How Can I Help My Teen Reach His Potential?

Question: My junior son is a smart kid. Good grades came easily to him in junior high, but since he has been in high school his grades have suffered significantly because he does not do a majority of his homework assignments.

His GPA is currently in the 3’s and he is repeating two courses this year to try to improve his GPA because he received D’s in them last year. He scores very high on most tests.

On his practice ACT in the beginning years of high school he scored a 25. He realizes with his current GPA he has already limited his college options, but he still seems reluctant or unable to achieve his potential. How can I help him help himself so that he can feel good about his successes?

Answer: Your question is both a valid and common one that I address in my private practice on a regular basis. In many cases, when a bright student like your son is not living up to his potential, it is often because that student has yet to become personally invested, for whatever reason, in the role that he plays in his own future — the college application and scholarship processes included — and, as an 11th grader, this spring semester is a critical time for him in maximizing his opportunities after high school.

If you have not already done so, I highly recommend that you set up a campus tour at your son’s top three favorite colleges between now and May (you want him to see the campus in full swing before the majority of students leave for summer break), and include in each visit the following: a one-on-one meeting with a departmental/faculty representative in the area(s) that your son is currently most interested in, as well as a private meeting with both an admissions and scholarship officer on campus.
The purpose of the campus visit is to instill in him a true motivation for getting to that next level, while the sit-down meetings are to serve a dual purpose: to allow him to gain insight into his potential career field as well as to see firsthand the reality of what it will take to get him into that school, and to get it paid for, which is an obligation that someone is going to have to meet.

In some cases, this type of thorough visit may require an overnight stay. Either way, be certain to check ahead of time with your son’s school on their approved “college visit” policy and to request and obtain all necessary clearance from both his school administrators as well as classroom teachers prior to him leaving for his visits.
Finally, remind him that while selection committees do appreciate a student taking the initiative to retake a course in order to improve a poor grade, that, in the long run, too many repeats may come across as a lack of discipline.

His personal as well as college-planning goals will be far better served by simply tackling the course at hand, and then using any remaining free time to either engage in worthwhile school or community projects that will serve to strengthen his resume, or by taking additional advanced courses in the math, science, language or computer technology fields which will show selection committees his drive to stand out positively from the crowd — which is exactly the type of student that post-secondary institutions wish to have on their campuses.

About the Author

By following the above guidelines, your son should have no trouble in realizing his potential, and you both will be able to truly feel proud about his accomplishments this next spring at his high school graduation.
Jill G. Howell, M.A. Ed. is a certified school counselor and the president and founder of N2College Nationwide Consulting, a full-service scholarship funding consultancy established in 2005 that specializes in working with clients in eighth grade through graduate school and their families to customize effective college admissions, scholarship funding and pre-career planning programs. She can be reached at 1-877-PLANNER- or email:

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