The Fall 2017 semester is upon us and as a parent of three dual enrolled students and the wife of someone who has been teaching college classes or labs for the past 22 years, there are some things me and mine have learned along the way that will ease the transition from high school to college. Mind you, this is ONLY for college classes and not college life. Decorating your dorm room and negotiating shower time with your roommate are for another post, if at all. But if you want college class advice, here are some best practices and a timeline:
From decision day to at least two days before classes begin:
Familiarize yourself with campus.
And do it well before your first day. You may want to look over any college maps you may have or do street view reviews of what the streets are and what the buildings look like. It may seem silly, but a campus is like a mini-city and you wouldn’t drop yourself into an unfamiliar city without any prior knowledge as to how it’s laid out and what the major features are.
Some campuses are small, compact, and easy to get around. Others are not. At Texas A&M, for instance, the Chemistry building is as long as a city block. And that’s on the main campus. There’s also a West Campus, too. So if you have one class nearly a mile from the next one and there’s only 10 minutes to get there, you’re going to want to know that. Or- as in the case where my kids are dual enrolled- if the distance isn’t that far, but it’s an all-up-hill walk and a steep hill at that.
As soon as they are available to a week before classes:
Download, print, and review your syllabi
You’d be surprised how many students come to class without their syllabus ready to go. In the stone age of college classes, your professors would hand them out the first day of class, but in the information and technology age, most of these are available online for review. This has become so commonplace, in fact, that professors expect you to take care of this before the first day of classes. Some departments, like Chemistry, do not have a syllabus day in which they spend the first day going over the syllabus. They hit the ground running and syllabus review is on your own time.
It’s a good idea to review your syllabi multiple times. You’ll miss things. I always did. You’ll want to know the reading load, the number of tests, if there are quizzes or homework or essays or all of the above. This is one of the bigger differences between high school and college classes- there is a massive amount of variety among classes.
What I always did, which I found very useful and passed on to my kids, was to print off my syllabi and have a clear front cover pocketed binder for each class. I’d insert the syllabus into its respective binder and be good to go. I always knew where my syllabi were, never lost pages, and whenever I needed to review them or coordinate assignments with my agenda’s calendar- easy, peasy, lemon squeezy. You wouldn’t believe how many students lose their syllabi. Over. And over. And over again.
As soon as possible:
Decide your academic goals.
“What a minute?” you might ask. “I haven’t even started yet, why should I decide this right now?” Because this isn’t high school. I know- been there, done that. My Junior year of high school I was voted Most Studious, but that’s a misnomer. I loved to read and watch documentaries, so if the class favorite had been “Most Intellectual” it would have been a more accurate. The truth was, I didn’t really study. For me, studying was memorizing physical science terms during my half hour lunch period and then heading in to take the test as soon as the bell rang. My high school wasn’t the most rigorous, but I did have more college prep and accelerated courses than most. I managed to be an honor graduate anyways. Not a brag, just a fact.
When I got to college, I was in for a shock. The expectations were so much higher and I didn’t know how to study. I scrambled to learn how, not always with the best success. And that was back in the stone age before grade inflation was so rampant and less than 10% of a graduating class did so with honors. That’s not the case anymore- see here.
So, if you’re not prepared (and I’m guessing too many aren’t), college expectations are going to be both a shock and a kick in the butt. So, it’s best to go into it with a plan. Do you want to go to graduate school in your chosen field? You’ll need a higher G.P.A. than if you don’t. Do you want to join a fraternity or sorority and have a very, very rich social life? That may take time away from your studies. In some majors a few Cs, Ds, and yes, even Fs (the last retaken, of course) may be enough to get you a job after graduate. In rigorous Chemistry and Digital Forensics departments, for instance, it’s possible for solid C students to get a job well before graduation. Arts and Humanities, maybe not so much. I’m not saying everyone should aim for a Summa Cum Laude designation, but you should have a plan.
For more details, see below- after your first quiz, homework assignment, essay, test.
At least the day before classes begin:
Find your classrooms.
Some classroom buildings are straight forward. You walk in and everything makes sense. 100-numbered rooms are on the first floor, 200s the second, 300s the third, etc. Even numbers are on the opposite side of the hall from odd numbers. There may even be helpful signs like there are in hospitals and hotels pointing you on the correct path.
Others are like mazes. Up stairs, down stairs, around the bend, and in a back corner. Everyone’s had at least one of those classrooms where it’s a test to find it and you haven’t even gotten your syllabus yet.
