Often, professors and first-year students do not understand each other.
Both have been immersed for many years in something that looks like
The goals, expectations, and routines in these schools are, however,
quite different. This page provides a few examples. My assumptions page provides more.
RESPONSIBILITY ~ WORK LOAD
LEARNING ~ PROFESSORS ~ DIVERSITY
GRADING ~ LEARNING ~ WIKIPEDIA
The difference between college and high school is
best illustrated by the example of three students who receive the same
grade on an exam. They respond as follows:
Sally asks, "Are you going to curve
this? It was too hard."
Jane asks, "How did everybody else
do? What was the average?"
Mary asks, "What can I do to prepare
Take the poll
Which of these students is in college?
Almost 3,000 people have taken this poll; most
have gotten the right answer!
A typical course load in high school includes
more than 30 hours of classroom instruction, but 12 to 15 hours is
full load in college. The reason for this is that college courses
typically require two to three hours of preparation for each hour
spent in the
classroom. Students are expected to come to class having already
material, so that more information can be covered each semester than is
in a typical high school setting.
The vast majority of college students are adults
(i.e, over 18 years old),
almost all high school students are adolescents. This means that
students will have more competing responsibilities -- such as jobs and
-- than high school students. It also means, however, that college
are typically self motivated and more able to take responsibility for
Among the adults in college are some -- often
as "non-traditional" or "returning" -- students who are older than the
student who has recently completed high school. These students often
special challenges as they balance family and job responsibilities with
especially if they have not been in an academic environment for a
of years. In many cases, however, they make special contributions to
classes they take, as they model a strong commitment to learning while
insights they have gained from added life experience.
Although college is increasingly important for
long-term financial security, it is not compulsory in this country.
This means that all college students are enrolled voluntarily, and
should be motivated more
by their desire to learn than by the detailed requirements of the
Just as in high school, students who are most genuinely interested in
for its own sake will be most successful.
Often, those with a desire to learn are discouraged or even ridiculed
their family members. If this sounds too familiar, you will find
in Dear Abby's June
2004 column, especially the letter from Dr. Ballou.
Teacher or Professor?
College faculty are called "professors," not
"teachers." It is customary at Bridgewater to address professors as
"Professor Smith," for example. Many professors have earned doctoral degrees; they may be addressed
either as "Doctor Smith" or "Professor Smith" -- but
not "Mrs. Smith." The degrees will often follow the professor's
as in Mary Smith, Ph.D. or Jane Smith, Ed.D. The Ph.D. is a
of Philosophy, although it is awarded in many disciplines besides
The Ed.D. is the Doctor of Education, which is awarded in the
of Education. "Doc," by the way, is a term of endearment for some
and a minor annoyance for others.
Both teachers and professors undergo extensive
and evaluation before they are allowed into the classroom. Although
are relatively common, college faculty generally lack the credentials
teach in elementary and high school, just as K-12 teachers lack the
to teach in colleges. Just as the needs of the institutions differ, so
the kind of training required.
One difference, for example, is that although
teachers contribute to ongoing scholarship in their fields, for
professors this is an integral part of the job. This is why professors
do not spend as
many hours each week teaching as do high school teachers. Moreover,
professors do cooperate with each other, they enjoy a greater degree of
to decide their own curricula and grading systems.
Something that surprises a lot of people
coming from high school to college is that professors are sometimes not
as easy to find. Professors spend fewer hours in the classroom and more
hours doing research and serving on committees. These activities often
require them to be away from their offices, or even away from the
campus, for many hours or even entire days or weeks at a time.
Many professors I know (including myself) pride ourselves on having
open doors when we are in the office, so students can feel comfortable
dropping by, but we often must be away from the office. Sometimes a
professor will even be away from his or her e-mail account for hours or
days at a time, so communicating with professors requires a bit of
patience and planning ahead.
Multi-culturalism and diversity may have become
clichés, but they are an important part of the college
experience, and for many students
they represent a significant departure from high school. Variety is the
of life (please forgive another cliché), and variety both in and
of the classroom is a valuable part of the college experience.
General education programs are the foundation
any liberal arts program. The purpose of such a program, in my view, is
stimulate the intellect in a variety of ways, using the particular
of learning and expression of a variety of disciplines. If successful,
an experience not only broadens each student's exposure to the world of
but it also prepares the student for a variety of learning experiences
the future. It is the intellectual equivalent of athletic
cross-training. It is what distinguishes a liberal-arts program from a
vocational program. The dividends of such a learning program might not
be readily apparent to
the student until many years after the fact.
In addition to a stimulating curriculum,
college life offers many opportunities to meet people from different
backgrounds. For many people, college provides the first opportunity to
work closely with
people from another country or religious tradition. College is a time
have meaningful interaction -- often for the first time -- with
has strongly different political views or who is of a different sexual
Extra-curricular activities are not just
for fun. They are an important part of
college has to offer for all students.
In college, each professor is free to establish
his or her own grading policies. These are usually described in the
course syllabus, and students are expected to know the rules and to be
able to estimate their own grades. I learned recently that in some high
schools, students who do not do an assignment receive a grade of "F" on
it, but it is calculated as the equivalent of 50 percent. In college,
this is rare. Grades are based on work assigned, not work completed,
and a ZERO is a ZERO. If four items are assigned, and the student does
two of them, that student will probably fail the course, no matter how
high the grades on the completed work.
Over the past couple of decades, public schools
have increasingly come under the control of politicians who believe in
a focus on the rote learning of facts, rather than on learning how to
learn. The result has been an emphasis on standardized testing and the
accumulation of facts. Ironically, the more teaching is focused on
factual learning, the fewer facts students actually learn. The fewer
facts students learn, the greater the emphasis has been on test-driven
teaching. It is a vicious circle.
It makes college readiness difficult, because college focuses on the
learning process and critical thinking. High school students are often
focused on finding as many answers as quickly as possible, or on
memorizing facts without necessarily understanding how they are
connected to each other.
To overcome this, I encourage students to slow down, and to spend more
time listening, reading, and writing. When listening, ask questions.
After listening, try telling someone else what you heard. When reading,
think about what the reading is for, who wrote it, and why they did so.
Again, after reading something, try to explain it to someone else. When
writing, make a draft, let it rest, and then write it again. Show it to
a friend who is a good writer, or take it to your campus writing
center. If the professor writes comments on your work, read those
comments, and ask follow-up questions about them.
Some high school teachers (and a very small
number of college professors) actually encourage the use of Wikipedia.
Many consider this acceptable because the "facts" are very likely to be
correct, and facts are all that matter for some purposes. In higher
education, however, facts are not as important as ideas. Finding the
answer to a particular question is not as important as learning how to
go about finding that answer. Librarians are the real experts on these
processes, and every college student -- and professor -- should become
expert in the use of library materials. Some of these are in the
physical building -- everything in the library has been selected by an
information expert. An increasing number of librarian-selected
materials are online. Some of them are available only to each college
community through its library's web site (the Maxwell Library at BSC is
excellent). Some are more generally available, such as the Librarians Internet Index,
an excellent place to get valid information.
Return to my Not-the-13th-Grade page.
Any questions? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.