5 Expectations and Planning

1. How to Meet a College Course’s Expectations

A lot of people feel uncomfortable in writing classes. Composition instructors have heard “I hate writing” and “I’m not a good writer” hundreds of times. If you feel this way, it’s okay; you need not panic. Regardless of your writing skill, you should be able to succeed if you can do the following things:

  1. Attend Class
  2. Pay attention
  3. Do the work

1a. Attend Class: Attendance

To succeed in a course, you need to attend the course. Each class is a specific learning experience. You’re not going to have the experience if you’re not there. Think of your favorite musical artist; now imagine attending a live performance. You could read a concert review, you could read the set list, or a friend could describe the experience to you, but that wouldn’t be the same as being there. Sure, a course probably won’t be as enjoyable as a concert, but that’s natural. Concerts are meant to entertain while college courses are intended to educate. Borrowing a friend’s notes, or even discussing a missed course doesn’t replicate the experience of “being there.” And you’re probably paying more money to “be there” than you have for any concert.
Additionally, your institution, program, and/or class may have specific attendance requirements. If you accrue a certain number of absences, your grade may be reduced. It’s possible that you could fail the course or be dropped if you miss too many courses. Of all the reasons to fail a class, this seems like the worst. You chose to enroll in the class, after all. At the start of a semester, you should review the to ensure you’re familiar with your course’s attendance policies and what you should do if you’re forced to miss a class.

1b. Attend Class: Lateness

You need to be in the classroom by the time class starts. When you walk in late, you disrupt the class and you may miss information that’s covered at the beginning of the class. If we return to our concert analogy, nobody likes people who show up late. Your instructor may also have quizzes during the beginning of class and whether they will allow you to make up these points is dependent upon their attendance policy.
2. Paying Attention
Learning is not a passive experience; arriving to class on time is only the first step. When you’re in class, you should be IN class. This means you should listen to your instructor, take notes, and engage with the class period’s tasks. You shouldn’t be completing another course’s work. As previously discussed, you’ve paid to be in class, and you can do your other course work for free on your own time. If you use the course time wisely, you’ll find your writing tasks and work load manageable. This is true for most courses: if you’re attentive and diligent while in class, your work outside of class will be easier.
Additionally, you should be ready to respond if called upon during class. Class discussion and small group work require YOU to speak. Responding to the instructor’s questions, asking questions of your own, and contributing to class discussions demonstrate that you’re an attentive student.

3. Doing the Course Work: The Rest of Participation

Showing up to class on time and being attentive are the minimum expectations. But even that isn’t enough to succeed in class. Composition classes will almost always have homework. In college, you should prepare for completing homework assignments for each of your classes. Your instructor may not accept late work; however, they may accept assignments by email if you’re unable to print or attend class. If you’re confused about an assignment, ask the instructor in class or by email. If you don’t do this (or don’t have time to do this), complete the assignment to the best of your ability. If you do happen to perform an assignment incorrectly due to misunderstanding the prompt, you may not miss many points, as long as you’ve done a reasonable amount of work. Doing nothing because you’re confused is not acceptable.

Expectations and Planning

One of the biggest challenges for many first year (and beyond!) college students is balancing work, home, and academic life. Many students struggle adapting to a world in which parents and guardians are not around. It is not uncommon for students to become overwhelmed with the sudden responsibilities of studying, attending class, practice, work etc., without teachers or parents’ help. Even more students must add the needs of their partners, families, and children into the mix. Staying organized and balanced can be a struggle, but it can be managed, and is critical to maintaining a positive physical, mental, and emotional state in your college career. So how do we plan? In general, college students should expect to spend 2.5-3 hours per week, per class on homework. Homework will be defined, explained, and set up differently in all your classes. It is your responsibility to make sure you are aware of each professor’s expectations, and that you know when everything is due. The time you spend outside of class on homework will vary over the semester and between courses, but it will likely include a combination of completing work to be turned in, reading, writing, researching in preparation for class discussions.
For each of your classes, you should learn how the professor assigns work and the expectations for submission. Does the professor have assignments on a course schedule that’s online? Are they assigned via an LMS (Learning Management System, like Blackboard or Canvas)? Does your class have regularly scheduled assignments (for example, writing responses every Friday or quizzes every Monday)? Does the professor assign homework in class? How can you contact your professor? Email, phone, Blackboard, Slack, or some other messaging program? Most classes will have a rhythm of work; this may include reading, studying, homework, quizzes, papers, and tests. Part of being a successful student is adjusting your schedule to the various rhythms of your courses.
In addition to adjusting to your courses’ rhythms, you will also need plan on completing assignments. Does your course require printed assignments? If so, where will you print them? Are you required to make online submissions? If you have multiple assignments due on the same day, how will you complete them? When are assignments due? At the start of a class period, or submitted by the end of the day? These questions are important, because unlike middle or high school, your professors may not confront you about missing work. You may receive a reminder from your adviser or LMS, but the choice to engage with the material is yours.


Policies for late work and missing class will vary according to institution, program, and instructor. It’s important for you to learn what your course’s policies are. Students will often expect excuses to change course policies, and they’re shocked when they find out that excuses usually don’t matter. Why? Think of it this way: an excuse may be the reason why you didn’t complete a particular assignment; however, you still have the responsibility for completing the assignment. If this seems harsh, remember you have digital solutions to many potential problems. If you find yourself unable to attend class, you can email homework assignments to your instructor. If you know about a problem in advance, then it’s your responsibility to discuss the issue with your instructor. For important assignments, you should keep multiple saved files in different places. For example, keep a copy on your computer’s hard drive or a USB, and have one saved as an attachment to an email, or use Google docs as a place to store important files.


It’s important to remember that your instructors do sympathize when you have challenges that interfere with your work. However, their sympathy does not mean you’re free from the course’s obligations. This is true in the professional world as well. When you miss a day at work, whether it’s your college-job or your future career, your job responsibilities don’t disappear; someone else has to work your shift, or you’ll have more work to do when you return. Your courses continue whether or not you’re present or completing the work. Ultimately, regardless of reasons, you need to complete the required course work to pass any class. Of course, life is full of challenges, and you may have real issues that interfere with your courses. The best method to deal with these challenges is to contact your instructors as soon as possible and make arrangements to fulfill your course responsibilities as best as you can. If you do have serious problems, you may want to contact your adviser or another appropriate administrator, such as a Dean of Student Life, for assistance.


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Writing and Rhetoric by Heather Hopkins Bowers; Anthony Ruggiero; and Jason Saphara is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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