How to Prepare for a College Class

emilymartin

You know by now that college is going to be a major step up from high school. Maybe you’ve already sat in on a college class!

But besides it being generally more challenging, what are the real differences between a high school and college class?

I’m glad you asked!

The main difference I’ve noticed is the amount of preparation you’re expected to do before each class meeting. Before I came to college, when we were assigned to read the next chapter of a textbook, no one usually did because we knew we’d be covering that material the next day in class, so it wasn’t really necessary.

In college, it really is necessary. While you’ll cover the material in the textbook or novel you’re working with in class, your professor is not going to go over a summary of the reading. They plan the class assuming that you’ve already read it, so they can skip the basic summary. So always always always do your assigned reading!

I’ve also appreciated that classes here are much more discussion-based than my classes were in middle school or high school. You’re expected to have something to contribute to the conversation.

But how do you do that?

On the first day of class, the professor who I’d ask to be my academic advisor by the end of the semester, Dr. Scott Whiddon told us to always come to class with one good question and one good comment. Years later, and I still work off of that advice as I prepare for class every day. I look for something in the reading I have a question about — whether it’s more of an open-ended question to get a conversation going, or something I am confused on that I want the professor to clarify. I also look for something I particularly liked or didn’t like in the reading. Maybe there was a quote I thought made a great point, or there was an argument I didn’t agree with. Those are the kinds of things you want to bring in with you to class. It’s what your professor’s expecting — so they’ll appreciate when you’re ready to contribute right at the beginning of class.

And since I’ve been talking about reading, here’s another tip. Don’t be afraid to write in your books! Even if you’re renting a textbook from the bookstore or Amazon, you’re allowed to highlight and make notes. Or buy a lot of Post-Its and write your notes that way. You don’t want to forget that piece of the reading you wanted to talk about. Plus, these notes will make studying and paper-writing feel much less stressful.

Yes, college classes will be harder. But do your homework, listen to your professors, and come in ready to contribute, and you’ll be off to a great start!

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My Road to Religion

emilymartin

Inspiration can come from anywhere. Think about what you’re planning to study in college, or what career you’d like to have when you’re older. What about that decision is appealing to you? From where — or whom — did that inspiration originate?

When I started college, I thought it’d be cool to take a religion class, to see how what I learned in class compared or complemented what I’d learned from a lifetime of Sunday School and church camp. Plus, my dad is a Disciples of Christ minister, which is the Christian denomination Transy is historically affiliated with, so that connection was how I heard about Transylvania in the first place. But I never saw it being a major feature of my academic experience.

But then, during my first year here, I was asked to serve as a student representative on the search committee tasked with hiring our first-ever Associate Dean for Religious Life. I got to meet with other students from different religious backgrounds, our two religion professors, our Interim Associate Dean for Religious Life, and a member of the Board of Trustees (both impressive alumni!).

I got to read every application and cover letter for the 100+ candidates. We were included in every meeting, narrowing them down to the several we did phone interviews with, and the five finalists we interviewed on campus.

By the end of that process, I knew I wanted to take classes with those two professors I’d worked with — Dr. Barnsley and Dr. Jones because I had gotten to know them a little bit, and wanted to learn more from them. And after I took my first class with each of them, I was hooked.

Plus, the person we ended up hiring for the Associate Dean position, Rev. Dr. Wilson Dickinson, quickly became one of my favorite staff members at Transylvania. He even wrote me recommendation letters for my graduate school applications!

I ended up declaring a religion minor at the end of my junior year — even with a major and another minor, I still had plenty of space in my schedule! I took classes on Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and a fascinating May term class with Wilson on Sustainability and Theology.

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One of my favorite days of my May term “Sustainability and Theology” class was our field trip to the Sisters of Loretto convent (about an hour away). It was a fun, relaxing day learning about how their community understands the connections between religion and the environment.

I look the Senior Seminar class in religion, too, and I used that opportunity to build off of the WRC senior seminar project I had completed the previous semester. That second research course was a great opportunity to expand an existing project and approach the same subject from a different perspective.

The religion classes I’ve taken have expanded my worldview and made me a better person. That’s not just because I think religion was an important subject for me to study, but because I was surrounded by people who were interested in the same subject, but for a variety of reasons.

I’m not saying everyone should have to take a religion class before they graduate — although at Transy, you totally should because the professors are fantastic and you’ll love it.

What I am saying is that you should be open to letting your life plan change as you change in college. Changing your mind is okay. When you feel inspiration — no matter where it’s coming from — you should follow it.

Campus Spotlight: The Writing Center

Hopefully, you’re getting excited for college — making new friends, moving away from home, and beginning to feel like a grown-up.

But what about the school part? College is definitely a step up from high school, no matter where you end up attending. Does the idea of more homework and harder assignments make you less excited?

Well, yeah, probably. College is going to be hard. But at Transylvania, there are plenty of free resources in place to help make it a little less intimidating.

My favorite of those academic resources is the Writing Center. But I’m biased because I’ve worked there for the last two years. But that also means I can give you the inside scoop about what it’s like!

