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Advice for College Students: Encouragement and Admonishment

R. Rambo's Home Page | Illinois Valley Community College

Advice for College Students: Encouragement

Realize the possibilities.

Too many people go through life hating their jobs, never realizing their potential, and never following any of their dreams.

As a college student, though, you are taking vital steps toward doing something that you really want to do, even if you are not yet sure of what this might be. It is so important to realize the possibilities and the choices in front of you. Instead of wandering from boring job to boring job and living an unfulfilled life, you can, to a large extent, determine your future and do what you love.

Of course, you are likely to be disappointed if your ambition is to be the President of the United States or an Oscar-winning actor, but a college education can take you into a career that you really care about: marine-biologist, writer, teacher, veterinarian, lawyer, entrepreneur, computer specialist, whatever. The choice is yours, and it's important to realize that. Think of how many people do not have these choices or do not realize that they do. You only live once, and a college education can help you make the most out of your life. 

Realize that a successful college career requires hard work, dedication, and sacrifice.

Nothing worth while is easy, as the old saying goes, and this certainly is true of a college education. A successful college career requires years of hard work, and you can't expect to be a success without devotion and sacrifice.

This is an unpleasant metaphor, but college is a sort of "weeding" process. People get good jobs in part because of how well they have proved themselves through their hard work and dedication in college. They have demonstrated that they have what it takes to succeed. Many people begin college but do not succeed at it. There are a limited number of good jobs out there, and college helps "weed out" the people who are unlikely ever to get those jobs.

I firmly believe that most people can be successful in college and that the amount of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice is what separates those who are successful from those who are not.

Make your education a top priority.

Don't defeat yourself.

As just about anyone who has earned a college degree can tell you, there will be moments when you don't think you can do it, moments when you doubt your ability to succeed. This is normal, but don't let the doubts themselves defeat you.

I remember vividly such moments myself, when a course seemed too hard, when the work ahead of me seemed like too much, but then I decided that if I was going to be "defeated" by something, I was at least going to give it my best effort. If a college course was too much for me, so be it, but I was not going to let my doubts defeat me. I did not want to live with the lingering idea that I did not succeed at something because I did not even give myself a fair chance to succeed.

We can't be successful at everything, and you might face challenges that are too much for you (at the time), but don't work against yourself and let your doubts defeat you.

Give Yourself a Reasonable Workload.

One major cause of students not succeeding is an unreasonable expectation concerning the amount of time college requires. Some students give themselves such as unreasonable workload that success is nearly impossible. It's not unusual for an instructor to hear a student say something like "I'm sorry that I did not complete the assignments, but I work full time, go to school full time, and take care of three children."

The general rule is that you should expect to spend a minimum of two hours working on assignments outside of class for every hour that you spend in class. So imagine that you are taking 12 credit hours. This number of credit hours requires that you spend at least 10 hours a week attending class, along with at least 20 hours a week working on assignments outside of class (remember that this is a minimum!). And you probably spend at least five hours a week getting ready for class and driving to and from the college. That's 35 hours a week as a minimum amount of time you need to devote to your classes, and that's about the equivalent of a full-time job. Now imagine having a full-time job as well.

I can't imagine someone thinking that he or she should have no problem working two full-time jobs, yet many students think that they should have no problems handling a full-time job and a full load of college courses. These expectations are unreasonable, and they often lead to failure.

Don't set yourself up to fail. Realize that a successful college experience takes a lot of time, probably a lot more time that 35 hours a week for a full-time student. Give yourself a reasonable workload, and you should greatly increase your likelihood for success.

 

Advice for College Students: Admonishment

Realize the difference between bad excuses and good excuses.

If you miss a class session because your car was blown off the road by high winds on your way to the college, you were stranded in a tree while waiting for the rescue team in the helicopter to save you from the rapidly-rising floodwaters, and your rescuers insisted that they take you to the hospital instead of to the college (despite your adamant protests to the contrary, and this part is important), then you have a good excuse for missing class.

If you miss a class session because you are on vacation in sunny Florida, then you do not have a good excuse.

Often, the difference between a bad excuse and a good excuse is clear. And because bad excuses really are not excuses at all, it's best not to share those with your instructor.

(Of course, I hope none of the bad things above ever happens to you. I do hope you get a chance to visit sunny Florida, but certainly not when you are supposed to be in class.) 

If you are absent from a class, never ask your instructor, "Did I miss anything?"

If you miss a class session, never ask your instructor, "Did I miss anything?" Of course you missed something if you missed class, unless everyone in the class just sat around and chatted about nothing or stared out the window the whole class period, which is unlikely. Even worse, never ask your instructor, "Did I miss anything important?" Consider the assumption behind that question: do you think the instructor did only unimportant things on the day you missed? Of course, instructors like to think that everything that they do in class is important. It's not good to miss class, but it's worse to miss class and then to suggest that there was nothing important in the class period you missed.

Do not expect less work in your courses because you are busy.

When students feel the pressure of busy schedules, they sometimes complain to their instructors: "How can I finish these assignments? I work full-time, go to school full-time, and have a family to take care of," as if they expect the instructor to say, "Oh, I'm sorry. I did not realize that you have a busy schedule. We will make sure that there is less work for you in the course."

In each course, the instructor has a certain amount of material that must be covered, and students have a certain amount of work they must do. Most instructors try to spread the assignments out enough so that students have a reasonable amount of time to complete them. It is your responsibility to fit the course work into your busy life, not your instructor's responsibility to change a course so that it fits your schedule.

Students who complain about the amount of work required in a particular course often seem to think that they are the first students ever to face the challenge of completing the work, but this is far from the case. In a particular instructor's course, it is likely that hundreds or even thousands of students have gone before you and have successfully completed the required work. Those students were successful because they fit the course work into their busy schedules.

Do not assume that your instructor should make exceptions just for you.

If a course policy indicates that the instructor does not accept late work or does not allow in-class assignments to be made up, it's probably a mistake to assume that this policy applies to everyone in the class except you. Do not assume that an instructor is being "unfair" if he or she does not make special exceptions for you. Quite the opposite is true. A course policy is unfair if it applies only to some students but not to others. 

Turn off your cell phones while in class.

If you have a cell phone with you in class, make sure that it is turned off. If you forget to turn it off, and your cell phone rings while you are in class, turn your phone off immediately, and then apologize for the disruption. If you answer your cell phone while in class, bow your head in shame for such an act of rudeness and disrespect, and vow that you will never do it again. If you have even the slightest doubts about being able to resist answering your cell phone while in class in the future, throw your cell phone out the car window as you are driving home, and make sure that it hits the concrete. 

If you read and send text messages on your cell phone while in class, ask yourself if college is right for you.