This first chapter (as most first chapters usually do) sets the stage for the rest of the book by dispelling common myths and misconceptions about college as well as giving initial strategies to avoid becoming a statistic. Because nobody honestly wants to be a dropout.
R U Ready for College? is available on Amazon and the CreateSpace store. And now, even more awesomeness, the Kindle version is just $0.99!
Okay, enough shameless self-promotion (there will be more below – including a direct link). On with the excerpt!
Chapter One: High School vs. College
So you want to go to college. Good for you! And, no, that was not sarcasm.
Whether you’re just browsing schools or you’ve already arrived on campus, there are a few points we need to set straight.
Chiefly this – college is not high school.
That sounds rather obvious but it’s deceptively simple. Many college students assume the same study strategies and attitudes they used and harbored in high school still work once they pass through a college or university’s doors. Unfortunately, they’re in for a rude awakening when things don’t operate according to the plan inside their head.
The top three comments I hear from disgruntled students?
1. “Why are my grades so low? I made good grades in high school!”
2. “I can’t believe I made an F on this assignment. I made A’s in this subject in high school!”
3. “Why can’t you just tell me what to do and I’ll do it? That’s what my high school teacher did.”
If you’ve thought or made similar remarks to your professors, you need a mental rewiring, which is what this book will help you do. But in order to retrain your brain, we first have to consider the differences between college and high school.
I want to state in advance that while most of these differences are true in some form, there are always variables since no two institutions (the academic kind, not mental asylums) are alike.
Difference #1: High school cannot predict your college experience, and college is not a continuation of your high school experience.
With all of the schools in the United States and the world, it’s impossible for every high school (or equivalent) to match their curriculum to every college and university. To be fair, I don’t think most new college students assume this. It’s not so much about thinking globally as it is thinking locally.
A new college student attending a college in his hometown might suspect the college has some sort of academic connection to area high schools. While this sounds like a good idea, it’s just not plausible. If you consider all of the high schools that might surround a local college or university, that’s too much to keep track of. There isn’t any way that every college class, even a small college, could coordinate their content in terms of creating a seamless transition. Not to mention the structure, delivery, and objectives of college classes in general vary from the high school persuasion.
So don’t expect college to be a direct continuation of high school. You’re not in Kansas anymore. Or whatever state you happen to be from.
Difference #2: High school offers general classes but college offers specific courses.
What’s the difference between high school History and college History? Or high school Algebra and college Algebra? And what about Biology, Chemistry, and Literature? While the topics themselves may be similar, the instructional and evaluative methods are not.
In high school, you’re offered a subject buffet. For instance, high school Literature may cover various time periods, authors, works, and genres. You need to grasp the basics before moving on to anything else. But this gets flipped in college. To continue with the Literature example, in college you may have Survey of British Literature, Survey of American Poetry, or Survey of Female Writers. Notice how focused these are. You won’t be covering just any literature but British literature. You won’t be reading just any American writings but American poetry. You won’t be reading just any author but female authors.
Then it gets even better (or worse, depending on your perspective). Survey courses get broken down into specific topic areas: 19th Century British Literature, American Poetry from 1800 to 1870, and African-American Female Writers. The titles themselves tell you what these classes concentrate on.
Naturally, Literature isn’t the only subject where topics get narrowed. Biology becomes Microbiology. History becomes European History of the 1700s. Algebra becomes…well, I skipped out on that one. I took Applied Math instead. Less scary.
Likewise, there are subjects high school probably won’t offer such as Psychology, Sociology, Criminal Justice, Military Science, Sports Management, Film Studies, and the like. Thus, college classes hone in on specific subjects and explore a full range of various fields of study while high school strives to present a bigger picture to get you grounded in the basics.
Difference #3: High school teachers are generalists but professors are specialists.
Since college classes are more specialized than high school, then it stands to reason than college teachers (called professors) are more specialized, too.
Teachers cover either various subjects or a range of general topics, depending on the grade they teach. But professors are specialized. A professor who teaches History can teach any field of history, but he is probably specialized in a particular period or location such as European history or America during the Reconstruction.
To use myself as an example, my background is in English but my area of specialization is Creative Writing. That means I can cover any English-related topic, from grammar to literature, but the subject I deal with the most is writing.
What does this mean to you? Take comfort in the fact that college classes are taught by specialists who, more than likely, will be better able to address your questions and concerns than generalists. That’s not intended to be a slap in the face to your teachers but it’s a fact. Someone versed in Russian History will be able to better address questions you have about the tsars than a teacher who knows general World History. Teachers have to present a broad topic field, but professors teach narrower slices of the same subject pie. Or cake, in case you prefer cake.
Difference #4: High school uses a curriculum but college supports “academic freedom.”
Ever wonder how or why your high school teachers picked the books they used? In most cases, they didn’t have much choice. Public and private schools use a curriculum, which consists of subjects decided as important for you to learn that have been approved by some powers that be.
In college, while some departments may have books professors must use or choose from, other departments allow professors to pick the texts and assignments they want and as many as they want. That means no two courses will be alike. For example, one Sociology course may use a textbook and only have tests whereas another Sociology class might assign a textbook, a handbook, and a novel about social classes, and you may have daily quizzes and several research papers.
