Your child is halfway through the first year of high school. If you don’t already, make a regular practice of sitting down with your teen and talking about their report card together. Your child’s overall grade point average (GPA) is one of the main factors colleges consider when they evaluate her for admission. Colleges also look at how challenging a student’s courses are, like whether your child took an honors course or two or whether your child chose the more relaxed or the more difficult math course offered.

With each year of high school, your child’s GPA becomes more important. Colleges put less weight on a student’s freshman year grades than on sophomore and particularly junior year grades, according to Sue Chapman, a Bay Area-based college counselor. “College admissions officers understand that high school freshmen are just 14 years old, and that they’re still adjusting to high school, and finding their way. Some colleges don’t even look at freshman grades, others look at them but take them with a grain of salt.”

If your child did well on her first high school report card, that’s great news. But don’t panic if she didn’t.. As Chapman says, the pace and expectations of high school are challenging for many students. At the same time, it’s important for your child to understand that if she wants to go to college, her high school grades are going to make a difference. The better her GPA, the more options she’ll have in terms of both college choices and scholarships. Her freshman year grades provide the opportunity for both you and your teen to evaluate how she’s doing, and to take corrective measures now, if necessary. “If you’re seeing more C’s than A’s and B’s, you should try to figure out whether it’s a matter of effort, or if your child needs extra help,” says Chapman.

If your child’s grades aren’t good, ask her what she thinks happened — but don’t accuse or lecture her. If you do, she’ll become defensive and the conversation will go nowhere. Chances are she is disappointed in her grades, too, and your reproaches will only make her feel worse. Instead, help her think of specific, practical steps she can take to improve her study habits.

Here’s a few topics that might be relevant for your family:

  • Can your teen spend more time on homework every night and minimize distractions like her phone, social media, and the internet?
  • Can she start working on papers and studying for tests earlier, instead of waiting until the last minute?
  • Is she getting enough sleep?
  • Can you help her find a quieter place to study?
  • Does she need to make a couple of friends in a tough class to help each other with homework or study for a test?

Ask your child if she thinks she needs more support or help than she is getting in class. If your child feels like she’s trying but doesn’t understand a lot of the material, she will probably benefit from extra help, and now is the time to identify that. Most high schools offer tutoring hours during or after school. Reach out to her teachers, or to a school counselor, and ask for their advice about how she can get the help she needs.

Encourage your child to talk to her teachers about what she can do to improve her grades. If your child has a B in History, for example, but she knows she could do better, have her stay after class to ask the teacher what she can do to raise her grade. Often, teachers will allow students to boost their grades with an extra project or paper. Many teenagers resist talking to teachers, school administrators, and other adults out of shyness or fear, but it’s important for them to seek help when they need it and to learn to advocate for themselves. It’s a skill they’ll use in college, too.

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