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Advice to a Student Who Didn’t Like His First Year of College

Dear —–,

Thanks for your note today; your mom told me you’d be writing to me to get some advice about how to make your second year at college better than your first.

Let’s begin: The best way to get off to a good start with your professors is to call them “Professor,” and, if they’re women, not “Miss” or “Mrs.”; “Ms.” is preferable to either of those, but I’d stick with “Professor” since you know the person whose advice you’re asking happens to be one of those.

It’s also good to spell that person’s name correctly. You didn’t. Not even close despite the fact that you had the correct spelling right there in the email address.

If I mention these details early it’s only to begin our relationship the way I hope it will be built: I’m delighted to help you determine what’s best for you at UConn–and UConn has a great deal to offer–but I’m not going to coddle you or let you off the hook.

Details count, especially in an introduction. This is especially significant when you’re asking for guidance from someone you’ve never met.

Okay, we’ve got that settled. Now for the tougher part: It’s up to you to bring your interests and appetites to the table, so let’s decide before we meet which classes you believe will interest you most and why.

I asked my old friend, your mom, to get you to send me a note yourself (rather than her continuing to explain your “issues”) because I want to get to know you as a student. You say you didn’t “find your way” during your first year and never really “got serious” about your classes. Your candor works in your favor, but I’d like to know more specifically what you felt you were missing–and whether you thought that missing piece was an element you expected from the teachers, the course materials, the curriculum, or some other variable….In other words, what in particular did you want that you didn’t get?

Let’s meet and talk about it.

You said you’ve signed up for classes but “aren’t sure which of them” you’ll be taking. Before we meet, please make a list of the classes you intend to take this semester and a list of the classes you intend to take next semester.

Construct a full schedule for the year based on your interests and then select classes you’d use as a backup if you don’t get into the classes you pick initially (not unusual for sophomores or those whose majors are undecided). Typically the names and times of courses are there for you to look at, often with the instructor’s name attached.  You can then check on the faculty (what their interests are, what their publications history reflect, even–on occasion–what they describe as their teaching philosophies) through the individual department Web sites. And–while it is far, far from infallible–you can check their “scores” on places such as Ratemyprofessor.com and other sites like it.

This is a good way to begin. It involves patience, work, frustrating and annoying choices that make many students whine (you should hear my office during registration) but it is an excellent way to take responsibility for your own education–and that is what I can help you do.

After you’ve done that prep work–the equivalent to chopping and slicing and mincing in the kitchen before beginning an elaborate meal–then we can start cooking. I’m happy to stand by your side and walk you through various recipes.

It’s time to eat–I’m getting hungry. I’ll sign off now and hope that you, your mother, and I can set up a date for you to come to my office either this week or next with your initial plans laid out so that we can talk about how to make your next year of college far better and more satisfactory than your first.

I look forward to meeting you.

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