Guest author Karen Alea lives in Franklin, TN where she is an adjunct of English at Middle Tennessee State University. She can be found visiting her own freshman daughter at the University of Tennessee or at www.karenalea.com.
Every year, over 2,000,000 students will step into a college classroom for the first time. The dorm accessories are bought, the financial accommodations made, and high school yearbooks are put on the shelf.
The sad news is only 55 percent of freshmen will make it all the way to the graduation stage. Although financial and personal reasons account for some of the derailment, not being prepared for the classroom is an across-the-board problem. Here’s what college professors want in-coming freshmen to know.
College is Not Grade 13
Although freshmen might be eager to shed the dress codes and social cliques of high school, most are not prepared for how different college is from the previous 12 years of their lives. Not only do students struggle with time management (the number one issue of college students), they still expect to receive extra credit assignments or have instructors chase them up for missing homework.
While new responsibilities weigh heavily on freshmen, parents’ ability to step in and help is limited. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prevents anyone other than the student from having access to students’ grades.
A student can waive his or her FERPA rights, but a parent—not even if the parent is footing the bill—cannot.
Rather than seeing college as continuing their education, students should approach it as a new job to learn. Everything will be different. Knowing this can help ease the culture shock all students experience.
Writing and Tutoring Centers are the Key to Academic Success
When high schoolers think of tutoring, they think of struggling students. When college students think of tutoring, they think summa cum laude. In the last decade, student enrichment centers have become more popular and state-of-the-art. Assigned an essay in English class? Head to the writing center to bounce ideas off of a tutor, and leave with a solid outline. Have a statistics mid-term on the horizon? Make an appointment at the math lab to help with memory techniques and work through that sticky theorem.
These centers are usually run by tenured faculty and employ masters and PhD candidates. On any given day, these centers work with graduate students compiling their theses or freshmen needing a refresher course on sentence structure. Use them!
Attendance is Not an Option
For many classes attendance is optional, but students need to assume it isn’t. Statistically, high absences correspond with low grades. Students not only miss educational instruction, but they do not bond with other successful students.
Contrary to popular legends, many general education courses actually have attendance policies. Usually the policy allows for 5 absences for a Monday, Wednesday, Friday class. In college, there are no excused or unexcused absences. Sleeping in or having a stomach flu are all treated equally, and instructors do not require students to give a reason for their absence.
When a student misses a class, he should get the class notes and assignments from another student or the class’s internal website. Approaching or emailing the teacher is not the college way. However, students who have life-altering issues that cause them to miss multiple classes should contact the professor and their advisor. University staff will work to accommodate students whenever possible.
Just remember, professors are more apt to recommend a student for a scholarship, a job, or an on-campus club if the student attends class regularly.
Every Class Has At Least Two Instructors
Unlike high school, professors do not always teach what is in the textbook. The textbook is an equal teacher.
Recent English curriculum trends dictate instructors give fifty-plus pages of reading per week and two hours of study outside the classroom for each hour inside. Therefore, students taking 15 hours of class should be prepared to have their heads in a book for an additional 30 hours a week.
It is more likely that humanities classes will utilize textbook reading assignments for in-class discussions while math and science classes may use them to reinforce formulas and concepts. However, students should not assume what is taught in the classroom and what is given for study overlap. The only time a student might see lecture material and homework come together is on assignments and exams.
Please, Speak Up
Unfortunately all levels of education still favor extroverts. Participation counts for 5% of the final grade for many classes.
Depending on the instructor and type of discussion, classes might be conducted in hand-raising discussion or a more informal debate style. Whichever it is, one shouldn’t hog the air if he likes to talk, nor should he keep his mouth clamped if he doesn’t.
Instructors understand students can be shy. When the shyness is an issue and interferes with student success, the student should contact the professor. If there is a grade for participation, a student and instructor can usually come up with a creative accommodation.
All professors want students to know speaking up is not just for classroom discussions. Students should speak up by going to meet with their professors, even just to say hi. They should speak up if they are having problems—academically, socially, and financially (college campuses have resources for almost every issue a student will face). They should speak up about safety issues on campus, speak up about roommate issues, speak up about societal injustices and politics and philosophy.
Most of all, students should speak up when they don’t understand something. Keep in mind every professor on campus was once a nervous freshman who learned to speak up.