So to avoid tardiness or just plain stress, go into those college buildings, find your way around, and locate your classroom. While you’re at it, scope out bathrooms, lounge areas, or study spots just in case you might need them while there.
The first day of class (and every day thereafter):
Go to class.
Yes, simply show up without fail and ready to go. Simple as that. Don’t skip. Don’t excuse yourself because you have a headache. In two years’ of college classes, my son has missed one class- the flu- and my older daughter one- Bernie rally (approved by prof)- and my younger daughter has missed three- the flu, Bernie rally (again approved by prof), and an ER trip due to kidney stones. Making things up isn’t always an option and getting behind will become an issue. So go. Go every time.
Review your lecture notes.
The irony of being of above-average intelligence can mean that memorization is an issue. It’s not that smart people are bad at memorizing things, it’s just that when learning is easier for them than most, memorizing is more work than they’re accustomed to. There are several methods of reviewing class material- reading and rereading and rerereading, rewriting notes, typing up notes, reading your notes out loud and recording and listening to them again. I know at least one person who has done at least one of these things. A star athlete and dual enrolled student who was a project partner with my kids reviewed her notes over and over again. A friend from college wrote his lecture notes a total of three times- by hand. And Shoshana after doing worse than she expected on her first history test, did the typing up notes, recording, and listening method. Whatever your preference or what works for you, do it every class day without fail and you’ll be surprised what will come from it.
Do your assigned readings AND read ahead if possible.
My Chemistry professor husband has repeated this to his students ad nauseum- “If you don’t read the book, you WILL fail this class.” Still, some don’t listen. And I get it. We’ve had to fork over way too much money for textbooks for our kids only to have no assigned readings. It’s annoying. It’s frustrating. But for every one of those instructors and their unused textbooks, there’s another in which the book and reading it is class survival. So, just do it. If you can, too, read ahead so that the lectures make even more sense. Or in worst case scenario times when you get the flu in the middle of a semester and you’ll be glad to be a wee bit ahead so that you won’t be too far behind.
Do your homework.
Again, this comes from the Chemistry prof in the house who assigns homework, but does not grade it. Do it anyway. He does so to expose his students to as many Chemistry problem-solving questions as possible. Some of them even end up on tests. View homework like this as a skill-building exercise. You’re training for the tests with every homework set you complete. And if you have any trouble- from not getting the right answer to not even knowing how to tackle it- your instructors are there to walk you through them.
After your first quiz, homework assignment, essay, test:
Go see your professor.
Chances are, you didn’t ace it. Unless you got 100 or 100+ on the assignment, there is room for improvement. So even if you did well, go in and see your class’s prof to see about doing better.
But if you didn’t do as well as you’d planned, or if you found the test tricksy, or the grading harsher than you’d thought, or if the grade was not part of your academic plans (see above), then plop a squat in your instructor’s office as much as possible, as much as both of you can stand. Usually, the professor will have tips to improve, or can go over material in a way that will help on future tests, quizzes, assignments, etc. You won’t change the bad grade, but going forward, the better prepared you are, the better the outcome on all subsequent grades.
Don’t- and I repeat DON’T– wait until you’re in the weeds, the end of the semester is looming, and you’re panicking because that F, D, or C is setting itself in stone.
And this isn’t high school anymore. Extra credit or the ability to negotiate your grade are in the past. Most professors are rigid with their grades, so don’t chance annoying them. Unless there is an obvious error in their grading, sucking up or whining about it will do no good. In fact, you’ll probably annoy your instructor and get a reputation as a snowflake.
So, again, it’s the FIRST grade and going to see your professor that will make the difference, not the last test before the end of the semester.
Trust me on this one.
Act appropriately and professionally with your instructors and professors.
This should go without saying, but again, you’d be surprised how many students fail to do this. View college as your career’s training wheels. You wouldn’t email the CEO of the company where you’re employed with, “Hey, Jim! Meat wit me on Sat 4 some golf?” would you?
Emails should begin with the appropriate salutation. For instance, if they have a Ph.D., refer to them as Dr. ____. State your name, the class you’re taking with them, and your issue. End appropriately and courteously, “Thanks for your time.”
And be professional. Don’t email at midnight with a question about the test that day and then get put out and re-email when you haven’t heard back. Professors have a professional duty to be available to students, but this is not a carte blanche to be at your beck and call.
Do you have any best practices for college classes? Let me know in the comments.