Highlighting 5 Big Differences Between High School and College

About a month ago I was talking to a class of rising freshmen, and I asked them if anyone had a question about how things work in college classroom. A hand went up and I was asked a question I had not heard in my 28 years of teaching: “What do you do when you need to go to the bathroom?” It was such a simple question, but it was the ideal question for a student trying their best to be prepared for the new world of college. At first, all I could think to say was “Great question!”. Then I proceeded to talk about this question and introduce several other issues that college students and faculty alike take for granted but are not usually known by students who three months ago were still in high school

Here are 5 critical issues (there are more) that I feel every incoming freshman needs to be clear about:

1) In college there is nothing like a hall pass, let alone a bathroom pass. You are free to go to the bathroom whenever you like. However, there are always classroom rules of etiquette. For example, if you get up in the middle of a lecture (large or small) do it quietly, walk to the door in a way that does not cut across the Instructor or makes you more salient than you already will be. That is, whenever someone gets up in class or comes into the classroom late everyone is going to look. The key is to be the least disruptive to the class as possible. I will add that this kind of free movement in and out of class may not only be for a trip to the bathroom, but if you do not feel well, to get a drink, or other reasons you may have for entering or leaving a classroom.

2) It is important to know what to call your Instructor in person or in an email. The way you know what to call them is either because they specifically tell you or you understand to follow certain unwritten rules. With regard to the former, some Instructors will tell you to call them by their first name. That’s fine, but quite honestly I do not feel you’ll get that too often. With regard to the latter, keep in mind that unlike high school your Instructor will typically have a doctorate degree (e.g., a PhD). If they have their doctorate degree it is generally the case that you will call them “Dr.” as in “Dr. Golding”. Some students say “Professor” (“Professor Golding”), but either is acceptable. Let me add that if a student called me “Mr. Golding” it would really be no big deal. However, I know that being addressed this way would appall some of my colleagues. If an Instructor does not have their doctorate degree you should call them “Mr.” (e.g., “Mr. Smith”) or “Ms.” (“e.g., “Ms. Jones”).

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3) In each class, you will need to take a seat—somewhere. It is almost always the case that you can sit wherever you want. I would caution you to try and sit near the front to (a) allow you to interact with the Instructor and (b) to keep more focused on the lecture (i.e., you can’t look around the room as easily.) However, I am finding that more and more classes have assigned seating. The Instructor may assign the seats from Day 1, or (as I have done) you choose a seat by Day 2 and that is your seat for the remainder of the semester. You may think that assigned seating is taking you right back to high school, but assigned seats allow an Instructor to more easily learn the names of students and can be very helpful to an Instructor in bookkeeping as far as grades are concerned. Also, the reason I feel OK about my Day 2 plan is that I have found that most students choose their seat and then keep it through the semester even when I do not make it a class policy.

4) The days of constant exams and homework in every class are generally over. There are some classes that will have a lot of graded work (e.g., Math, foreign language), but in general graded work is way less than you had in high school. For example, your classes will typically have 1-4 exams. It is possible that you may have a class with only a midterm and a final. Also, a lot of classes have no actual graded homework or assignments. That is, your exam grades are your only grades. Finally, be prepared for semester-long projects that are worth a significant portion of your grade. Let me add that the fact that you will likely have less graded work is not necessarily a good thing. It means that everything that is graded is worth a lot more. Therefore, you really have to put major effort into everything that gets graded.

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5) In general, your grade is your grade. What I mean by this is I typically get students who did not do well on a graded assignment or exam and ask me if they can do something extra to raise their grade. I have learned (partly from my own kids) that teachers in high school will offer extra credit on an individual basis. However, it is my experience that this kind of individualized extra credit rarely occurs in college. There may be extra credit opportunities, but these are usually points that can be earned the entire class.

As is often the case, the differences between high school and college are quite large. Remember, you are in a whole new world. You need to understand what is expected and how the college system works. Sure, there will be times when you are confused and frustrated. Keep calm and know that you, like countless others before you, will learn the ropes and will end up being a successful college student. Good luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

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What Should You Do?: Missing an Exam Because You Overslept

The other day, I gave an exam to a large class. When it ended, I went back to my office to get the exam ready to be graded. After a few minutes, there was a knock at my door; I opened it and saw a young woman in tears. When I asked what was wrong, she told me that she had slept through her alarm and missed the exam.

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I’d like to offer some thoughts about situations like this. First, your syllabus likely doesn’t mention oversleeping. The syllabus probably only describes the times when you miss an exam because of an excused absence. Excused absences generally include documented illnesses, university-approved events, and death in one’s immediate family. Clearly, oversleeping is not an excused absence.

Second, faculty members are put in a very difficult position when a student oversleeps and misses an exam. On the one hand, the syllabus doesn’t call for a make-up, other students managed to get to the exam, and you have rested more than anyone else who took the exam. On the other hand, mistakes happen and having a little more sleep probably doesn’t amount to a significant advantage.

Third, you need to live with the consequences of your actions. You may think that sleeping through the exam isn’t such a big deal, but a faculty member may see it as a really big deal. They might give you a 0 on the exam or have you take the exam with a penalty (e.g., losing 10 points right off the top). Alternatively, they might simply have you take the exam right there on the spot and not penalize you at all.

I hope that you’ll never have to deal with this on exam day. Exams lead to enough stress on their own. You don’t need any more. If you think you might oversleep because the exam is in an early class, or because you stayed up studying longer than normal, then set more than one alarm or have a friend either call you or knock on your door so you don’t stay asleep.

By the way, in case you were wondering, I let the woman at the beginning of my blog take the exam with no penalty.

 

Special Guest Writer-Casey Magyarics (graduate student): Writing an Email to Your Instructor

Writing an email might sound like an easy thing to do, especially since we all spend so much time writing text messages, but writing an email to a professor or TA is very different from writing a text message. When you’re writing an email to a professor, there are a few things you need to keep in mind:

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1. State your name and what class you’re taking. Your professors likely teach more than one course and they can’t keep track of everyone. If you tell your professors who you are and what class you’re taking with them, you’ll probably get a much better response.

2. Clearly explain your issue or question. Don’t just say that you need help with an assignment, be specific about the question you have. Make sure you have looked at the syllabus or assignment guidelines clearly before asking your professor or TA for help.

3. Be respectful! This is very simple, but it can really help you out. Everyone is busy, so if you are appreciative of your instructor’s time, they are probably going to be more willing to answer take care of your concern/question thoroughly.

4. Use professional language and grammar. This is where writing an email to a professor and text messaging are very different. You will want to use proper grammar and sentence structure. Don’t use things like jk, lol, !!!???, or emojis.

5. Don’t act like your instructor owes you anything. Your instructor may not be willing to provide students with their presentations or notes, so it’s important that you not act like you’re entitled to these privileges. Same thing goes for extensions on assignments, etc.

These 5 pieces of advice can really help you create a positive relationship with your instructor through email. Remember that you might need to contact these people when it comes to bumping your grade up from a B to an A at the end of the semester or when you need a recommendation letter for a scholarship or grad school. Plus, it’s always nice to treat your instructors with the same respect that you expect from them.