Frank advice for new college students: Read the syllabus!

Here is more good advice for new college students.

I admire this piece by writer and college professor Monique Kluczykowski of Braselton because she treats college students as adults and asks them to behave as such.

Pass it on to any college students you know.

By Monique Kluczykowski

This fall, several million first-time college students will make the pilgrimage to their chosen halls of higher learning. And quite a few of them won’t make it through even the first semester.

Why? Because they unwittingly sabotage themselves in the first few weeks. As a professor who has welcomed (and despaired over) 28 incoming classes of freshmen, I offer some guidelines that can increase all freshmen’s chances of success:

downey04291) Don’t email your professor the first week. Please. We know you are eager to introduce yourself and demonstrate your enthusiasm for our course, but this is not the way to do it. Our boxes are filled at the beginning of each year, and we do not have the time to respond to all 110 students in our classes. Yes, we’ll remember you the first day of class, but not in a good way.

2) When you do email your professors, do so professionally. A “hey, hows [sic] it going?” may be okay for a friend; to a professor, it’s down right disrespectful. Do your homework: check the faculty listing, and determine your professor’s title. Most professors have doctorates and should be addressed as “Dr. Jones.” If you do not see a title, “Professor Jones” is a safe alternative.

Write a salutation, a very brief subject line (“absence from class”), and a short—think Twitter limit—email. Conclude with “Thank you for your time,”  and your full name and course number. That email will be answered promptly. The one that begins with “hey” and has the grammar errors may not be answered at all.

3) READ THE SYLLABUS. One of my former colleagues gave an in-depth quiz over his syllabus the second day of class; he could tell with astonishing accuracy from the results who would pass and who would not. Nothing, but nothing, annoys a professor more than having to answer a question—“when is it due?”— that is clearly defined on the syllabus.

It’s fine to ask for a clarification, but don’t monopolize the entire first session, especially when the answer may appear later in the document. READ IT.

4) Don’t ask stupid questions (see above). Every semester, at least one student in every class will ask this question about the first essay: “How long does it have to be?”

Congratulations. You’ve just identified yourself as a total slacker. The professor hears “how little can I do and still pass?” Don’t be this person.

5) Never begin a sentence with “my high school teacher/Mama/preacher said…” We don’t give a damn what they said. Think and speak for yourself.

6) Be respectful in class, both to your professor and your fellow students. Take part in discussions, and express your thoughts, but don’t belittle anyone else’s. Allow everyone to have a say: students who loudly interrupt others are every professor’s nightmare.

7) Don’t question your professor’s pedagogy. You may not like the way we approach a topic, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a considered reason for our method. Just last year a student told me — in class — that I was teaching a story wrong. I told her to leave.

8) Do the work. Maybe you think the homework assignment is dumb, or you hate the writing topic. Get over it, and get it done. You don’t know what you need to know by semester’s end in order to succeed in the next class; we do.

9) Recognize we are humans too. If you have a true emergency that requires you to miss class or a test, check the syllabus first: most of us post our absence/make-up policies there. Notify us as soon as possible, and you’ll find most professors understanding. But please don’t do this every week, with laboriously long explanations of the hardships in your life. Be a grown-up.

10) Come to see us. We hold office hours for a reason: to help students. If you’ve read the syllabus, done the homework, and still don’t get it, drop by during office hours. Bring specific questions that show you have attempted to learn the material. We want you to succeed and will try to help you make that happen.

11) Don’t ever jump rank before seeing us first. Let’s say you received a grade you deem unfair. Come talk to us. Odds are, you’ve just come up against the tougher demands of college. We can explain what didn’t work, and how you can improve. Skip this step and go straight to the Dean, and two bad-for-you things will happen: the Dean will send you back to us, after informing us of your complaint. That will not be a happy meeting. And you’ll forever be known as the boy/girl who cried wolf.

