For many students, college life is a wonderful time living an ideal existence. It is, in some ways, an escape from the real world. In spite of the stress that many students experience over various issues, real financial worries, occasional social drama, and worries about career decisions once they graduate, college life has some benefits. For many students, meals are prepared for them in a dining hall, someone cleans up after them in residence halls, someone else is responsible for shoveling, raking and mowing, their commute may consist of walking across the quad, friends live just down the hall and are available 24/7, and much entertainment is free on campus. College life for some students is an idyllic bubble that lasts for a few years.
However, most college students do graduate, and then they face the reality of the world of work. Is there anything in that idyllic life of college that prepares them for the expectations that will exist once they graduate? For students who give some thought to a work ethic and to their college experiences, there are many lessons they can take away. As a college parent, you may be able to help your student equate some of his college experiences to his future work life. Students who recognize these college experiences as preparation and practice for later work expectations will not only experience more success in college, but will be better prepared later.
A good college work ethic will help your student prepare for a good work place ethic. Help your student consider consciously thinking about some of the benefits of what he is being asked to do in college.
- Attendance is important. Yes, it seems obvious, but one of the major factors affecting students who do not do well is that they do not attend enough classes. Although many college faculty members may not actually take attendance, being in class is important. Students need to remember that they will be expected to show up for work each day if they expect to get a paycheck. Showing up for class is important if they expect a good grade.
- Deadlines matter. Students need to remember that they may not be able to approach an employer and ask for an extra day or week on a project. Getting papers and projects in on time in college matters, too.
- Full time students have a full time job. If your student considers the rule of thumb that she spend two hours outside of class working for each hour in class, she most likely has a forty hour per week job. Employers expect their employees to put in the time on their job.
- There is a limit to sick days and personal days that are reasonable. Many of us go to work when we don’t feel like going. We go to work when we have personal issues happening in our lives. We go to work when we don’t feel very well. We know that we need to be there. Students need to fulfill their obligations when they can. If we miss too much work, no matter how good the reason, our pay may be docked. Students who miss too much class, no matter how good the reason, may find that their grade is affected.
- Being on time matters. Most of us try to get to work on time, even if we don’t punch a clock. Students need to get to class on time.
- It is important that your student try to get to know his professor. Most of us make an attempt to get to know our boss or supervisor. Whether or not we like him, the more we know about his personality, the better we will be able to work with him. We will know what is important to him. We certainly know his name. Students might think of their professor as their supervisor or manager. Getting to know him will help.
- Average work usually gets you a paycheck, but not necessarily a bonus. Consistently below average work might get you fired. In spite of discussions about grade inflation, for many faculty members, average work earns students a grade of C. To earn a grade above that requires above average work (including more time spent on the work), and poor work earns a grade below a C. F might mean, “You’re fired.”
- We should expect to be evaluated on results. In most work places the results are what count. Although employers often appreciate the effort that an employee puts into his work, it is the results that matter. Students need to be careful that they don’t expect a good grade just because they worked hard on something or studied hard for a test. Results are what count.
- Work places often use committee work to accomplish tasks. Many students dislike group work in class. It is often difficult to get a group together outside of class time. Group dynamics may be troublesome. Students look forward to the day when they graduate and will no longer have to do groupwork. However, class groupwork becomes workplace committee work. Students who learn how to work well with a group will be at an advantage when they are placed on a committee.
- Good communication matters. In many workplaces e-mails and memos constitute a large part of the communication between employees. It is important that these forms of communication be professional. Students who are careful with e-mails sent to professors, using appropriate language and grammar, running spell check and avoiding textspeak abbreviations, will be practicing an important business skill – as well as affecting the professor’s opinion of them. Students who know how to listen well and to express themselves clearly and carefully will have an advantage.
- Employees often receive feedback and periodic reviews. Students who learn to appreciate and accept feedback and comments from professors will not only improve in class, but will learn how to use feedback gracefully in the workplace. Listening carefully to what needs to be changed, and making those changes, is important.
- Employers expect employees to take care and pride in their work. Whatever the work product may be, employees who do a fine job are appreciated. Students need to practice taking pride in their work. Whether a test, a paper, a project or a presentation, doing anything less than your best work will not be well received by any professor. Setting high standards for yourself as a student will help you set high standards for yourself as an employee.
- Employees often do not have second chances. Asking an employer for a chance to rewrite a memo or try again on a project, have an extension or do an “extra credit” project rarely works. Students need to do their best work the first time, on time. Of course, some of us may run a draft of something by our employer and ask for feedback. Students might do the same thing – but it should happen prior to the deadline.
- Employees are expected to be accountable for themselves and their work. Employees who place blame on others or on circumstances, who do not accept responsibility for themselves and their actions, will not get far. Students who accept responsibility and who hold themselves accountable will be appreciated.
- Employers appreciate employees who take initiative and exhibit leadership. Is your student taking advantage of every opportunity to do a bit extra, volunteer for a leadership opportunity, or suggest a new idea?
- Attitude matters. Perhaps the cumulative effect of many of the above factors is a student, or employee, that has a great, positive attitude that says, “I take this seriously and care about it.” Employers, and professors, appreciate workers with a positive attitude.
Helping your student understand that many of the expectations that he faces in college are good practice for the expectations he will face in the workplace is important. Rather than dismiss or resent these expectations, he can see them as preparation and practice for skills and attitudes that will help him advance successfully in his chosen career.