By the time you finish this
guide, you should:
understand the purpose and structure
have begun to develop strategies
for succeeding in college.
Best: College Plan guides you through developing short-term and
long-term goals for yourself and includes a grid to help you plan your
August 17, 2001
In the early days of printing, typesetters had to be careful not to mix
up the blocks they used to print letters--particularly the p's and q's,
which look alike. We still say "Mind your p's and q's" when we want people
to mind their manners. Here are some college p's and q's that can
help you succeed in this class and others:
The purpose of a liberal-arts education--which is what you are pursuing
if you are majoring in history, chemistry, sociology, and most other areas--is
not to prepare for a specific job, but to build a broad base of knowledge
and skills so that you not only can succeed in a variety of jobs, but also
vote intelligently, raise a strong family, make effective financial decisions,
and generally understand, shape, and enjoy the world around you.
Many times over the course of your college career, you may think, "Why
am I learning this? I'm never going to use it." I know because I
thought those thoughts, too. Since graduating with degrees in English
and journalism, however, I have often drawn on what I learned about other
subjects in both college and high school. My understanding of criminology
and meteorology, for example, informs my opinions about political issues
such as the death penalty and the greenhouse effect. I am convinced
that my experience in math helps me write organized essays, and my knowledge
of geometry even helped me to design a coffee table. In fact, I wish
I remembered more of all that stuff I was never going to use. Keeping
the purpose of your education in mind can help you get the most out of
it. In particular, keep four broad areas in mind. First, professors
in general-education courses are not teaching you to become a historian,
a physicist, or a psychologist, but rather are exposing you to core
concepts and terms in their fields so that you can better understand,
discuss, and shape the world around you. Education is about more
than amassing knowledge, however. You also will hear your professors use
words such as "critical thinking" and "interpretation," words that refer
to the essential skills of combining, evaluating, and using information.
Knowing that the French Revolution began in 1789 may make you a hit in
parlor games or a winner on Jeopardy!, but otherwise this mere fact
is not very useful until you combine it with other facts, interpret it
in this context, and communicate your ideas effectively to others. Knowledge
of the French and American revolutions, for example, can help you understand
Western political structures, modern music and literature, even your own
outlook on the world. When you study, look for connections among ideas--even
ideas from different classes. If you really want to impress a professor,
apply something you learned in another class to his or her class.
Finally, a liberal-arts education provides enrichment. Because
the human mind thrives on stimulation, this brand of education can even
make you feel more alive by exposing you to art, music, poetry, and novels
that make you think in new, exciting ways. While I encourage you to look
for ways to apply your liberal-arts education to your life, I hope you
also will come to appreciate material that you will never "need" at all,
but that will enrich your life in indescribable ways.
Once you understand the purpose of education, you can begin to develop
a plan for yourself. Develop long-term goals, such as graduating
with a particular degree and raising a successful family. Then establish
short-term goals that will help you achieve the long-term ones. You
can find guidance in Be Your Best: College Plan.
Before you can succeed, you need to prepare. Indeed, preparation
is the single most important key to success, not only in this class, but
in college and in life. Begin by reading this syllabus. In
particular, pay especially close attention to the objectives listed in
the box at the left. Before the second class meeting, make sure that
you have purchased all of the supplies listed at the left. As the
semester progresses, you also should make a point of reading my unit lesson
plans, where I will post reading and writing assignments, as well as other
important information. Read any other assignments, as well, and take
notes on everything. Take advantage of the resources listed at the
left. Come to class ready to learn. Finally, review my study
guides at the end of each unit to make sure you have met the objectives
and learned the terms.
Once you are prepared to learn, you also need to show up for class.
In fact, according to departmental policy, you will fail this course if
you miss more than four classes for any reason. Furthermore, plan
to participate in class exercises and discussions. Research shows
that active participation dramatically increases the amount a person learns.
If you are shy, take some steps toward becoming more vocal. During
class, volunteer to report on group activities and try to make at least
one comment or ask one question during class.
Your mind is part of your body. It should come as no surprise, then,
that good physical health can improve your learning and your grades.
Studies have suggested that eating breakfast can improve test performance,
that protein can boost alertness, and that exercise can help a person think
effectively. I suggest drinking 8-10 glasses of water each day, avoiding
junk food and caffeine, exercising at least a half-hour each day, and maintaining
a consistent schedule of seven to nine hours of sleep every night.
To unwind, I prefer music to television, which tends to eat up time and
besides is generally inane and annoying.
Your grades depend primarily on your performance. Nevertheless, being
polite is good practice for life after college and can help you establish
a good rapport with your professors. Show up for class and conferences
on time and wait until class has ended before packing up your books.
Turn in assignments when they are due and avoid making excuses for absences
or poor work.
Nothing impresses a teacher or an employer more than work that shines not
only in content, but in form. Invest the time and energy into submitting
assignments of which you can be proud. For starters, read each assignment
carefully and try to provide exactly what the professor requests.
In addition to researching, writing, revising, and proofreading your work
carefully, follow instructions on format, such as use of correct bibliographic
When you need information or help, ask. For example, if you have
problems coming to class, keeping up with assignments, or using the computer,
use the information in the box at the left to get in touch with me immediately.
The following statement comes from Disability Support Services: "Any student
with a documented disability needing academic adjustments is requested
to speak directly to Disability Support Services and the instructor, as
early in the semester (preferably within the first class week) as possible.
All discussions will remain confidential. "
Goal-setting: Set a long-range goal for yourself. In your journal,
describe this goal, as well as at least four short-term goals that you
will pursue along the way. Make every goal specific and set specific, realistic
deadlines. Finally, identify at least two resources that will help you
attain your long-term goal.
Schedule: Keep track of how you spend your time for a day. At the
end of the day, make a schedule for the following day. Using the tips in
Chapter 7, set aside time for attending class, studying, and so on. Finally,
in a brief paragraph, assess your use of the schedule. Did it help you
use you time efficiently? Do you need to adjust it? How?