Wednesday, August 23, 2006

My New Freshman Writing Assignment

Over the past few years, I have noticed that freshman college students have many different reasons for attending school. Some know exactly what they want to major in, and some have no idea why they're there. Some don't want to be there at all. With this in mind, I have devised a new writing assignment for my first-semester freshman students, and I want to get your input on it. Here's part of the assignment sheet:

For some reason, you are a student at [this university]. Have you really thought about why you are here? I mean, for example, before you even applied to [this university], did you think long and hard about what you want to do for your career and how [this university] could help you to achieve that career? Or at the opposite end of the spectrum, was the decision to attend [the university] sort of like your decision to attend 12th grade: It was just the next expected step in life, the 13th grade.

I want you to take a long and honest look at why you are here. Some students are here because they know exactly where they want to go in their career path, and [this university] is a stepping stone on that path. [This university] may offer the perfect education for your career choice. Maybe [this university] is just the place where you plan to complete your general studies courses before moving on to your university of choice for your major courses. Some students don’t want to be attending college at all but are here because of a deal they made with their parents. Other students didn’t even get to make a deal and don’t want to attend college at all but are here because mom and dad are making them come here. Some students even come to college with the intention of failing all their classes so that their parents won’t make them come back.

Whatever category you fall into, you have a reason for being here, and you need to be honest with yourself about what that reason is. For your first writing assignment, you will explain to your readers what you hope to do as a career, how [this university] fits in with your career plan, how you came to be attending [this university], and how these three facts will shape your actions over the next few years.

There's more to the assignment, but this gives you the basic idea. My goal is that the students will honestly examine themselves and their motives and make a choice to take responsibility for their own education right now. They consider themselves adults, so I want them to start now to think like an adult.

What do you think? Do you see any drawbacks to this assignment that I should address before giving it to them? Many of you are parents of college students or children who will one day become college students, so your input is very welcome.


Tony Arnold said...

This self-assessment might just be one of the most important influences on their success at school and in their careers.

If they are there for the wrong reasons, it may help them correct the situation before they invest too much in a wasted choice.

If they are there for the right reasons, but aren't clear about on why, identifying those reasons will provide committment and a sense of purpose.

For those who know why they are there, the reaffirmation will bring them confidence and reassurance in a new setting.


Ayatollah Mugsy said...

I think this will be a valuable exercise. When I was attending classes at PetSmart, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. And I know I was not alone. Looking back, it is hard to believe I ever imagined being a canine engineer. Those calculus classes nearly killed me. It wasn't until a few years after I graduated that I found my true calling, and some of my peers are still leading aimless lives.

Getting your students to try to focus on their destination -- and not just go along for the ride -- will surely help some of them.

JMG said...

Thanks for your input. I'm hoping that the people who don't need/want to be in college will go ahead and get out.

I've had students who wanted to go to Wyotech and learn to work on cars but whose parents wanted them in a regular university. I also knew of a girl who wanted to go to culinary school, but her parents didn't like the idea of her not attending the university. How sad that so many young people don't persue their dreams because well meaning parents don't allow them to fully explore their choices.