Why is that? Because college courses have objectives students must meet. As long as these are met, it doesn’t matter how students get there. Unlike public or private high schools, colleges are entities unto themselves. Even if they are state schools, the course descriptions and objectives remain the same but professors are allowed some creativity in the classroom.
When you stop and think about it, that doesn’t just make it easier for professors to change materials to keep from getting bored (trust me – it happens!), but it also allows you to be exposed to things you might never read or see otherwise instead of the same stuff over and over.
Difference #5: High school teachers are more apt to remind and help students, but professors leave it up to students to keep track of and do their own work.
These are matters that vary from high school teacher to high school teacher in terms of how much they help students with their work as well as remind students when things are due. But expect this to change in college.
Does this mean professors will never remind you when assignments are due? Not at all. Just don’t expect your professors to badger you about doing your work because they don’t care whether it gets done or not.
“You mean my professors don’t care if I learn?” you protest. Of course professors care! What I mean isn’t “I don’t care” in a mean way. It just means, “I don’t care.” Let me explain.
In high school, you had to attend until you turned the legal dropout age. That meant you had to rise to the level your teachers wanted you to. There’s nothing wrong with academic standards but sometimes this might have toed the line to babying you to a degree, ensuring you got things done. Maybe you had a teacher who told you what to write and exactly how to do it. Perhaps another teacher prepped you for a test so you were confident of the answers without actually knowing them. Maybe another teacher gave everybody a good grade as long as an assignment was turned in, regardless of its quality.
Handholding is an apt term here. Your high school experience might have showed you that teachers would be there to make sure you did everything you were supposed to, in the way you were supposed to, and when you were supposed to.
Professors won’t hold your hand! They will give instructions for an assignment but won’t tell you every step to take. They may remind you when assignments need to be turned in but expect you to keep track of when work is due. They will answer questions, make suggestions, and give advice, but will never give you a good grade just because you turn something in.
Allow me to give an example of how this works from my own teaching experience. While grading essays, I deduct points for grammatical issues. I always point out and explain to the students why this is an error and direct them towards their textbook to review the matter, but it’s up to them to crack open the book. If they do, that’s great. If they don’t, it’s their problem.
That’s what I mean by professors don’t care. If you assume a devil-may-care attitude towards your studies, then you have no one to blame but yourself when you won’t heed instruction or correction because success or failure rests entirely in your hands.
If you do the best you can and take responsibility for your work, odds are you’ll do well. But if you only occasionally come to class, display minimal effort, rarely follow instructions, and flat out don’t care, why should your professors? Going to college is a choice, not a right. Unlike high school where attendance was compulsory, college assumes that if you don’t want to attend, you’ll leave.
So with that in mind, be prepared to take responsibility for your work, ensuring it is of high quality and making sure it’s turned in on time. (Much more on that later on in this book, I promise!
Difference #6: High school learning can be passive but college learning is active.
When you hear the word passive, you might imagine the classic couch potato – someone sitting around, doing nothing or, at the very least, expending minimal energy. Now substitute the image of a student sitting in a classroom doing the same things. Or not doing them, I should say. Passive learning, then, means you’re not putting much effort into the process.
What does a passive learner look like? Let’s say we have a student and let’s name him Bob. (Okay, I named him Bob; you can call him whatever you like.). Bob sits in class and listens to his professor while his brain mulls about lunch. He rarely takes notes or asks questions. When Bob opens his textbook, he only reads the chapter summaries. He does just enough on his assignments to get by and works on them a few hours before class. Naturally, Bob isn’t doing very well.
Therefore, based on Bob’s example, the classic symptoms of a passive student are:
Learning only what you need to know and never exploring or investigating anything on your own.
Reading class materials to just say you read them.
Sitting in class but not paying attention.
So what’s active learning? The opposite of passive learning, of course:
Instead of learning enough just to pass, you dig into it and go beyond the obvious of what you need to know and read a little more about it.
Instead of studying only the material you might be tested on, you learn all you can so your knowledge base is broad.
Instead of just occupying a seat, you listen to the lecture and take notes on important details.
Instead of just breezing through a reading assignment, you take notes so you grasp what the writer is saying and why.
Active learning, then, employs three critical skills: critical thinking, critical reading, and critical writing. Students who can think beyond the obvious, read to grasp underlying meanings, and express themselves in a way that shows they can look past the surface of things are on their way to being successful in college and life.
Let’s check back in with Bob. This time, Bob pays attention in class, taking notes and typing them up later so he can review them. Bob asks questions when he feels he needs something clarified but he doesn’t hound the professor. Once he’s got it figured out, Bob can work by himself. He reads all textbook chapters and materials and makes notes. Lastly, Bob works on assignments as soon as he gets them so he has time to make changes before he turns them in.
Can you guess how Bob is doing now? Do you think he’s still failing? Or does he have a better chance of being successful? If you answered “Yes” to the latter, give yourself a pat on the back and an invisible gold star.
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