August is rolling into September, and we all know what that means! A brand new school year is arriving. And, as someone who never made the Dean’s List in college or grad school, I’d like to give some advice to newly arriving college freshmen as they finally begin the process of cutting the umbilical cord.
Never buy a book before the first class. You may have one of those professors whose lecture notes are a little toooooooo good. Why spend $100 on some obscure textbook? You will learn everything from the book when Dr. Know-It-All dumps heaps of information out of his pointy headed pie hole. In fact, never spend $100 on a textbook ever. One, it’s probably your professor’s own book, and he gets paid enough in salary. (Isn’t he greedy—and pretentious—for making you use his own book?) And, two, if the book were the slightest bit readable, it would be in mass publication and on sale for $15. And, three, if you must buy it, buy an earlier edition used on Amazon for $3.99. Are those two extra chapters in the new edition worth $96.01? (Correct answer: No. They are not.)
But, by all means, do go to class. I know. High school’s over. You think it’s awesome that you can skip class and not get detention. Bad idea. If you just show up, you have a possible pity card in case of a failing midterm. You can use the “dumb kid who tries” routine, and a professor is that much more likely to buy it if she knows you were in class every Tuesday and Thursday.
But why would a professor pity pass an incompetent student? We’re getting there, but first there’s the research paper. Yes, you will have a research paper. The syllabus will dictate a paper anywhere from 10 to 30 pages, with at least 12 sources. Relax. Stop biting your nails. Stop staring at that cute blond in the front row who will never hook up with you (believe me, I’ve tried). You can write a B paper with only two sources! Yes, two!
Your research paper will be based on two books that you will not even read. These will be anthologies or general introductions with a small chapter on your topic of choice (not so bad skimming 30 pages, huh?). Then you will find 10 more books or journal articles on your topic from the library and liberally pull out random quotes. One of those boring academic books will quote from another boring academic book, so you get the benefit of two sources in one!
But, remember, no encyclopedias. They can be references, but not sources. They are the one thing too boring for professors to accept. And, even then, not all encyclopedias are legit references. You may not use Wikipedia. Some say it’s because Wikipedia’s articles are of dubious authorship and aren’t peer-reviewed. Not true. It’s because Wikipedia, unlike Britannica, has an entry on Snooki, and your professor doesn’t want to admit he watches Jersey Shore.
If you write this two source paper, you will get a B. I promise. No, your professor is not stupid. She has a PhD. But, as long as you don’t plagiarize, she knows it is too big of a hassle to fail you. That means contacting the Dean and then dealing with your parents because we all know the umbilical cord has not yet been cut. This paper will get a B for the same reason that midterm F will end up being a final grade C: student evaluations.
Even though student evaluations are the dumbest idea ever created in academia and have no real correlation to a professor’s ability, they play a role in tenure decisions. Your professor wants to give you as high a grade as reasonably possible so you will give her a good evaluation and she can keep her tenure and job security.
But if your professor is an adjunct, ignore all of my advice. This sad sack, despite toiling away the better part of his young adult life for a PhD, makes half the salary of a first year public school teacher, with no benefits. In other words, he hates his life. Give him that same two source paper, and he’s bound to write a giant Eff You in red lettering on it.
And my final piece of advice goes out to you, Ms. Non Traditional Student. Congratulations! You’re in your late 30’s or early 40’s and trying to better yourself. Just remember that you’re the only person in the classroom that read the book. You’re the only one listening to Dr. Ramble On. Your 19 year old classmates show up to class so mommy and daddy will keep paying for them to live away from home at a place with easy access to drinking and fornicating. So when Dr. Ramble On asks for final questions one minute before the end of class, keep your hand down. No one wants to hear your question. Your fellow classmates will hate you if they get stuck in that godforsaken room for an extra five minutes