If you’re preparing for or just starting college, you’ve likely been reading lots of articles and blog posts about what to expect freshman year. I read a lot of those too. Many of them are insightful accounts of students’ transition to and experiences in college.
That said, there’s a lot of not great advice on the internet. (Shocking, I know.) Some of the advice for college freshmen means well. Some is just clickbait, never meant to be truly helpful in the first place. Either way, this bad advice can be harmful to students.
This post is about common beliefs I see fool students, especially freshmen, every year. The habits, behaviors and patterns you start during freshman year tend to become your norm. If those are based on faulty information and beliefs, you could run into real trouble down the road.
To start college on the right foot, here are five common college myths high school seniors and college freshmen should stop believing right now.
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College Myth #1: Syllabus Week
Until I started The Prudent Professor, I had never heard of syllabus week. I started seeing posts from college bloggers on topics like what to do during syllabus week. I thought, “What the what is syllabus week?”
I learned that “syllabus week” is the first week of the semester, when professors distribute syllabi in their classes. Students seem to think that’s the only important thing that happens during the first week. This could explain why one-third of my students skip class the day after I give out the syllabus.
Let’s bust this college myth right now: syllabus week does not exist. Your professor might spend the first class session going over the syllabus, in which case I guess you get a syllabus day. In my class, you usually get a syllabus 15 minutes, then I start lecturing.
Please don’t believe syllabus week is real and use it as an excuse to slack off during the first week of class. Since you probably don’t have any tests or big assignments due the first week, it may not seem like anything important is happening, but that’s not true.
What really happens during the first week
During the first week of class, your professors outline their ideological approach to the course topic. Professors also demonstrate their teaching style during the first few lectures. If you understand how to interpret both of those things, you get clues about what to expect the rest of the semester.
In addition, professors are forming initial impressions of their students. These impressions matter a lot. If you get pegged as a slacker or otherwise problem student during the first week, that’s a hard reputation to overcome.
Finally, you are (or should be) doing important stuff during the first week of class too. Hopefully you’re establishing good habits and routines that will carry you through the semester. Study during your planned study time, even if that means just reviewing the syllabus. Go to the gym during your gym time, instead of thinking you’ll start next week.
The truth is, the first week sets the tone for the entire semester, so you need to get off to a good start.
College Myth #2: Gen Ed Classes Are Easy
This is one of the more pervasive college myths. Many students think the first two years of college are high school 2.0. They aren’t, and please don’t learn that lesson the hard way.
Every year I see students who think introductory level classes don’t require real work. Even if you took biology in high school, you’ll still have to write all the lab reports, do all the assignments and take all the tests for your Biology 101 class. Being familiar with a subject doesn’t mean you won’t have to work to get a good grade in the class.
If you’re taking a class on a totally new topic, you’ll be surprised how much you have to learn. Gen ed classes are designed to give you an overview of an entire academic discipline. Your history class may cover hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Your English class may cover everything from Shakespeare to Sylvia Plath.
Because gen ed classes usually cover a lot of material, they move fast. In many gen ed classes, you’ll cover at least one textbook chapter a week, often more. Usually it’s the pace of the learning, rather than the course material, that causes students to struggle in gen ed classes.
Don’t believe the college myth that gen ed classes are easy. Lots of students end up with lousy first semester GPAs because they underestimate these courses.
College Myth #3: Gen Ed Classes Are Useless
This is one of the more annoying college myths. Just because a class doesn’t directly relate to your major doesn’t mean the class is useless.
Gen ed classes serve several purposes. Yes, gen ed classes are designed to give you a broad education and help you become an informed citizen. That’s the standard explanation for why gen ed courses are required. Those of us in the trenches, teaching gen ed classes year after year, seeing students soar or sink, know those classes serve other important purposes too.
The purpose of gen ed classes
Gen ed classes teach you how to think and act like a college student. College classes require different levels of independence, responsibility, planning and organization than were probably needed in your high school classes. The sooner you make the mental transition from high school to college, the better off you’ll be. Gen ed courses give you the opportunity to do that.
