Colleges can seem to be like large cities, especially if you went to a small high school or grew up in a small town. To feel comfortable in the college environment, it is important for you to find places where you feel that you belong, but it will take some initiative on your part. We know that you have a lot going on, but the time you invest to make this happen now is time well spent.

How Is College Different?

If you just graduated from high school, were home-schooled, or completed your GED, you will soon find that college is different. For instance, in college you are probably part of a more diverse student body, not just in terms of race but also in terms of age, religion, political opinions, marital and family status, and life experiences. You have more potential friends; they may or may not be from your neighborhood, place of worship, or high school.

Also, you can choose from many more types of courses, but managing your time is sure to be more difficult because your classes will meet on different days and times. In high school, you may have had frequent tests and quizzes, but tests in college are sometimes given only twice or three times a term. You will probably be required to do more writing in college than in high school, and you will be encouraged to do original research and examine different points of view on a topic. You will be expected to study outside of class, prepare assignments, read different materials, and be ready for in-class discussions.

Don’t Be a Lone Ranger You can develop learning relationships with other students in a study group, club or organization related to your major, or even in student activities. It’s not wise to be a “lone ranger” as you approach studying; you will learn more deeply by studying with other students. You will also develop friendships that will last through your college experience.
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Your instructors might rely far less on textbooks and far more on lectures than your high school teachers did. They also might allow you more freedom and even push you to express views that are different from theirs. You may also have opportunities to apply some of your personal and work experience to what you are learning and to what is being presented and discussed in class.

Challenges for Online Learners. If you are taking courses online, your experience is going to be significantly different from students who attend classes at your college. Online courses require students to be more disciplined and able to manage their time and study more independently. Without in-person class meetings, you might find it more challenging to make connections with other students, so you might need to make an extra effort to do so. However, your online course will surely provide you with electronic means to “chat” with other students and the instructor. To increase your engagement in such a course, you do need to use such means to communicate, especially with other students. If your online course incorporates a few class meetings, it may provide more structure and allow students and instructors to meet periodically. Also remember that through social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter many students do not need to be physically on campus to be involved in college life.

Issues for Returning Students. If you are a returning studentsomeone who is not a recent high school graduate and may have a job, a family, and who is “returning” to formal education after being out of the educational system for some period of timeyou will find that college presents both opportunities and challenges. While college can be an opportunity for a new beginning, working full-time and attending college at night, on weekends, or both can mean extra stress, especially with a family at home.

Returning students often experience a lack of freedom because of many important competing responsibilities. You might have a difficult daily commute, or you might have to arrange and pay for child care. You might have to manage work and school responsibilities and still find time for family and other duties. You may also need to let your family know that attending college means that you have to spend time studying and that you may ask them for help or need their support more than ever. You also might find it difficult to relate to younger students whose interests may be different from yours.

In spite of your concerns, you should know that many college instructors value working with returning students because their life experiences have shown them the importance of an education. Your instructors will enjoy interacting with you because they believe you will be motivated, mature, and focused and have a broad range of experiences that will give you a unique and rich point of view about what you’re learning in your classes.

Building Relationships with Your Instructors

One of the most important types of relationships you can develop in college is with your instructors. Frequent, high-quality interactions with your instructors can have a positive effect on how well you do academically. Your relationships with your college instructors are going to be very different from your relationships with your high school teachers. College students are expected to be more independent and seek the advice and assistance of their instructors; in other words, you should attempt to make connections with your college instructors and get to know them.


Knowing and Meeting Expectations. While instructors’ expectations might be different from course to course, most instructors expect their students to attend class, arrive on time, do assigned work, listen and participate, and not give up when they have to learn difficult material. If you repeatedly arrive late or leave early, you are breaking the basic rules of etiquette and politeness, and you are intentionally or unintentionally showing a lack of respect for your instructors and your classmates.

Instructors also expect honesty and openness. Many instructors invite you to express your feelings about the course through one-minute papers or other forms of class assessment. In addition, college instructors expect you to be motivated to do your best.

