R U Ready 4 College?
Available in print and for Kindle!
All this month I have shared excerpts from my newly-revised edition of R U Ready 4 College?, which outlines and shares strategies on how to be successful in college and how to cope in your new surroundings, academically-speaking.
Excerpt Four – Are Students Prepared for College:
It’s best to first ask why some students entering college are seemingly unprepared. I can think of several reasons, many of which we already covered earlier in this book, such as: a lack of personal motivation, unrealistic expectations, a sense of entitlement, never being allowed to fail or experience criticism, and never being responsible for one’s work.
But the second question we have to ask is where some of these behaviors and attitudes come from. Granted, some are extensions of a person’s personality that need a serious overhaul. Others may be erroneously-formed opinions. But there may also be external factors at play.
Before I proceed, I want to issue a disclaimer. My comments and observations here explore academic culture in general, so they may not have held true in your high school or at your college. So why don’t all students survive college? If it’s not trouble adapting to a new change of pace or adjusting study and work habits, what else could it be?
Many students who enter college aren’t academically qualified, meaning they didn’t keep college in mind during high school. They just did whatever they wanted without much thought to their future. This has caused some colleges to lower their academic standards so as not to befuddle or scare away too many unprepared freshmen.
In recent years, a troublesome trend has emerged where students enter college academically unprepared and exit occupationally unprepared. This is a result of numerous factors, such as falling college standards, poor prep work on the part of high schools, and a feel-good mentality that cares more about self-esteem and less about informing some students that they’re just not wired for college, which isn’t always a bad thing.
Falling College Standards. Ideally, college classes should get you to think in-depth and most do. But there are some institutions making things easier for students in order to prevent lower failure rates. So while tuition rates soar, academic standards sink. These diminished standards often come under the guise of reduced credit loads for given degree programs, elimination of certain course requirements, and an overall easier format when it comes to course content and evaluation.
What this means for college faculty is a call to “dumb down” teaching methods and assignments or lighten up on strict grading standards. Granted, perfection isn’t one of those standards but excellence and high quality should be. The standards each college sets are determined from behind its walls, and each professor normally controls the difficulty level of his or her class. For example, there may be multiple sections of freshman composition that use the same textbook, but the way materials are taught, what is taught, and how students are graded will vary.
One professor might be ridiculously easy. Another professor may be more middle of the road – not too easy but not overly difficult. Or you may have a professor who is tough, gives complicated assignments, and has strict grading standards. Overall, a good college should have professors who fall more towards the difficult end of the spectrum. Yes, you read that correctly. Your college courses should challenge you and force you to learn, not just rehash high school.
Rehashing or keeping classes simplified appeals to students’ lazy logic and low expectations. Many students will assert a class is “good” if it’s easy to pass; therefore, in their minds, low expectations plus a minimal effort equals a positive experience. Such students will also declare a class to be “poor” if they’re required to expend a greater effort working and studying and grades aren’t so easily given. This is a not-so-sneaky way of trying to manipulate the system. Sadly, sometimes it works because the colleges allow it to go on as some colleges want students to pass so badly, they covertly push professors to lower their standards.
Yet I ask this: if they really cared about their students, which is more important: shoving them through, passing out degrees like candy on Halloween, or ensuring students are ready to enter a career with confidence and possess an informed, inquisitive view of the world.
It’s not a trick question and I trust even some students can figure out the answer. But in case you can’t, I’ll tell you: it’s more important for a college to make sure its students are ready to enter the workforce and life with a curious, inventive mind.
So is your college student-friendly or learner-friendly? If you just want a piece of parchment to hang on your wall because it looks cool, opt for a college that’s student-friendly. But if you care about your future, choose a school that’s learner-friendly where high standards for excellence and quality are still in play.
Just because you go to college doesn’t mean you get smart by default, as if being there somehow magically fills your head with knowledge. As I’m sure you’ve picked up throughout this book, it takes a certain degree of work from you. So just attending college isn’t enough. Yet some colleges hold to the idea that as long as their students sit and stay, they will learn and be good boys and girls. But college isn’t The Matrix where all you have to do is jack in and information automatically downloads into your brain.
Instead of simply attending, students who are actually learning and remaining engaged in their classes are encouraged all on their own to stay. The reason for this is that they are active learners who care about their education and are not content to merely pass or get by with minimal work and effort. Hence, active learners tend to stay in college while passive learners depart despite the college’s best efforts to retain them.
