How to be a good college student, from the professor’s point of view…

So, you’re kind of new to college — either as a first-timer or a returning student.  That’s awesome (I really mean that 🙂 ) — good for you.  I know how much courage and determination it takes to decide to add college to your otherwise full life.  I remember both being a first-time college student at the U of MN — and a returning (married) student at UNO (University of Nebraska, Omaha).  Every year I see folks come in all fresh-faced and excited to learn… let me tell you a few things that will help you out.

  1. Keep track of things — you’ll have small and big assignments, stuff to read, stuff to do etc.. keeping it all in one place, the same place where you write down your dental appointments, kids’ soccer games, etc — will keep it in your mind.  
  2. Have ONE bag for school — physically keep your notebooks, books, pens etc.. in one bag (if you can..).  When you go out the door on a day you have school, that bag should be with you — it sounds simple, but often students don’t quite get this one.
  3. Talk to other students in your classes.  Exchange contact information, plan to get together for a coffee/homework / exam review or whatever.  These folks are also smart, funny, and generally trying to balance all the things you are — they can help you out, and you can help them.  
  4. Stop by your professor’s office hours — we’re there to help you.  Also, don’t be surprised when we’re there (not in office hours) and say we don’t have time to help.  We have lots of things going on outside of class time –and often that work is on a deadline too.. 
  5. Budget enough time to do your homework — and do it in a quiet place, with internet access.  Sometimes you’ll get stuff done early, sometimes it will take you longer — learning is a fluid process.
  6. Sometimes life isn’t fair — you’ve probably learned by now that life can be less than fair — bad stuff happens to good people, and the rest of your life interferes with homework time.  That’s the way things go sometimes.  Do your best to play by the rules outlined in the class schedule / course syllabus and keep in touch with your professors if things are really, super crazy…Otherwise, don’t be too worried about turning in less than amazing work, it happens to folks sometimes… 
  7. Make sure you know how the class is graded, so you can put your effort where it should be… and, so that you can make sure your final grade is accurate.  I had a good friend once who was displeased with their grade in a course.  My first question was ‘what does it say in the syllabus about x, y,z’?  Turns out the professor had addressed x, y, and x in the syllabus — said specific things about how that was to be handled, and DIDN’T follow their own syllabus.  My friend sent a polite e-mail to that effect, and the grade got changed. 
  8. When you’re e-mailing, be sure to include your full name and the course you’re taking  Almost all of us teach 3-5 courses per semester.  In philosophy those courses have between 30 and 50 students.  I’ve had semesters in which I had 250 students — across 5 classes — not having to go in and find your name among all the class lists makes a decent e-mail response all the more likely.  

Generally, do your best — be smart, don’t suck — and college will be ok. 

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