By Tara Theresa Hill
Everyone goes through an adjustment period in college. I felt incredibly overwhelmed by the workload in my first semester. Many of my classmates had attended private schools where they had learned how to research and write papers. Even though I had been in Honors Programs since first grade, my public school education had not prepared me for the level of work that I was expected to complete in college. Upon graduating from high school with my Honors/Regents Diploma, the longest paper that I had ever written was three pages. I wanted to Major in English and Minor in Writing and I did not even know how to write a proper research paper.
This became abundantly clear to me during my freshman English class. The professor asked for a draft of our paper so that she could review it before the final submission. In high school, I had written my reports out by hand and then typed them up. Imagine my horror when I finished typing up my notes and the paper was only four pages long. I could not figure out how to fix it and the assignment was due the next day, so I decided to hand it in anyway.
When the professor returned it to me during our next class, I cringed at all the red marks covering my paper. I was terrified of failure. Instead of putting it off, I decided to meet with her after class to find out exactly what I had done wrong and how I could fix it. Thankfully, she had some time, so I followed her back to her office for a private meeting.
The first thing that she told me was that a paper had to be complete to count as a proper draft. Mine was too short. She also said that while my thesis was solid, the execution of it was poor because I had not done enough research. I needed to find additional scholarly articles and use them to support my thesis. If I had several relevant resources, I would have more material to discuss in my paper.
After listening to the professor, I apologized and told her that I had not been taught how to do any of this in high school. She told me that my best bet was to stick with articles and books that I would find through the college library’s website because they would be true scholarly sources. The final edit of the paper was due the next week, so I had the rest of the week and that weekend to revise it.
I started off by going to the library and asking the librarian for help. Once I had gathered more information, I set about editing my paper. I took a friend’s advice and wrote the paper on the computer. The whole process was much easier this time. I reviewed it carefully to make sure that it was ready to be resubmitted.
All my hard work paid off. The professor smiled at me when she handed it back. I had a B+. That was a huge improvement in comparison to an incomplete first draft.
From then on, I always did plenty of research, so that I had a plethora of sources to draw from for my reports. Most students would simply glance at their grade on an assignment. I always read all the professor’s comments. Even though I earned good grades, I wanted to know what the professors thought about my writing. I took all their advice under consideration. Through doing so, I learned to embrace criticism as a means of improving my future work.
The lessons that I learned during my first semester helped set the tone for the rest of my college experience. After that first paper, I realized that the college professors were breaking me down in order to build me up. With each assignment, I was becoming a stronger reader and writer. Eventually, I was doing better than my peers who had initially had the advantage due to their higher socioeconomic status. By my junior year, I was working as a writing tutor in the college’s tutoring center. Instead of needing help, now I was showing other people how to write their papers.
None of this would have happened if I had given up and accepted the bad grade. Instead, I asked for help and tried again. Too often, students falsely assume that going to college means that they already should know how to do everything. They become so focused on proving themselves to their families and friends that they forget that college is a learning experience. Remember, the faculty and staff are there to guide you along the way so that you can be successful. Never be ashamed to ask for help.