Your student is warned many times in the course of the first semester by faculty, staff, friends, and loved ones: college is a big adjustment, and you’ll have to work harder. For many students though, it seems that this statement just doesn’t ring true academically until after the first test is graded, or the first batch of papers is returned. For some reason (perhaps the overzealous self-assurance of adolescents that they, clearly, know everything), each individual student believes that he or she will be exempt from effort beyond that which was expected in high school.
This mentality is often the result of Big Fish/Small Pond syndrome. Many students accepted to BU were exceptional high school students, so they see no reason that they shouldn’t continue to be so without much effort. What I’ve said to freshmen is this: “Hey, you got in to Bellarmine. We already know you’re smart. These classes are designed to be hard for the smart people.”
But still, so many students come to advisors and professors after the first test with statements that all boil down to this: “I’ve never had to work this hard.” On this note, I feel the need to quote Jimmy Dugan (the character played by Tom Hanks) in A League of Their Own: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
A colleague recently recounted the story of a student she spoke with who never studied in high school and was fairly successful. Before his first history test, he studied for an hour and a half. He’d been warned that college required study and hard work. Proud of his mature decision, he went to the test the next day presuming he’d do well. As I’m sure you’ve figured out, he didn’t.
What happened here? The student based his study time proportionally to his past experience, not the amount or depth of the material, nor the expectations articulated by the professor, nor the review session information detailing how the test might be presented.
Many students are plagued throughout the first semester by this mistaken belief that they’ve got it all figured out based on their past experience. They know how and what to study, as well as how to prioritize all their time. Around here, the old saying “pride goes before the fall,” becomes “pride goes before the fall break blowout about mid-term grades.”
So how do you deal with mid-term grade sticker shock? First, be assured that it’s OK for your student to feel like everything’s difficult. It’s a normal feeling, but it fades. Be supportive, encourage your student to try to determine what changes need to be made, and ask how they’ll be implemented. Also, encourage your student to talk to the veterans: upperclassmen. Upperclassmen—friends, RAs, classmates, teammates—can all empathize, as well as offer great advice about how to make it through.
So if your student calls with no complaints, struggles, academic fears, and says, “College is pretty easy,” what do you say? “It’s supposed to be hard.”
Jessica Hume, BU Class of 2005
Director of the Writing Center and Parent Communications