A colleague of mine passed on an E-MAIL she received from a homeschool graduate who is now in college. As is typical for homeschooled students, this young man did very well in his first year, receiving a grade point average (GPA) of 3.95 out of a possible 4.00. My first-year GPA was quite a bit lower than that! What I found really fascinating about the E-MAIL, however, was that he gave a list of 14 “tips” on how a person should approach college life. The tips are insightful and full of an enormous amount of wisdom.
For example, his first tip compared home education to college:
College is very similar to homeschooling, in that they expect you to put in a significant amount of effort and will not spoon-feed you material…
This is one of the many reasons homeschoolers are so successful at the college level. They have been forced to develop the ability to learn on their own.
Some of his other tips really pleased the former university professor in me. For example, he says:
Go to office hours ALL THE TIME! You learn a TON in office hours that isn’t taught in class.
I wholeheartedly agree. Even though I was one of the most approachable faculty members in my department, few students attended my office hours. Most of them probably would have received a better grade if they had.
Speaking of grades, read what he has to say about unfair grades:
Unfair grading will probably happen, and it’s up to you to be good enough on tests to compensate for the system.
When I taught at Ball State University, I used to get very annoyed with students who would regularly come in an argue for an extra point here or an extra point there. Now don’t get me wrong – if I graded a test incorrectly, I wanted to fix that. However, many students viewed their grade on a test as a starting point for a negotiation. As this young man correctly says, you will get some unfair grades from time to time. However, if you are good enough, they will not affect you any more than they affect anyone else.
I also found that he took my advice when it comes to AP tests. Obviously, he liked the results, because he says:
Even if you’ve taken all the AP courses, don’t jump straight to your sophomore year of college. There is no real advantage to getting out of college a year early, but there is a HUGE advantage to getting all A’s that first semester. It makes a HUGE impact on both your personal expectations and your self-esteem to have exceptional grades.
Actually, I am a bit less firm on this than the student. I say that if the AP course you took has no relation to your major, go ahead and test out of the course. Just don’t test out of any courses that relate to your major in any way.
All of the tips I have discussed so far are very good, but they are mostly utilitarian, giving you specific strategies for success. Several of his tips go beyond that. They actually impart a lot of wisdom. For example, he says:
There’s nothing special or different about the college experience, because it is what you make it. You can be there to party, hang out, and entertain yourself or you can be there to buckle down and get things done, just like you can in high school or the workforce.
In a similar vein, he says:
Remember: the only reason you are going to college is so you can
be evaluated compared to your peers. Don’t go to college to “find yourself,” to “have fun,” to enjoy the “college experience,” or to learn, although you probably will learn and have fun. There are much better ways to advance your personal knowledge of a career field than the go-to-class, study, and test system our educational process has in place. Go through college with the intent of being more disciplined than the competition, and you’ll be fine.
If you put these two quotes together, you get to something rather profound. College is, indeed, what you make of it, but quite frankly, there are better ways to learn, have fun, and “find yourself.” College is, in fact, more of an initiation ritual than anything else. If you want to be a part of the “club” (those with a degree), then you have to go through the initiation. If you make it through, you get to be in the club. How well you survive the initiation ritual determines your status within that club.
He also has two very wise tips regarding distractions. I can’t tell you how many times I saw a talented college student perform under his or her potential because of distractions. This wise student says:
Don’t buy a laptop, because you don’t need one, and it’s a HUGE distraction. A flashdrive and the campus computer labs should be all the computing resources you need.
That’s very true. Now that files are easily portable, there is no reason to have a time-sucking entertainment device at your fingertips. And speaking of time-sucking entertainment, he says:
If you find yourself having a hard time avoiding Facebook, give your password to a friend and have them lock the account until the semester is over. It may seem like a large sacrifice now, but four years later you’ll be glad you did.
This wasn’t a problem for students in the dark ages when I was teaching at the university level, but I can only imagine how many students are failing these days because they can’t stay off Facebook.
I also must include this very wise tip, which he considers the most important one:
Get an accountability partner who you can confess anything to. This doesn’t have to be a parent or sibling, just a strong Christian who will forgive you seventy times seven.
This is incredibly important advice for any Christian, even if you are going to a Christian college!
Now all of these utilitarian tips and all of this wisdom is wonderful, but now it’s time for a bit of shameless promotion. Here is his final tip:
Homeschool textbooks are designed with one goal: for the student to learn. Most college textbooks have other goals besides student learning, including political correctness, making them more “teacher friendly,” being pedagogically “inventive,” etc. This gets in the way of learning the material that really matters. I miss Dr. Wile’s clear, easy prose and excellent examples. Enjoy them while you can, and get through as many as you can while you’re still in high school. It’ll shed volumes of light on the obscurity you’ll find in college classrooms. It will also teach you that most concepts are phenomenally simple and easy to learn, made difficult only by the way they are taught.
I couldn’t agree more!