Why did you come to college?

Gabrielle Daniels

On the second day of classes, I encountered some interesting situations after entering my environmental ethics course. First, I found myself gambling for the last available desk in the classroom in a heated game of “Heads or Tails.” Then, having lost the desk bid, but still receiving it as an offer from the kind man who won, I tuned into the general sounds of the classroom and listened as people chattered around me. A particular conversation to my right caught my attention.

“Hey, do we have to read for this class?”

“I don’t know dude. But I’m not reading [expletive].”

I tuned out again, not needing to hear anymore. Yet, I had to ask myself: if that is your attitude, then why did you come to college in the first place?

We all know the common first-day-of-class questions. Someone to your left raises their hand and asks, “How many tests will there be?” Others behind you chime in with, “Are they cumulative?” “What’s your attendance policy?” and, “Can I get the notes online?” There are even those brave souls who will ask the daunting question of, “Is the reading required?”

In hearing these, I tend to think one of two things. First, I wonder, did this person even look at the syllabus? Then, I truly wonder whether those individuals realize what they really seem to be asking is, “How many ways can I cut corners?”

As freshmen, we are inundated with waves of “how to succeed in college” suggestions, and for me as a graduating senior this semester, I feel the list of “how to do well” has only grown longer.

Certainly, they recommend you study, which includes doing your homework. This seems to be a given, but it never fails to amaze me how many students complain that they did not realize they would have to study, if at all, in college. Even seasoned returners sometimes struggle with the concept. They also likely recommend you attend classes. I can openly admit that I have not always gone to every class of each semester. Yet, after four-and-a-half years of being here, I have certainly learned the value of showing up. These lists go on and on, all with systematic instruction. However, many seem to miss the point.

So what then is the larger message, one more meaningful and worthwhile than any single “tip” or suggestion?

The message is simply this: “Learning is an Attitude.”

You can follow every bullet of every list and perhaps pass a course, but without the appropriate attitude of engagement and personal investment, you are not going to excel. If your goal was to come to college and not do the absolute best you could, then why come at all?

Brock Severson, hall director of Buchanan Hall and one of the instructors for the Psych 131 Academic Learning Skills course, sees these behaviors all the time.

“It is very frustrating for me to see people coming to college, wanting an education, but not the kind of education that it is supposed to be,” he said.

Emphasis on getting “the paper,” as Severson notes, seems to supersede, somehow, the importance of actually being involved in your work. Yes, receiving the diploma is important, but what happened to wanting to make a difference? Wanting to actually learn?

Severson also commented on those suspicious first days of class questions: “It’s interesting to hear students ask those simple questions because you see the motivations. When students ask me if the reading is ‘required,’ I think to myself, how are you going to learn something if you don’t read anything?”

Our professors are certainly there as invaluable sources of information, and they have dedicated their time and efforts to do their best to pass that onto us as their students. However, everyone knows textbooks are auxiliary to learning in college. Why would you expect to not read, or better yet, not have reading expected of you?

Severson points out that, “as a professor, it is definitely frustrating for me to hear those questions, well aware that I did ask those questions, too, wanting to make the most of my time in college. You’re only given 15 to 16 weeks on a topic that you may not revisit again. So it is important to attend classes and get that material.

“I simply want college students to be successful. Otherwise I wouldn’t teach the course.”

Ultimately, your personal considerations of “success” will weigh heavily into your academic performance. For me, college and learning have always been about expansion, creation and doing as much as possible with my time. Whether you think so or not, your mentality determines so much of what you outwardly project. Learning and attitude are both personal decisions. So if you have not already, perhaps you should ask yourself: Why did you come to college?