Ah, Friday. And it poured last night, and a coldfront pushed in, and it’s actually not stifling. Nice.

Meanwhile, Back To School, round two: after yesterday’s high school advice, someone asked if I had any for those going to college. Well. I’m a bit more versed in this, as I was in college more recently than high school—although not THAT recently—but also because I go back to a college campus each fall, along with thousands of freshmen. So.

Here’s the one thing I swear I learned in college that’s stuck with me most, and it’s probably not what you think. It’s this: if you’re in a class, and you don’t understand something, YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY ONE. Speak up, ask questions. Someone else is wondering the exact same thing, I promise you.
Also: your professors, and TAs, want you to ask questions if you don’t get something. We don’t want you to be confused, and stay silent. If you don’t understand why you got a certain grade, or something isn’t clear, come up after class or to office hours. Especially in big class sections—at UNC, a lot of freshmen end up in classes with 100+ people and a recitation—you do yourself a real favor by at least making your face known to the instructor.

My dad, who has been teaching for over 30 years, always told me this when I was in college. Junior year, I took astronomy for my science, because I am terrible at science (and math, but that’s another story) and I’d heard it was easier than, say, chem or bio. Which I’m sure it was, but it was REALLY hard for me. I studied my butt off, and still, on the midterm, made the worst grade I’d ever gotten in any class on a test, a 58. I was crushed and totally frustrated. So I went by my dad’s office, to vent, and he listened to me, all patient. And then he said, “Why are you here, though?” I just looked at him. “You should be at your professor’s office,” he said, pointing at my paper. “Tell him you studied, so he knows that you at least care that you got that grade, and see if there’s anything he can suggest so that you do better next time.” So I went and saw my professor. He took my test, glanced at it, then asked me what my major was. I said English. He nodded, then said, “There’s your trouble. You’re looking at all this like an English major, not a scientist. Now, see, you missed all the questions that had to do with…” And then he started to explain things, and while it was still a little fuzzy, it made much more sense. I ended up with a B+ in the class, not my best grade, but better than a 58, and I think I probably really deserved a B and he bumped me up because he knew I was really making an effort. As an instructor now, if someone fails my midterm—and my midterm is NOT hard—and then doesn’t come talk to me, I assume they just don’t care. Which is fine. But if you do care, let your professor know. It can make a difference.

Other things to know about college: yes, there are parties, and yes, it’s great that you can go to them and not worry about curfew or your mom waiting up in front of the TV for you when you come home. But. I’ve seen a lot of students come in and get so sucked up in the party atmostphere that they bomb all their classes, which is hard to recover from academically, later. Pace yourself. Everything in moderation. Don’t only study, and don’t only go out. There is a middle ground.

If you can’t get up in the morning (and some folks just can’t), please don’t take early morning classes, if you can help it. We really don’t need to see you stumbling in with bedhead, twenty minutes late. (You think I’m kidding: I am not.)

Please, for the love of God, don’t eat Sun Chips and Pepsi for breakfast. (You think I’m kidding: I am not. I actually had a guy in my class last fall we were ALL worried about, as his entire diet seemed to consist of Yoo-Hoo soda and Burger King Breakfast sandwiches. Ugh.) The eating well also ties in with the sleeping well, or sleeping at all thing. Make sure you sleep! You need it! (Do I sound like your mom yet?)

Finally, in this random hodgepodge of advice, one last thing: don’t walk alone at night. Seriously. I don’t care who you are, and where you are, it’s just a bad idea. At UNC they have a shuttle and a safe escort, and I’m sure other campuses have similar things. It might be safe to walk alone at midnight at home, but college campuses, as friendly and open as they might seem, are not always completely safe. Walk with a friend, call for a ride. Please. Okay?

All right, enough lecturing. But I do know that some of my former students read this journal (Elizabeth, Courtney, Jessica, Teresa, are you out there?) as well as my cousins in college (AnnaMo, Rachel, Hannah) and they, as well as everyone else who checks in now and then, may also have some good advice to offer. So, if you do, feel free.

All in all, I have to say the whole back to school thing is always sort of exciting. As a faculty brat, I’ve feel like I’ve lived my whole life on the academic calendar, feeling like the year really begins in late August, and not January. I don’t measure out my life in coffee spoons (did i mention I was an English major?) but in semesters, and as a new one approaches I always feel a mix of apprehension and excitement. That’s the weird thing about being on the other side, teaching: you get nervous too. It’s a whole new year, whole new group of people. I never have any idea what to expect, and I’m always eager to see what will happen. Just like my students, I guess.

have a good day everyone!