What Every College Freshman Should Know

Academic Success
Heading off to college?  In many cases, you’ll be expected to function like a seasoned student from the beginning, even if you aren’t quite sure what that means yet.  In a new series of posts, we offer advice for college students to succeed in the classroom and particularly in English courses.

Class isn’t really optional, even if the instructor does not take attendance.

Some instructors save time by not marking absent or tardy students because they know that a student who misses class is only hurting their grades in the long run.  Don’t feel tempted to sleep in regularly or skip class to do work for a different class. Your overall grade will likely be lower than if would have had you shown up to class and done the work.

Your club, fraternity, or sorority does not take precedence over your schoolwork.

You may feel overwhelmed your first year by all the stuff you “have” to do.  But you don’t really need to attend every meeting of anime club and, if your sorority has an event during your class time, you should go to class, not the event.  Your academic success is ultimately measured by your schoolwork.  Your instructors are the ones who will write you letters of recommendation, not the president of chess club.  And your financial package may require you to maintain a certain GPA for you to continue receiving money to attend school.  Don’t make the mistake of throwing away your college career in favor of your extra-curriculars. In the end, an employer probably doesn’t care if you were in choir, anyway.

Your instructor will not tell you when you missed a test or an assignment.

They have too many students to email them all about missed work.  It’s your job to figure out what you missed and to contact the instructor about how to make it up.

You have to write down your own homework or find it on the syllabus.

The days when your teacher wrote the homework on the board, checked your planners, wrote the homework online, and then maybe even texted your parents before a test are gone.  You have to keep track of your own work.  Even if the instructor does not say in class a reading or an essay is due on a certain day, if the syllabus says something is due, you have to do it.  If in doubt, ask for clarification about the assignment.

You are expected to treat your instructors respectfully, even if they seem cool or ask you to call them by their first names.

Don’t start your emails to your instructors with something like “Hey” and don’t talk to them the way you talk to your friends.  Even if they ask to be called by their first names so to create an atmosphere of equality in the classroom, they mean that you are professional equals with valuable contributions to make to the class, not that you’re buddies.

You should dress nicely for class.

Always present yourself in class the way you want to be remembered should you ever need the instructor to write you a letter of recommendation. You don’t need to be in business casual.  You just need to look like you’ve showered recently and didn’t sleep in the clothes you’re wearing to class.  It may not be fair, but people do judge other people based on their presentation.  You should try to use that your advantage.

Your workload will increase.

Maybe you always got “A’s” in high school without even trying, but this may not be the case in college.  You will be expected to work at a higher level in a shorter amount of time.  Are you accustomed to churning out a research paper the night before?  In college, you don’t write research papers.  You write original arguments based on evidence–and this takes a lot more time to do well than rearranging sources does.

You will be expected to educate yourself.

Your instructors may expect you to know how to write an proper academic essay or a lab report even though no one ever taught you how.  And the conventions for papers in each field will vary, though many colleges don’t offer classes that focus on writing in specific disciplines.  You may also be expected to figure out what types of comments are considered valid or useful in an English or philosophy course just by listening to what other people say.  You may even be assigned readings that the instructor never talks about in class.  You should still read them, even if you think it’s a waste of time because no one’s giving you a grade for it.

Your grades don’t determine your value.

You may not always get the grade you want in a course, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t smart or don’t have anything to offer the world.  Pick yourself up and try again next time.  You are valuable even if you don’t have your desired GPA. 

Krysta 64

9 thoughts on “What Every College Freshman Should Know

  1. TeacherofYA says:

    So true, so true. When I was a freshman for the first time (I was at ASU because I’m from Arizona), I skipped classes because I was in big lecture halls and no one noticed. I got As on the tests. But I ditched so many days that I missed the finals (drugs might have played a part).
    Now that I’ve had my last chance to succeed, I didn’t make the same mistakes as before. This is why I feel most students should have a gap year. They need to get all the bad habits out of their system, because college is NOTHING LIKE HIGH SCHOOL. Unless you’re at a community college. Those are a little more like a high school setting. Which is why they are so great as a transition to a university.
    She’s right everyone! Listen to these pearls of wisdom.


    • Krysta says:

      I think there’s sort of a problem where colleges expect students to know what to do because they’re adults, but really, if you haven’t been to college, you probably don’t know. And if you’re first generation, college can seem even stranger. Some colleges are starting to offer “college preparation” courses and I think that may help. But, of course, it’s one thing to hear “You should not fall asleep in class” and another thing to take it seriously. And there are those courses that are the exception–you probably could sleep through some and pass. But what did you get out of the class then? And what will happen when you try the same thing with another professor and it doesn’t work this time around?

      Liked by 1 person

      • TeacherofYA says:

        So true. I hate when I actually do start to fall asleep in class because the lecture is boring: it’s so embarrassing. This semester I only go TTh 8:30-3:45, and I have five classes signed up for, but one’s for a duplicate credit. So I have to drop one…but I want to see the syllabus before deciding because they both seem difficult.


        • Krysta says:

          Even if the class is fascinating, after two hours, I need to get up! I always wished classes had stretch breaks. I would be so much more engaged if I weren’t sitting there staring at other people for up to three hours.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. kimmiegg says:

    Thank you Krysta! As a incoming freshman to college, I’ll have to keep these words in mind as I start. I’ve heard that college is sooo different, especially if you’re going into a research heavy school as most professors are more interested int heir personal research!


    • Briana says:

      My experience is that it definitely varies by the professor. Some are certainly more into their personal research than teaching, but that can also happen at smaller, non-research schools. (Also, some people are personally disinterested in teaching but still try not to let that come across or really affect the way they teach. One professor TOLD me he hated teaching, and I never would have guessed it from the way he actually conducts his classes.) It might also depend on whether they have tenure or not yet and how much effort they feel they need to put forth in order to keep their jobs.

      On the flip side, there are often complaints about grad student teaching assistants, but I think they can vary, as well. Yeah, some are bad because they’re just bad. Some are ok because they just don’t have a lot of experience teaching yet. And some are really good and really enthusiastic about teaching. You just never know what you’re going to get sometimes!


  3. Geraldine @ Corralling Books says:

    I took a bunch of classes off in my first semester, to spend more time at my part-time job…did not work out well for me during exam time! I managed to do pretty well in my exams, but studying for them and trying to cram everything…not fun, and not an experience I’d recommend to anyone!
    And I’m glad that I realised that grades do not define me as a person – I probably would have lost all sense of self-worth if I based my person on the first assignment I got back from a professor!


    • Krysta says:

      Jobs can be difficult thing. Often students do miss class for work and expect the instructors to understand. Instructors may understand, but they probably aren’t going to change the course requirements to accommodate working students. This seems particularly difficult for students who have to work through college for whatever reason and aren’t skipping all their homework because they want some extra spending money. College is just set up so that if you’re wealthy enough to not need to divide your time, you’re already starting with a distinct advantage. When I took physical chemistry, I was actually advised not to have a job because there was no way I could do both. Well, sure, that’s nice advice for people who can afford it.

      And I think college is often sort of a shock for students. It’s difficult to come from high schools where grade inflation is so rampant that GPAs are basically meaningless to committees now and enter an environment where, to combat grade inflation, colleges have sometimes made A’s extremely difficult to achieve. Going from an all-A’s student to a B student absolutely destroys some people. And I think that’s terrible because they’re still valuable individuals!


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