High school graduation ceremonies are inherently cruel. One minute, you’re on top of the world. You survived. Walk across the stage, barely hear your name through the cheering and screaming, take an empty diploma holder, shake the principal’s hand, pump the air, flashbulbs from the official photographer adding to the surrealism.
You couldn’t wait to get out of high school. Out from under. On your own. You made it.
It may take a few hours or number of days. But the realization will hit that graduation means EMANCIPATION. What that means doesn’t immediately register until your parents tell you there are two basic choices to keep your room: get a job during the summer until college or vocational school starts in the fall, or join the military.
“Hey, wait a minute, a week ago I was still in high school. I’m barely 18. Can vote but can’t drink.”
With emancipation comes responsibility for decisions, actions and consequences. On the upside, you no longer have to ask permission from the teacher to pee. No one’s going to chase your homework or your attendance, unless the school has a mandatory attendance policy. Your parents can’t call and ask how you’re doing, unless you’ve given FIRPA permission for that information to be shared.
Of the two-thirds of high school grads who start college, roughly one-third drop out after the first year of college.
Students are under a tremendous amount of stress, which creates tension and anxiety. They’re told 100 times from parents to school orientation to four years of first-day classes, “You’re not in high school anymore.”
Between the two of us, my wife and I were professors for nearly 40 years, colleges, universities and tech school, private and public, large and small, East coast to West and in between.
Our syllabi included a “How to Be Successful in My Class and in College.” There’s no illusion that syllabi are read. But reduced stress, anxiety and tension regardless of the class, course or professor make students more “teachable.”
Before Classes Start
1. Map where all classes are at least a day before; preferably two. WALK THE ROUTES between classes to find the most efficient way, especially if you’re limited to 15 minutes. Know where you’re going Day #1 so there’s no anxiety, no mix-ups, showing up in the wrong class at the wrong time. Keep a campus map with you the first week or so to make sure you don’t get lost. If you need help, ASK SOMEONE!!!!! It’s also a great way to meet people.
2. Log on, and, if you can get into the courses you’re scheduled to take, download the syllabus for each. READ it. This is your roadmap for the professor’s expectations. FOLLOW IT.
3. ATTEND THE FIRST CLASS. ATTEND THE FIRST CLASS. ATTEND THE FIRST CLASS. There are typically waiting lists for classes and people who DON’T ATTEND the first class are frequently dropped. Your seat is filled and you go to the end of the ADD list. That can mean delaying graduation by a semester or more.
After Classes Start
1. Learn each professor’s attendance policy. Highlight it in the syllabus. Monitor your own attendance record so you’re not surprised at the end of the semester with a reduced grade or an “F.” The secret is to ATTEND CLASS, because things will happen during the semester when you can’t.
2. DON’T CHEAT. Research studies show that 68% of college undergraduates and 43% of graduate students admit to cheating on tests or written assignments. Seventy-six percent turn in someone else’s work verbatim, 42% have purchased custom papers, essays and theses online, and over one-quarter have had a paid service complete their online courses. Interestingly, cheating is more prevalent among students with higher GPAs who have more to lose from lower grades. My wife and I could tell you stories, but that would take a separate blog. Ninety-seven percent of cheaters aren’t caught and the result is normally suspension or expulsion. Three percent are caught. You can’t be in the three percent if you don’t cheat. The schools and the professors are serious about cheating. Text-matching software, webcams and cheat-proof tests are used to catch cheaters. Laptops, smartphones and smartwatches are banned from classes and exams. Often the rationale for cheating is that it’s necessary to stay competitive in a GPA-driven academic and hiring world. But cheating prevents you from learning and costs you personal integrity. You’re lying on a gurney looking up at a brain surgeon about to operate on you. Do you wonder if s/he cheated to get through medical school? The pilot to get through flight school? Your child’s teacher to get through teacher training?
3. ASSIGNMENT DEADLINES ARE ABSOLUTE. “The computer crashed and ate my assignment” isn’t an excuse. IF YOU MISS A DEADLINE, TURN THE ASSIGNMENT IN ANYWAY with a note that says you know it’s late. But you wanted to turn it in to show you’ve done the work even though you may not get any credit for it. You may find partial credit earned, which wouldn’t have been if you hadn’t turned it in. At the end of the semester, if you’re on the borderline between a “D” and an “F” or an “A” or a “B,” the fact you turned in the work late MAY – EMPHASIZE “MAY” – may make the difference.
