In a few short weeks a new crop of freshmen will be off to college. They may be anxious about getting along with their future roommate, but most figure they can handle the classes just fine. After all, they did well in high school.
Those who are expecting freshman year to be little more than 13th grade better think again. College is a different educational country, and when traveling to a foreign country, it helps to have a guide, said Drew C. Appleby, professor emeritus of psychology and retired director of undergraduate studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
“There’s a reason we call it higher education,” Appleby said. “The academic and personal expectations are higher in college. The majority of students successfully make the transition. But in my 41 years of teaching, I’ve seen some really smart kids do some dumb things, simply because they didn’t understand the new culture.”
According to retention rate data compiled by the nonprofit ACT in 2012, 33.5 percent of American college students fail to make the transition from freshman to sophomore year.
“That’s a terrible waste and one that could be avoided if students had some foreknowledge about the country they are entering,” Appleby said.
Here are 10 things students should know to successfully make that transition.
1. Expect to be an active — not a passive — learner.
“Many high school students succeed by going to class, taking good notes and memorizing the information for the test,” Appleby said.
He did just that for his first college test and couldn’t answer half the questions. After asking where he went wrong, his professor replied, “Oh, Mr. Appleby, you still think you’re in high school.”
It turned out there were two teachers in the class — the one in the classroom and the author of the textbook.
“I’m not going to teach the book, but I expect you to know that material, too,” the professor explained.
2. Learn to study.
Reading, underlining, memorizing definitions and cramming are not the best ways to study. Effective studying results in being able to write a paragraph on the purpose of a chapter and the main points it covers. Students should be able to explain the material to someone else, and also prepare to answer questions a professor might ask about it.
3. Prepare to think critically.
“Helping students to be critical thinkers and lifelong learners is in the mission statement of most colleges,” Appleby said.
As students progress through college they’ll not only be asked to remember and understand subject matter, but also to analyze it, evaluate it compared to other sources and apply it to solve problems.
4. Learn to write a research paper.
Cutting and pasting information from the Internet is not an original paper. Paraphrasing doesn’t mean changing a word or two. Unless you credit sources for ideas and words, you’re plagiarizing. Plagiarism can lead to failed classes or even expulsion, so students should understand what it is and learn how to research and cite sources correctly.
5. Know what’s expected.
“Your high school teachers may have given you your next assignment every day and reminded you of tests,” Appleby said. “Your college professor spent time creating a syllabus and handing it out in the first class. Consider it your job description. It will tell you what you need to do when, test and paper dates, and how you’ll be graded. Read it. Follow it. And you’ll never say, 'I didn’t know there was a test today.’ ”
6. Manage your time and your life.
Meals, laundry, what to eat, how to spend your money, when to study and how to relax — those decisions are your responsibility now. College offers many enticing distractions, without parental supervision.
How do you set priorities? “Talk to an adult you trust and get some advice about handling time, money and risky behaviors,” Appleby said.
Take advantage of the college’s many resources — orientation programs, faculty advisors, tutoring centers, the health center and the gym; your tuition paid for them. No meal plan? Get a cookbook with simple recipes.
7. Take responsibility for your successes and failures.
Lame excuses about why you didn’t turn in assignments or missing tests because you overslept won’t cut it with college professors.
It’s your job to wake up in time for class and complete your work. A big part of attending college is learning to become an adult.
8. Behave well in class.
College classrooms and interactions with professors will likely be more formal than in high school. Showing up late, talking in class, cracking jokes or texting won’t earn you any points. Showing respect and actively participating in class will.
9. Do your homework.
“In high school, teachers may have let you work on assignments in class or you did them in study hall. In college, they call 15 hours of class time a full load,” Appleby said. “Consider that a full-time job is 40 hours. So if you’re spending 15 hours in class, you can expect to spend another 25 hours or so studying outside of class. You’ll have to figure out where and when to do that.”
10. Use this time to plan for your future.
“Know thyself” (Socrates), “To thine own self be true” (Shakespeare), and “Just do it” (Nike) are good words to live by, Appleby said.
“College is a time to explore and get to know yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, dreams and passions,” he said. “If you do that, you’ll make a plan to take the courses that will help you be who you want to become.”