Arrive first class

Straight talk about what college professors expect from you

From left, Kyle Swanson, Darren Zuro and John Weil study.

From left, Kyle Swanson, Darren Zuro and John Weil study.

photo by amy beck

I teach high school seniors, and I’m certainly no pushover. I hear I’m referred to as “a hard ass” on the streets. So be it. Basically, my job senior year is to prepare their minds for the rigor of college work. College, I tell them, is no cake walk. While some teachers in high school allow late work and retakes, and listen to some pretty paltry excuses about why they couldn’t get their essays in on time, college professors aren’t always so generous. So if you are headed to the University of Nevada, Reno this fall, it will do you good to consider what will be expected of you, and what you can do to avoid an embarrassing first report card.

Dr. Ken Peak of the Criminal Justice Department at UNR will soon have 250 college freshmen in his class. “They need to learn very quickly that life here is vastly different from that of high school,” he says.

First, he says, “nothing substitutes for regular class attendance and note-taking, doing the assigned readings, and individual/group study outside of class.”

Punctuality and proper classroom decorum are a must and—here’s a new one—if a student misses class it is his/her responsibility to provide evidence documenting a valid excuse. Sleeping in, sorry to say, doesn’t count. Nor does a night in the drunk tank. If you miss an exam for any reason that is not valid, your grade is lowered. Also, you get one attempt to write a paper. So get it right the first time.

Second, get over your attachment to your smartphone. Some faculty members have banned them in classrooms. Many professors still allow laptops, but if you are caught surfing the net or chatting on … well, it’s your head.

Third, success in college is more than just “raw ability,” as Peak puts it. There are many unemployed geniuses in the world. Here are some tips to success in college:

Work hard. This means you may have to skip a party or two in order to study for a test. It also means you need to be persistent about trying to learn material. “Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent,” Peak says.

Learn to communicate well, both in writing and speaking. “It was so, like, you know …?” won’t get you far. Practice eliminating the word “like” from your vocabulary and replace it with nouns, adjectives, and even a gerund or two. But don’t stop there. Communication skills take practice, especially in writing. Be persistent and get second opinions on your writing.

Be organized. Try an organized binder, filing cabinets and email folders. I am married to a man whom I love very much but who spends too much time each day looking for things that should have standard places. Don’t be like him in college.

Do. Not. Plagiarize. Again, while high school teachers or deans may have let it slide, your professors certainly will not. You not only will be referred to the campus academic standards officer, but your reputation will suffer. Take the long view. Think of that recommendation letter you might be asking for in four years, and do your own work.

In short, college is like a job, a hard job. If you don’t show up, you don’t get paid. If you do lousy work, you get fired. So this fall, when friends are calling and parties are raging, think of the money you or someone else is paying to get you an education, and stick your nose in a book.