12) Put your cell phone away. And I mean out-of-sight and silenced. You may think a quick text isn’t hurting anything, but it is. It’s hurting you. We see it and assume you don’t care. You miss important directions for an assignment. Put. it. up.

I can tell after the first two weeks of the semester who will pass and who won’t. The people who miss class, play with their phones, and turn their first essay in late have begun a pattern I’ve seen too often, and it invariably leads to a withdrawal or failure.

Start strong, do the work, and you’ll have the foundation for a successful semester.

 

Reader Comments 0

40 comments
anothercomment
anothercomment

I found some of the tone of the Professor's writing off putting! I am sure glad that over 30 years ago when I was in college I did not get a professor with such a Whiney attitude.

I was a very good student. Fifth in my Enginering and Architecture class. The President of Tau Beta Pi Enginering Honor Society. Which earned me a full scholarship to Purdue, where I was a TA. I have an Masters degree in Engineering. I was not thrown into freshman classes as a TA at Purdue, but Senior classes. I was only 21 and the students were mostly 22 or 23.

I have also taken a couple of courses in the late seventies at my local community college at home, with the returning Vietnam Vets, during the Summer Session.

Then I decided to take some further MBA Real Estate Classes at Georgia State in the mid eighties after working for a while and having my masters.

This professor seems insecure and arrogant. Perhaps the deference with the faculty at top tier schools and those who are not.

I did and i would today challenge the numbskull professor of the Real Estate class that had know idea what slip forms where and then try irked to lecture about them, and there use at the IBM building in midtown. I a civil engineer could not allow that fool to further convolute the lecture, and stopped him. I told him that what he was saying was completely wrong, since he did not have any idea what slip forms were or why they were used. I then precisely explained to the class as I would have a few years earlier teaching my own class at Purdue what slip forms were and why they were used. It increase the floor pour times to one week per floor, increase the tower construction time. At break several males in the class came up to me and said thank you, they also were engineers, and could not take this fool professor not knowing what he was talking about.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@anothercomment 

With all of your education and degrees, why is your English so poor? (Spelling and general grammar.)

pquint78
pquint78

@anothercomment Sorry, but  you have no clue what you're talking about (re: teaching in college).  All of this advice is sound.  YOU may have been a great student, but after having taught for 14 years, I can say that most students struggle with at least one of the things on this list.  I have students who: 

1. ask what the textbook is for the course...a month into the class 

2. miss two months of class and expect me to allow them to pass  

3. literally plagiarize an example essay that I WROTE AND GAVE TO THE CLASS  

4. ask how to know which pages to read for class, after I showed everyone the itinerary on the syllabus  

5. complain about SIX PAGES of reading 


And so on...  


We deal with a lot of people, and many are not ready for college.  Some do not belong in college at all.  

Astropig
Astropig

AstroPigs' advice to college freshmen:


1) Don't drink and drive. In fact, stay away from tonsil polish completely until you're legally able to partake,and then realize that drinking has consequences.


2) Don't borrow to go to school and then leave to "get your head together". Student loan debt is unlike any other. There is no escape hatch.It's a Glock 40 pointed at your financial life.


3) Learn to cook. Your roommates that can't boil water will buy your food for you if you know how to prepare it. You can eat almost free. Learn when the supermarket marks down steaks,pork chops (unless you are muslim or jewish)and bakery items.


4) Don't cheap out on a computer.Get something good (and sturdy) and learn how to use it before that first semester.


5) Pretend that you really are becoming an ultra liberal that talks to whales and believes that "love is all you need". Convince your professors that you believe that something can be worth other than what people will pay for it and that everyone in America can extract their living from a few hundred rich people.Let them overhear you say that gender change surgery is a civil right.Bring an illegal immigrant family to class and see their surprising reaction.Get a hammer and sickle tattoo on a butt cheek. Refer to POTUS as "Dear Leader". Continue acting like a liberal until you have that sheepskin.Libs are gullible enough to fall for liberalism,so they shouldn't be too hard to bamboozle.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Astropig 

You were fine up until #5.  You baby-boomers are so quaint. You think college now is like what  you knew in the 1960s-1970s.