4. BACKUP ALL ASSIGNMENTS & PRESENTATIONS. Murphy’s Law is a prevalent part of life on any campus. Use a jump drive or better, a cloud which can be accessed from anywhere. If you’re giving a presentation, carry it in on a jump drive, email it to yourself as an attachment, put in on the cloud. Have at least three ways of accessing it. Murphy LIVES in classroom computers and in the IT system.
5. After the first week, go by each professor’s office during his/her office hours and introduce yourself. “Hi, I’m Mike Miller. I’m in your (day and time) class. I had a quick question about . . . (have a real question.)” Thank them. Male professor – shake hand. Female – professor; wait for her to offer to shake your hand. Do this at least once more after the midterm. With five classes and 20-150 students, s/he may not remember your name, but they’ll remember having met you. If you ever have an issue in the class, that goes a long way.
6. Be prepared and contribute in class. Don’t be the one who always answers, but don’t be an anonymous mute. Professors will recognize you, which may be important later.
7. Get into study groups, even if you think you know the information cold. There are three benefits. One of the most important is the social interactions. Many of the people, especially in your core liberal arts courses, will be in other majors. It gives you a chance to broaden your perspective beyond Haslam College by making friends in other disciplines. The second is a chance to review material and validate that you do know it. The third is to help you identify the gaps if you don’t and practice the materials with others who are in a similar situation.
8. Professors don’t GIVE grades. You EARN the grades, which professors record and report. You’re not entitled to a grade simply because tuition was paid. This is part of learning to accept consequences for decisions by not blame-shifting. “If I fail your class, my folks are going to stop paying my tuition and I won’t be able to stay in school.” Oh, so it’s only my class? How are you doing in your other classes?
9. I can’t tell you how many students came in my office the day before, the day of or the day after a final exam or when grades were due that I couldn’t swear was ever in one of my classes that semester. And it was usually, “I know I didn’t come to class or do the assignments or take the tests, but if I don’t get a ‘C’ I’ll have to drop out of school.” Don’t late for the final hour to try and resuscitate your performance. TRACK YOUR POINTS and grades throughout the semester. If there’s a question or a conflict, TALK WITH THE PROFESSOR as soon as it’s discovered. MAKE SURE YOU AUDIT before the final month in the semester to assure you’re on track to earn the grade you want or need. It also gives you time to try and make up the difference.
10. We borrowed Wayne Gretzky’s advice for our kids in school and on the futbol pitch: you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Most professors have a “non-negotiable” caveat when it comes to the syllabus. Which isn’t a legal contract. It also usually contains a phrase that it may be adapted or adjusted as needed. If you have a performance problem in a “non-negotiable” professor’s class, go talk with him/her anyhow. Don’t beg or plead, but offer some positive, realistic, appropriate solutions for which YOU will take responsibility. The worst that can happen is that the “non-negotiable clause” will be invoked. You’ve lost nothing. But hopefully learned something.
11. Life’s a matter of choices. Opting to attend a weekend party where you overindulged and are suffering the horrible effects on Monday when you have a major taste probably isn’t the best choice. Don’t party all night and then expect to perform on a test the next day.
One of my basic life guides is John Lennon’s observation, “Life’s what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”
There are five life skills valued by any employer that you can develop while you’re still in school – flexibility, adaptability, agility, initiative and perseverance.
Responding to life requires the ability to be flexible like a willow and not rigid like a Georgia pine, which snaps in the wind. Adaptability is being able to blend into any business or social setting like a chameleon. Agility means making decisions and moving quickly. Initiative is demonstrated by finding a path, a problem or a solution without standing around and waiting for someone to point the way. Perseverance is not allowing roadblocks to determine your success, but finding a way around, over, through or under them.
College or vocational school is a transition from the nest to entering the professional world. Immerse yourself in the social culture, in your studies, in the town and the area, the school’s traditions. Nurture your friendships that can become lifelong.
Take your time. The two or four years will pass in the blink of an eye. Make it everything you want it to be and who you want to be.