Ten Things Minority Students Can Do To Be Successful in College
Meet your professors before or after the first class. Believe it or not, professors like to get to know their students. Meeting a professor and establishing a professional relationship early can benefit you in the long run when you need advice on courses you should take or when you need a letter of recommendation.
Remember that you are not invisible. Minority students often feel transparent attending a predominately white institution. When you feel unnoticed, you are less likely to come to class early, unable to relax your posture when you get to class, and you are less likely to speak up during discussions. Professors remember students who frequently come to class late, slouch, fall asleep and act uninterested in class. Those two unconscious behaviors, coupled without class participation makes it look as if you don’t care and that you are taking your education and your professors for granted. I recommend coming to class early, have your books and notes open and ready to go when class starts, especially when you are a minority student. Colleges and universities are always asking professors for student recognition awards, grant and scholarship recommendations. Looking like you are a well prepared and serious student can go a long way in your college career.
Read the syllabus. Tedious and sometimes boring, many students just take a cursory glance at their syllabus. But reading a syllabus carefully will help you know and understand what the professor expects from students. Many times when students say something is unclear, they didn’t understand or miss an assignment, a good look at the syllabus would have solved the problem.
Remember what you did in high school may not be enough. College professors expect a lot from their students, and many minority students are not used to that. High school mainly focuses on providing you with basic skills and helping you understand general concepts. Think high school = lesson, read and repeat. College is all about putting things together, making connections and explaining what you think clearly. Think college = read, lecture, support your thoughts convincingly. College professors rarely grade you on how they feel about your opinion. They grade you on how well supported your ideas are.
Read the book BEFORE you come to class. College is too complicated to come to class and then read the book. College professors already expect you to be able to read and understand a textbook, and don’t want to spend as much time going over material that you should have read earlier. A good college will take the textbook and help you apply it in ways that you hadn’t thought about. If you don’t read the book before you come to class, the connections that your professor makes won’t make sense.
Spend at least 2 hours of homework for every hour in class. When I was in school, I used to think the ‘smart-kids’ were the ones that didn’t have to study. I thought that for many white students, good grades just came easily to them. One day I realized the so called ‘smart-students’ weren’t smarter than me, they were out studying me. Reading the book, going to class and spending an hour a week for every hour in class is what consistently gets you good grades in college. This study ratio, done consistently, prevents trying to write entire term papers the night before they are due, helps prevent all night study sessions and allows you to schedule time for fun. In short, good college students find success through hard work.
Hand an assignment in early or if you are unsure. The first paper you hand in to a professor needs to be the best it can be. Establish a professional ‘A’ student reputation at the beginning. Asking a professor to look over your paper before its due or to ask for feedback on your outline before you write just makes good sense. It establishes you as a student concerned about your grade and cuts down lots of work later on down the road.
Every student becomes challenged at least once in college. Think about it, that’s what college is for. In college, you’re supposed to work on and learn new things. Minority students often take professor comments personally. It is not uncommon for a minority student to feel, “Is it because he doesn’t understand me or my culture?” or “Did I get a bad grade because he doesn’t like me because what I look like or because of my culture?” I know many white professors who go to lectures by minority authors, writers and poets regularly and have professional relationships with them. “I went to school with so-and-so, or “Yeah, so-and-so was my first grad student.” And it’s almost impossible to tell a hip white instructor just on appearance. So what I am saying is that sometimes a professor is a professor because they are experts in their field and may have read more about the topic than what you might think. Look at your professors’ feedback and re-write your paper. Even if the professor won’t accept a re-write, (most professors do) re-writing the paper based on their comments can make a guideline for a paper you have to turn in to that professor in the future.
Join an organization. College challenges you to explore new experiences! The ability to adapt to change makes you a well-rounded individual. Being well-rounded will help you to connect to people easier and a better job candidate. It doesn’t have to be a sorority or a fraternity, joining any college organization can help you make crucial job contacts in the future.
Read the New York Times or Wall Street Journal at least once a week. Reading a good quality paper not only helps you to be well-rounded and aware, it helps you be a better student. How so? The more information you have the better. Including a recent and relevant quote from credible news source makes for stronger arguments in your papers. It also just plain makes you look smart.
These guidelines are all things my top students do in college. You can do them too. The key is to be proactive; the grade that you want is out there. You just have to go get it! More tips soon.
Theodore S. Ransaw Ph.D.
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