Things our Freshmen Need to Know

Casting Out Nines, the blog of a college math prof, has five big ideas for Freshman Orientation. Obviously we’re not teaching orientation, but I think the first one is worth mentioning to our students in our classes on the first day. We can’t assume they know it.

The basics of college-level academic expectations and how they differ from those of high school.
This is by far the biggest need. I cannot count how many freshmen I’ve had, many of them academic standouts in high school, try to operate in college using high school parameters and end up doing poorly. The common refrain is “I never had to study in high school!” (High school teachers: What’s the deal with that?) Yes, in college, professors assign stuff for you to do, but no it’s not always taken up for a grade, and yes you are still supposed to do it. Yes, professors will expect you to complete the readings prior to class, and yes, you will look like an idiot if you don’t do them. Yes, we are serious when we say “two hours of studying outside of class for every hour inside”. Freshman orientation is a chance to set the academic tone for the entire college for the entire year. In fact one could argue that it always does so, and it’s just a matter of whether the formative impression students get is one of games and pizza parties or one of rigorous, rewarding learning.

It’s a phenomena that I am uncomfortable with and about, but it is true that students often don’t need to study. And, unfortunately, sometimes they don’t need to study in our classes either. (Well, perhaps not ours, but our colleagues’ classes.)

Honestly, some students top the charts in IQ and even a major project won’t take them long. And others happen to not only be good but skilled in our field, so that they can start and finish a major essay quickly. I know a college sophomore who hasn’t studied more than an hour a week for any class, including tests and essays, so far because he hasn’t needed to. But students like him are the exception.

Our students need to know, and how will they know unless they hear?, that high school and college are not the same.

I think that for most of them the level of education between middle school and high school changed. But maybe it didn’t. And maybe that was so long ago, almost a quarter of their life, that they have forgotten even if it did.

So take a few minutes out on the first day (or at least within the first week) to mention to them that your expectations will be different.

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