What I Wish I Could Tell My Past (Student) Self When First Attending SLCC
Before we dive in, I’d like to take a moment to introduce myself and this piece. In this chapter of my life, I teach English/Writing with the Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) Department of English, Linguistics & Writing Studies.(You may even be one of my students!) I recently graduated with my degree and let go of my “student” identity after being a student on-and-off for the past eight years.
The scary and stressful moments comprising my student experience have yet to leave my memory, so as an instructor, I like to reserve one of the first class sessions every semester to talk shop with my students. I’d like to do the same here. I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned throughout my eight years of being a student, which I wish I would have known when first attending college. Stay with me. I realize how hectic life can be as a student and how valuable your time is, so I don’t want to waste your time here. All of the information listed down below I believe to be beneficial for students to know. I’ll even explain why and how I learned some of these things as a student myself. I think, sometimes, the college could do a better job at being transparent with students about some of this information, so I try to pull back the curtain a bit when appropriate.
(I will be situating this information in the context of Salt Lake Community College, but if you plan to attend or are currently attending a different institution, some of these points may still apply.)
Registration is a daunting and messy process. There are so many variables to take into consideration while working through the catalog and registration portal to create a schedule and enroll in courses (including but not limited to: semester, general education requirement qualifiers, course designation, level, course time and day of the week, course medium, instructor, and fees). Generally speaking, orientations aim to explain many of these things, but if you were anything like me, the value of orientation was never really emphasized so you probably tuned out (or were so preoccupied thinking about how to restructure the budget that month because you had to take the day off work to attend orientation). I’d like to briefly go over a few points of registration that are incredibly important.
Courses are generally categorized by subject. For example, I teach ENGL 2010; ENGL stands for English. That one is pretty easy, but some of the course designations don’t necessarily make sense, so I always recommend checking the entire course name. Courses are then categorized by number. For example, in English the general education requirement for all students is to complete ENGL 2010 or higher.
Generally, the number designations correspond to the level of “difficulty,” even though I hesitate to use that term. Usually, courses build on one another and the higher the number, the more background knowledge is needed. (This might be most easily explained through K–12 education. As a student, you probably wouldn’t want to jump from 4th grade math into 7th grade math. There’s a ton of material covered in 5th and 6th grade math that you’ll need to understand in order to work through some formulas introduced in 7th grade math. Same idea. Students should understand material from ENGL 1010 before learning new concepts in ENGL 2010.)
LEAVING A COURSE
When enrolling in courses, make sure to be familiar with the add/drop/withdraw/audit terms. Drop/withdraw/audit are all terms related to a student’s level of involvement within a course throughout the semester. (Remember to discuss each of these options with an academic advisor for consideration.) A student is enrolled in a course when that course is added to the student’s schedule. By default, students are added to a course for the full duration of the semester and will receive a letter grade influencing their GPA.
Students have the option of dropping a course within the first few weeks (depending on the academic calendar) of the semester. There is no official penalty for dropping a course. If a student drops a course, they will be removed from the course and it will not show up as an enrollment on their transcript. The student does not have to pay tuition for that course.
Withdraw functions similarly to “drop,” where students can withdraw from a course and not have to attend the remainder of the semester. However, with the “withdraw” option, students generally lose their tuition as the college will not issue a refund for a course which a student withdraws from. However, the benefit of withdrawing is that the course will not impact a student’s GPA. A “W” will show on the student’s transcript instead of the letter grade.
Lastly, audit. Audits are for students who would like to attend classes but not receive credit for the course. Students who are auditing courses attend lectures but do not have to turn in the coursework, generally. If you are in school working towards your degree, do not audit a course.
BEING A STUDENT
If you’re feeling like being a “student” doesn’t accurately describe you, you’re not alone.
I always encourage students to take ownership over their “student” label and institutional identity. There is power in being a student. The most important and substantial changes that occur on campus and within this community emerge from students. You are important here. If you don’t believe me, and if you haven’t already, take a moment to read over the Student Code. I often find that most of my students either haven’t read over that document and/or didn’t realize it existed. That document is there to protect you as a student, more than anything. We (instructors, advisors, librarians, organizers, and other staff/faculty members) are quite dedicated to our students. We are here to help you with your educational experience as best we can.
There are so many different student discounts out there. I always recommend to my students that they make a habit of asking any and every place they shop or visit if they provide a student discount. I also try to keep a running list of active student discounts, so please feel free to check out this Google Doc.
Part of your tuition goes towards many student services provided here on campus. You’re already paying for many services, so you might as well use them! As a student, you have access to many free or low-cost services. Some of them are definitely worth checking out, even if it’s only to see what’s available to you. All the people staffing these services and offices are extremely happy to interact with students.
One of the things your tuition helps pay for is Canvas. Canvas is its own entity. Canvas is a Learning Management Software (LMS) owned and operated by Instructure, not by Salt Lake Community College or any other institution. Sometimes, it seems like Canvas is owned and operated by SLCC (especially because there’s a SLCC Canvas Help Desk). It’s not. (Maybe you already worked with Canvas in high school. If so, it may look a little different as instructors personalize their SLCC courses.)
Many of your instructors are trying to learn and navigate Canvas too. I have questions about Canvas all the time myself, so I can’t always answer student questions about Canvas. Luckily, Canvas does have 24/7 tech support for both students and teachers. There should be a phone number on your Canvas Dashboard to call for help (there’s also a chat option). The tech agents there are happy to help you with any of your problems.