Gen ed courses also give you the practice you need to move into higher level classes. Gen ed courses generally have lots of reading, lots of writing, and lots of test taking. Going through gen ed boot camp prepares you for the deeper work you’ll do in advanced classes.
How to use gen ed effectively
To get the most out of your gen ed experience, you should have a plan. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, take the gen ed speech class. If you need to improve your writing skills, take gen ed courses that require a lot of writing.
There’s also nothing wrong with taking a class for fun. Learning should be fun. If you’ve always wondered if you’d be a good artist, take an art class for one of your gen ed requirements.
The more you frame gen ed classes as a way to explore your interests and expand your skills, the more you’ll understand that gen ed is one of the foundational experiences of college. Not every gen ed class will relate directly to your major, but that doesn’t mean you should fall for the college myth that gen ed classes are worthless.
College Myth #4: The Best Students Get the Best Grades
This is absolutely not true. It’s also not true that the students who get the best grades must be the best students. These college myths are a holdover from high school, where students are often judged mostly, if not solely, on their grades.
There are things in college that matter as much as your grades. Good college students get good grades, but good students possess many important qualities, including:
⦁ A strong work ethic
⦁ Intellectual curiosity
⦁ Maturity and professionalism
These intangible qualities help explain why some students who coast through their gen ed courses begin to struggle during junior year. They spent the first two years of college focused on getting good grades, not on learning and growing.
Professors know the difference between students who are grade-focused and students who are learning-focused. I’ll always recommend a student who clearly cares about learning over a student who doesn’t, even if the second student got a higher grade in my class. That’s because scholarship and internship committees care about intangible qualities just as much as they do about academic ability and knowledge.
Don’t over focus on your grades in college. They do matter, of course, but not as much as you might think.
College Myth #5: Only Dumb/Stupid Students Fail/Drop Out
This is also a persistent college myth that is untrue. Most schools lose 30-40% of their freshman class each year and it’s not because all those students are stupid.
I’ve been teaching college for more than twenty years. I’ve taught well over 2,000 students. I can count on one hand the number of students I’ve seen who were truly incapable of doing college level work. Stupidity isn’t the reason students fail or drop out of college.
Why do large numbers of students leave college during or after their first year? In my experience, there are five major reasons freshmen drop out of college.
Related post: Failing College? Here Are Your Options
Five common reasons students drop out of college
They aren’t ready for the freedom of college. I can identify these students right away. They’re the ones who often show up to class hungover, then stop showing up to class at all.
They lack purpose. These students don’t have a real interest in being at college. When I ask them why they’re in college, they say their parents made them go or they didn’t know what else to do after high school. They tend to fail out because they’re not invested in the process, so aren’t willing to do the work.
They have poor self-management skills. These students are smart, but they may struggle with time management, organization and other skills needed for college success. I can identify these students fairly quickly too. They show up for class completely unprepared and regularly ask to turn in assignments late.
They have mental health issues. Sometimes students come to campus with preexisting mental health issues, but many students begin to experience these for the first time in college. The transition from high school to college is stressful and can cause issues such as anxiety and depression to arise. I’ve seen cases where students’ mental health issues are serious enough that they need to leave school.
Unplanned pregnancy. This happens a lot more often than you think.
If you live in the college dorms freshman year, you’ll see the dropout effect. A good portion of the students in your residence hall won’t be there come spring semester. It’s unfortunate, because they’ve wasted the opportunity to get an education. But don’t believe the college myth that they all dropped out because they couldn’t academically hack it at college.
Here we’ve covered five common college myths. Sure, there are other myths too, like you automatically get a 4.0 for the semester if your roommate dies. But you never really believed that, did you?
The myths listed here are pervasive and believed by a lot of students. Buying into one or more of these college myths could derail your freshman year. So take the first week of the semester and your gen ed classes seriously and focus on learning and growing as a student and a person. If you do those things, you’ll be on the right track for the rest of your college career.
Until next time, best wishes and keep learning,