Navigating the Classroom and Professors

Classes have begun, and your students have been sorting through the syllabus for each of their classes, doing their homework and participating in class.  They are probably also realizing that college level work is different than high school level work.  The volume of work is much greater – maybe reading a whole English novel or lengthy chapters of science texts in the course of just a few days.  Your student may feel that in the first few weeks of college level math or chemistry, they’ve covered what took their high school teacher an entire year to teach.

It is common to be nervous about the pace of the work, the expectations of the professors, and whether one’s schedule is going to be well-suited to one’s strengths. The first couple of weeks can be an anxious time as students adjust to the “new normal.”  So, how do you help mentor your student as he/she begins to navigate the classroom and interact with professors?

Students studying in Tribble CourtyardOne of the best bits of advice you can offer your student is to take his/her academic temperature early and often.  “Do I understand the course material? Am I getting it? Am I keeping up in class?”  And if the answer to any of those questions is “no,” then the student needs to take control of the situation and get assistance.

class-tribbleAssistance can come in many forms.  The first step should always be to go to the professor’s office hours (regularly scheduled hours each week when the professor will be in his/her office to meet with students) to go over course material and ask deeper questions.  Students can also go to the Learning Assistance Center for tutoring or suggestions on how to study better, or go to specialty academic assistance offices such as  the Writing Center,  Math Center, or Chemistry Center.  It might also be worth talking to other students in the class to form a study group.  Students can also always consult their academic advisor and the Office for Academic Advising.  It is far better to seek help earlier rather than later and to get help before the issue becomes worse.

Sometimes first year students do not want to ask for help because they feel like they “ought to know” how to do well in their classes, and they are embarrassed that the professor might think less of them.  Most Wake students are accustomed to being shining stars in high school; perhaps they haven’t ever struggled academically.  Suddenly they’re in classes with peers who are just as good (or better) than they are.  This can rattle some students’ confidence. Should this happen to your Deac, you can remind him or her that 1) a high tide rises all boats – and being surrounded by very smart people will help up everyone’s game, and 2) the smartest students are those who ask for assistance when they need it.

A lot of the pressure and anxiety students feel about class are tied to what they think your expectations are (whether real or imagined).  Students tend to be terribly afraid of disappointing their parents with “bad” grades, and are their own toughest critics.  Help your students feel comfortable to discuss academics with you without fear of retribution.  It may be that your student is doing all he/she can – studying, getting extra help, visiting office hours for their professors – and the best he/she can do is still a C.  Let your student know that all you ask for is his or her very best effort, and that your love is unconditional.  The reality is that in college, very few students can be a star at everything.  It may help to share a story with your student about a subject you struggled in – or any struggle really, doesn’t have to be academic –  and let him/her know you still got through the tough time and SO WILL THEY.

teacher discussionIn terms of helping them be successful in interacting with professors, encourage your student to come to class prepared and ready to contribute to the course discussion or lab.  Every professor provides a syllabus, or class outline, that shows all course assignments, dates papers are due, daily reading or homework, and exam dates.  Students are responsible for following that syllabus and being prepared.

From the faculty I know, they seem to want students who are actively engaged in learning.  Students can – and should – bring their ideas to the table.  Each first year student will take  iscussion-based seminar classes – a First Year Seminar (FYS) and Writing 111 (unless they got AP/IB credit).  These are deliberately small, with around 18 people, and are heavily discussion based.  Students should feel free to speak up, ask questions, and voice their opinion.  Your student doesn’t have to agree with everything other students (or even the professor) say in these seminars – sometimes the best classes are ones where there are vastly differing opinions and ideas.  Those hearty discussions often prompt the most learning.

Professors also like to see students during their office hours.  Encourage your student to visit his/her professors and to get to know them as people, not just as faculty members.  Wonderful friendships can develop from the casual visit to office hours, where student and faculty member discuss and share ideas and discover mutual interests.

You can help the University by reinforcing to your student that it is important to be vigilant about plagiarism and to respect the Honor Code.  Professors deal in the world of ideas and theories – so to take someone else’s idea, theory, or quotation and use it as your own (without proper citation) is a very serious academic offense on any campus.  Remind your student that even though it might seem that doing some late night research on Google and borrowing a few paragraphs is no big deal, it is a very big deal and one must always cite one’s work.

As the semester continues, and students have received grades on tests or papers, they become more comfortable with the pace of college level work and what is expected of them.  For now, parents and families can help by listening and providing encouragement, reminding their student to do the best they can, to get any help they need, and be to be honest in all academic (and other) matters.



For more information on how to contact the Office of Family Engagement, please visit our contact page.

If Your Student Has a Problem

One of the most important ways parents and families can help their students in college is by encouraging them to solve their own problems. Please bookmark or print out this Stop, Drop, and Roll flyer so you have it when your student contacts you with a problem.  Also, the flyer lists contact information for urgent and serious concerns where family intervention might be appropriate.

Orientation 2016 Handouts and Slide Shows

Select information and presentations from Orientation 2016 are available online.