You can come to the WC with any assignment for any class at any stage of the writing process — from your first informal essay in your First Year Seminar to the final draft of your last collegiate research project. You can bring in a prompt, without having written anything, and brainstorm topics with a consultant. You can create an outline, get help with perfecting citations, or proofread a final draft before turning in your paper.

The consultants in the Writing Center have all been nominated by professors for their writing skills. After being chosen by the WC director, Dr. Scott Whiddon (who’s also my awesome academic advisor), students take a semester-long practicum course that trains them to work in the WC. We read essays about writing center theory, talk about writing, and shadow sessions with current consultants. The point is, Writing Center Consultants know what they’re doing.

Basically, our job is to make your job as a writer much easier. Which is good, because Transylvania’s curriculum is pretty writing-intensive. The writing center, just like the rest of our tutoring services, is not remedial. Tutoring is open to any student of any grade, and it’s never seen as embarrassing to visit one of these services for help.

Because at Transylvania, we’re all in this together. I love that I can help students feel more confident in their writing, because I like writing and I’m good at it. The same is true for my friends Rachel and Ashley, who tutor for math and biology in the ACE — they like helping other students in subjects they excel in and enjoy. And we get paid to do it!

I love our tutoring services from both ends — I’ve made appointments with WC consultants for help on papers, I’ve gone to tutoring sessions for economics, and I love working in the WC. No matter how great of a writer, or biologist, or student, you are, you can always improve and there is always more to learn. Transylvania provides us with free opportunities to get the help we need to succeed.

College is hard. But at Transylvania, you won’t have to figure it out alone.

Coming Home Again

emilymartin

My parents went to a college that was a lot like Transylvania. A small, private, liberal arts college affiliated with the Disciples of Christ denomination.

Only my parents’ alma mater — Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma — no longer exists as a university. After facing financial struggles, Phillips closed, but chose to form a unique scholarship and leadership program with its remaining assets.

My brother and I, along with two other Transylvania students, received scholarships from that Phillips University Legacy Foundation, and got to attend a leadership conference held by the organization in November. It was really fun, we learned a lot, and if you’re a DOC student who ends up attending Transy or any other DOC-affiliated school, you should apply here!

Transylvania's PULF Scholars: Elijah, me, Hannah, and my brother Daniel (from L to R)

Transylvania’s PULF Scholars: Elijah, me, Hannah, and my brother Daniel (from L to R)

Since Daniel and I learned about their school while on scholarship at our own college home, my parents thought it would be fun to visit the old Phillips campus over our Christmas break, while we were in Oklahoma visiting my grandma. And it was pretty cool to see the buildings that were still used by the regional college that exists there now, the houses my dad lived in while he attended seminary, and hearing more stories about my parents’ college years.

That visit got me thinking about what stories I’ll tell my kids about my time at Transylvania and living in Lexington — which buildings I’ll want to show them, which professors I’ll describe, and which friends will star in those stories.

Of course, by the time that visit happens, so much about Transylvania and Lexington will have changed. We’ll have several new residence halls on campus, and even downtown will look different. Current construction projects will be long completed, and new ones will have started.

The campus that I know and love now will not look the same. And that’s great! I can’t wait to come back and see all of the new buildings, programs, and traditions that future Pioneers will have. The fact that things will be different in the future isn’t a bad thing. It proves that our university is only getting better — and that makes me more appreciative of my experience, and it also makes my degree more valuable.

Because what won’t have changed are the kinds of experiences students have on this campus. People will still be forming lifelong friendships, learning from world-class professors, and gaining invaluable work experiences.

When I’m all grown up and return to 300 North Broadway, I’m sure it won’t look the same, but I know it will feel the same. Because no matter what form it takes, Transylvania will always be home.

Why study the liberal arts?

emilymartin

College is hard, no matter what your major is. So why did we all decide to choose an educational path that includes classes in fields we didn’t want to major in?

It can be easy to think of college as just a step on the road towards your grown-up career plans. That’s definitely what I had in mind at first.

But now that I’ve worked my way through all of those “general education requirements,” I’ve gained a newfound appreciation for the liberal arts. (For more on the different kinds of classes you’ll take at Transylvania, click here!)

What I’ve learned to value the most about the liberal arts is that it connects me to the rest of the world — because my education here has required me to think about far more than my own self, my own interests, and my own culture.

I’ve taken classes on different religious traditions (Judeo-Christian Heritage, Buddhist Religious Traditions, and Islamic Religious Traditions), different places (an anthropology class on Appalachia and the Environment and a travel course to London, England!), and even within my major, classes on different writing styles (Business Writing, Intro to Journalism, and Poetry Workshop).

But I’ve also learned how to appreciate those subjects that don’t initially interest me. For example, I’ve never been fascinated by economics. Or math. Or anything remotely related to either one. But taking classes in both taught me to focus on the aspects of those subjects that I do want to understand better. Because whether I like it or not, both classes teach skills that I’m going to need in my post-Transy life. The same goes for students who despise writing — an analytical essay may not be fun, but you know that becoming a better writer will be beneficial, no matter what you do after college.

