I continue my suggestions for how to succeed in college by once again quoting Jane King Andrews, an NCSU Department of English alumna who responded to my post on initiative (published 9/4/14) by writing the following (which she gave me permission to quote):
I remember saying to an editor, “I want to work for you. What do I need to do to make that happen?” She was surprised, I think. But then she told me. As it turned out, I did not end up working for that publisher, but her advice was sound, just the same. I ended up working with a different publishing company. Ask how to get where you want to be. Thank the person who answers.
Jane demonstrated a lot of initiative by asking the editor an unusual question, and it’s similar to one that I often suggest students ask when they are applying for internships or jobs. If you get a call saying you didn’t get the position you applied for, politely ask if the caller would mind telling you what skills or qualities the person chosen had that you don’t have. Asking that question won’t always get you an answer, but more often than not you will learn something valuable about the application process: some aspects of the required qualifications were more important than others, you didn’t do a good job of emphasizing your skills, or the job involved work that you weren’t interested in or that you didn’t have sufficient experience to perform. And it’s a question you can ask while you’re in school, too. It just may take a slightly different form.
In school, your professor is going to give you (or direct you to) a syllabus for the course that outlines the specifics of what you need to do. Some professors will include some type of guide that tells you what you have to do to earn an A, B, or C. But if that information isn’t provided, you can always go see your professors during their office hours and ask questions. I wouldn’t say, “What do I have to do to earn an A,” because that may just appear that you only care about your grade. But if you say, “This course is important to me, and I’d like your advice about the steps I need to take to ensure that I do well,” you’ll probably get some suggestions.
An even better approach is to go to a professor after receiving feedback on an assignment. Some professors will provide detailed feedback about what you could have done to improve your performance, but if they haven’t, you can ask. Again, don’t say, “Why did I get a B on this paper?,” but rather say, “I really want to do better. Can you suggest what was missing from my work or what I might do to try to improve next time?”
As long as you approach your professors with respect and express your desire to learn, you are likely to make a good impression and earn their respect in return. And you’ll also be making yourself more memorable, which could come in handy when you need a reference for a job or grad school.
With today’s post I conclude my five-week series on how to succeed in college. I am likely to address this topic again in the future, but for now it’s time to move on to a new topic.