (all 50 points) on your final exam just to get a B or 75% grade in the end. How realistic is that when you have missed a number of classes, are behind in the readings, and have lost track of most of what was said in class?

Given the scenario above, what are you thinking when you contemplate 'sticking it out'? In my 8,000 sessions with students, here's what they have told me:

  1. Dropping is like quitting and I'm not a quitter.
  2. I need this course for my program.
  3. If I don't complete this course it will screw up my schedule next year.
  4. It's only my first year. It really doesn't matter.
  5. My parents would be furious if they knew I dropped it.
  6. If I withdraw, a 'W' will appear on my permanent record (my transcript).
It all boils down to a fear of failure.

Here is the reality: A low grade in one course will not likely ruin you academically. The question is, how many other low grades are you racking up this year?

In my former career as a university Academic Advisor, I almost always encouraged students to drop in this scenario. Here are three reasons why.


1. Lay a solid foundation for your future.

It's hard to do well in subsequent courses when you haven't laid a solid foundation in first and second year courses. Who cares you ask? Well, think of it like building a house. If your foundation is weak, the rest of your house will be too. Trust me when I say that solid skills early on will bring success later.

2. Think long term. Your future career is at stake.

Are you looking for an even more compelling reason than laying a solid foundation? How about maintaining a solid academic record? If I had a dime for every student who said they wanted to go on to professional studies (like law or medicine) or some other profession that required outstanding grades throughout their studies, I'd be rich. Again, a low grade is not the end of your academic career, but your goal should be making the best decisions you can now for your future.

3. Get the facts first. Then make a decision.

Some institutions assign a ‘W’ for withdrawal when students drop courses. Many students believe this is a punitive notation and will adversely affect their permanent record. This is not true since the withdrawal does not explain why the student dropped the course. You may have dropped it for any number of compelling reasons including: illness, personal struggles, or financial difficulties. In fact, you may have exercised great wisdom in dropping the course realizing that you were way in over your head.

The point is that you have a choice between recording a potentially low grade on your permanent academic record and a ‘W’, assuming your institution even assigns one. There are consequences for low grades but no consequences for withdrawals. Consider this the next time you are faced with the decision to drop or not to drop.

Finally, it is important to understand that dropping is not quitting. In fact, knowing when to fold 'em (like the Kenny Rogers song) is a sign of maturity and wisdom.

Bryan Tinlin, President
Tinlin Academic Advising and Consulting