Budget Student's Guide to Academics

College Academics

By Toni Martello

Depending on your educational history, you may or may not feel that you are as academically prepared for college work as your peers. Some people come into college having been trained by top-notch private or magnet schools and are instantly ready to take on upper-division college courses. Others find that their high school education left them lagging behind their peers. If you fall into the latter category, you may feel that you need a little extra help to catch up.

Letting yourself fall further behind will only increase the pressure and stress you’ll experience in college, so I strongly encourage you to seek help if you need it. At many schools, departments have upper-level course assistants or tutors who are available to work with you free of charge. They are there to help you, so use them! Lots of people do, and you might be surprised at how devoted these students can be to helping you improve.

Colleges usually offer a plethora of additional free resources to help students make sure they’re up to snuff academically. Writing centers are a great place to get help with papers and learn basic writing techniques. They will also help you edit your papers before you turn them in to your professors. Many departments have free tutoring centers as well, so check with your professors to find out how to take advantage of those. If your department doesn’t offer these resources, speak to a professor or the head of the department to see if they’d be willing to start one. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask your classmates for help. Meeting in study groups with your peers can be far less intimidating than visiting professors or department staff, and you might be surprised at how much you can learn by working out problems with friends in an informal discussion.

It’s also important to remember that, much like students, professors come from a variety of backgrounds. While some may come from privilege, others have a history similar to your own and may have been in the same position themselves when they were in college. On the other hand, some professors may assume that all their students have equivalent, strong foundations in the subject matter being presented. They are often used to dealing with students who have taken many advanced courses in high school. More than once, I have had a professor assume that everyone in his introductory class had already taken the AP correlate in high school and structured the course accordingly. Unfortunately, if you have not taken the AP course, or if an advanced curriculum was not available to you in high school, you start out at a disadvantage. Again, chances are you’re not the only one who feels this way.

The first thing you should do is talk to the professor, who will be best suited to direct you to the appropriate resources and may even be willing to explain things more fully in class or suggest background reading that can bring you up to speed. Professors hold office hours specifically to give students an opportunity to meet with them, and showing a professor that you’re invested in their class can often reflect positively on your grade. In the rare instance that your professor is unwilling to help, try another professor in the department. Although people do not always realize it, all students are welcome to approach any professor during their office hours.

Along with assuming prior knowledge, not all professors are primed to recognize that some students may need to work extensively outside of school to support themselves through college. Although professors are accustomed to students being involved in extracurricular organizations and sports, employment is not always something they consider. You should make every effort to prioritize schoolwork, but be forthright with your professors about those inevitable scheduling conflicts. Obviously, some professors will be more accommodating than others, but most will work with you to find the best solution to your situation. If you really need one, don’t be afraid to ask for an extension. To some, this may be an obvious option, but I didn’t realize until my junior year that it was commonplace for professors to grant extensions on assignments if there were extenuating circumstances. Worst-case scenario, they say “no” and you are no worse off than before.

No matter what, if you feel as if you’ve fallen behind, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Make the most of your resources, and above all, be confident — you’ve made it this far, so you can catch up and stay on top if you put in the effort.


Photo courtesy of Phing.