A similar issue is that some professors don’t expect much out of their students. Personally, I think this is worse than a professor who teaches just for a paycheck. In the former case, a professor adopts an apathetic attitude towards his lectures, assignments, and you. But a professor who doesn’t challenge his students becomes a problem. When professors don’t challenge their students or assume little from them, they set a low bar that will gladden the hearts of the lazy but frustrate genuine learners. Learning is a two-way street: you need someone to teach you but you also have to be willing to be taught.
When you have a professor who doesn’t set high standards, you get a mediocre experience. You won’t learn and, hence, you won’t grow. Consider this analogy: in Kindergarten, you were taught your ABCs. Next comes elementary school but imagine that all you’re taught is the alphabet again. No reading, no writing, no spelling. Just A, B, C, D, etc. Then you get more of the same in middle school and high school. No Literature, no History, no Algebra. Nothing but your ABCs.
Wouldn’t that be easy? You bet! But are you learning? No.
Learning requires you to add to your knowledge base like dropping coins in a piggy bank. With each passing grade, class, and year, you should be adding a little more to your brain bank. Sometimes you will learn a great deal, other times what you take away will be small but that’s okay. As long as it’s something.
So if you have a professor who just rehashes what you learned years before, you won’t learn. But when professors expect their students to rise to the challenge and become active learners, good things come. Thus, if your professors expect you to work in their class, read for their class, write for their class, and so on, that forces you to do one of two things: step up, learn, and succeed, or fall back in defeat. But at least your professor has thrown down the gauntlet – it’s up to you to accept the challenge.
Poor Prep Work. Another factor related to the high rate of college dropouts is the lack of preparation students had beforehand. Some of this relates to erroneous expectations students held prior to setting foot on campus. But some of it relates to the classes students took in high school in which they either did poorly or didn’t learn what they needed to regarding a basic academic groundwork.
This disconnect results in students not taking the usual college freshman courses but completing remedial classes instead. Remedial classes are the college equivalent of their high school counterparts (namely writing, reading, and math) and lack the emphasis on critical thinking, reading, and writing skills a college class should have; hence, students are stuck relearning the basics.
There is some good to remedial classes. For older students who didn’t go directly into college from high school, remedial classes allow them to brush up on topics they learned years ago, which is beneficial. But a fresh-from-high-school college freshman shouldn’t have his or her first semester burdened with remedial classes.
This is another reason why some students quit – they’re so busy having to play catch up that they give up. College gets transformed into a higher-level high school instead of an institution of higher education that builds upon what students should have learned during the past twelve years or so.
Again, this failure rests upon two parties’ shoulders – the students and their high school. Many students are unaware of what it takes to successfully complete their plans of study, which starts in high school when it comes to the grades they make and the classes they take. Some high school teachers work because their job pays, not because they care about teaching. On the other hand, some students don’t like school, so they mentally check out and expect life to be handed to them on a platter of precious metal. But regardless who is at fault, there needs to be changes in attitudes, whether that’s a rekindling of the true purpose of teaching (to help others learn) or garnering a new respect for learning in the first place.
Feel-Good Mentality. Again, not every high school guidance counselor said or did these things, but some persons tout a “college for all” mentality. Granted, this philosophy works but it relies upon one component – a learning-centered student. If more learning isn’t for you, then college isn’t a wise step to take.
Years ago, the purpose of a guidance counselor was to provide students with honest advice that considered not just a student’s feelings but also their academic performance and personal interests. For some students, this might mean pursuing a technical program or not attending college at all as there are important occupations that don’t require a degree. This isn’t meant to be elitist but it’s true.
Ideally, guidance counselors should help students identify their talents, intelligence, and passions (remember TIP!) and relate those to occupations where the student would be the best fit. If that means going to college to do that, so be it. But if not, then it’s perfectly fine for a student to pursue a non-college path.
Instead, some guidance counselors and teachers tout a feel-good philosophy that doesn’t encourage students to make tough life decisions. College is the expected norm whether a student truly feels that’s the path he or she wants to pursue. Rather than being told the truth about a general plan of study or provided with all possible options so they make good, wise decisions, students are fed motivational platitudes and self-esteem-boosting pep talks.
There is nothing wrong with “believing in yourself” (as opposed to paranoia) or “discovering yourself” (as in you know your talents, intelligences, and passions). But major life decisions can’t be based on what feels good. Students have been advised to attend college because it is a good place to help them develop as a person and “find themselves.” But if you’re underprepared and have no idea what college expects from you, that’s a steep price tag to pay for personal enrichment. If you really want to find yourself, go buy a mirror. It’s cheaper.
Want to read more on how to best prepare yourself for college (among other topics)? Then check out “R U Ready for College?”, available both in print and for Kindle!