The instructor-student relationship should be based on mutual respect and reasonable expectations. In college, it is your responsibility to meet the expectations of your instructors. In return, you should expect your instructors to be organized and prepared, to be knowledgeable about the subjects they are teaching, to provide comments on your papers and exams, and to grade your work fairly. You should be able to approach your instructors when you need academic help or if you have a personal problem that may make studying difficult.

To get a clear sense of the expectations of each of your instructors, pay close attention to the syllabus for each course (see Table 1.2). Make sure you review each syllabus carefully at the beginning of the term, refer to it through the term, and keep it in your course notebook with other course materials.

The Syllabus
What is a syllabus? A syllabus is a statement of the requirements of a given course and also a contract between the students and the instructor that the college must honor.
What is on a syllabus? A syllabus includes basic information about the course, the instructor’s office hours and contact information, expectations, and grading criteria for assignments, tests, papers, exams, or presentations. The syllabus will also include the attendance policy, a week-by-week plan for the course, and assignments, exams, papers, and projects and their due dates.
When do I get the syllabus? Generally, instructors provide the syllabus to their students during the first class session and/or place it online.
How are grades calculated? Letter grades (A, B, C, D, F) are calculated in different ways. Often A = 95–100, A– = 90–94, B = 85−89, B− = 80−84, and so on.
What is a GPA? The grades you earn will build your grade point average (GPA). Your GPA is the average of points you receive based on your grades for each course. Generally, college GPAs range from 0 (F) to 4.0 (A or A+). This is referred to as a “4-point scale.”
What are the other grade options? “W” for “withdraw”: requested by students who need to drop the course before the end of the term. This grade is typically used for students who have to leave the course because of emergencies or difficulties.

“I” for “incomplete”: given to students who may need additional time to complete the course because of an emergency.

“P” for “pass” or “F” for fail: given in certain courses instead of letter grades.

Table 1.2: Table 1.2 > The Syllabus and Grades


Exchanging Ideas Most college instructors love to exchange ideas. Many successful college graduates can name a particular instructor who made a positive difference in their lives and influenced their academic and career paths. Develop meaningful relationships with your instructors. It could change your life for the better.
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Making the Most of Learning Relationships. You can visit your instructors anytime during the term, either face-to-face or online, to ask questions, seek help with a difficult topic or assignment, or discuss a problem. Some of your instructors will have private offices and keep regular office hours, the posted hours when they are in their offices and available to students. It’s up to you to take the initiative to visit your instructors during their office hours or at whatever times and locations they determine, but it is their job to be available to assist students like you. Check with your instructors to find out if you need to make an appointment before going to their offices. Visiting an instructor may seem a little scary to some students, but most instructors welcome the opportunity to get to know them.

The relationships you develop with instructors can be valuable to you both now and in the futureyou might find that one or more of them become lifelong mentors and friends. Instructors who know you well can also write that all-important letter of recommendation when you are applying for transfer or for a job after college. It is often these recommendations that make the ultimate difference in whether a student is accepted or rejected when applying for a new position. Many successful college graduates can name a particular instructor who made a positive difference in their lives and influenced their academic and career paths.


Instructors who teach part-time at your college might be called part-time instructors or adjuncts, and they may not have assigned offices. While adjuncts are not usually required to hold office hours, they often make themselves available to meet with their students before or after class or by appointment.

If you ever have a problem with an instructor, ask for a meeting to discuss your problem and see if you can work things out. If the instructor refuses, go to a person in a higher position in the department or college. If the problem is a grade, keep in mind that your instructor has the right to assign you grades based on your performance, and no one can force him or her to change those grades. However, you can always speak with your instructor about your grade, find out what mistakes you made, and see how you can improve your grade in the future. In addition, all colleges allow students to challenge a grade that they believe is incorrect through a formal “appeal” or “petition.” Most important, don’t let a bad experience change your feelings about college. Each instructor will probably be out of your life by the end of the term, so if there are problems, just do your best, focus on your studies, and get through the course.