How Do You Fix Students Unrealistic Expectations?

By Rachael Brothers

Identifying Students Unrealistic Expectations

Dr. Maryellen Weimer, is Editor of the Teaching Professor newsletter and a Professor Emeritus of Teaching and Learning at Penn State.

In her article Reality Check: Helping to Manage Student Expectations, Weimer explores the challenges of dealing with new student’s unrealistic expectations regarding college classes, and study habits. She talks about the challenging transition from high school to college, and the adjustments necessary to accommodate for heavier, more difficult course loads.

Weimer points out that many students are unaware that their high school study-habits are insufficient; or that they will need to develop higher-level skills to do well in college. Often, under-prepared students do begin to understand they have new scholastic challenges after their first test: others, not until after their final exams.

Weimer addresses the question of how to prepare and deal with this challenge. Adjusting student's expectations is difficult. On the one hand, you don't want to be discouraging; on the other, the impact of poor study skills on academic performance shouldn't be ignored.

How to Move Forward

One solution Weimer presents is the use of writing prompts. After their first disappointing grade, ask your student(s) to write down the areas in which they might improve, by what percentage that needs to happen before the next exam, and a feasible plan of action for its accomplishment. This gets students energized and motivated to take action and responsibility for their study habits without intimidating them.

Having students set goals and evaluate realistic expectations for their courses allows them to learn important life skills and better prepare for the next course evaluation. This will help them eliminate that otherwise avoidable low grade and establish good practices that will last through their academic years.

To learn more, please go to Reality Check: Helping to Manage Student Expectations in the August 20, 2014 issue of Faculty Focus.


Weimer, PhD., M. (2014, August 20). Reality Check: Helping to Manage Student Expectations.  Retrieved September 23, 2014, from


Thanks to: David A. McKelfresh, Ph.D.- Executive Director and Program Chair, Student Affairs in Higher Education Graduate Program, at Colorado State University for passing along this teaching tip.