By Derek Devine
The transition to college offers many opportunities and challenges, something that second-year students Anna Wright and Colton Fitzjarrald will tell you if you see them wandering around campus this fall.
Both students utilized the help of professors, advisors and classmates to make the adjustment much easier than they anticipated. With one year under their belt, Wright and Fitzjarrald are ready to turn their focus to their second year and offer advice to incoming students who are about to experience New College for the first time.
Take advantage of the contract system and mini-classes
Learning the ropes of the academic structure at New College may seem overwhelming at first, but Wright and Fitzjarrald both credit their advisors and professors for helping them take the first step into a new academic world. Students work alongside faculty members to enroll in and design courses that foster a sense of critical thinking and encourage participation on campus and in the community.
New College students register for these courses using eContracts, written agreements drawn up jointly by the student and faculty advisor for each semester. Each contract is tailored to fit students’ academic interests and goals, and includes educational activities, co-curricular activities, internships, jobs, and community involvement.
“The contract is like a negotiation with your advisors and the College on what you want to learn, how you are going to learn it, and what you need to achieve in order to fulfill the contract,” says Wright, who studies microbiology and public health at New College. “Be willing to ask questions when you are putting together a plan because your academic advisor is eager to help your path to graduation.”
Contracts provide a flexibility that make each students’ academic experience unique. If students decide they want to take on more coursework — or drop an original commitment if they believe they signed up for too much — they have the ability to work hands on with their academic advisor to strike a perfect balance. With permission from professors, students are also allowed to audit courses they are interested in at no additional cost.
“A huge benefit of the contract system is the ability to sign up for higher-level classes even before you have met the prerequisite requirements,” says Fitzjarrald, who studies physics. “Professors are more than willing to have you try out their class, and engage and interact with others in the course.”
“Trying on” a course at New College is a standard practice thanks to mini-classes. Students attend two-days worth of 15-minute course previews during the week that precede the start of each semester where faculty provide an overview of the class for those interested. Students have the opportunity to ask questions about content, prerequisites and course requirements.
“Mini-classes are great because they give you the opportunity to feel out the vibe of professors and get a sense of whether or not it fits your learning style,” says Wright, who checked out nearly 20 mini-classes per semester. “If I am in-between two courses, attending multiple mini-classes helps me make a final decision.”
Grades are so high school
New College faculty evaluate students using performance evaluations instead of grades. Performance evaluations consist of several paragraphs of detailed feedback about a student’s academic undertakings throughout each semester. Determining the final designation of a students’ performance is in-depth and consists of many one-on-one opportunities for students with their professors and academic advisor. The evaluation process is completely personalized and offers a more diversified way of learning.
“Having performance evaluations is way better than receiving standard grades,” says Fitzjarrald, who is a transfer student. “It is better for your learning because you get a detailed analysis to see how you did and how you can improve moving forward.”
Both Wright and Fitzjarrald find that performance evaluations are best when it comes to determining strengths and weaknesses and coming up with a plan of action to continue academic excellence. They are also thankful to be working with experts when it comes to charting out the path that lies ahead.
“The faculty at New College know exactly what you need to do to achieve what you want to achieve,” says Fitzjarrald. “Take advantage of your advisor because they are an expert in the field you are pursuing.”
Research is key, no matter how and where you do it
Research is a major component of students’ academic experience at New College and opportunities to participate in personalized research are limitless. A cornerstone of the New College experience is the ability to work with faculty to design your own Independent Study Programs and tutorials to conduct hands-on research individually or collectively. ISPs and tutorials allow students the freedom to explore topics that might not be available in regular courses while building community in a cross-disciplinary fashion. Many research opportunities happen outside of the classroom including abroad, giving students a first-hand look at the outside world.
“Everyone is on their own independent path pressing forward to academic success, but it is important to not go at it alone,” says Wright. “No matter what you choose to study, there are always people looking to collaborate when it comes to research and faculty ready to assist you every step of the way.”
The New College experience is finalized with a thesis project and a baccalaureate examination. Passing the baccalaureate examination is the capstone of the continuous cycle of research and experiences students have throughout their time at New College, from students’ first independent study project to completion of the final thesis. The final thesis project is something that binds all New College students and graduates, since every New College student produces one.
“Staying organized and connecting with your professors and advisors prepares you for each new research opportunity at New College, including your final thesis,” says Fitzjarrald. “The more interest you show, the more attention you will get from faculty because they want you to do your best.”
– Derek Devine is the social media manager at New College of Florida