As a parent who is saving for your student’s college degree, you probably hope they will do everything they can to make the most of their undergraduate experience. My goal as a Student Success professional is the same.
One of the reasons my career in higher education veered toward Student Success is the opportunity I see in the research on college student success, and in my experience coaching students, for students to mindfully and resiliently navigate college.
When I coach students in navigating their coursework, I hear about the content in their classes and the connections they’re making across the curriculum, and it inspires me. At times it also prompts me to think back to my own undergraduate coursework, and unfortunately, there are some courses I can’t recall clearly—despite the effort I invested and my enjoyment of those classes.
As a result, I encourage my students to do something I wish I’d done after each semester in college. I’m sharing it here so you can pass along the advice to your students, even before they begin the college journey. Here it is:
Write a paragraph about what you learned in each class at the end of the semester. The learning is still fresh on your mind, so document it. Write down the key texts you read. Write down if you changed your mind about something as a result of the course. Write down what skills you practiced in the course and how the course connects to your future career. Write down your professor’s name and something you’ll remember about their treatment of the topic.
Students are busy, and have many responsibilities to juggle. Like many students today, I managed competing priorities in college, including classes, leadership opportunities, part-time work, internships, and my community of friends. Coursework generally became more intense toward the end of the semester, and by the end of finals I was relieved to be able to rest. Rest was a necessary part of the ebb and flow of the academic calendar.
But now that it’s been a couple of decades since I started college, I wish I’d taken a moment to conclude each semester with this kind of reflection and documentation.
Notably, some universities have recently instituted the use of E-Portfolios, a High Impact Practice for student engagement and learning in college. When building an E-Portfolio, students compile milestone projects or papers that demonstrate their learning throughout the college experience. They can comment on their learnings in courses or related to specific projects. E-portfolios can be developed for any major and can be useful not only for students to see their progress over time—thus enhancing the perceived value of their college experience—but also in the post-college job search process.
Whether through an E-Portfolio or on their own, students can reflect on and document their learning throughout the college experience, and even treat it as a creative endeavor. It could become a tradition of sorts or a bookend to the semester for them to capture the fruit of their labor. As an added benefit, it could also provide you and your student an opportunity to celebrate their progress and to affirm your investment in their college experience.
To help your student get started, I included a few questions for reflection below. Encourage your students to think through these questions for each of their classes, and to also consider their semester as a whole, both in coursework and in the experience overall.
- What is one thing you learned in this class?
- In what ways did your perspective change about a topic/idea in this class?
- How might you summarize this class in 3-5 sentences?
- What ideas are you curious about related to this class moving forward?
- How did the ideas in this class intersect with, or differ from, other courses?