Category Archives: When

These are college and university questions related to time (when?)

CollegeQandA asks: When to buy books?

When to buy books?

In particular, when should you purchase a textbook for a course?  We’ve discussed textbooks before (and why to buy them) and what they’re useful for.  This discussion is a challenging one because textbooks are very expensive, but aren’t always necessary for every course just because they are recommended.

Books on a shelf

Start with the syllabus

The syllabus is one of the main resources which will tell you how important the textbook is.  Can you use the textbook in exams?  Do you have to have it to access the assignment or practice problems?  Is there some online resource that you get access to and is needed for the course by buying the textbook?  These are the first questions you need to ask.

How is the textbook used in the course?

That’s the key question, and if the syllabus doesn’t tell you and the courses online portal has no information, then you need to email the professor and ask what the textbook is used for in the course.  Another information source for this question is talking to previous students who took the course with the same instructor(though beware that they might mislead you based on wanting to sell you their used textbook).

Lots of options

Now that you know how the book is used, you can determine in which format to obtain the book.  There are many possibilities in the modern day to obtain a textbook including:

  • The library copy (least expensive)
  • Book rental companies
  • Used older editions of the book
  • Used copies
  • Online copies
  • New (most expensive)

Depending on how the book is used in the class will help you decide which format to acquire the textbook.

One other consideration

The last thing about a textbook, is that there are a few textbooks that not only are used for courses, but are also used by practicing professionals.  If the course is in a field where you might work in someday, then you should check to see if this particular textbook is the one that is used throughout a career.  If it is, then it’s a good buy.

Credits: Photo title: Books (74/365) by: John Liu


CollegeQandA asks: When should I provide an excuse?

When should I provide an excuse?

Sign showing an excuse with a washerSo you missed class.  Or you missed handing in an assignment.  Or you didn’t follow the instructions for submission.  What should you, the student, do at this point?  My answer is nothing.  When should I provide an excuse? Never.

You made the error, and as a university or college student, you need to accept the consequences.  Next, you need to make sure the same error is not repeated.  This is part of the learning process.

Worse case is an excuse

Sending your professor an email with an excuse is probably the worse thing you can do.  The main reason is that not only have you made the initial error, but now you have impacted someone else’ productivity with more of your problems.  Excuses are meant to ask forgiveness from someone for something you promised to do, but didn’t follow through on.  In a course, however, the only person you promise things to is yourself.  The professor is only providing the framework in which you will be assessed, but they hold no responsibility for you  following through on your actions, and therefore, an excuse is meaningless in this relationship.  All it does is force your professor to act upon another request, and most likely, make your name be associated with a bad impression of you (which is never an impression you want to leave).

Think about the workplace

Since many of you are approaching college as a path to a career, look at excuses from the perspective of a job.  Your guiding question is, should I ask for forgiveness for this poorly performed action?  In most cases, the answer to this question is don’t give excuses, and instead, start performing to expectations if you want to keep the job.  The same is true in school.  Start treating the classroom and education as a performance based environment, and your career will be better because of it.

Is there a valid excuse

There are a few, and the main one is sickness.  However, for any deadline where you had sufficient time to achieve your deliverable, sickness is a poor excuse when the deliverable could have been done earlier and not at the deadline.

Credits: Photo title: Excuse Me, by: Mike Willis


CollegeQandA asks: When should I panic about school?

You need to track and extrapolate your progress

Unicorn statue

When should I panic about school?  Well, you should use the tools available to you to help you predict how you are performing and avoid disaster.  The first tool is the syllabus.  In the syllabus, you should find what are the assessment activities, how much are they worth to your overall grade in the course, and when will they be administered.

This information is about all you need to predict how you are doing in a particular course (and then all your courses).  Based on your current point of time in the course, extrapolate what you should get overall.  For example, if there are 10 assessments in the course and you have performed at an average of 60% on half of these, you should assume that on your current trajectory you will get 60% in the course unless some major change happens.

For some reason, however, students have an optimistic belief that they will perform better than what they have achieved so far.  This is an unrealistic belief.  To change future performance you need to make major changes, and these changes must happen soon and just don’t come with luck.

Panic shouldn’t happen

When a student walks in to my office hours half way through a course and asks, “What can I do?” the reality is it is too late.  We can try to help, but having completed half a course that builds upon itself, this point of discussion is a bad point to be at.  At this panic point, option one is to drop, and I think this is the best option (all the excuses such as financial aid, full-time standing, etc. should have been taken into account way earlier).  Option two is to try and get as many points from the rest of the course to finish with a “C” over a “D” or “F”.

This point should never happen to you, but if it does, then you have to realize that it was your choice and you have to deal with the consequences.  Avoiding this point is simple.  Learn throughout the course, do your work, and seek help when one assessment is not a success so you can figure out how to master the material.  Arriving at this point means you need to mitigate your losses, but you will suffer losses.

Still, I was like many of my students.  For some reason, I didn’t go to office hours when I needed help.  My fault was my laziness.  If you want to succeed, though, you can not get to the panic point, and you need to evaluate your performance at every point of a course.

Extra credit and other unicorns

Life happens.  In these situations, if you are prepared then you can mitigate the problems.  Most teachers and administrators understand that things come up that can wreck a semester, but when they do, you need to seek administration help and withdraw from the semester.  Also, you can drop some courses and put your energy into a smaller subset of others.  Yes, none of these situations are perfect, but that is the reality of the scenario.

Otherwise, excuses, pleading, and “what can I do for a better grade” are not real options.  There must be professors out there that provide these options, but all the ones I know don’t provide such things.  They’re unicorns, as in, they don’t exist.

If you needed a good grade in course X, then you need to work for a good grade in course X.  An “A” in a course demonstrates excellence in the material.  In theory, (is Harvard an exception) the “A” is difficult to earn without putting a significant work effort into the course.

Credit: photo titled: Unicorn ; by: Lemon~art