The high school years are often a cherished and celebrated experience. You step through the firsts of a nervous freshman fumbling awkwardly with a locker combination to a thriving senior with relationships and a reputation to uphold. Within the fine fibers of this foundation of young adult life are the instructors to guide you, your parents to pay for everything and friends and social networks to keep you above water.
Things take a slight but sudden shift when you step foot into your first college course, although mom and dad probably still pick up the tab (if you’re lucky). Your academic responsibilities grow considerably, and you won’t find someone close by to hold your hand. In order to navigate the rough waters, keep a few of the following practical tips in mind about what to expect from your new scholastic independence:
1. Aim for classes required by your major.
Get to know your college catalog. Don’t waste your time on classes not required for your major unless you take some special interest in them otherwise (you can talk to your counselor to help with this process). It can take longer than I’d care to admit to graduate from even a two-year college. I’m approaching year four. If wait lists are holding you back, but it’s a class you really need, sign up anyway. You’d be surprised how many people back out or sleep in on the first day and leave a couple extra seats empty and up for grabs.
2. Homework is work. Show up.
Back in high school, we were assigned homework on a Friday morning that was promptly shoved into the bottom of a dirty JanSport to be attended to Sunday night where we’d stare at it as if we had no idea where it came from. It is recommended for success that college students spend at least two hours per hour of class studying, though from my experience, this number is highly dependent on the type of learner you are, and it also seems impossible in today’s world. An article from the Boston Globe confirms that, on average, students are actually studying less, though this should be acknowledged as what it is — a statistic — and not a personal recommendation for every student.
No matter the amount of time you find you can spare with your head buried in paperwork, trying to squeeze that between any kids, jobs or other classes you may have seems like quite the task, so know what your schedule allows you beforehand. Make room for what your brain demands, what you need for success.
3. Know your syllabus.
People tend to file away this piece of gold after the first class, but I find it to be one of the most valuable pieces of paper in the entire course. It normally includes information such as the professor’s email address, office phone number and hours, the title/author of the textbook used for class, the website where any slides used in lectures can be downloaded, class rules (food/drink guidelines, cell phones are usually a no-no, etc.), assignment specifications (line width, font size, header/footer required or not, etc.), and much, much more. I’ve found that the best way to get on the professor’s “student’s who can’t read” list is to ask questions that are already answered on the syllabus. I imagine that they write these things so that they don’t have to answer them more than once.
4. Befriend your classmates.
Get to know the people you work with. Don’t be afraid to scribble your number on a piece of paper and hand it over to your neighbor letting them know that you’re available to study if they happen to be on campus sometime, perhaps mentioning a local coffee shop you frequent. When numbers are exchanged, it’s much easier to network and offer each other help with materials and homework assignments or projects. This also comes in handy if one of you misses a class session. Try to exchange with a few different people on the off chance that the same people are absent at the same time.
5. Don’t expect your professors to help you.
If you arrive at college expecting assignment reminders and personal attention because you’re still identifying with a high school mentality, it might be best to leave these assumptions at orientation. When you engage with your professors in class by interacting during a lecture, raising your hand to ask questions, emailing them regarding assignments or class meetings and actually showing them that your satisfactory grade in their class is of the utmost importance to you, they are incredibly more likely to take you seriously and start singling you out, even outside of your insistence.