Tips for Success

*** Students should download How to Format an Essay. ***


Students Speak About Their Experience In English 111 and 112
Surviving College Composition: A Student’s Perspective
Surviving College: Tips from Academic Advising
Important Differences between High School and College
Dos and Don’ts of Success in College
Grading Criteria for College Papers

Students Speak About Their Experience In English 111 and 112

“I know what you are thinking.  ‘Oh great, another boring English class I have to take.’ ‘Oh great, another stupid paper I have to write about something I could not care less about.’ Let’s face it, we’ve all been there.  Everyone has had to take classes that they did not want to take [and] many times in college, there will be classes we take that give assignments that we think are totally irrelevant to our lives.  Having gone through that and having gone through English 111, I can honestly say that English 111 is not like that at all.  Writing is a very important and vital part of not only a college education, but in everyday life.  Every time you write something, it is a reflection of you.  English 111 definitely offers a student the skills to portray himself in a well-educated and professional manner.  English 111 is only one of two required English classes [that] will benefit you greatly in all classes you take on the pathway of your college education.  Many of the classes taken over the next few years in school will require finely crafted papers.  In English 111, you will learn many great skills which you will be grateful for when you reach for them in your bag of tricks in the future.”—Greg Peter


“Face it, for the next four or so years you can pretty much guarantee that you will have quite a few papers or essays that will need to be done.  This is your practice time to develop your writing skills.”—Sam Love


“With each essay that I wrote I had a better understanding of what I needed to work on. […] After reading the comments that were left on my paper, I had a better understanding of things that I had not caught onto in previous high school English classes.  The more essays that I wrote the better my understanding became of how to interpret and explain my own point of view into an essay.  I also learned how to avoid plagiarizing other essays, as well as how to cite a source of information that I incorporated into my own essay.  All of these things were learned by reading others’ essays and writing essays on my own.”—Melinda Amidon


Students appreciated courses in the First Year Writing Program because:

“It teaches you how to think critically and analytically.”—Melissa Fisher

 “Being able to write a good essay is very important for future classes and in the work force.”—Melinda Amidon

“[It] has helped me out with all of my writing fears and my overall thought process.” Zach Frey

 “It is a chance to express things that you feel are important and other people should know.” —Amanda McDonough

“English 111 is a class about writing and finding yourself as a writer. I felt that the class was very useful, and it will really come in handy in the near future.” —Ralkeita Lusane

“Reading, thinking, sharing, and writing are the key skills that you will be developing.” — Sam Love

 “I liked going to this class because I did see a difference in my writing techniques.  I feel it has been easier to write an essay after going through this class.  It gives a lot of helpful ideas on how to become a better writer.” —Jennifer Smith 

“You will be challenged to reflect on the essays you read.  You will be challenged to reflect on your own essays.”—Tim Ross 

 “I have enjoyed going through English 111 because it helped me develop skills that I never had before; it gave me a reason to stop saying that I am a bad writer and start saying that I am a good writer.”— Jon Doyle


Advice from Students on Surviving English 111 and 112

On Attending Class and Being Prepared:

“You have to go to all scheduled classes and get to them on time.  If you miss important directions and writing exercises, it may impair your essay and not let you write at your full potential.”—Matt Jackson 


“Make sure you always have a writing utensil and paper because these will be used in almost every class period”—Bobbie Hodge  [And if you think that’s a pain, consider what one student said: “This pain that I hated to do every day was actually helping me.  I felt really stupid that I was being negative about something that just helped me.”—Zach Frey]


“[A]ttend class as often as possible . . . the writing program has a fairly strict attendance policy and it could affect your grade if you miss too many days.  Also, the more you are in class, the more you get out of it.  That is true of any class and this is a good place to start developing good attendance habits”—Sam Love


“If you don’t take time to review, study, write and read then you will have a whole lot of trouble surviving any class in college. English 111 is one of those classes.”— Melinda Amidon 


“When I first entered English 111 I was scared that my writing was not up to standard and I would be a step behind everyone in my class.  But [now] I know I had the skills and just needed to use them more.  . . . .A topic may sound hard, but it might just be the way its worded, so take your time and read the topic and ask yourself what they are asking—in a way, it’s like a word problem.”—Ebony Landers.


