Surprising Things about College (Part I): In Class

Going from high school to college is weird, plain and simple. I remember how weird it felt starting my first day and the little things that I noticed that I now have become accustomed to and some that still are strange to me. This is part one of the "Surprising Things" that take place in the class setting.

1. Peers, the ages, and the educational experiences. Now my first year I knew I would be one of the youngest in the classes as I was attending as a senior in high school (I was a dually enrolled full time college student, high school student) at the age of 17, but I was really taken aback when one of my fellow students in my first ever, college course (English 111X) who, I thought looked about my age started talking about her husband and daughter. It was then that I realized two thing: 1- I gravely misunderstood the variance of ages, and no one had really mentioned it, and 2- I really am bad at trying to guess people's ages. That whole year it seemed like in all of my classes had people who seemed to be my age but were slightly older and married or engaged. This was when I got into the habit of looking at people's left ring finger upon meeting them. After my first class I went to my first auditorium class room (Psychology 101X) and while the vast majority of the people in the class were what you would consider "traditional college students" (18-24 years old) I was still shocked to see that some of my fellow classmates were older than the professor.
     When I thought of this prompt, "Surprising things..." I asked some of the fellow ambassadors what surprised them when they started college. Mikey mentioned one that I hadn't experienced until this very semester. He mentioned how some of the students in your classes are on a different academic level than you. For example in my Justice and Ethics class this semester, I knew that there were going to be older students just based on the requirements for the course (you had to have junior standing in order to be able to register for the class). But I was not prepared to be in class with someone who basically is a professor here at the university. It was bizarre and intimidating, how much more knowledge this woman had that I didn't and that we were still at the same level in that course.

2. Professors, do they really care? All throughout my high school experience, my teachers would tell me how hard and unforgiving college life would be. That I would be totally on my own and the professors wouldn't care if I passed or failed because they probably had hundreds, even thousands of students. This, I will tell you, has not been the case at all in my experience. I'm sure that some professors are very harsh and don't do a lot of bending on their assignments or grading, but I have yet to come in contact with any of them. In fact, most of my professors have been really quite flexible if something, some assignment, is going to be late or if I can't show up to class for whatever reason. The thing about professors is that they are people, they went to college and they remember how difficult it can because they see the struggle on their students faces and care. So yes, I would say that most of the time, your professors will care about you and want you to succeed. Some will even bend over backwards to help you out, you just have to be willing to reach out to them. Communicating with my professors is probably one of my biggest struggles as a college student, it has been difficult to admit to myself when I need help, and even more difficult to muster up the courage to admit it to my professors.
      One thing that is crucial to remember about your professors is that they can't read your mind, you will likely be seeing them for about three hours per week. That's not enough time for them to recognize if you are struggling. Reach out to your professors, because they're not some cruel, unforgiving gatekeeper to your academic success. Honestly, you will probably be more of the cruel, unforgiving gatekeeper to your academic success, so maybe give yourself a break every now and then. And if you really are struggling, reach out to your professors BEFORE the due date.

3. Attendance? I don't have to go to every class?!?!?! Now this one can be rather tricky, it is devastating to your grade if you're not careful. At the beginning of the semester, professors are required to make a syllabus available to their students with things like the plagiarism policy, cell phone policy, class schedule, expectation, contact information, office hours, and, of course, the attendance policy. Now this is something you should probably keep pretty handy because it is pretty flipping important. Most classes (that aren't online classes, obviously) require some form of attendance. Some offer one or two unexcused absences per semester for emergencies and what not on top of contacting your professor as soon as possible about an event that will cause you to miss class. Some won't have any clear cut number of days you can miss. This semester I had the strange experience of having a class where half of its students were online, our professor therefore made attendance optional which was pretty nice, since this semester has been so busy. In general, I would say, professors are fairly flexible and if you email them about and illness or emergency before the time of class, they typically won't count it against you. Participation points are also something to consider, most classes that I have been in have had some sort of grade based on participation/attendance in general with some being more weighted than others. But either way, you as the student have the freedom to choose not to go. Many morning class professors understand that their classes are too early some mornings and even anticipate sort of spotty attendance. Sometimes professors don't show up or cancel class last minutes because they are humans with emergencies and what not as well.
     I would say try to avoid missing class too much, though it can be tempting to know that you have that level of freedom, it's just typically better in the long run to try to be in most of your class. It is after all, what you are paying to be here for, might as well get some quality education by showing up. It is also pretty noteworthy that if you have to miss class try not to miss two or more days in a row, because then you can fall pretty far behind especially if you are not keeping in contact with your professor or teaching assistant.

4. Critical thinking, critical thinking, critical thinking... Get used to the phrase "critical thinking" because at least the first two years you will likely be hearing it from every. single. one. of your professors. Or, at least, that was my experience with it. It really surprised me how much this concept was stressed and I think it is an important one especially in college. It's good not to take things, concepts, lessons, events, or whatever else it may be at face value. Question things! Most professors love questions, nearly beg for questions, even leave a large chunk of class time devoted to questions. Use that if you have questions. Professors typically even invite you to challenge them. They like to know that you're engaged enough to ask a question. Now that's not to say that you have to come up with a question every time a professor or a teaching assistant asks "Are there any questions?" But if you do actually have a question, ask it! So, think critically and don't be afraid to challenge someone, even a professor, on the material in the class.

Thank you for reading, I know this one has been rather lengthy but I want to be sure that I am giving you as accurate of a description of the things that surprised me as possible. This is just part one of many "Surprising Things..." so be on the lookout for them! I hope you have an amazing day.

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