I once heard a student say that college was just like high school except the food was worse.
Really? Maybe my memory about high school has lost its sharp edges over the years, but, as I recall, it would be impossible for the food to be worse.
College is like high school in some ways, of course. There’s a social aspect and an academic one. There’s homework. And the quarterback is still a big deal. Sorry.
But mainly, college is pretty different, so it’s best to start shedding some of those high school expectations now. In the classroom, the differences come down to these:
You don’t always get an A for effort.
Or for creativity. Or for being funny/helpful/charming/or anything else. Of course college professors want to reward you for working hard or for writing your essay in a particularly clever way, or for being the most courteous student in the class. But you can’t count on that balancing the equation if your work is undisciplined or late. You might be the most delightful student I have had all semester, but when you ask me if you can write a paper to make up for the one you didn’t turn in at mid-term, I am still going to say no. I will feel bad about it because you are so delightful, but I will still say no.
You have to pay attention.
You know that time in junior English when you didn’t know there was a quiz Thursday because you were daydreaming in class and the only way you found out was because your friends talked about it at lunch? Yeah, well, don’t count on that in college. It’s up to you to follow the course syllabus, pay attention to the professor, get notes or information about classes you’ve missed. It’s possible your BFF or your roommate will be sitting next to you in English 101, but it’s also possible you will never see any of the people in that course outside of the classroom. And you can’t assume your professor will be holding your hand. For example, sometimes I remember to tell students at the end of class what’s due the next class, but usually I don’t. That’s why I tell them at the beginning of the semester that they should be regularly consulting their syllabus. The best students move all the due dates from the syllabus into their own calendars.
No one is policing you.
As a mom myself, I do occasionally give in to the temptation to email students to make sure they all remember to bring their workbooks next class. And sometimes I do grab a student walking out the door and ask why I don’t have their research paper. But those are the exceptions, not the rule, in my classes -- and in college in general. In the main, I expect college students to manage their work and their time without my intervention. And only when I am sick and my defenses are utterly depleted do I accept “I forgot” or “I didn’t know it was due today” as an excuse.
Luckily it's easy, and fairly anonymous, to ask for help in college.
And there are lots of people willing to give it. You can email a professor and ask to see them during office hours. You can visit a writing center. You can take advantage of programs at the library. You can talk to a resident adviser in your dorm. You can get counseling in a variety of forms. And you can do it all without anyone noticing, without feeling singled out or embarrassed. Almost everyone in college has to ask for help at one time or another. It’s just not a big deal.
Your college professor may never get your name right.
Which means he or she may not get to know you in a way that would make it easier when you do forget you had that quiz Thursday. One semester, I taught five classes and had over 80 students, hardly any of whom I had taught before and many of whom I only saw once a week. The two blonde girls who sat in the back row? I never figured out who was Katie and who was Lauren. If you want to guarantee the professor will notice you, you have to regularly participate in class. Which brings me to:
It’s harder to get by if you are a shy kid.
I know, it’s unfair, but it’s a reality. You might be able to get through high school hardly ever speaking in class (despite the fact that you almost always know the answer), but college is a different environment. And it’s an environment that depends on the exchange of ideas, opinions and observations in the classroom. It also helps professors determine if you have done the reading or other assignments. But also, the college classroom is supposed to be a shared experience. This is where you will shape and hone some of the beliefs and opinions you will hold for the rest of your life. It’s also where you learn to hang in there when those beliefs and opinions are questioned.
If you are a high school student, now is the time to take baby steps toward being a participant in class discussions.
Try to answer a question or venture an opinion now and then. And remember: That first day in college, it’s a blank slate. The whole class isn’t going to turn and stare that first time you raise your hand. For all they know, you’ve always been that kid. This doesn’t mean you can’t get an A if you are an introvert. It just means it will be a little harder.
Finally, and possibly most important: Someone is paying for college, big time.
It may be your parents, or you, or a foundation that offers scholarships, or a combination of folks but, whoever it is, they aren’t paying chump change. That makes it incumbent upon you to give it your all: to put in the hours in the classroom, in the library, and back in the dorm room, studying, reading, thinking and preparing to be a responsible member of the college community. Despite the sorority rushes, the goofy mascots, the dorm parties, the pep rallies, the late-night gab fests, and all the other fun stuff, you shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming college is a place to be taken lightly – even if you are a great student. Enjoy the extracurriculars, but don’t skimp on classroom preparation.
And trust me, the food is likely to be a whole lot better than high school.