Say my name, say my name… Dr., Mrs., or Tom? You could just ask your prof and you’ll know.

I think I’m going to pop an artery by the time I go back to school in late September.

I already wrote about five college success tips that you don’t have to take. This was in response to college success advice that concerned me… remember?

Now I’m seeing article after article of even more success tips for freshmen (and students in general) that I find incredibly overcomplicated.


Because the advice tells students what they should do six ways from Sunday… research this, look up that. The advice so rarely tells students to simply talk to people… to just ask questions!

Should I be surprised?

This piece in USA Today College about “what makes today’s college freshmen tick” revealed some unsurprising, but troubling news (at least to me): That freshmen could average 241 social media friends but have trouble communicating in person (you fall off your chair yet?) and that they would rather text a friend down the block instead of go visit that person.

Is it a coincidence that I’m seeing article after article telling students what to do to succeed in college, rather than what to say? (Okay–disclosure–I knew this already because this premise is how I sold my book as an untapped subject in the college success market).

What does it matter? I’m on my communication revolution, after all. So, of course, I’m going to light my “getting you to talk” torch, wonderful student.

I’m going to turn the advice around, giving you the words I want you to ask in these first weeks to succeed! This post will be short and sweet; one section has multiple parts. Here goes:

Question 1: What should I call my professor?

Sure, you could look up the prof’s name on the syllabus, the college website, Facebook, or hire a private investigator. You could also wait to see how the prof refers to himself/herself in class. You know what? You can also say either privately or by raising your hand, “How would you like me/us to address you? I’d like to call you by the correct name and make sure I’m pronouncing your name correctly.” Your prof is going to appreciate you being so conscientious and you’ll get the answer straight from the source. No need to do any extra research when you can create this quick personal connection that will make a great first impression.

Question 2: Should I get the textbook for my class and where?

Heck, yes! Your textbook is an important component of your course, so don’t think you can get through without it. If you can’t afford the book from your college bookstore (for the price of a used car or whatever they are charging), then go to your prof and try these questions:

“Professor, do we need the newest edition of the book?” Students don’t need the newest edition of my text and the older editions can be found for as little as $10-$20 online, so students have told me.

“Professor, I am wondering if you are in contact with any former students who might still have their textbooks?” Guess what? Many of us still have access to the e-mail lists of former students within course management systems. We won’t make a deal go down (because we’d have to wear a trench coat—ha ha), but many of us may shoot an e-mail telling former students, “Hey, if you still have your old textbook, come to my class at such-and-such time, there may be some students who are interested in buying.” We may also know about exchange lists that the college has.

“Professor, do you keep copies of your book on reserve in the library?” Some of us do! Granted, you may have to use the book only in the library and it might be a total pain in the tushy, but to save money, maybe that’s okay with you.

Question 3: What’s the real difference between the A- and the B+?

I am reading this over and over again from various advice sources and my stomach churns every time. With complete respect, even the host on the KING-5 segment that I was just on sort of alluded to it: That if professors see that you’re really trying, they might give you that little extra help if you’re between an A- and a B+. Students, I just can’t say this enough: Never, ever, ever, ever bank on the idea that just because you’ve been in the professor’s space/face that you’re going to get that nudge toward a better grade.

The bottom line is that your work should always be the determining factor in your grade, so find out what your work needs to look like to get you there. Say, “If I’m between grades, such as an A- and a B+, can we meet to talk about where my work is falling short and how I can bring my grade up?”

I bet I’ll be following up with other college success advice that I think needs a communication twist very soon. In the meantime, will you help my arteries?

Please read the advice that you’re seeing out there and use it as a prompt to help you ask smart questions and start conversations with others.

This is what college is all about!