Academic advice from a college professor

This fall our son, Keenan, is off to college at the University of Akron. He is our youngest and the last to leave our family home. As many of you have experienced, this is a bittersweet time and one that forces some level of reflection on the past and consideration for the future. As an ex-college professor, I decided to take pen in hand and capture a few things that I wish I had known and practiced as a college student – things that would have made me more academically successful, less stressed, and happier. A gift to my son of sorts, I plan to pass on my ramblings on our way to college. I have been around college students most of my adult life, so I know the chances of him adopting my recommendations are slim, but maybe he will consider just a few. If you would like a copy of my 2-page set of academic coaching points, just e-mail me at DrJay@collegeboundadvantage and I will send you a copy. What follows first, are a few principles that I think are relevant to the discussion and then a few of the “Academic Success Habits” I find most compelling.

Principles

I believe academic success is born out of a set of habits. Habits allow certain behaviors to operate unconsciously and consistently. Think about when you learned to drive a car. Remember what it was like at first? How is it different now? Students can be intentional about developing habits that will support (versus diminish) their prospects for success. The Academic Success Habits that will follow can be practiced and habitualized.

Not all students self-advocate naturally. They have to develop the ability to ask for what they need, approach authority figures for help, and reach out for support when needed. Parents can help students with this by visiting faculty, academic support services, Math Labs, Writing Centers, etc. and asking (subtely in front of their student), how a student could access their services or support if needed and how they can help. They will remember.

A Few Habits for you to Consider Developing

Identify a place or two on campus to study and go there every day. Build study into your calendar.

Read the syllabus for each class when received and place all due dates of assignments/exams into your calendar so you will always have a central reference.

Work on each class a short time each day. This will keep everything fresh, allow for pacing of work, and prevent the loss of details and content.

The No-Brainers: Attend class and complete and turn-in homework assignments (including reading) on time. Homework is designed to help you learn, so make sure you understand it. If you read or skim chapters in advance, faculty lectures will make better sense and will be retained much more easily.

If you are struggling with a class, get help early. Talk to your faculty, attend Math or Writing Lab sessions, ask the Academic Services office for Peer Tutoring, or enlist the help of  a friend who was successful in the class.

If you are cratering in a class and don’t believe you can course correct, drop the class with a “W” before the final drop date (usually about 6-7 weeks into the semester). A “W” will appear on your transcript, but will not impact your GPA and you can re-take the course later. Even if you earn an “F” in a class, the course can be retaken at the same college and the new grade will replace the prior “F” for GPA calculation purposes, although the “F” will remain on your transcript. One caveat – dropping classes may impact financial aid, so check in with your financial aid representative as you consider a drop. Also some policies may differ between colleges.

Develop a strategy for each type of class. A successful strategy for a Math class is different from a strategy for a content (memory) class or a writing class. Team Projects also require that you develop a strategy. E-mail me for my entire document that offers ideas for these strategies.

Best wishes this fall. As the air cools and the leaves change color, I will be hoping that Keenan is finding success and joy in the college environment that I have loved most of my life. It is a blessing, but one that needs to be navigated carefully to fully enjoy the rewards it offers. It is also a transition that can be difficult to manage and overwhelming at times.

About the Author: After touring 60 of the best colleges in Ohio, Dr. Jay, a prior faculty member and dean, founded College Bound Advantage (CBA) – a Columbus, Ohio college consulting firm. CBA specializes in helping families optimize college selection around 18 “fit factors” and helping students clarify co-curricular and major options while exploring colleges that specialize in them.  College Bound Advantage serves all of Ohio including Cleveland, Akron, and Cincinnati metro areas. Check us out at www.collegeboundadvantage.com .

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