“Out of all the tips I can offer you on English 111, trying to get something out of the class means the most. If you try to get something out of every class, you will pay attention, be prepared, and participate.” —Kasey Layman


“My advice to students coming into English 111 is to do your homework and go to class! If you’re not prepared to discuss what is going on in class, or your paper is not ready to be reviewed by others, you’re not getting out of the class what you could.” —Danielle Mikolaizik


“Above all others, timeliness is of utmost importance.  For example, when a student walks into class 25 minutes late it not only breaks the concentration of the professor and the students, but that student has already missed much of the lecture and has shown incredible irresponsibly.”  –Sammi Justice


On Meeting Assignment Deadlines:

“I have learned from this experience that you always have to stay on top of deadlines and start research and writing in plenty of time to have the essay well proofread and ready to hand in.  My best piece of advice would be to start thinking about what your paper is going to be about and plan to have enough time for research, writing, and proofreading the first day the assignment is given. Also, make sure that you read over the directions of the essay and follow all the requirements very closely.”—Matt Jackson


“If you have a chance to work on a paper, do it; even if it is only 15 minutes.” —Steve McGrath


“I know that everyone says to start your paper early. But everyone says it because it’s true!” —Name withheld upon student request


“A useful guideline to remember is to expect to spend two to three hours outside of class for every one hour in class to study and prepare for the next class session.  Working students also must remember that every hour worked is an hour lost for study time.  So, make sure that there is a good balance of class load and work.  It is better to have a good GPA with four classes than to try to do six classes and wind up on probation.”   

–Sammi Justice

On Revision and Reflecting on Your Own Writing:

“I found it was easier to write about something one day and wait a couple of days to come back to revise it.  I would read things over that seemed good at the time I wrote them and realize I didn’t like it.” —Jennifer Smith 


“After you write an essay and before you turn it in, you may be asked to reflect on what you have just written; what is it that has made your essay good, what you are most proud of and what you can do to make your essay even better.  This time of reflecting is a perfect opportunity to prepare for your next writing.  As you consider what you may have done better, you can incorporate those fresh ideas into your next essay.”—Tim Ross


“If you ever have any trouble with revising your paper you can take it in to the writing center and they will look it over for you. They are there to help, and it is free of charge.” —Name withheld upon student request


“One common mistake students make is taking too little time with the final revision.” — Name withheld upon student request


“The best piece of advice I can give to an incoming student is to make sure you understand what the teacher is asking for.” —Adam Tallman


“When handing in a final draft of a paper, keep in mind that the paper is a direct reflection of you.  Neatness is just as important as correct grammar, punctuation and, especially, content.  I have too often heard from other students that they had eight pages of “filler” in their ten page paper.  This fools no one—especially the professor who requested an eight to ten page paper.  When putting a paper together for a class, always remember that the paper might be the only way in which the professor can judge if you know the material or not and that this might be your only chance to prove what you know.”  —Sammi Justice


On Peer Review:

“During the first peer review I was worried about what others would think of my work but I tried to concentrate on their papers and how they went about exploring the topic.  I found that the peer review was extremely helpful.  By talking to my peers about my work I got to see what others thought and listen to their ideas for what I could do to make it better as a whole.  Also, by reading my peers’ work I got to contribute my ideas to their papers, which then helped me realize that there is not a wrong way to go about writing as long as you clearly argue your point.  As I wrote my final draft I took into consideration the suggestions of my peers and kept in mind the discussion we had in class about what makes a good essay.  I followed all assigned guidelines and took my time until finally I had a product I was proud of.”—Melissa Fisher


“When Peer Review day comes up, don’t think that your paper is ‘good enough’ to get by. Use the resources that are available to you!” —Steve McGrath


