Spending time on college campuses helps me help college-bound kids. Since a high school kid should anticipate the kinds of things that will be important to them in college, I never get tired of the panels of students and panels of college professors I get to hear when I visit campuses. (In the past two years, I have encountered six faculty panels and six student panels.) Hearing these groups answer the questions of a bunch of guidance counselors helps us stay current with what’s happening in higher education, and what it takes to thrive after kids arrive on campus.
This week, I want to share some of the recent insights these panels have given me into college professors. College professors aren’t usually “like high school teachers but harder,” so helping your kid know what to expect can go a long way toward preparing them for college.
What College Professors Expect from Students
Faculty members are often asked, “What do you want our high school students to be able to do when they come to college?” Here are four of the answers I’ve heard most often. (Want more great questions you and your student can ask professors when you tour schools? Find them here.)
Students should expect to work hard in every class.
Professors mention that students new to college often think in terms of “what made them successful in high school.” No matter what those habits were, the norm may no longer be enough to succeed – even for students whose college is a great academic fit.
For instance, reading is a way of life in college. Reading assignments are the backbone of many courses, and most students will not be used to the amount of reading that is expected of them in college. Writing papers is also much more frequent than in high school. And multiple choice, bubble-in tests are, in some subjects, a thing of the past. Finally, students that have not had to study much outside of class in high school will usually find a much different situation in college.
College students must be resilient.
Teachers know that failure and stress are part of making progress. Some high school students don’t know this yet.
College faculty routinely see their students experience trouble when they come up against complex material, tough assignments, or a massive amount of work. Resilience is the attribute that causes students to bounce back, try again, and not give up. Professors know that this is a quality that is best developed in high school or earlier, not as a big college kid who is just now experiencing challenges. I even recently heard a college president say that if we don’t raise kids from an early age to be resilient, they are much more likely to experience depression in their college years.
(Read more about building resilience in this article.)
Collegians must understand the meaning of deadlines.
I hear professors say that some high school students come to them having seldom experienced an absolute – set in stone – deadline. College Prep Parents have probably noticed that deadlines seem to follow people throughout life… but coaches, teachers, and even well-meaning parents may not have required high school students to learn this lesson yet. Hopefully, your college-bound kid has learned some hard lessons about deadlines and due dates already, because they will certainly be expected to follow very real deadlines in college. Even if some encourage “ditching deadlines,” the hard truth is that the ability to follow deadlines is a make-or-break skill at most colleges.
Successful students can’t be addicted to media.
This bit of advice has come as a stern warning, rather than as a “suggestion for consideration.” College instructors and students alike have told me tragic tales of students failing classes, losing scholarships, and flunking out because they let video games, social media, or even television and movies take over their lives.
Obviously, when kids make the move to college and are “on their own,” a big upside is that they are forced to be more self-disciplined than they have ever been. This has always been one of the big opportunities in going off to school. But it seems that the ease of accessing entertainment and social connections these days is taking a heavy toll in college students. If our high school students aren’t learning to control the media in their lives now, it only gets worse in college.
A professor on a recent panel told of his attempt to encourage his students to self-regulate their social media habits. At the end of each class day, students turn in a card that says either “I did not check my phone or computer for any personal messages during this class” or a card that says “Today I checked electronic sources for personal messages.” Points are added to the daily grade if they refrained, and subtracted if they used personal media during class. He said it has been an eye-opening experience for his students.
What Students Get from College Professors
While it’s vital for college-bound kids to know what their professors will expect, it’s also good to realize how their professors will impact them. Here are five of the most common answers given by college student panelists when asked about their professors’ positive characteristics. It’s likely that your kid will find many of his or her professors exhibit several of these qualities. What’s more, these qualities may be worth looking for as your student narrows down their short list of schools!
Our college professors let us wrestle with hard questions.
Panels of students often praised their professors for teaching “how to think.” I have heard these students say that they expected they would be taught “what to think” rather than being allowed to wrestle with big questions for themselves. A few students have mentioned the anxiety they felt when they realized they had been raised to recite back what teachers wanted to hear, rather than thinking through subjects to reach conclusions (or more questions) on their own. The college professors routinely left questions “dangling, unanswered” to be hashed out by these nervous but appreciative students.
Our professors recognize effort but award production.
Student panels voiced appreciation for professors that were setting them up to be successful. Often expressed in terms like, “They didn’t let me get away with being just ‘good enough,'” these panel members spoke with thankfulness about classes that were tough but had taught them something. These students spoke about their teachers more as “guides” than “judges.”
Our professors think in terms of a lifetime, not a semester.
I have commonly heard appreciation for instructors that model preparing for a lifetime, not just a semester. Keeping the big picture of how this education fits into their vocation, worldview, or even their daily lives is a big encouragement to these students.
Invariably, the panelists that spoke of these lifetime applications were the ones who had interacted with what they were learning outside of the classroom. When they spoke of research projects, mission trips, field trips, or academic competitions, they were appreciative of the leadership of their teachers that impacted them well beyond class.
Our professors are kind.
Students frequently voiced their appreciation for kind professors. They spoke about professors checking in on them when they were sick, following up with them after class about questions they asked during class, and speaking to them on campus about more than just classwork. I have often heard from college kids about professors that had empathy for what they were going through as students, as young adults living away from home, and simply as people.
Our professors are approachable.
One of the top items on the “What do you like…” list was that professors were approachable. Examples include being able to discuss things after class, dropping by during posted office hours and finding the professor available, and receiving an email address or phone number that the professors encouraged them to use for questions about assignments. On one campus there is even a large study area adjacent to professors’ offices. The teachers regularly come around to see who needs help. But even if the options change campus to campus, professors often strive to be available to their students in the search for knowledge.