Top Tips for Success as a College Freshman (a.k.a. Read the Syllabus)

Today’s post is brought to you by Alan Montroso, one of our fantastic essay coaches!

Side Note: This was very much an unplanned coincidence, but this serves as a great example of a piece of writing that “shows voice,” as I discussed in my last post. You can really hear Alan in your head while you read his words. He’s a funny guy and a gifted writer, and that’s why our clients love him! Thank you, Alan!

Alan Northern Virginia College Essay Coach

As an instructor of undergraduate courses in literature, a teaching assistant in writing courses across various disciplines, and an adjunct professor of freshman writing, I want to offer some first-hand advice for students beginning their college journeys. Here are some tips from the front of the classroom, some things that your professors would like for you to know or keep in mind when you enroll in our courses.

It’s Probably on the Syllabus

Professors are required to design rich, complex, detailed syllabi that align with university policies and indicate classroom rules and regulations. We take great care in making these syllabi and trying to predict every possible question that might arise over the course of the semester; that is why we usually spend the entire first class discussing the syllabus. While it is possible that the course schedule might change due to unforeseen cancellations or the need to adjust based on student performance, policies and procedures WILL NOT CHANGE. The syllabus is like a contract with our students to ensure that they know how to succeed in our classes – and what could lead to their failure.

The syllabus is also a source of much information. Among your professor’s pet peeves, I guarantee, are questions from students that are plainly answered in the syllabus. “How many absences before I fail this class?” “See the syllabus.” “Am I allowed to use my cell phone in the classroom?” “See the syllabus.” “What texts are we required to purchase?” “SEE THE SYLLABUS.” Before you approach or email your professor with a logistical question, check your syllabus!!

Attendance Matters

One mistake that many of my freshman students make is assuming that attendance is simply not a big deal. You’re an adult now, right? Free to make your decisions about what to do with your time! Sure, but that does not mean your professors are unaware of your absences. How can we allow you to pass our classes if you are not present for them? Your professor will make very clear at the beginning of the semester how many classes you can miss before you are asked to withdrawal from the course or receive a failing grade, so take note and only miss class if you are ill. We will not exempt you from the policy if you suddenly take ill at the end of the semester but have already skipped a few classes early on.

Note as well that letters from your parents or doctors do not have the same weight as they did in high school. While we certainly want to know – and may excuse you based on circumstance – why you are absent, a dentist appointment or even a doctor’s visit due to a cold or flu does not likely mean that your absence is excused. Generally, only rare or severe situations will lead to an excused absence. Again, we do want to know where you are if you have to miss class, and we are more likely to pardon a student who has shown their commitment to our class by keeping us informed, but unless the circumstances are dire, we are not likely to excuse those absences.

Let Your Professor Know if You Are Struggling

Too often students are scared to let their professors know if they are having troubles with certain assignments. I have had many students simply choose not to submit assignments rather than let me know that they needed more time or did not know how to complete their work. While we expect that you can follow basic directions, we also understand that you are all coming from different schools in different parts of the country where you have been taught differently. Many professors – not all, but many – are willing to work with you by adjusting due dates as needed, scheduling office hours appointments, or finding other solutions to address your needs. However, we cannot help you if we don’t know that you need our assistance.

Moreover, we also understand that many students will encounter emotional and mental challenges as young adults. While we cannot make exceptions for a project due to a bad breakup, we TAKE VERY SERIOUSLY matters related to your emotional and mental health. We are not qualified to serve as counselors, but we will ALWAYS find a way to get you the help you need. NEVER hesitate to let us know if you are struggling in such a way.

Learning Outcomes versus Test Scores

Most professors that I know loathe tests as much as I do. We hate writing them. We hate assigning them. We hate grading them. What we want is to know that you have learned from the material we are teaching, rather than merely memorized what you thought would earn you an “A” on an exam. While we do often give tests, what we truly value is all the other evidence of your learning. Most of the learning outcomes described in our syllabi cannot be measured by exams alone. Participate actively in class. Take your writing assignments seriously. Produce a truly groundbreaking or creative project. Ask questions during guest lectures. Chat about our classes with us during office hours. We value these other proofs of your learning much more than your ability to ace an exam.

Alan S. Montroso will be receiving his PhD in English Literature from the George Washington University in May. His scholarship focuses on the relationship of humans and the environment in medieval literature. He has taught English Literature courses and served as a writing instructor at GW while working on his PhD, and is presently employed as an Adjunct Professor of English at Northern Virginia Community College.

Future clients interested in more tips to succeed during freshman year in college can book a Strategy Session here.

Current students interested in working with Alan on their college essays should contact Rebeccah at admin at dccollegecounseling dot com - Alan works mainly via skype during the academic year, so we don’t have him up on our online scheduling portal for in-office meetings.