“Forget your high school peer reviews in which everyone said the same lukewarm things. You have the chance to achieve a better peer review in this class. Constructive criticism is not about being afraid to criticize; it’s about being useful when you do. The best peer reviewers are the ones who cut up your essay with marks and argue points with you. Don’t be afraid to question a writer’s work, whether it be your own or a peer’s. Especially your own! In fact, peer review is all about teaching you to improve your own work through revision.” — Name withheld upon student request


“Being a good peer reviewer not only helps your peers, but it also helps you. The better you get at critiquing other people’s writing, the better you will get at critiquing your own writing.” —Julie Eggert


“Peer review provided someone to read over my paper, tell me honestly what they thought, and then give me suggestions on how to make the paper better. I got more out of peer review every time we had it, and my papers were getting stronger every time I turned them in.” —Luke McMunigal


On Research:

“Don’t be scared away by things like the MLA format and the research that is needed for some papers.  After practice, the MLA comes naturally and you get comfortable with research and knowing what to use and what is reliable information.”—Matt Jackson 


“Be well aware that the library has many useful things to help you, so take advantage.” —Name withheld upon student request


On Reading:

“In order to be a writer you must be a reader.  Reading the works of other writers will make you a stronger and more confident writer.”—Greg Peter


On Plagiarism:

“Plagiarism is a very serious thing and easy to do if you don’t pay close attention to your words.” —Matt Jackson.


“If you don’t cite your sources, it is considered plagiarism, whether it was intended or not.” —Danielle Mikolaizik


On Attitude:

“Your attitude is the key to your success.  Although that may be an obvious answer, not many people actually adhere to this piece of advice.  If you have a positive attitude towards the class, it will seem like one of the easiest courses you’ve taken.  However, if you come in with a negative outlook, it will seem impossible.  For example, when many students are assigned to write a paper, they dread it and usually put it off as long as possible, rebelling against the inevitable.  That kind of attitude will make this class incredibly difficult and cause unnecessary anxiety.  Now I’m not saying that when you are assigned a paper you should be bursting with excitement, hardly being able to refrain yourself from jumping onto your desk and shouting ‘Woo-hoo!’ Frankly, that would just be weird.  But, a positive attitude will make the semester easier and prevent procrastination-induced panic attack.”—Amanda McDonough


“I quickly noticed that this English class was trying to help me [. . .] [H]ave a positive outlook while taking English 111.  If you and English never got along your whole life, you should relax and just listen to the people that are trying to help you out. I hope you will get as much out of this class as I did.”—Zach Frey


“My best suggestion is to just keep an open mind to everything that will happen in English 111 and take everything as a learning experience in order to improve the writer you are now.” —Amy Sawade


“Don’t be afraid of what people will think of your topics or how you write.” —Amy Sawade


“Choose a topic that you feel strongly about and put that feeling into your essay. It makes it more interesting to read if the author of the paper cares about it and for more than the grade it is worth.” —Adam Tallman


“It is amazing how many messages are conveyed without uttering a sound.  For example, think of the student who sits in the back of the class, slid way down in the seat, half asleep.  Obviously this has happened to many of us and occasionally we have a good reason, but if this type of behavior is exhibited often, to what conclusion would a professor come?  Remember:  how you present yourself is the first impression (and often a lasting one) for professors.”   —Sammi Justice


On Communication/Conferences with Instructors:

“Something to remember is that teachers can be very helpful if you are having trouble. Don’t be afraid to go ask for their help. One time I was really stuck on how to make my paper work. I scheduled a meeting with my teacher so that I could get her advice on what I needed to do. In the meeting we talked about what was a good idea for my paper, and how I could elaborate on that to make the paper the required length. I used her advice, plus the advice from all of my peer reviewers, to write a great paper.” —Kasey Layman


“Most importantly if you do not understand, or you are having trouble with the assignment, do not hesitate to talk to your professor.” —Paige E. Anderson


“Another great tip for survival is if your professor offers optional conference periods where he/she will read your paper and discuss it with you before the paper is due, utilize them! During these conferences, your professor will tell you exactly what he or she expects for the assignment and will give you ideas on how to improve your paper to their standards and expectations.” —Ron Krawczyk


