How to Help Students Engage with Academic Courses

* This post was originally featured on The Student Affairs Hub.

Classes are beginning at many colleges across the country. Students are buying their books, gathering their supplies, and trying to figure out what's the best professor to take a certain course with. The academic aspect of campus life is why students come to institutions of higher learning in the first place. They're working towards their specialized credential which will get them towards where they want to go in their life. This means that we, as student affairs folks, are poised to help our students better engage in their academics and position themselves for career success after they graduate. There are a few simple things that we can all do to aid in their engagement with their coursework.

1. Help Them Choose Stuff They're Into

The first, and perhaps most important step in this process, is helping students figure out what they want to do with themselves! While granted, college is about finding yourself, even figuring out a general direction for your student is more helpful than them just wandering aimlessly through their coursework. The pitfall they can get into if they don't know what they want to do with themselves is that they may waste valuable time (and money) on classes they don't need. This is understandably frustrating for students, and can play a big part in students just giving up, since they'll feel behind and can't surmount the high costs they're facing. We can help students through various tools to find out what they're into or would be good at, with things such as Strengths Finder, MBTI, True Colors, or the Holland assessment tool.

2. Maximize Their Schedule

Students often get frustrated when they have to take classes that don't align with their chosen majors, the dreaded "gen ed"(or general education, liberal arts, breadth requirement) courses. A smart way to get around this is to maximize the choice of each class your students take. We obviously know better that we are working towards making more well-rounded citizens of the world, but we can meet our students halfway by helping our students choose classes or involvements that satisfy multiple requirements at once. This could even help them graduate early if they're lucky! Also, a simple but useful point here is helping students figure out how they would work best in terms of scheduling their classes during each week. Do they prefer night classes? Classes that meet once a week? Having all their classes on as few days as possible? More (or less) credits? All of these help students be empowered to manage their academics, and have it work with their life and schedule.

3. Apply Their Learning to the "Real World"

Student affairs folks can help synthesize the learning our students are gaining in their courses by inquiring and applying what they're talking about in their courses to the "real world". I don't like the use of that terminology, by the way, (air quotes included) since college is the real world, it isn't outside of it. Nevertheless, we can figure out how to transfer the concepts and theory to their day to day lives. Say for example, we're working with a Resident Assistant student staff member, and they're learning about communication theory. Those concepts directly apply to their interactions with their residents and we could even task them with working in the theory into future conversations and see how it goes. I know I have regular meetings with my RAs, probably just as often, if not more than their professors so I can continue to engage my students in learning outside the classroom, that only further provides relevance to what they're reading about and getting lectures on.

These concepts will help you guide your students towards being as engaged in the classroom, as they are outside of it. Certainly direct them towards their academic advisors if you ever don't know the exact answer to anything, but these simple tips should be able to help most students no matter where they are or what they're studying.

Here's to another great academic year!