How to be a Successful College Student: Recommendations and Suggestions

Today I introduce a new series of posts here on RFdc…

How to be a Successful College Student

These quick little entries will be, hopefully, as humorous as they are serious. They’re not really listed in any kind of order. I just jot things down as they occur to me and save them for later. Some will be general, seemingly common-sense type advice. Some will be devoted entirely to a Literature or Composition course. Most will have something to do with writing and be aimed primarily at college freshmen. But all of them – yes, I said all of them – will be honest nuggets of information whose sole intent is to make the academic side of your college life less frustrating, even if they are a bit tongue-in-cheek.

So, without further delay, I give you the premier entry in “How to be a Successful College Student”:

Suggestions and Recommendations

We teachers are a sneaky lot. We’ll do damn near anything to get you to do the work. Not because we’re mean and we hate you, but because we believe that, if you actually do it, you’ll… you know… learn stuff. We turn lessons into games, and then games into serious discussions. We joke around and let you think you’ve derailed those discussions, but most of the time you haven’t. Most of the time we know exactly what you’ll say, because last semester’s class said it, and the semester before that, and so on. Sometimes we even drop “requirements” and instead make “recommendations.” We know it’s a bit of wishful thinking. We know that 60% of you didn’t hear a damn thing after “I highly recommend…”

But here’s an important tip for you… we are watching you. Always. If we “recommend” you read a chapter of the text even though it’s not assigned for homework, be sure that we already know how to tell who read it. And for Pete’s sake, if an essay is assigned with a “recommended” length of five pages, write at least a five page essay! This should be common sense, but for some reason it’s not. You’re not in high school any more. Don’t turn in a five paragraph essay thinking it will be “enough.” Personally, I wish they’d do away with that crap and start focusing on grammar instead. It’ll serve you better in the long run than the formulaic five paragraph trash they made you write for four years, and I won’t have to waste  my time “unteaching” it. If you want to get anything better than a B, you’ll turn in, at bare minimum, every single “recommended” page of that essay.

And, since we’ve established that this isn’t high school any more, five pages means five full pages. Not 4.5 pages, not four pages and three lines on the fifth. Five. In my classes, 4.5 pages is a four page essay. This is especially true in Freshman Composition, because, let’s face it, your conclusion sucks. Chances are, your intro sucks too. But that’s ok. Don’t feel bad. You’re a freshman. Your conclusion is supposed to suck. That’s one of the reasons they pay me to teach you. If it didn’t suck, I’d be unemployed. So, really… thank you for sucking. I appreciate it.

But the thing is… I don’t want you to suck. I want you to be brilliant. I want you to be the next Hemingway or Didion. So if I “suggest” that it takes five pages to write a meaningful, well-thought out, critical comparison of… oh I don’t know… LOLCats and “Dogs Playing Poker”… and you turn in four pages and three lines (including a three sentence conclusion)… well, unlike me, you’re not being sneaky. You’re being an idiot.

My “suggestion” or “recommendation” lets me know exactly who is ready and willing to learn, and who, on the other hand, is looking to skate by doing the least amount of work possible. It lets me know who is taking the work seriously, and who, in turn, I should take seriously. College is tough – tougher than high school ever was. I get that. I remember. I want to make it as easy as I can for you, but I won’t just give you anything. You have to earn it. And earning it starts with taking the work seriously, and taking your teachers seriously. If you keep looking for the easy way out, you’ll find the easiest way out of all.

2 thoughts on “How to be a Successful College Student: Recommendations and Suggestions

  1. I’m surprised, yet not surprised, at the success my child has had in her first semester of college. While I know that it does, indeed, get harder as she will go along, right now she’s maintaining an A in all of her classes. I’m *EXTREMELY* proud of her hard work. She’s doing all this while working a ton of hours, and leaving every morning for class, at 5:45 in the morning.

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