“On those assignments that are so hard, don’t give up; instead keep pressing on. Ask your peers for advice on where they found information. Ask them to help you organize your thoughts so that you can clearly portray them in the fashion that you need. If that doesn’t work, go to the English Writing Center. They can help get you on track to where you need to be. If still that doesn’t float your boat, ask your professor. There have been plenty of times that I’ve E-mailed my professor and asked to have a conference to help me with the current assignment.” —Steve McGrath

Surviving College Composition: A Student’s Perspective

by Jason Harrod

When starting as freshmen at the University of Michigan-Flint, or any university, students are often overwhelmed with warnings.  These might sound like “college is a lot harder than high school” and “you’ll have to make sacrifices to get all the work done, but it will be worth it all in the end.”  Parents, family members, or even friends that have been to college may be the source of this vague counsel.  Of course your family and friends want to see you succeed, so discounting their advice isn’t smart, as extreme as it might sound.  As an outgoing senior, I’ve learned a lot about the university experience, and none of the situations I’ve encountered needed to be solved by anything as drastic as studying all day, every day.  This essay is meant to provide insights into specific topics – responsibility, timeliness, tutoring, and class load – that an incoming freshman might not have considered.

The biggest difference between life as a university student and high school is the newfound responsibility.  Getting to school is your responsibility, as is going to class; there are no buses and no bells to signal the start and end of class periods, and in some cases, attendance may not be enforced.  Homework might not be collected.  There were days when I didn’t want to get out of bed or finish a reading assignment; I just wanted to sit in the Pavilion instead of going to class.  A few days I even managed each of those three ways to be lazy.  At the end of the semester though, I never remembered the extra hour of sleep I got that one Wednesday, or the delicious smoothie I drank in the Pavilion.  Instead, I was always disappointed that I missed out on a class discussion that would have been helpful when writing the final paper.  Still, it’s all up to you; no one is your boss here.  But there are people who notice what you do, and how you do it.

Besides attendance, maintaining a high quality of work is an important responsibility.  And like attendance, no one will force you to hold your work to a high standard.  Not procrastinating is the best way to maintain quality.  The more time you allow yourself to get even the shortest paper completed the better.  You may find you need to ask the professor a question about the assignment, or you need to do more research than you expected.  None of these possibilities can be addressed if you started writing the paper on the due date.  Revision is another step that cannot occur if not given time.  Sure, a bit of last minute time is enough to find surface errors, but a day or two to ruminate on what you’ve written can generate new and better ideas.  That time can mean the difference between just getting the paper done and getting an A.

Taking more time to write a paper has other benefits.  Professors and peers are great sources of discussion when you need to talk about a paper you’re having trouble with.  Most of the time, either will be willing to spend time with you.  But, you can’t expect professors to spend all their time helping just you when they have other students and lives of their own, and your peers have their own papers to write.  Luckily for every student at the University of Michigan-Flint, there is the Marian E. Wright Writing Center, located in 308 Lib.  The tutors there won’t write the paper for you, but they will help with everything from prewriting to organization to citation.

Along with attendance and work quality, professors notice those who are routinely late or dozing.  They remember who turns in papers late, and who never says anything in class.  They can also recognize a motivated student; consistent attendance, class participation, and turning in papers on time are easy ways to get a professor to have a positive opinion of you.  I’m not suggesting that a professor’s opinion of you will decide your grade, but it might make getting a deadline extension easier if the professor knows slacking is not your norm.  Your fellow students also form opinions of you and of each other based on the same factors.  They won’t want to be paired with you for group work, loan you notes from classes you missed, or discuss assignments with you if they think you don’t take the class seriously.