I know the “show up for classes and turn in all assignments” advice sounds simplistic, and perhaps unrealistic, but that’s the advice I give to all students now. Show up for your classes and listen to your instructors, because oftentimes they’ll tell you exactly what you need to do in order to pass the course. In addition, turn in each and every assignment, ideally meeting the assignment expectations. I tell my students to read assignment descriptions in-depth a few times before submitting an assignment. In other words, if an assignment description asks you to respond to question 2d from the assigned textbook, make sure you’re reading 2d and not 2b. This happens more frequently than you might imagine. In a separate chapter of this textbook, Jerri Harwell mentions something similar.
TALKING TO YOUR INSTRUCTOR
Be familiar with your instructors. There are so many reasons to curate good relationships with them, like helping to determine what to call them (professor/instructor or Dr./Mr./Ms./Mrs. or first name/last name or “Teach” ― because yes, there are important differences for all of those (pro-tip: check the syllabi to see how your instructors introduce themselves)). I always recommend that if you have a question about anything in your courses, especially if there is confusion on an assignment description or paper expectation, email your instructor. If you as a student can get clarification on things that might be confusing or unsaid (like what formatting style is expected for a written paper), it will not only help your learning, but your grade as well. The last thing I’ll mention is, depending on your life goals, it might be a good idea to maintain good relationships with your instructors in case you ever need a letter of recommendation or professional reference.
TIME MANAGEMENT AND STUDY HABITS
As an instructor, I like to spend one of my first class sessions answering questions from students about Salt Lake Community College, being a student, and/or the course. (Honestly, those discussions are the main inspiration behind this chapter. See, students make change!) Some of the common questions/comments I receive from students are about study habits and time management. My immediate response is always “figure out what works best for you ― what works for me isn’t necessarily going to work for the student sitting next to you, and what works for them won’t necessarily work for you.”
However, there are a few broad tips & tricks I’ve picked up over the years that I’d like to share.
Keep Your Brain Healthy
Figure out your brain’s preferred environment. Start by considering when your brain feels most active (perhaps, check in with your rest/wake (circadian) rhythms). I know, sometimes, working and studying when your brain is most active isn’t possible because of different work or life schedules. If that’s the case, consider the environment in which you’re working or studying.
Play with your study environment to figure out what makes your brain happiest. Try working in vastly different environments while incorporating variables to see what works best for your brain.
Figure out your learning style. If you can figure out what type of learner you are, it’s easier to narrow in on study habits that will be most helpful.
There are two rather concerning myths in academia: the two-year and four-year degree. We are finding that students generally attend college for at least one year longer than what their “average” degree path might be (Lewin). This is all to say, if you can complete all the courses needed for your desired outcome within the anticipated timespan, that’s fantastic. But if you can’t, don’t stress over it. The trend lines are showing us that it will be more common to take longer than anticipated for degree completion.
If you are considering transferring, I’d recommend looking into some transfer-student resources. There are some scholars working hard to try to alleviate transfer shock for students. If it’s possible to talk to one of us (perhaps there’s an email listed on a faculty resource page related to transfer-student resources), I’d highly recommend it.
Unfortunately, we are still recognizing and learning that college was originally intended for “traditional” students ― those who could devote much of their lives to being a student, focusing entirely on education without distraction. College was not designed for non-traditional students ― students who work full- or part-time jobs, students who have a variety of family and friend relationships to attend to, students whose primary focus, time, and attention isn’t school. Students like me! If you feel overwhelmed because you took the 9 credit hours sometimes required for financial aide and have obligations outside of school, (again) you’re not alone. In fact, I believe the majority of students are working to balance school, work, and life. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed, under pressure, anxious, and stressed.
Wow. That was a lot of information. None of which replaces the information you get as a student in orientation (if you still have those materials, I’d recommend reviewing them briefly). The really scary word count on this document might be a good indication of how difficult navigating college is. I really encourage everyone to keep that in mind. Being a student is hard. Teachers ― please take a moment to explain any or all of these things with your students if it seems like they need it. Students ― please don’t be afraid to ask for what you need, even if it’s an explanation on what the number two means in your ENGL 2010 course. Many of us (teachers, advisors, librarians, staff members) are surrounded by this jargon and discourse each and every day. We forget that “retention” and “turn your assignment in through canvas” and “visit the library” are terms and phrases that might need some explanation. And students, I wish you luck achieving your goals here at Salt Lake Community College.
Harwell, Jerri. “How to Do College.” Open English @ SLCC. Pressbooks, 2016. openenglishatslcc.pressbooks.com/chapter/how-to-do-college/
Hills, J. R. “Transfer Shock: The Academic Performance of the Junior College Transfer.” Journal of Experimental Education, vol. 33, no. 3, 1965, pp. 210–215.
Ishitani, Terry. “How Do Transfers Survive After ‘Transfer Shock’? A Longitudinal Study of Transfer Student Departure at a Four-Year Institution.” Research in Higher Education, vol. 49, no. 5, Aug. 2008, pp. 403–419.
Lewin, Tamar. “Most College Students Don’t Earn a Degree in 4 Years, Study Finds.” New York Times, 1 Dec. 2014. www.nytimes.com/2014/12/02/education/most-college-students-dont-earn-degree-in-4-years-study-finds.html