Our son started college last fall and just received his first semester grades. He almost failed two classes and got C's in the others. We wonder if we have wasted money and college has just been a great big party for him. He is a good kid and wants to do better this semester. How can we help him in a constructive way? -- Disappointed


Some schools really reach out to poorly performing students -- going so far as to contact them and even their parents with recommendations on things to do to improve a student's grades. If this is the case at your son's school, it will be helpful for both you and your son.

Our advice for you is to stay calm. Do not contact professors or go so far as to try to talk to the college president. Be supportive. Help him think about why he did not hit his stride academically the first semester. Talk with your son about going to the school's academic or resource center. These centers usually will offer classes or advice on improving study skills and time management.

The transition to college can be a difficult one, especially for students who did not really learn how to study in high school. Your son should take advantage of the help available from his professors and their teaching assistants in challenging classes. Joining or even organizing a study group with other students in his classes can make some classes less challenging. Although this may appear to be strange advice, suggest that he find a campus job, as it often can lead to better time management.