Blackboard is a great place to earn the respect of your peers and professor and gain useful knowledge while outside of class.  You can log in to Blackboard from, and see a list of all your classes.  Each of your classes will have its own page with class announcements, assignments, and discussion boards.  Some professors use Blackboard more than others, and some will require participation on the discussion boards.  Whether participation is required or not, you can still post on the discussion boards to identify yourself as an active member of class.  On-line discussions with classmates and the professor (if s/he chooses to participate, too) can only help you to be more prepared for class discussions, writing papers, and taking exams.  

Once you’re actually in class, there is another factor that can lead to be taken seriously, or not so seriously – your cell phone.  To say almost everyone has one is not an unfair claim, so you’re unlikely to be asked not to bring yours to class.  Plus, with Internet and file storage capabilities, cell phones can be a useful tool to have on campus.  But, be considerate.  Leave the ringer on vibrate or silent.  Just wait until the first time someone has to dig through his bag to stop his favorite song from overpowering the discussion; you’ll understand then how annoying it can be for everyone in class.

Now you know that it is important to turn in great papers on time and to earn respect from your professors and classmates.  The only thing left is to make sure you’re not burying yourself under a giant class load.  Eighteen credits is the maximum amount of credit hours in which a student can enroll without special permission.  Eighteen credits is the maximum for a reason.  Every student has a point at which they cannot accomplish any more work at the quality the work needs.  This point is different for each individual student, and is defined by things like jobs, family life, commute time, or any other number of unique circumstances; twelve to fifteen credits is a pretty average range.  You have to figure out just how much you can do for yourself.  If you work, it’s especially important that you figure out how many class hours you can handle. Academic Advising has a cool chart at to help you do just that! There is a drop deadline, so it’s best to figure your limits out before that time in order not to waste tuition money.  If you’re mindful of taking a realistic course load, too much homework won’t become an issue.  Instead, you can just concentrate on studying at a pace that works best with your newly increased self-responsibility. 

There is no way an essay like this can cover every issue that might come up.  I’m only writing from my own experiences about specific aspects of university life that stood out to me.  Being as responsible, as respectful of my professors and peers, and as mindful of the quality of my own papers as I could are the things I consider most important to my success as an undergraduate student.  You might find other things are more important to your success.  If so, feel good about the fact that you’re able to recognize those factors at work within your life at the university.  Your own advice is always better to follow than the vague warnings of people who could not possibly have the same experience as you.


Surviving College: Tips from Academic Advising

We encourage you to check out the link included in the student essay above on “Surviving College Composition.”  Academic Advising has put together several resources to help you plan for success, including how to map out study hours based on your course load, suggestions for how many classes to take while working full- or part-time, study tips, and other resources on time management and school/work balance:

Important Differences between High School and College

There are two key differences between high school and college that are important to keep in mind:

1. You are responsible for your own learning. Your teachers will give you the tools that you need to excel, but it is up to you to use them. You choose your major/minor, classes, and schedule; you choose whether you go to class, do homework or choose to seek help. Ultimately, you must set priorities and balance important responsibilities and accept the consequences for your decisions.

2. In college you are not just given knowledge that you translate to tests, you are given information and concepts that you are expected to use and apply to new situations or to solve new kinds of problems.

Here are some specific examples:

