The Transition from High School to College: Guest Post from "Professor X"

Professor X has more than 20 years of teaching experience at the University of Oregon and has taught more than 12,000 undergraduates in a variety of science classes, including about 16 separate classes in the Honors College.  In addition, Professor X is noted for teaching various interdisciplinary courses on the science/policy/culture/society interface.  Lest Professor X be perceived as an irrelevant and ossified dinosaur, Professor X is one of national pioneers in Internet Based education (starting this in 1993) and has taught thousands of students in various online classes.

Note from Katie: In addition to this remarkable resume, Professor X was also invited to guest post on my blog because he's been a friend and mentor of mine for several years, since I first had the audacity to share my humanities-leaning opinions in one of his science classes. He taught me a considerable amount about how to approach and digest complex concepts, and also when to recognize BS. As a mentor, he has offered me sound and cynical advice, some of which I've actually listened to.

The Transition From High School to College

College life, from campus to classes, is dramatically different from high school experience.

The transition from high school to college is certainly different now than it was 20-30 years ago and thus represents an evolutionary process.   While the high school experience has probably not changed much in the last 100 years, the college experience is now different in new and fundamental ways, and most incoming freshmen are unprepared to deal with this new way of life and new mode of educational performance.  By far the biggest of the transitions is the realization that now you, the college freshmen, are suddenly personally responsible for your own successes and failures.   The biggest operational way to manage this transition is to develop good time management skills.  Time management doesn’t mean becoming digitally addicted to your calendar.  It means developing a proactive procedure for allocating your time.  Be strategic, don’t be reactive.  One simple mechanism is to walk across campus with your head up and observing the environment, rather than with you head down, addicted to your digital screen of mostly superficial information.   Content and substance matters!  Dedicate your college life to avoiding the style over substance lowest common denominator.

Today’s world is full of distraction for typical freshmen.  Studies have shown that freshmen spend 3-5 times more hours per week maintaining their various social media profiles than engaged in college coursework.  This mode of operation when convolved with a deadline drive response to “homework” will not produce success.  If the freshmen cannot build time into their schedule for reflective moments, reflecting both on coursework and life, then they have not made the required transition into both college and adult life and many things will become an unnecessary struggle.

The following matrix is a structured view of many of the  necessary elements of a successful transition:

In the above table, the word “synthesis” is used a few times because, ultimately, this is how learning manifests.  An increasing problem for not just freshmen, but undergraduates in general, is the confusion of information with knowledge and learning.  Just because you can Google for all the answers to your homework these days, doesn’t mean that you understand what the assignment is about.  Google provides the illusion of knowledge as the student can assemble many factoids that might (or might not be) relevant to the assigned problem.  Learning, however, is not information gathering.  Learning represents a synthesis of various sources of information (all of which is likely biased at some level) into an articulation of the various facets of the issue that result in a weighted judgment on your part.   This is exactly what professors want to see; they are unimpressed with factoid recital. It’s not high school anymore, it's college and it’s time to grow up and become an independent thinker allowing yourself to have an open mind to explore various issues at all their levels of complexity.

This is the first of a series of posts from "Professor X." If you're interested in more information about acclimatizing from high school to college, check out my previous post "Selecting a College: Sitting in On Classes" and for some practical advice on homework completion, check out "When You Can't Finish the Reading."

Please share any reactions to this post, as well as asking any questions you might have for Professor X in the future in the comments section below.