Causes of academic difficulty


Academic setbacks are common, particularly at moments in life when you are experiencing big changes, such as a move to a new place, the transition into college, illness, changes in your relationships to family or loved ones, or shifts in your financial situation. This page will offer additional information about different causes of academic difficulty to help you identify areas of challenge for you and begin to evaluate the changes you would like to make. 

If you are experiencing academic difficulty, we encourage you to meet with an L&S College Adviser and review our Options if You are Struggling in Your Courses and Connect with Academic Support pages for additional advice and information. 

Causes of academic difficulty

Academic difficulty is often a symptom of some other underlying issue(s). Below are some examples of factors that can impact your academic performance. Sometimes students may find that a combination of factors have contributed to their academic difficulty. 

  • Adjustment to college life

  • Not feeling a sense of belonging or connection to community, friends, family

  • Course selection; too many units, an overly challenging combination of courses, or course subjects you lack interest in

  • Ineffective study skills or habits; not seeking help or tutoring support

  • Personal issues; family, physical/mental health, finances, work, relationships

  • Motivational challenges

  • Unclear direction or goals; impacting course selection and choice of major

  • Pursuing a major that is not a good fit

  • Undiagnosed or untreated disability

  • Traumatic event

Evaluate: What kind of support do you need? Are there any changes you want to make?

If you have a sense of the underlying factors that are impacting your academics, consider next what kind of support would be helpful to address them. For example, if you have noticed that spending hours studying alone has not yielded the grades you want to earn, you may decide to make a plan to attend office hours more often, utilize tutoring at the Student Learning Center, or join a study group. If you are feeling unsure whether your intended major is a good fit, you might make an appointment with the Career Counseling Library or meet with an L&S College Adviser to learn more about alternate majors. 

Some helpful campus resources you might consider utilizing include:

  • University Health Services Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)

  • Berkeley Career Engagement or Career Counseling Library

  • Disabled Students Program

  • EOP (Educational Opportunity Program) - academic counseling for first generation, low-income, and underrepresented students

  • Student Learning Center - tutoring and academic support

Whatever the underlying cause of your academic challenge is, you can meet with an L&S College Adviser to strategize and develop an action plan. 

Noticing when to ask for help

Our bodies often send us signals that something isn’t right or that we have an unaddressed need. These signals can show up changes in your mood, emotional response, energy and motivation, and overall health and well-being. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms and/or academic difficulty, it is important that you seek support. 

  • Feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious

  • Frustration, anger, moodiness

  • Procrastination

  • Decreased motivation to attend class, complete assignments, and/or study

  • Isolation or loneliness

  • Inability to focus

  • Homesickness

  • Difficulty sleeping or too much sleep

If you are feeling any of these challenges, we encourage you to review the resources above and connect with one that feels right for your needs. You can also always discuss your experience with an L&S College Adviser for academic advising and suggestions for resources.