High School College
Teachers have a degree in their field and secondary teaching training and certification.  Teaching is a main requirement of their jobs.  This means that they are accessible all during the school day and can regularly be found in their classroom. Professors have an advanced degree in their field. Teaching is part of their jobs, but they can also be researchers. This means that they may not always be on campus and have no regular classroom. However, professors do have an office and consistent hours that they are available in their office and will let you know the best way to contact them.
Parents are often very involved in the education of their children. When you turn eighteen you are considered an adult. When this happens, your record cannot be shared with parents without your consent.
There are consistent rules and consequences for tardiness/absences. Professors determine their own class policies. This allows them to construct their classroom in a way that best fits their teaching strategies and subject. However, many professors take and grade attendance, so it can affect your grade even more so than in high school.  No matter the individual grading policy, missing class means missing important information that will help you to do well in the course.
Teachers will often contact you and/or your parents when you are struggling. Late work is often accepted and extra credit given. You are expected to keep a copy of, and follow, the syllabus, that explains class policies and requirements and often gives assignments and grading scales. You are responsible for keeping yourself on track in the course. This means that if you are struggling, you are expected to take the initiative to ask questions and/or contact the professor for help. Late work is often not accepted and extra credit is rarely given.
If you miss class, your teacher will let you make up your work and help you to do so. If you miss class, you are expected to get notes from another student. Much of what is done in class cannot be made up.
You might study little outside of class and/or have class time to work on projects/assignments. You are expected to study at least 2 to 3 hours for every hour in class. This means that for a 3 credit class you could have 6-9 hours of homework a week (often more for a writing course!).
When you are given reading and/or assignments, these are often discussed in class. You are usually told what you need to know from assigned work. You will be given reading and assignments that might not be addressed in class or even checked, but that does not mean that the information is not important. Lectures and in-class assignments are given with the assumption that you have completed and understood your homework.
You are often rewarded in high school for a good-faith effort. Though professors do respect students who are making a good-faith effort, effort does not guarantee good results.
Many assignments usually make up your grade. Grades are usually comprised of a few major tests and/or papers.
You often may not get out of your seat or leave class without permission of the instructor. You do not have to get permission to leave the room. But you must do so quietly. Professors will not tolerate students who are disruptive to the class. Being disruptive can affect your grade. You should also know that like arriving late, there may be penalties for leaving early and not attending the entire class session.
Cheating and/or plagiarism might have minimal consequences. You might be allowed to retake the test/resubmit the work. Academic misconduct has serious consequences that could range from not passing the assignment to not passing the course. Repeated offenses might result in expulsion and can go on your permanent record.

Dos and Don’ts of Success in College

DO take advantage of all services offered to you, such as advising, tutoring and the Writing Center.

DO consider college an opportunity and not a requirement.

DO worry about grades, but do not consider them the only indicator of learning.

DO NOT try to do too much at once. Think quality over quantity. If you try to work full time and go to school full time, something will suffer, possibly your health, your grades, and/or your job.

DO ask for help if you are struggling, and get to know your professors. They will help out if asked but will not seek you out.

DO remember that failing a class means paying to take it again.

Remember: Some of the most successful students in college are those who are not only hard working, organized and responsible, but are those who also have a good attitude.

Grading Criteria for College Papers

These are general guidelines for how college writing assignments are graded. Individual expectations of faculty will be described in their syllabi and assignment sheets. Always refer to those documents and if you have questions, ask your professor!

An Outstanding Paper

Excellent work, much above average. There are no notable problems or shortcomings in the thesis, development, organization, clarity, coherence, style, or documentation of the paper. There are very few (if any) problems in mechanics (spelling, punctuation, and grammar) and none that are distracting or glaring. Moreover, the paper makes a clear, forceful, intelligent statement and adheres well to the directions. It is interesting to read. It is convincing. It completely satisfies the assignment. It is an outstanding paper in nearly all aspects.

A Good Paper

Good work, above average. There are one or two problems or shortcomings worth noting, but these are relatively minor or isolated. For example, there might be a paragraph or two that need more support or development, or there might be a few too many mechanical problems, but overall the paper is successful; it has much more right with it than wrong. Might be a little too short but otherwise outstanding.

An Average Paper

Uneven work, average or slightly below. The paper has its strong points, but there is a serious problem or shortcoming in at least one area (usually in the thesis, development, organization, clarity, or documentation, although widespread or glaring errors in mechanics could also cause a paper to receive this score). The paper is less convincing than is should be. It may not satisfy all parts of the assignment. It needs significant rethinking and rewriting.

A Poor Paper

Poor work, clearly below average. This paper would earn a failing grade in an ABCN class. There are problems or shortcomings in two or more areas. Often the problems obscure the message the paper is trying to get across or otherwise might confuse the reader. The strong points are few. The paper might totally disregard part(s) of the assignment. Usually the paper shows very little effort, or simply does not conform to the assignment in important ways. Lack of original thought. Serious documentation problems or no documentation.