Every possible subject there is to study may not be initially interesting — but they are all important. Or else, no one would be studying them. So get creative and look for aspects of those classes that connect to what you’re interested in, or that apply to skills you’ll need in the job you want.

Maybe that sounds impossible right now. I promise you, though, that those connections are everywhere. Immersing yourself in a liberal arts environment just makes you better at spotting them.

Because the world is much bigger than just us. Academia is much broader than just our specific interests. It’s okay to play favorites — you’re going to major in something — but it’s not fair to ignore every other subject. Doing so only puts you at a disadvantage.

The liberal arts prepare us for everything in the post-college world. Including acceptance into professional school and landing great jobs. Plus we’re better writers and more interesting conversation partners. So if you want to be prepared, broaden your horizons, and have fun all at the same time, study the liberal arts.

It’s All About the Connections

emilymartin

I know I’ve written about how cool our liberal arts curriculum is before, but I’m going to do it again because it’s that important. 

And if you’re going to make a major investment into a liberal arts school like Transylvania, I want you to know what you’re paying for – and don’t you?

This semester, I’m taking three classes (senior perks – I have basically all of my requirements completed already): Religion Senior Seminar, Islamic Religious Traditions, and Readings on Peace Education. This semester is also the first one in a while in which I’m not taking a communication class (my major) – that part’s a little strange, but I do love having the flexibility to try other academic fields.

Anyways, one of my favorite things about the liberal arts is that it teaches you to form connections in unlikely ways. You’ll be encouraged to connect the projects you do in an elective class to your major, or your post-college plans.

But sometimes, the classes themselves overlap, and that’s exactly what has happened to me this semester. There were a couple of weeks in which I felt a little déjà vu – we had very similar conversations in my three classes. And it was so exciting because I could easily bring in outside perspectives into each discussion.

The theme that brought such a strong connection between my three classes was terrorism. One of the books we read for Religion Senior Seminar was about the history of religion and violence. The last sections of the book were about more modern associations we make, based on recent events caused by religious extremists. Each world religion’s history was discussed and when we talked about the Islam chapter, I was able to contribute additional background information based on what we were talking about in my Islam class that week.

We haven’t talked about terrorism specifically in Islamic Religious Traditions – though we have learned much more about why associating the religion with its most extreme practitioners is really contradictory.

In my Peace Education class, I have definitely been able to put my other classes to work. Our major assignment for the class was a research paper, but Dr. Hurley encouraged us to be creative and pursue other kinds of projects with partners if we wanted. Two of my friends and I decided to do a group presentation about how the three Abrahamic traditions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) talk about peace. There was plenty of information from my two other classes that made it into this big project.

I loved seeing my classes connect so clearly because it makes it easier to understand information when it’s being repeated in different contexts. And it also allows me to study the same concepts from a variety of perspectives. I get a much more holistic understanding when I’m using these different lenses. And that’s what the liberal arts are all about.

Making Decisions Is Hard

emilymartin

It’s getting down to the wire — the last semester. You’re checking your virtual and physical mailboxes constantly, hoping for news of admission and scholarship decisions. Everyone keeps asking what you’re doing next year — and you’d love to give them a really specific, exciting answer, anything other than I don’t know yet

I know the above paragraph describes what plenty of you high school seniors are going through right now — but it also describes me a few months ago. I spent this year stressing about another search process for my next big academic adventure: graduate school.

And I was as ready to get it over with as you are.

Beginning the search process — for both college and graduate programs — is exciting. But after you’ve finished your applications, clicked all over every school’s website, contacted admissions staff, and made visits, sometimes there’s nothing left to do but wait. The excitement has been suspended by anxiousness as time starts feeling like it’s running out. You just want to know already, to start getting excited about your new home, to mentally design your new room, share your news on social media, and put a new school’s bumper sticker on your car.

I get it.

But the hardest thing about my second school search, at least at the beginning, was the leaving part. My standards were pretty high because I wanted to find somewhere that I loved as much as I love Transylvania. Maybe you feel that way about your high school (or maybe you’re ready to get out of there ASAP — that’s okay, too).

I have finally made a decision, but you know how it is — you want to keep every option open until you’re 1,000% sure. (Which is why I waited to make my deposit to Transylvania until a week or two before the May 1 deadline.) And of course, scholarship and financial aid offers were going to be critical to my decision, just as they were to my college choice.

But what made this second search easier was how much more prepared I feel. Of course, way back in 2011, I felt prepared for college, and I was. But nothing could match how much help Transy has been in helping me find my next home — from countless meetings with the Career Development Center, to advice from professors (even from some I’ve never had in class before!), and support and encouragement from all my friends, coworkers, and classmates.

Even though this next change will be scary, I know I’ll be fine. Because Transy has made sure of it. That’s why thinking about living and learning somewhere other than 300 North Broadway feels like leaving home all over again.

And you’ll be fine, too. When you find your college home — whether it’s this week or at the last minute, all that stress will be replaced with relief and excitement.

We can do this.

Here's me after my first-year orientation event! I can't believe I'm closer to the date of my graduation than I am to that orientation, but I couldn't be happier with how the past two years have gone.

Here’s a picture of me after I registered for my first college classes way back in 2011!