Every first-year students make mistakes

The transition from studying locally to studying overseas is always challenging for both students and their parents. For most parents, it means a lot of worries about whether their children will do well and succeed or not since parents have less control of them overseas than if they go to school in their own country.

Of course, every student who goes overseas begin with a lot of hope and expectations but some end up in failures because of the lack of preparation. What they expect may not be what they experience as many of them are not prepared to deal with issues of living and learning in a new environment. If they can overcome these issues, the chance to do well and graduate successfully can increase significantly.

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Every first-year students make mistakes, especially when they are living away from home, but if they can learn from these mistakes, they will do well. Learning from mistakes is an important part of growing up and take responsibility. However, many students do not know how to deal with a mistake. For example, failing a course is common in U.S. school, but in their country, it may be unacceptable. That is why some students do not want their parents to know that they have failed. Many suffer from their first failure, become depressed and loss of confidence.

I often advise international students: “Failing a course is NOT the end of your education journey. It is only a signal about your learning so you need to evaluate the way you study and make a correction so it will not happen again.” Students often worry that an “F” grade (Failure) create damage to their academic record. I explain that they have over 100 courses over four years, and one “F” in one course will not make a difference. Sometimes, if they fail a foundation course, they will have to retake that course as they cannot go on the next course in a series. It is better to build a good foundation than continue to the next course and fail again. If they fail several courses, they will be placed on academic probation, and it can impact their studying. If they cannot improve their grade, they will be dismissed.

There are several reasons that students fail a course. The most common is they do not know “how to study” as many are still trying to memorize facts and formulas instead of understanding the concepts at a deeper level and be able to solve problems. This can be avoided if students are trained earlier BEFORE going overseas. I often advise students to read the materials before coming to class; pay attention in class; participate in the discussion and ask questions if they do not understand; only write the important concepts in the note; review the textbook to complete the note immediately after each class; ask the teachers if you do not understand something, and review these notes before the exam.

Another common mistake among first-year students is choosing the wrong friends. First-year students often have a high ideal of friendship, but friendship in college is not like high-school because there are many types of students, each has different ideas, opinions, ambitions, and interests. Many are there to study but some are not, and without carefully selecting friends, students‘ learning can be influenced by the friends that they choose.

Recently, I have seen many international students got into the bad habit of partying, or using alcohols and drugs as these are available in many places. One issue with international students from Asia is many like to drink. Some told me that drinking is common among young people and alcohol is often a major issue among them that parents need to pay attention. The issue is heavy drinking may lead to using illegal drugs. When students are focusing too much on partying and drinking, they do not have enough time to study. Even some are able to handle the situation themselves, many are not, and often get dismissed when they fail many courses or violate the laws.

Many international students do not want to talk to their parents about these problems until it is too late. (i.e., Usually when they got dismissed.) I always advise them to tell their parents about the situation as soon as possible but students often hesitate to tell their parents about their grades, if they fail a course or receive lower grades. I tell them that by letting their parents know about the failed grade will give them less thing to stress about. Keeping problems to themselves is not healthy and may cause depression as they need to get the support from home to prevent it from happening again. Even if they fail a course, they should learn from their mistake and move on. Of course, failure is not a good thing but it is not the end. They should admit to their parents that they have made a mistake, then correct the situation and continue.

I often tell students: “You go to college to learn many things, including learning from mistakes. As long you can overcome these issues, you will learn well. Your parents would rather have you make a mistake in school than a more serious mistake in your life.”


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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