What College Instructors Expect from You

What College Instructors Expect from You

What College Instructors Expect from You

Ready for college? Whether you’re a high school graduate who’s not sure how to adapt to instructors who, because they didn’t teach your older siblings, have no preconceptions of what kind of student you’ll be, or you’re an adult student returning to education after years out of school, it’s important to know what your instructors will expect from you.

You’re probably tired of hearing this, but college life is very different from high school. For high school graduates, the process of pursuing your degree in your major field of study is an entry into a new and challenging set of expectations.

classroom in college

For adults, balancing college with work and family also brings a different set of criteria for success. Finding out what you need to know about your instructors’ expectations before you take your first mid-term can improve the outcome of that milestone.

Freedom Isn’t Free

College brings freedom for high school graduates. Know how to use it wisely. Your professor can’t force you to take notes, study, or turn in assignments. If you partied all night before your first exam, the professor isn’t going to call your parents. But when it’s grade time and you’re in danger of academic probation because all those failing grades have borne the expected results, don’t expect your professor to feel sorry for you. Remember that the first step in earning your degree is showing up.

Most professors will give the students the respect that an adult deserves. But keep in mind that with respect comes responsibilities. Almost every student has probably heard the myth that when you go to college, it’s not necessary to actually attend classes because the professors don’t care as long as you show up for the exams. College instructors don’t take attendance the way your high school did, but that doesn’t mean they don’t expect to see you in class.

Class Is Just The Beginning

Time spent in class is only the tip of the iceberg as far as your professor is concerned. Your instructor can’t see what you do or don’t do when you’re not in class, but he or she knows that educational requirements include work done outside of the classroom. Even if you’re lucky enough to have one or two classes over the course of your college career that are a slam dunk for an easy grade, you can expect to run into quite a few full court presses when it comes to proving yourself in college. The readings are assigned to add to what the instructor presents in class; papers are to be turned in.


Budget your time the way you do your money: how many hours per week do you need to spend on reading assignments? How long does it take you to write a thorough paper that’s accurate, factual, and doesn’t have spelling errors? Remember that spell check isn’t infallible. One common trick for proofing is to read the paper from the end to the beginning when checking for spelling. You can read it out loud to ensure that your arguments are cogent and logical. Have a friend read it over; if your friend can’t follow the themes, you know that you need to revise what you’ve written.

The Past Is Over

When a college freshman who had always received excellent grades in high school without effort discovered that her old study habits no longer worked, her mother gave her a blunt bit of advice: “You’re not at the top of the academic feeding pool anymore.” Translation: college is full of smart students who are willing to do the work. Maybe you were valedictorian of your graduating class: build on that, don’t trade on it. Your classes are filled with valedictorians. It’s possible that a subject may require 10-15 hours of work outside class time. Are you putting in the time your educational program requires?


If you don’t understand something that’s been said in class, don’t be afraid to ask the professor to explain it. There’s a good chance that others in class are also confused, but the professor doesn’t know that. Stay focused on the question, ask it, and pay attention to the explanation. A good professor will appreciate a student who takes the time and makes the effort to get clarification of a confusing point. Remember that you didn’t take a vow of silence when you registered for your classes; you’re expected to ask questions.

Time Is Up

Get off to a good start by turning in your assignments on time. Find out what your professor’s policy is regarding assignments that are turned in late. Some professors refuse to accept an assignment that’s turned in after the deadline. Others will accept it, but will deduct points. If there’s a reason why you can’t submit an assignment on time, let your professor know in advance to find out if you can get an extension. It may be one of those situations where your previous class performance might influence the professor’s decision.

Duly Noted

Don’t count on your memory, or even your grasp of the subject matter, to carry you into your exams. Taking notes records what the professor said and gives you something to refer to when it’s time to study for the exam. If you aren’t sure how to take notes, get help. Dartmouth College’s Academic Skills Center offers a variety of tips on enhancing your note-taking skills.

And The Syllabus Says


Your professor’s goal is for you to do well in class. The purpose of the syllabus is to provide the student with an overview of the course, including the textbooks, information on the assignments and exams, details on how to contact your instructor, and what’s expected of you in order to succeed academically. Take note of the dates when assignments will be due and make sure that you know what’s in store.

What About The Adult Student?

Adult students face different challenges than their younger counterparts. They haven’t taken tests recently; they might not be as technologically savvy as the social media generation; and their social needs are vastly different from the “friending” generation that is seeking degrees, seeking friendships, and seeking romance. In addition, they have deeper family and occupational responsibilities that can’t play second fiddle to the college regimen.

For adult students, the challenge may be finding the time to juggle all of one’s responsibilities with the demands of the class. How can you study for an exam when you’re working the late shift? Jamie Merisotis of the Lumina Foundation for Education concedes, “One problem for adults is the constant, competing tension between life obligations and educational obligations.” How can you do your assignments when you’re helping your kids with their homework? It’s not easy to be an adult student, but there is one advantage. Adult students are already familiar with proving themselves in the workplace, so they don’t expect the professor to hand them an easy A because they were up half the night with a sick child. Professors do respect the burdens that adult students carry in the academic process, and letting your professor know your story is fair. But don’t expect the rules to change for you. It’s important to find time that you can devote to our studies, whether it’s getting up an hour early, or staying up after the kids are in bed. Don’t give up, you’re not alone. According to 2008 statistics compiled by the Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success, more than a third of college students are over age 25. Statistics also indicate that by 2018, college enrollment for adult students is projected to grow faster than for traditional age students.

The Professors Speak

In a USA Today article, 6 Things Professors Wish They Could Tell Their Students, But Never Do, professors list the traits they’re looking for in their students.

  • It’s not hard to impress your professors. Show up for class on time, do the assigned work, don’t hide in the back, and contribute to the discussion.
  • The student-professor bond is a nurturing one, but a professor’s job is to teach and to mentor in order to guide the students in the pursuit of their university degree.
  • Students will eventually need references and letters of recommendation from their professors; they may need an extension if an assignment is going to be submitted late. Developing a bond that reaches beyond the syllabus can enrich a student’s education.
  • The grading system is more rigid than professors like because it’s designed to reward the final result rather than the intellectual process. But it’s the system that’s in place, so students must adapt to it without being limited by it as they pursue their academic goals.
  • Your professor is a resource. Use him or her. Take advantage of office hours and schedule a time to meet with your professor to explore the themes of the class, and also to explore the broader arc of education, life and your future. Professors have valuable advice on qualities that a graduate will need to display in order to enter the job market.

Graduation isn’t just about the grades. Everyone wants the highest possible grade, but students shouldn’t let apprehension of what a challenging class will do to their GPA keep them from taking it. Intellectual challenge teaches thinking, and that’s the goal of a quality college education.

Meeting the expectations of your professors is the smart thing to do. It’s good practice for learning how to meet the expectations of your future employer. Today, a degree depends on it. Tomorrow, it’s a paycheck.