It is something that most college students have to worry about at one time or another.
It is, put simply, the beast known as the grade point average.
One of the biggest challenges facing new students is the increased difficulty of classes in college. Coupled with the new stresses of college life, classes can easily overwhelm even the most prepared students.
"I have taught for many years and I honestly don't think they are prepared," said Paul Kugrens , a biology professor who teaches introductory classes. "They don't know what the atmosphere is like, what the big classroom is like, how to take notes. Talking to students, I know that, for a fact, they were not prepared for this type of experience as freshmen."
One of the biggest differences between high school and college classes is in the range of grades distributed. According to the Office of Budgets and Institutional Analysis, the average high school GPA for incoming students in 2004 was 3.54, while the average at the end of the semester for those same freshmen at CSU was 2.82.
Kugrens said this massive drop in GPAs is easy to account for.
"It's a matter of not having been in a situation where a person is lecturing and they have to take notes the entire period," Kugrens said. "They can handle it – it just takes them awhile to acclimate. It might take a week for some people, two weeks for others, and, unfortunately, some may not acclimate at all their first semester."
Gaye DiGregorio , interim assistant director of the Center for Advising and Student Achievement, said orientation programs try to bring this reality to the attention of incoming students.
"They (grades) go down and that's very normal. Students are very surprised that they have to work harder for grades that are lower than what they had in high school," DiGregorio said . "We try to do as best we can throughout orientation to talk about expectations, but often students have to experience it themselves."
While it's usually advised that students aim for a "B" average, the importance of high GPAs can be a source of controversy.
Many students believe that higher grades will lead to a higher paying job after graduation. However, Ann Malen, Career Center director, cautions against equating grades with employment opportunities.
"GPA is just a beginning point, but it's no guarantee to success," Malen said. "I think there's more of a relationship between the effort the student puts into the job search and how well they sell themselves and market themselves in the search process than GPA."
While high grades may not always be a source of concern for employers, new students who must maintain a certain GPA for scholarships, graduate program admissions and other reasons may not have to face a drop in GPA.
The best medicine for this shock is "just knowing up front that this is what happens; this is not uncommon," DiGregorio argues. "They (students) have to put in more effort than maybe they have in the past. We know that, as new students learn what is expected of them, their grades go up. There are plenty of opportunities to increase their GPA in the future."
Until then, DiGregorio advises new students to "be as engaged as possible. Go to class. Sit in the front. Keep up with the reading. Get to know the professor. Review material often. Don't be afraid to ask questions."