Skip to main content

Preparing New Students for the College Workload

For many students, the college workload comes as a surprise to them. The campus environment is very different from high school, and suddenly they are responsible for a much larger part of their success than ever before. This change can be overwhelming, and there are many steps we can take as instructors to help ease this transition so that our students can perform their best.

  1. Open the Lines of Communication from the Beginning

Be approachable, friendly, and open. For many students, high school was incredibly prescriptive – they were told when to meet with counselors, what they should study, and when they were in trouble academically. The responsibility of seeking out help can be new for many college students. Establish open lines of communication early in your class:

  • Talk about what office hours are and how to use them.
  • If your office hours are open, explain what that means.
  • If you suggest appointments, let them know how you prefer that to be done – a phone call, email, or perhaps an online scheduler such as TimeTap.
  • Establish your preferred email as well, whether that is through your campus email or learning management system.

Taking steps at the beginning to make your students comfortable talking to you will make them more likely to ask for help when they need it.

  1. Set Expectation

No matter if you have a student straight from high school or a non-traditional student who has years of work experience, college can seem daunting. For nearly everyone, college classes represent a new system and typically challenging work. Demystify your course and establish for students what the expectations will be:

  • Have a discussion about how your grading system works

Consider incorporating a quiz or in-class activity at the beginning of the semester where your students calculate the grade of hypothetical students. This activity will help them get a feel for how doing well or poorly on various assignments can affect their course grade.

  • Tell them what should be done before class meets.

This may be a reading assignment or a video to watch but be sure they know. Their experience may have only included homework assignments or papers due after a lecture, and they may not be aware that preparing for class is something that needs to be done.

  • Talk about out how much time they should spend on average per week studying and preparing for your course.

Many students are in “high school” mode, where showing up can often be enough to pass and aren’t aware that that won’t suffice for a college-level course. The classic suggestion is three or so hours out of class for every hour in class, but you can adjust that suggestion to fit your expectations.

  • Be clear about your policies on late work and make-up work.

Often new students who are coming immediately from the high school environment are used to a more forgiving attitude around late or missed assignments. Explain the consequences of missed assignments or the policies around late work. If you incorporate the grade calculation quiz, it may be worthwhile having one “student” in the assignment miss an important paper or test.

  1. Help Them Make a Schedule

Time management is key for a successful term, and many new students need help figuring out how to balance their newfound freedom with all of their classes, extra-curricular activities, jobs, friends, and family life. One way I have found to help students be more successful is to have them fill out a weekly calendar with all of their regularly occurring responsibilities.

Once they have a good grasp on their weekly schedule, I urge them to use a calendar to keep track of all assignment deadlines and meetings. For many, a calendar app such as Google Calendar works perfectly, letting them set reminders and even color-coding by class. Others may prefer a paper planner and its flexibility. Whatever way they choose, encourage its use throughout the semester. Small changes like saying “If you will all check your planner, you’ll note that our test is next week” rather than “Don’t forget you have a test next week” puts that resource back in their minds and normalizes its use as a standard part of being a student.

  1. Advertise Your Campus Resources

Students are often unaware of the campus resources available to them. Point out some of the critical ones:

  • Tutoring centers are a resource that many students are hesitant to use. Reinforce the mindset that tutoring is a way to get ahead, not a punishment for being behind. Encourage your students to start off the semester using the lab, perhaps even taking a class field trip to check it out.
  • Let them know that the library is much more than just a collection of books. The librarians are there to assist in research, be it in the in-house collections or through online subscriptions. Many libraries also house student success centers that help with tutoring needs or study skills.
  • Point out the locations of counseling and health services center. Transitioning to college is not easy and letting them know that it is okay to talk to someone about their worries and anxieties can do wonders for their stress levels.
  • College advisors are great resources to help students plan for the future or tackle problems they’re experiencing in this term. Emphasize to students that additional appointments with their college advisors, particularly when trying to plan for the future, are a good thing.

College can be a new and often overwhelming environment for students, particularly those straight out of high school. Suddenly many of these young students are responsible for their lives and future in ways they’ve never experienced before. Any steps or help instructors make in easing them into college life can go a long way in helping them acclimate quickly and successfully to their new responsibilities.

About the Author

Abby Noble is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Middle Georgia State University. There she teaches a variety of courses, from core classes to senior-level and everything in between. She enjoys outreach as much as teaching, especially organizing and volunteering at many annual events aimed at K-12 students in the community, including the Academic Bowl, Math Olympics, and Math Puzzle Party. In her spare time, she enjoys playing with her two children, hanging out with her book club, moonlighting as an amateur artist, and cheering on her beloved Atlanta Braves.