Editor's Note: This report is part of a continuing series offering advice to students at colleges and universities on how to be successful throughout their educational experience.
When a student arrives at a college or university, they are likely to face many difficulties as they work towards earning their degree.
Being far from their home, working a job in addition to the demands of their study programs and making friends are just a few of the issues they might deal with.
Yet what many students may not expect is just how hard it can be to meet the academic expectations of their professors.
Fuji Lozada says many students feel that simply gaining acceptance into a school is proof that they are ready for the requirements of their programs. But the truth is that almost every student, no matter the quality of their past educational experience, needs help, he says.
That is why almost every college and university in the United States offers some kind of service to help students succeed with their studies.
Lozada is the director of the John Crosland Jr. Center for Teaching and Learning at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina. The center is similar to offices at many schools around the country that provide services to help students.
The center has some full-time employees, but is mainly operated by students who are trained to assist others. These student assistants can gain a lot, too. By helping others in areas where they might have experience, students strengthen their own understanding of their field of study, Lozada says.
“When students first come to college, they still are in this mode of ‘I’m here to learn by myself.’ But academics is really a team sport,” he told VOA.
He notes that one area students often struggle with is writing. Most American high schools teach students shorter forms of writing, often working in the five-paragraph essay form. College professors, however, expect students to be able to write about subjects at much greater length. They expect students to present complex arguments supported with lots of research.
While a student might be skilled in other areas, if they are not used to this kind of writing they can quickly find themselves falling behind their peers, says Lozada. International students can especially face difficulty writing at the level expected by American professors, even if their general English skills are strong. That is because U.S. schools have strong rules about how outside research is presented. And professors want students to be critical in their examination of all research.
Lozada notes that colleges and universities do not want their students to fail. The problem is that many students either do not know their school has offices, like the Crosland Center, that are designed to help them, or they are afraid to admit they may need help.
“When we check with students as to why they didn’t come in for tutoring, they assume that nobody else is getting help. And so, actually, once they see…that many students are coming…meeting with other students for peer-tutoring, that usually gets them in the door,” Lozada said.
The first step for any struggling college student is to recognize they are having some difficulties, he says. Then they should ask their professors for advice on the areas in which they need to improve and seek out their college’s academic support services.
Lozada adds that one visit to such a center will not immediately solve the problem. Improving writing skills, for example, takes time. The same can be said about mathematics, computer science or any other subject.
He notes that about 40 percent of the Davidson students who seek academic support are first year students. But about 13 percent are students in the final year of their programs, still asking for help with high-level classwork and major projects.
“Even…when I write a piece, I ask a peer or friend to read it and then they critique it,” Lozada said. “That’s the kind of academic experience we want to encourage.
I’m Pete Musto.
Pete Musto reported this story for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor. We want to hear from you. What kind of academic support services do universities in your country offer? Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.
Words in This Story
degree – n. an official document and title that is given to someone who has successfully completed a series of classes at a college or university
academic – adj. of or relating to schools and education
mode – n. a particular form or type of something such as transportation or behavior
paragraph – n. a part of a piece of writing that usually deals with one subject, that begins on a new line, and that is made up of one or more sentences
essay – n. a short piece of writing that tells a person's thoughts or opinions about a subject
peer(s) – n. a person who belongs to the same age group or social group as someone else
tutoring – n. the act of teaching to a single student
assume – v. to think that something is true or probably true without knowing that it is true
critique – v. a careful judgment in which you give your opinion about the good and bad parts of something such as a piece of writing or a work of art
encourage – v. to make something more appealing or more likely to happen