A College Professor’s Guide to Helping Students Succeed

Not all students are prepared to succeed in a higher education environment. The transition from high school to college can be incredibly tough, with many students juggling challenging coursework and new responsibilities.

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How can college professors help their students overcome obstacles and reach their full potential? From rethinking classroom instruction to encouraging students to find internships that advance their careers, there are many ways educators can better prepare their students for a brighter future. Here’s how to help students achieve success – both in and out of the classroom.

1 Set and Maintain High Expectations

High expectations aren’t always a bad thing. In fact, setting the bar high for your students could be the secret to bringing out the best in them. Research has shown that setting reasonably high expectations for students can lead to increased confidence and better academic performance.

Setting a high bar for students can promote a growth mindset in the classroom that leads to future success. But before you set ambitious goals for your students, don’t forget the other half of the puzzle: giving them the support and guidance they need to reach the goals!

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2 Give Meaningful Feedback

Most educators recognize the importance of feedback in the learning process. Giving feedback helps students make sense of what they’ve done so they can improve the quality of their work. But not all feedback is created equal. To provide meaningful feedback, professors need to be specific and deliver feedback in a timely manner. By providing specific feedback to students while the assignment is still fresh in their minds, you can help your students improve their quality of work over the course of their college careers.

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3 Ask Students about Their Career Goals

Many college students are uncertain about what they want to do in life, even after they declare a major. One way you can support your students is by opening a dialogue about their future careers.

Ask them exploratory questions that get their minds turning about their future career path. What are their interests and passions? What careers are best suited to their personalities? Help your students figure out how to choose a career that best fits them. Then, encourage them to apply for internships that set them up for success.

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4 Emphasize Soft Skills

One of the chief complaints of employers today is that college graduates often lack the soft skills they need to succeed in a dynamic workplace.  Critical-thinking, communication, and the ability to deal with complexity are just a few of the soft skills that are reportedly in high-demand, according to a 2019 survey from the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM).

While organizations are taking steps to address the skills gap, college professors can do their part in the classroom by incorporating lesson plans that move away from multiple-choice assessments and encouraging students to tackle complex questions. Group projects (although loathed by many students) are also an effective means of teaching valuable soft skills related to teamwork and collaboration.

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5 Connect the Classroom with the Real World

No matter what you do, there will always be students who don’t pay attention in class. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to engage every single student. One way you can engage your students is by connecting your lessons to real-world applications.

When students see the connection between their lessons and the real-life examples, it suddenly becomes meaningful to them. Use technology, media, and mobile apps to help them make these connections. You could also ask students to send you a weekly email that connects that lesson to something in the real world.

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6 Switch Up Your Instruction

Another way to keep students engaged and on track for success is by varying your instruction. Most students will quickly become bored with the same instruction. Your classroom should be a place to experiment with different learning styles that reach every student, not just the ones with Herculean concentration. Switch things up by gamifying your lessons or using new technology. Even simply holding your class in a new location can be exciting enough to recapture their attention.

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7 Make Sure Students Feel Supported

College students want to know that you care about them. Show students that you care by making sure they feel comfortable in your classroom. Take the time to learn their names and find out more about them outside of class. Be accessible to your students by holding office hours at reasonable hours — not early in the morning when most students are asleep.  If you notice a student is struggling with the coursework, ask them what they need help with and offer your encouragement.  You might also consider holding one-on-one meetings and weekly check-ins with students to help them succeed in class.

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Helping College Students Excel

Apart from parents, few people are more influential in the lives of college students than their professors. College professors play a pivotal role in preparing the next generation for the future workforce. By putting these strategies into action, you can help your students thrive inside and outside of the classroom.

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