The start of any college career is a commencement of adult possibilities. High school is over, on to the Big Time. Now more than ever before your life is your own. The College catalog is at the ready. The forms have been filled out. Your choices, your decisions, day to day adjustments and investments of energy are under one person’s control, perhaps for the first time. But there are a few things to avoid the first semester or quarter in college. These are things the college counselor won’t tell you.
1. Your Time is Not Your Own Anymore
College starts with every student analyzing their schedule to see how much free time they have. But the invisible burden of studying and completing work is there. It just isn’t as palpable as when the student was in the grip of public school. Once classes start, the clock on your coursework and testing is running. This can be negotiated only in rare circumstances. The only one who wins if you cut class is the school, since you’re paying for instruction whether you show up or not.
Students who have to do everything for themselves, in newly organized conditions take more time and shortcuts can result in errors. The travel time between classes, parking delays, traffic on nearby freeways and dorm meetings, and emergencies suddenly crop up, punching holes in your schedule. You have to do your own laundry, your own shopping, and get prepared for classes by having all necessary materials. If you have free time, be suspicious. Be very suspicious.
2. Teachers Aren’t Mother Substitutes
To a teacher, a college student is often just a number. Teachers are paid to lecture and give out assignments, not monitor attendance alibis or give advice. They don’t have to like you, be nice, or tolerate your humor. They don’t know your family or how smart you are, or value your looks over your testing performance. If you wait for them to tell you everything you will be the one waiting at the start when all the other students have been working toward the finish line. Students in college have to figure things out for themselves.
If the student misses enough mandatory classes, they fail. If the student fails to turn in too many assignments, they fail. If the student misunderstands the assignments or studies ineffectively, they fail. Teachers in college do not “help” the way teachers in high school did. They assume college students come to class up to date, well rested, prepared for class and giving their undivided attention to the lecturer. If you make a bad impression, no designer clothing or fancy gadget is going to sway them. Your grade is black and white, with little wiggle room.
3. You Have To Study
High school counselors see a broad range of students come through their office doors. Their high school grades come from classes with various learning curves and a lot of unmotivated students to contrast them against during grading. Their mission is to situate the in the best college atmosphere suited to their study goals as possible. But the students must study to achieve progress. It’s a common loss to many students that study time gets routed to sports, dining out, and hanging with friends. Romance, movies, even shopping or television can absorb much needed study time.
By the time a student really buckles down to studying, they are lost. They can’t catch up, they have to work, they get stressed, and suddenly they have no attention span and get restless. Office hours, counselors and online advice can only do so much. Study time should be the bulk of how any student spends their time outside class. Even freshman students should be able to see the writing on the wall. Getting the reading done or spending time in the lab is better done earlier, not later. If you do badly on quizzes, papers, and tests, you are helping other students get better grades.
4. Classmates Aren’t Friends
Those kids you sit next to in class aren’t your friends. They may be polite, and they may talk to you all semester long, but they aren’t your friends. They have no emotional commitment to you and you don’t know them very well. They got into the class via computer and can be anything from multiple personality disorder candidates to anorexics. Freshmen college students are not the best judges of character. They tell more than they should to “bond” with others.
Fellow students are competitors in the great grade derby. They may lie to you about their grades and give you bad advice about assignments, papers, and methods to getting classwork done. they may help you gang up on a teacher or get a false sense of security because “nobody likes him” or “everybody failed the final”. Classmates you trust can be a huge liability. College freshman often mistake their first year classmates as bosom friends for life. The fact is, even if their major is the same and their dorm room is 50 feet away, you may never again be “friends” after the course closes.
5. Cheating is Incredibly Prevalent
If you find you have very bad grades after killing yourself studying, cheating is probably going on. Teachers rarely make an effort to notice this or observe it, despite test situations and dire warnings. People buy research papers online, plagiarize written work, get advice from previous course students, and/or get exam answers. Fraternity brothers and sorority sisters help each other out. Athletic confreres lend willing computer screens to needy fellow athletes. Many parents turn a blind eye to this.
Nothing can be done when a student suspects cheating is occurring. Academic “justice’ just isn’t worth a faculty member’s time to play detective for. Worse, any attempt to prove it or apprehend the answers can be misconstrued as your own guilt. If you feel a course is saturated with cheating students, and your study efforts have a D or worse results, investigate dropping the course. Keep an extra breadth class on your schedule in case you have to do so, to keep your unit load up to the minimum for any student aid. Risking a D on your transcript isn’t worth the extra studying you’ll have to do to get a A on the final and a C in the class.