a few truths about college

1. You have the most free time you will ever have. Seriously. You may be sleep-deprived, exhausted, and wiped out–but if so, it’s from doing things you want to do. Your actual class time and study time is less than a job would be, and a lot of that study time fits in wherever you want it to fit in, which makes it really efficient. You have a ton of flexibility and liberty. Take advantage of it!

2. Your teacher is on your side. It may not seem like it if your professor is handing back papers with poor grades on them, quashing your contributions in class, or being unsympathetic to your excuses for absences or requests for extensions. But really, your teachers are in your corner. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be your teachers.

The reason they hand back bad grades, penalize insufficient or inappropriate work, require attendance, and stick to deadlines is that those are important areas for you to understand. Sure, you can get through life blowing deadlines. But turning in consistently shoddy performance at your job is going to make it hard for you to advance. It might even get you fired. Wouldn’t you rather learn that lesson when the only thing on the line is the grade in one course?

I can assure you, from personal experience, that it is not fun to hand back an essay with an F on it. I hate administering poor grades. But that’s what I do: I administer them. I don’t “give” them–I evaluate the essay and tell you what it earns. I can’t change the requirements for college-level work (even if I wanted to), so my job is to tell you honestly if you’re not meeting those requirements and help you figure out how to improve.

3. You are responsible for this material, and if you miss class, it’s your job to do some work to get it. Don’t e-mail me asking for a total recap of a week you missed for an unexcused absence. Come to my office hours, which at least shows that you are making some kind of effort in the course. If I wanted to teach the whole class through e-mail, I’d be working at an online university.

4. Be polite. To me, to your classmates, and to others–mocking people, even those who are not in the room, leaves your teacher with a bad impression of you, no matter how funny and charming and polite you might be to the people who are present. Save your snark for hanging out with your friends. Think of the classroom as a professional environment.

5. If you’ve done the work, and communicated with your teacher about any concerns, and made the best use of your teacher’s feedback and comments, you will learn. It doesn’t matter very much whether you like the subject matter, whether you like the professor, whether the class is in your major. If you show up every day, and you do your job, you’re going to learn something. And that’s the whole point of college. Try not to think of it as check-marks on the list of things you need to do in order to get your diploma; think of it as a chance to learn about things you will never study again. When are you going to have a good opportunity to learn about art history from an expert? When will you have access to a good photography class or a science course that uses a high-tech lab? All of those things are available, regardless of your major, and you should take advantage.

6. You can’t fix anything during finals week. Really and truly, if you are only dealing with an attendance problem, a series of poor test grades that you never talked over with your teacher, or a basic confusion about one of the core intellectual foundations of the course…yes, it’s too late. I know, I know–everyone tells you “it’s never too late.” Well, that’s a lie. You cannot expect your teacher to help you pull your grade out of the basement at the end of the semester. Instead, if you’re concerned about your grade, deal with it early. As soon as you start to be worried, optimally–when you get the first poor grade or get confused by a lecture. Early in the semester, a teacher will be willing and able to help you with your problem, whatever it may be. And most teachers will bend over backward to help a motivated student. (See truth #2.) But during finals week–or the last few weeks of classes, come to that–your teacher is entitled to say, “Nope. Better luck next time.”

7. Your parents and high school teachers are now irrelevant. I don’t mean that in a bad way. But I do mean that it makes no difference whatsoever that you got A’s in high school. The best thing about college is that it’s a new start in a new place with a blank slate…but that also means you’re leaving your perfect GPA or your social position as the coolest guy in class behind. Don’t bother telling your teacher that your high school teacher LOVED your paragraph style, or that your mom proofread your paper and really liked it. Just do what the professor says. The standards–and the style–are totally different in college.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Suzanne on October 14, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    I have to disagree about the free time. Don’t most people work AND go to school? I worked basically full-time my last 3 years, so I have significantly more free time as a grown up than I did as a student. Lady of Leisure.


  2. Posted by academama on October 14, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    At some schools, yeah. But at my school, very few of these students work. I would say maybe one, two at most in a class of 22. And those are usually working very part-time–10 hours a week or so.


  3. Posted by Grandma Cal on October 15, 2010 at 2:13 am

    I think you should hand that advice out on the first day of class to all students:)


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