Astropig
Astropig

@OriginalProf @Astropig


Oh yeah. My professors thought that I crapped rainbows and saved baby seals (the fad of its day-you don't hear as much about that like you used to).I told my poli-sci prof (respectfully) that she was a capitalist sellout/puppet because she worked for pay and I thought that I was going to have to marry her.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Here's my advice:


Dear College Student,

In 4-5 years, you will be leaving college with a degree in hand and heading out into the "real world" to get a job.  You will be sending your very thin resume to various companies in the hopes that it will wind up in the short stack in front of a person such as myself.


If I have a choice of two applicants, one with solid grades and the other with a lot of withdrawals, retakes, and low grades (especially in the major field of study), whose resume do you think will get put in the "interview" stack?  That's right.  


Bottom line - college is what you make of it.


PS.  All the crap you learned in business school from the 28 year old Phd who has never even run a lemonade stand?  Don't worry.  We'll show you how things are  really done.

gmcinva
gmcinva

An interesting article detailing the profound difference between my college experiences in the distant past and the authors' view of the current environment.  I can not remember ever being given a syllabus at Georgia Tech, University of Cincinnati or Harvard's AMP.  I don't recall professors having time to deal with individual students and of course at that time e-mail was not invented.  We were informed upon entry as new students that if we didn't want to do the work, there were plenty of other people waiting to take our place.  The degree of advice to juveniles implicit in the article is perhaps indicative of why we have so many college failures.

redweather
redweather

@gmcinva  Way back when I was a freshman in college more than forty years ago, many of us were quite juvenile.  Not sure what the graduation rate was in those days, nor can I remember being given a syllabus.  I do remember a history professor who assigned us to read half a dozen books, but he would tell us when to begin reading the next book.  He always smoked a cigar while lecturing and never, as far as I knew, learned any of our names even though there were only about twenty of us in the class.  Another professor used W. I. B. Beveridge's "The Art of Scientific Investigation" as a text, although it wasn't a science class. It often seemed to me that college was like a foreign country. 

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@liberal4life below (Reply not possible there) Re. class attendance:

What about the student who misses the day of the quiz, but is present the day the graded quizzes are returned?

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@class80olddog @OriginalProf @liberal4life 


But the professor can't use the paper to count for attendance, as suggested.


(Suggestion, learned from hard experience: in large classes, be sure that the person taking the quiz is the same as the person enrolled in your class, and not a dorm buddy who's had the class before. It helps to take the attendance by reading the class-rolls to associate face with name. That's a good idea anyway, to learn names asap.)

liberal4life
liberal4life

@OriginalProf @liberal4life 

Good point. Another factor is class size. If you are teaching a class with 40 students, you can probably remember if the ones that missed quiz was there when you returned the quiz. But if you are teaching a class with 90 students, that might be a bit more difficulty.

On the other hand, I think an approximate date of a student's "disappearance" from the class is good enough for the financial aid purposes.

Charles Douglas Edwards
Charles Douglas Edwards

G R E A T  tips and advice for new college students ! ! !

College is a whole different ballgame.

Study, Study, Study and Enjoy the college experience.

Charles Douglas Edwards

Morehouse College Staff

 

Milhouse
Milhouse

13)  And if you haven't figured this out yet on your own—we faculty members consider ourselves to be gods. Tenure often accomplishes that among even the least egotistical of us, but being continually surrounded by peers who think 100% alike politically ensures it.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@popacorn @Milhouse 

Sorry, you're out of your league now.  College teaching is dominated by men (even in women's colleges), and in all the colleges save Education there are many more male professors than female. I can tell that you too have never been inside a college classroom. K-12 education is not the same as higher education. 

