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College Freshman: Preparing for College in Engineering School

Updated on August 6, 2009

College Freshman: Preparing for College in Engineering School

I'd like to tell you I've seen it all, but the next time I walk into my classroom, something new will amaze and astound me. 20 years teaching at the university level has provided me with a wealth of experience. Here are a few simple guidelines for preparing for college.

This is College

Books are not for holding open doors.
Books are not for holding open doors.

Don't Be on Time

Don't be on time; be early. Get to class 5 minutes before it starts. Be in your seat with your book open, your pen located, and your computer logged in. Use the extra few minutes to say hi to your friends. Sip your coffee. Relax. Glance at your notes from the previous class meetings.

Turn off your phone.

It is understood that you'll be late once in a while. Once a year is permissible, not once a week. Strolling in late once a week tells the teacher that you probably don't care. Find a shorter route, a better parking space, leave the dorm sooner. Set your alarm for 5 minutes earlier. If your previous class is far enough away to cause lateness, let me know immediately. It helps me understand that you care a little bit.

Act Like a Boy Scout

The Boy Scout Motto? "Be Prepared."

If a homework deadline comes as a surprise to you, the teacher will have a suspicion that you're not taking time to prepare for the course. It's sort of a red flag for us. Have your stuff ready to turn in with your name on it. Sure, that sounds obvious, but trust me.

Look Up My Nose

Sit in the front row. Don't hide in the back.

A direct correlation exists between classroom seat location and final grade. Perhaps I'll publish a paper on the topic some day. Distraction levels increase exponentially with distance from the chalkboard. Surely you can tolerate looking up my nose for 50 minutes in order to improve your chances for a higher grade.

By sitting up front you guarantee that you won't miss anything. The lecture emanates from the front and all the questions are answered from there. As an added benefit, You can get out of the room quicker.


Believe it or not, humans want to be around other happy humans. Classrooms tend to be full of humans, therefore smile.

A 50 minute silly grin isn't necessary. Simply make a little eye contact throughout the class period and turn up the corners of your mouth. Nod your head sometimes. Act interested.

Write Something Down

Come to class prepared to transcribe. The oldest rule of note taking dictates that anything written on the chalkboard is important enough to be copied into your notebook.

Notes that are written once and read never are fruitless. Go back and review what you wrote as soon after class as possible. Studies show that we tend to forget 75% of what we hear in class in the first 24 hours. Reinforcement is crucial. Annotate your annotations; recopy your notes in a neater, more organized format so you can study them before the next exam. It works.

I once taught a series of 8 hour seminars on a technical computer-related topics to a classroom of adult learners. The students were all employees at a power generation company who were being retrained (for free) so they wouldn't lose their jobs. After one 8 hour day of training, I distributed survey forms to be filled out by the attendees. A student (sitting near the back of the room, of course) raised his hand and asked "Do you have a pen?"

He sat through the course for 8 hours and took no notes whatsoever.

Hallowed Halls
Hallowed Halls

Own Your Problems

When you mess up, fess up.

Wow, that sounds stupid.

Anyway, refrain from blame.

That hardly rhymes and still sounds stupid.

One more try; take responsibility for your behavior. I teach courses that have 'lab' and 'lecture; components. The lab is a separate course in the curriculum with a separate grade assigned at the end of the term. Typically the lab courses require a lab exercise and corresponding report to be turned in once a week. Recently a student, who was enrolled in a lab section, appeared in my office during the 9th week of the (10 week) term. He had turned in nothing the entire term. He had not even attended the labs since the first week. He informed me that his plan was to complete all 9 lab assignments and reports in one week in order to compete the course and finish his graduation requirements. My course was his last hurdle for graduating. Unfortunately my syllabus clearly stated that reports were due weekly. He had no shot at earning enough points to pass the course. His strategy was to assign blame:

1. The class met during the day and his boss wouldn't let him leave work to attend it.
(somehow that was my fault, or his boss's fault. I don't recall exactly. What I really wanted to say was "Tell your boss that I won't let you out of class to attend work.")

2. He'd already completed most of the course work when he previously attempted the course.
(Unfortunately he didn't take it from me and over 2 years had passed anyway)

3. He was out of town due to a family illness for the first 3 weeks of the term.
(This conflicts with excuse #1, but I didn't argue with him.)

4. He emailed me one time, 9 weeks prior, and I didn't respond.
(If he did send it, I didn't receive it. I reminded him that one email over a 9 week period, regarding a class that he needs in order to graduate, is hardly sufficient. I suggested that he probably should have called the department office or sent follow-up emails if the issue was important to him.)

He presented even more excuses, but reliving them is wearying even to me. Needless to say, he received the grade that he earned.

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