Students: What to Do on Your First Day Back in Class

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I started teaching this week and been very busy preparing lecture notes, slides, and thinking of ways to help get main points across.

Knowing what its like to be on both sides of the classroom, here are some tips for students:

Engage with your teacher.
Your teacher has spent a lot of time preparing a syllabus, lecture notes, and thinking about how best to teach your class. Do your professor the courtesy of looking at him and being engaged during class (e.g. nodding your head when you agree, asking questions, talking with our teacher after class, etc.). If you stay engaged, your professor might be able to feed off that energy and be more animated and possibly even more interesting.

Ill never forget the first time I taught a marketing course to a group of 40 students. The class was right after lunch on a hot day and our university classroom didnt have the air conditioning on for some reason. Well, within 5 minutes of class, to of my students fell asleep. I tried to stay excited and animated for everyone else but it bummed me out to see two students already asleep. I had to ignore them and focus on the students who were more engaged to keep my excitement level up. So please, stay awake and be engaged to encourage your student.

Talk with your teacher after class.
Its rare for students to actually walk up and say hello to a professor after a first class. I remember being too nervous when I was in school to do something like that. However, now that Im starting to teach, I actually look forward to any interaction with a student. I enjoy when students talk with me during break or after class about assignments, the lecture, or even how the week is going.

Look, you might be nervous at first, but take the first step to say hello to your teacher. It will help you build a good relationship right from the start. Just being friendly and nice might make your teacher give you some extra help and guidance on assignments and tests.

Meet a few other students in class and exchange contact info.
Most students feel anxious about the first day of class especially if they dont know anyone. Realize that everyone feels this way and that everyone wants to meet a friend. Be that person and introduce yourself to those sitting around you. Share your email address and/or phone number so that you can help each other out with notes and to share important info if someone misses class. You might even consider creating a shareable document to work on class notes together in Evernote or Google Docs.

The great thing about getting to know other students in class is that you can study together and even work on projects together. Working with others can improve your motivation and time spent studying. Youll also be able to quiz each other and make sure youre all prepared for your quizzes, tests, and papers. Nothing better than having another student you trust to review and critique your papers before you turn them in.

Email your teacher.
If you feel too nervous about talking with your teacher before or after class, then send an email to him or her within the first week. Introduce yourself and tell your professor why youre taking the class. If youre not particularly good in that subject, let the professor know about some of your challenges. Opening a dialog early on will help your professor understand where you need help which can lead to productive office hour sessions.

When I was an undergrad, I was taking a English Literature course that was very difficult. I worked very hard on my papers and wasnt receiving high marks on essays. After meeting with my T.A. and sharing my struggles, she was able to guide me and make me a better writer. I ended up doing well in the class simply because I started meeting with her and getting her counsel. If I avoided those meetings, I would have had a poor grade in the class.

If youre a teacher or teachers assistant, what advice do you have for students?

How to Write a Killer College Application Essay

I know a lot of students struggle when writing their college application essay.

Here is some advice from actual college admissions officers on what they look for in a quality college essay:

Be Original
The essays we dislike the most are those that seemingly could have been written by 2,000 or 3,000 other applicants. Were looking for distinctiveness. Think of us hoping that the application will at least figuratively come alive in front of us, so when were struggling to read applications at 10:30 p.m. on any given night, seven nights a week during the reading perio, were looking for personality. Were looking to grasp hold of an individual.

Tell An Interesting Story
A students writing style can sometimes tell us as much about the student as the actual story itself. I like reading something interesting that happened to students. The essays that I dread reading are, of course, the ones that start out about My trip to Europe or something like that. If they do have a story to tell and it is something about their trip to Europe, Id rather hear something about a specific incident that happened rather than a travelogue and summation that says, Now I have a greater understanding of culture.

Be Creative
I dont think everybody has to have some major event that they have to write about in their lives. I think the student has to use some creative juices to come up with an interesting way of talking about the family dog or a relationship with a sick aunt. Those are the kinds we like to read, those that arent the typical 300 words Pikes Peak out-the-rear-window-of -a -car-essay.

Be Concise and Clear
I like to see things that are written concisely and clearly. I dread the long, long, long essay that brings in every unimportant detail about what theyre trying to get across. I really like it when people can express themselves in a brief manner and also be effective at the same time.

Write Straight from the Heart
We want essays that come straight from the heart. Thats the point of the essay. Why do you want me? Why do you want me as a student on your campus? What are you going to contribute? I dont mean by being president of the senior class or being an All-American. There are lots of ways that students can contribute. They need to have a sense of themselves in order to present that in written form.

Show Your Personality
The essay should not be simply a regurgitation of information thats already in a students resume. I like to see students walk out on thin ice and use humor if its natural for them. They shouldnt put on some kind of corporate vocabulary simply to try to impress the committee. Were more interested in personal style and the substance of the writing than how they can impress us with their vocabulary and their sentence structure.

Dont Try to Be Funny if Youre Not
Many people bomb when they try to be humorous because peoples senses of humor dont always match. Someone may think something is funny, and it may be derogatory to someone else.

Please comment with some personal advice on writing college application essays