9/3/14

Advice for College Freshman

Dear College Freshman:

I know you have been offered a lot of unsolicited advice lately, and I know you are probably sick of it. But I have some for you anyway. I have been teaching college students for many years. I stand across a podium from you everyday. I grade your work. I know what I am talking about.

Here are my top tips for college success:

1. Come to my office hours. Visiting office hours is the number one predictor of student success. I read that somewhere. I don't remember where, so I don't know if that is actually true but it should be. It is very hard to give an unwelcome grade to someone you know is doing everything possible to be successful, and if you come to my office hours regularly (not just once or twice, but maybe every few weeks) I know that you are trying to be successful. You might be thinking: "But I never know what to say." Here is what you say: "How can I do better in your class?" or "Will you look at my rough draft?" or "Can we talk about the reading?"

2. Sit in the front of the classroom. You know what I think when I see you sitting in the back of class? I think: Why do you want so much distance between us? What are you feeling insecure about? Hmmm. Should I be feeling insecure about you too? You know what I think when you sit in the front of the class? I think: Wow. You are ready to learn. I bet you are really smart and will do well in this class. You know what else? If you are in the very front row, I will hardly ever look at you. My gaze falls on the middle of the classroom. So you get bonus points for your engagement but you will hardly ever be called on--unless you want to be called on.

3. Do the reading. Most professors take it for granted that you will never do the reading. So, if you do the reading and then say something specifically about the reading or if you (even better!) specifically reference a part of the reading in your paper or your midterm I will think, "Oh my God! She did the reading! I adore her!" It is always good if I adore you. I will have a very hard time giving you an unwelcome grade if I adore you.

4. Buy one of those cute little staplers. You know what I hate? I hate it when students turn in papers that are not attached in any way, or, worse, struck together through some sort of complicated folded and/or tearing/origami technique. I am like you! I am usually only sort-of organized. If your paper is not stapled I worry I will lose parts of it, and if it is typed then I will definitely get it confused with someone else who also printed in Times New Roman 11. Don't get me in a bad mood before I've even started looking at your work. Remember: It's best when I adore you.

5. Don't skip class and tell me that your grandma died. Let me tell you, people: college is a dangerous time for the grandmothers of college students! They die ALL THE TIME! Every quarter students say that they had to miss class because their grandma died. So first off, call your grandma and tell her how much you love her. These next sixteen weeks are going to be dicey for her! Know this: I don't want to know why you missed class, and I definitely don't want a suspect story like your grandma died. If you have to miss class just say something important came up or you had a family emergency. That's all I need--or want--to know. And then tell me that you have already contacted your classmate to get the notes or whatever. (Soon after I wrote this yesterday I read an essay by Roxanne Gay in Bad Feminist that noted the same thing. So, really, I'm not sure why the NIH hasn't been called in on this already. Call your grandma!)

6. Don't miss class and then ask me if you missed something important. I am just enough full of myself to think that every thing I teach or say is important. And definitely don't ask me what the homework is. It is on your schedule. You know that!

7. A word about email. I am more like your boss than your friend. So use your grown up words when you write to me. Spell things out. When referring to yourself, use a capital I. And don't expect me to get back to you instantly. I have a life. It may be a sad, little life but it is mine and I don't want to spend all my time answering emails, especially if you could have easily found what you need in the syllabus. Don't vex me, people. It is never helpful for either of us.

8. Turn off your phone. There are many reasons why this is important, but here is the one I want you to remember: You staring down at your crotch, smiling, and fidgeting with your hands is not a good look for you.

9. Join a club, especially if you are at a big, public school. There is some evidence that working-class students in particular have a harder time turning their college degrees into career opportunities because they have fewer connections than their more prosperous peers--even peers with much more mediocre grades. Clubs--especially those that connect you with alumni--help you make connections and they also help you feel connected to your campus and classmates. I would say it is better to be a good student who is leading an interesting life than a stellar student who has nothing else going on.

10. Go to your writing center. Students tend to think writing centers are for people who can't write well when they are simply for people who write. You are a student. You write. I would never send my work to an
editor or agent if I didn't have my colleagues look at it first. When you go to your writing center you are not acting like an unconfident loser. You are acting like a professional. That is the image you want to go for.

13 comments:

Bec said...

This is fantastic - I may make it required reading for my class! #6 and # 8 are particular pet peeves of mine. And the front row thing is so true (as is the grandma issue, unfortunately).

Cathy Perlmutter said...

This is great. I wish someone had told me #9 and #10. On the other hand, I'm sad that origami rarely works out well.

Olga Hebert said...

Well, I wish someone had given me this advise back in the day. Maybe someone tried and I didn't listen.

Ms M said...

Excellent advice! Is this an "assigned reading" on your syllabus?

altadenahiker said...

As Shakespeare said, when the term paper is late, cowards and their grandmothers die many times before their deaths.

Margaret said...

AH: You are always hysterical, but that made me laugh to loud.

Petrea Burchard said...

Good one all around. I'm going to go looking for a college freshman to read it to.

Kim Ohanneson/Ms. Go Go said...

And all across the land, parental fingers cramp in their haste to forward to semi-adult offspring....

Ann Erdman said...

I wish we had tiny little staplers when I was in college! Seriously, this is superb advice.

Emily said...

Great advice! I recently went back to school for a career change (I am 36 and already have a B.S. and an M.S) and just yesterday I overheard one of my fellow (young) students telling the professor about how his lab was late due to his sick grandmother.

One thing I would add is that if you find yourself deeply unhappy or completely unmotivated stop throwing good money after bad. Take some time off to reevaluate why you are in college (it is not the right place for everyone or perhaps not the right time) and what you are study. College should be a challenge but it should also be enjoyable.

Margaret said...

Emily: I completely agree, and I have taught students who are just completely uninterested in being in college. I think they just need time and/or different kinds of opportunities.

Margaret said...

Emily: I completely agree, and I have taught students who are just completely uninterested in being in college. I think they just need time and/or different kinds of opportunities.

Bec said...

Just came across this poem and it made me think of your post . . .

http://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/013.html