Rob Jenkins - 05/22/09
Voice of experience offers advice for college-bound graduates

If there's one thing I know - and there may, in fact, be only one thing - it's higher education. I've been teaching college students for 25 years, or long enough to retire if my 403b weren't worth less than a pick-up-bed full of GM stock.

To put things in perspective, LeBron James wasn't even born when I started teaching. Car phones were the size of toasters. The Internet was still a gleam in Al Gore's eye.

So I'd like to address all those freshly-minted high school graduates headed off to college in the fall - especially the ones who don't run a 4.3 40 or bench press 350 pounds and will therefore actually need to work at their studies.

My first piece of advice is this: once you get to college, you're an adult. Fight your own battles. No college professor is going to listen to your parents whine about your grades. He or she might, however, listen to you whine about your grades.

Another thing you need to understand is that the biggest difference between high school and college academically is that, in college, you don't receive nearly as much feedback.

I know you're used to getting at least a grade a week, sometimes two or three. At the end of the term you might have 35 or 40 grades, which means one bad grade isn't going to hurt you. (In this sense, modern high school also differs from high school in my day. Even if a bad grade didn't hurt me, my dad would.)

Conversely, in a typical college course, you might have only four or five grades the entire semester. So each one is vitally important - at least as important, say, as the upcoming sorority party or beating your high score in World of Warcraft.

And remember, unlike your high school teachers, college professors are under no pressure to pass you. On the contrary, given recent charges of grade inflation, they might feel some pressure to fail a certain number in order to maintain credibility with their peers, assuming the "Go Vegan" bumper sticker doesn't do the trick.

Indeed, some professors tend to see it as their responsibility to "weed out" those who don't "deserve" to be in college. This tends to be less true at community colleges, where professors generally focus on teaching the material rather than determining who already knows it.

Finally, bear in mind that, from now on, no one will care how you feel. OK, the people in the counseling center might care how you feel, but your professors will only care what you think. Thinking and feeling are not the same thing, and failure to understand the difference is the root cause behind many of society's ills.

In fact, learning to think rather than simply feel is the essence of becoming educated. And that's almost as good as running a 4.3 40.