5 Things a College Professor Wishes Students Knew Before College

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“He failed out of college.”

This was the conversation starter when my husband came home from work one evening.

He was referring to the son of a co-worker who was in his first year of college at a local university.

I remember the excitement of this co-worker as she prepared her son for starting college that fall. My husband got to hear about all the ins and outs of the paperwork, the dorm room shopping, and all the parent activities.

I was stunned to hear about his epic failure. And my first question was, “Why?”

After all, I hoped that some of our children would one day attend a university and I wanted their experience to be successful.

I naively thought that this was an uncommon occurrence.

But now that my husband is a university professor, we have both learned that a large percentage of students fail a class (or more) throughout the college career. And some never complete degrees, even after attending a college for several years.

I sat down and asked my husband his perspective on why students are failing and what we can do to better prepare our children for the future.

He told me what the students were lacking by giving me his list of what he wishes they knew before attending college.

So, if you’re looking to prepare your children for college in the future, here are 5 things my husband wishes his students learned before arriving at the campus.

How to Use a Style Manual

No matter the degree, a student needs to learn to write and to write well.

My husband has been surprised at the number of students who cannot write a paper in the proper style (either MLA or APA). Very few students understand how to cite their sources and how to correctly format a paper.

How to Support Your Opinions

Students seem to approach their papers as if they are writing a blog article or an opinion piece. They throw out lots of interesting ideas but provide no references to cite their opinions.

My husband will ask them why they wrote specific ideas in their papers, and very few of them can provide a logical response. Their opinion is based on nothing other than how they feel at that moment or might be based on something they heard another student say.

The persuasive essay appears to be a lost art. 

How to Ask Good Questions

The statement my husband hears nearly every day is “I don’t understand this.” And when he probes further and tries to understand what “this” is, most students can’t clearly articulate what they don’t understand.

Students need to learn how to ask thoughtful and detailed questions. This enables a professor to see their thought process and better understand how to help them.

How to Internalize a Concept and Explain It to Others

It’s easy to sit in a classroom listening to a lecture and watching a professor work out formulas on a big screen. It’s much harder when back in a dorm room with a giant textbook and a blank piece of paper. In that moment, the student realizes just how much he or she does not understand a concept.

My husband utilizes the Socratic teaching method in many of his classes. He’s not afraid to put students on the spot and have them narrate back parts of his lecture or explain a mathematical formula to the rest of the class. Most students cannot do either.

He’s learned that many students sit passively in class and do not remain engaged, taking notes and working problems along with a professor. And when those students are in the library trying to complete assignments, they don’t even know where to begin.

His students haven’t learned how to wrestle with a topic, internalize it, and understand it enough to explain that concept to others.

How to Work Collaboratively

Many colleges require group work. My husband has group projects in several of his classes, not because he enjoys managing the personality clashes that his students face, but because the dean and chair of the school have specified that these projects must be included.

Group work. Project-based learning. Collaboration. These are big buzzwords in education. And most students will face group projects in college.

Students either rely on others to do the work for them, or they take the reins on the project and do the majority of it on their own so their grades don’t suffer.

Most students struggle to work together. They can’t share ideas, agree, or articulate their thoughts clearly enough to get unified ideas on paper.

  • If you have a child who hopes to attend college, make sure they understand how to format a paper.
  • Teach them how to write an essay that does more than throw out ideas and opinions – it follows a logical progression to persuade the reader and provides proof.
  • Help your student learn to think critically and ask deep questions to better understand topics.
  • Have your child narrate concepts back to you and ask them to explain lessons to you as you check for understanding.
  • Find ways to encourage your child to collaborate with others to learn how to express ideas, persuade others, and manage multiple personalities.

Students who can fulfill this wish list will have better success in college and in future careers.

And there’s one big piece of the wish list I left out – and it’s a big one. What’s the number one reason students fail in college? Be watching for the next post!

Find more homeschool tips and encouragement here:

How to Start Homeschooling

Help! I’m Homeschooling a Middle Schooler

Skipping Middle School in Your Homeschool

8th Grade Homeschool Curriculum

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