The opening of another academic year at our nation’s colleges and universities is here, and close to 150,000 Texans will join collegiate ranks for the first time.
With that context, the 24 fellows of the University of Texas System Academy of Distinguished Teachers met to talk about how to help students succeed in college. We are professors in fields that range from chemistry and engineering, to music and English. We teach large and small classes. We teach in the classroom and online. And we hail from all eight of the UT System’s universities, from Austin to Tyler to the Permian Basin. Here is our best advice.
First, don’t be shy. Make friends and interact with fellow students in each of your classes. Find a group of like-minded peers who are studying the same things you are studying and interact with them outside of class.
Second, keep healthy. Be careful about what you eat and drink. Try to get rest and exercise regularly. Find an activity you enjoy to relieve stress, whether it’s running, swimming, tennis or dancing.
Third, get to know your professors. During the first week of class, visit your teachers during their office hours, introduce yourself, tell them about your hopes and plans, and ask some questions. Make a connection and show them that you are taking college and your course work seriously. They will like this and it will differentiate you. Once classes are underway, cultivate a habit of talking with your professors before, during and after class.
What about your course work? Be prepared for the work to be hard. Try to recognize that you will need to learn how to learn in ways that are different from how you did in high school. Accept the fact that you won’t be good at every challenge college presents you, but trust that you can get better if you will work at it.
As for classroom success, if you develop these habits during your first year, they will serve you all through college and beyond:
• Buy the course materials. Your professor will use them. If you have the choice between reading an assignment online or on your phone and in a book, choose the book.
• Go to class, even if you didn’t do the homework, and even if you don’t feel like it.
• Participate actively in class. Take notes and ask questions. Professors love questions, and do the group work, or whatever your professors assign. They know what will help you succeed and are there to help you do just that.
• Study early and often. Many high school students know how to “do their homework” but haven’t learned how to study the way their professors will expect. “Study” means read carefully, take notes, think critically about what you have read, talk with others about it, and review or even reread the assignment. Don’t wait until the night before the exam to get started. Trust us; in college, cramming rarely works.
• Turn in your assignments on time. But, if for some reason you are going to be late, talk to your professor before the due date and make arrangements to turn your work in as soon as possible.
• Form study groups with other students in your classes. You will learn a lot from each other and make new friends.
The bottom line is: Be responsible when it comes to your college experience. Take teachers, not classes. You will learn from and be inspired by the people — the professors and your student peers — more than the material. Challenge yourself with classes that expand your intellectual boundaries. When you graduate, you will enter a constantly changing workplace, so you must learn to be flexible and to develop a broad range of intellectual tools. Life’s opportunities will take you well beyond the focus of your college major.
Finally, have fun — you are about to embark on the time of your life.
Michael E. Webber is a professor of mechanical engineering at The University of Texas at Austin. Catherine E. Ross is an associate professor of English at The University of Texas at Tyler. They are both fellows of the University of Texas System Academy of Distinguished Teachers.
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