Entering an academic environment is an exciting time. For students from all walks of life, making a smooth transition into the academic world requires discipline, awareness, and a willingness to learn and grow. Individual instructors often provide the specific structure for success within their areas of discipline, while academic advisors often provide general guidelines for how to succeed academically.
However, many non-traditional and ESL students face unique challenges of entering or re-entering the academic world. The inherent challenges of attending a community college or university include handling academic pressure, acquiring time management skills, and becoming an independent learner. These challenges are often magnified by ESL or non-traditional students who may also need to master a foreign language, immerse into a new culture, and create a balance between working full-time, raising children, and other life obstacles. Mastering reading comprehension, basic writing skills, and the ability to effectively evaluate sources are necessary skills for academic success.
The good news is that success is not only possible, it is likely for those who are willing to become dedicated students.
All new college students should be aware of the common expectations for college-level English classes:
The Opportunity to Take Initiative
One of the aspects that differentiates the college experience from high school or other academic environments is the tremendous amount of student freedom. Each student is solely responsible for the majority of behaviors that naturally lead to academic success. Instructors/professors will eagerly present their material and assist in whatever way they can, yet the responsibility to take initiative is on you alone as the student. Choosing to attend class, be organized, complete assignments on time, and to ask clarifying questions is your responsibility. Instructors expect that all students will do so by asking questions, visiting during office hours for additional assistance, and being proactive.
Depending upon the specific course, many instructors will expect that students are able to work independently. For all parts of the writing process – from developing thesis statements to revising – instructors expect that you are willing and capable of owning your writing process. Part of becoming a better writer is simply writing more often and with greater awareness of the areas in which you need more support, be it organizing your thoughts or revising for punctuation and/or grammar errors. Be confident in your ability to work independently and hone your writing skills. This will result in academic success.
Although most writing classes requires dedicated time and energy to actual writing – typically an independent project – it is equally important to be prepared for group work. Unlike literature or math classes, group work in composition courses often entails sharing your writing and revising in pairs or small groups. In groups, you are able to provide feedback on your peer’s writing as well as receive valuable constructive criticism on your own work. Although it can feel frightening at first to share your writing, doing so is an integral part of many writing courses.
A Different Way of Communicating
Some instructors may integrate time into lectures/classes to address questions, particularly questions that pertain to essays, materials recently covered, or homework. However, most instructors expect that students read and understand the syllabus and are prepared to communicate as an adult. Typically instructors communicate and post weekly office hours, welcoming students to attend and address any lingering course questions. In addition to expecting those students who need extra help to attend office hours, instructors also welcome email inquiries. Most instructors will clearly communicate their preferred method for communication, office hour policies, and any additional information that pertains to their teaching styles.
In many ways, students are likened to “academic professionals” and are expected to approach their coursework similar to a professional job – with clear communication, confidence, and eagerness to learn and grow.