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Milhouse 

Never attended college yourself, eh? The idea that college professors think 100% alike on anything shows that you have never taken college classes.

popacorn
popacorn

@OriginalProf

More problems with hyperbole, I see. You're too dim to see it, but you and redweather, and every other educator here are making Milhouse's point. 


OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@popacorn @OriginalProf 

And you are so knowledgeable about college and university faculty--how? Stating that university faculty are like "the K-12 Girls Club" is just ludicrous...Business faculty?  Arts and Sciences faculty? Health Sciences faculty?  Etc.

jarvis1975
jarvis1975

"How to make a college professor's life easier......"


You can't tell someone to "act like and adult" in one breath, and then tell them not to question anything you say or tell them to do in another. Make up your mind; do you want a child or an adult?


Do your effing job, and stop complaining. 

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

I think it cuts both ways; treat the students as adults too. I have no problem with any of the above but when grades are tied to attendance and (and being tardy by a minute classed as an absence) then I have a problem with being treated as a child. Let the student fail or succeed based on the grades, not whether they are sitting in the chair. I know one student who had her A grade downgraded to a C because she fell down the stairs and and fractured a vertebrae. She did all the work out of class and made A's and B's all semester. At the end of the semester her grade was lowered to a C. 

liberal4life
liberal4life

@redweather 

If you give quizzes often, there is no need to take attendance every day. On the day you give a quiz, you know who wasn't there when you grade the quiz. Then on the day you return the quiz, you know who weren't there because their quizzes will still be with you. You just take attendance on the day you know you aren't doing either.

redweather
redweather

@taylor48 Unfortunately most of us must take attendance because many of our students are receiving financial, i.e., Pell Grants.  Colleges must be able to tell the feds when a student who fails a class last attended.  There are monetary consequences for the student as well as the institution.

Astropig
Astropig

@sneakpeakintoeducation


" I know one student who had her A grade downgraded to a C because she fell down the stairs and and fractured a vertebrae."


I'm sorry, I call BS on this one.Maybe it was because of reasons related,but I'm pretty sure even RedW wouldn't lower your grade for personal injury.

ScienceTeacher671
ScienceTeacher671

@taylor48 The only professors I ever had who took attendance lectured straight from the text book, and you didn't really need to attend class to learn the material (just read the book!) but your grade would get lowered if you weren't there.


The professors who tested mostly on their notes and used the book as supplemental material didn't have an attendance policy, because if you weren't in class for the lectures, you'd flunk the tests. 


Of course, this was 30-something years ago....

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Astropig @OriginalProf @sneakpeakintoeducation 

You don't seem to understand my comment...Any teacher who gave such a grade to a student with such an excuse could expect the student to file a grade-appeal at once. Appeals are not fun to go through, and students have been known to file them when they got a B in a  class rather an A.

redweather
redweather

@sneakpeakintoeducation Arriving late for class is potentially disruptive. If a professor lets one student get away with, half a dozen at least will begin to make it a practice. And they will arrive later and later. The professor doesn't suffer, the other students do. Most students don't understand anything about the classroom dynamic and assume their professors are being being hard to please. Ain't so.

taylor48
taylor48

The best attendance policy I ever had in college was in one of my math classes. Basically, he didn't take attendance, but he would have a number of unscheduled quizzes throughout the semester. If you weren't there, because you decided to sleep in (8 am class Monday through Thursday), you were out of luck. It was amazing how he got 100% attendance almost every day. He put it on us, told us what the consequences were, and let it go from there.

pquint78
pquint78

@sneakpeakintoeducation That's pretty terrible for the professor to do that, especially if she had documentation.  As a professor myself, I happen to agree with most of what you're saying and I'll go one step further.  I've noticed that these things regulate themselves.  The students that miss class all the time typically fail the course anyway.  They miss assignments, don't know how to do the assignments (b/c they weren't in class!), etc.  These students end up failing, w/o me having to penalize them at all for attendance!