I may have grabbed you with a misleading title – and now that you are reading, let me be clear: the relationships you build with college professors can have an impact not only on your academic success, but also on your attitude and future. And the biggest outcome of these relationships is motivation, an elusive but long-lasting attribute. We always think of motivation as an intrinsic quality – some are blessed with it; others aren’t, Studies of college students, however, prove otherwise. So, how do you find it?
The Chronicle of Higher Ed printed an interesting article: “Can Colleges Manufacture Motivation?” which cited several longitudinal studies. The gist of the article is that colleges – especially professors – play an important role in instilling (and discouraging!) a “spark” in students. Just as important, though, are the other benefits from this motivation. A student’s eagerness to return after a year (retention), academic success, improvement in critical thinking skills, and success in finding employment or attending graduate school are ALL linked to motivation during college years.
So, how do you identify this when you are exploring colleges? First, dig past the admissions office and the canned presentations. Ask delving questions of the tour guide, students who already attend, or random students you might meet while visiting. The questions, “Have you had a favorite professor?” or “How well do you get to know your professors here?” or “How did you get to do research in your sophomore year?” or “Do all of your professors know your name?” can give you some insight into the relationships between students and professors. Secondly, explore the NSSE, which surveys for professor interaction. This statistic can be very telling.
Some advice to high school students: regardless of your year in school, make it a goal to practice forming relationships with teachers. Raise questions in class, go in early for help and discussion, show an interest by doing some outside reading or watching. Express a little curiosity! And in searching for colleges, remember that fit – your comfort level on a college campus – is a key component in your ability to form relationships with professors – and with other students, as well.