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Communicating in College: Skills for Students to Learn

written by: RobinRaven•edited by: Amanda Grove•updated: 5/12/2010

As a college student, you'll be treated more as an adult. You'll also be expected to communicate as an adult, yet as an adult who defers authority to professors and who treats older adults with an extra measure of respect. Here's how to determine the ins and outs of communicating in college.

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    College Communication Basics

    As a college student, you need to begin to learn how to communicate as a professional. Nobody is going to expect to get the correspondence from a college student that they would receive from a lawyer, but you will be expected to communicate articulately over the phone and to enter into conversations prepared. For example, when calling financial aid, be prepared with your social security number, your student ID number, important dates on when you submitted the FAFSA and basic financial records at hand. The workers that you come in contact with at your school likely deal with hundreds of students every day, and they are expected to have time for all of them. If you waste their time, you are not starting the relationship out on a good note, and it's one that may follow you all through your college career. Be polite and prepared; those are the core basics for dealing with all of the offices at your college.

    When dealing with written correspondence, realize that you should never submit a written note. While some find that acceptable for high school students, that's unacceptable for college students, especially with computers and printers available to students on almost every college campus. Ask over the phone if email correspondence is acceptable within an office of the school before attempting email. Otherwise, it may be lost or deleted. That's another aspect of communication that you have to deal with as a college student; you'll need to accommodate the preferences of individual offices regarding how you communicate with them. You may be emailing the student services offices, while only calling the job assistance office.

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    Communicating with Your Professors

    Your success in the classroom is the main goal of each course that you take in college. As such, it's important to establish a respectful relationship with your professors. Speak up in college when you have something to contribute to the conversation or have a question. Also, don't be afraid to linger after school to have a quick discussion with your professor or thank him for a particularly good lecture. The thing is that you should be sincere; don't try fake flattery. It's better to say nothing at all than given an insincere compliment. Kissing up will rarely help your college performance.

    While you are allowed to stay after class for a quick question or upon request, be aware that your professor is likely very busy. He may have plans immediately after class, or he may simply want a break after a long class. If you have a long conversation that you need to have with a professor, ask to make an appointment to stop by his office. Don't make that habitual, either. Be interested and involved, yet walk the line between involved and monopolizing a professor's time away from his other students. If a professor shows an interest in being a mentor to you then things change, but always be polite and err on the side of caution to establish healthy relationships with your college professors.

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    Peer to Peer College Student Communication

    The communication skills of college students are in flux. Naturally, students are also changing how they deal with one another. While "popular" groups and cliques may have existed in high school, you won't really find that in college. If you can't deal with your peers in a mature and respectful way, you're really not ready for college. Spend some remedial time working on your communication skills if you are tempted to mock or exclude your fellow college students. Instead, be kind and respectful to every student that you meet in school. It's a time for expanding your horizons and meeting new people from all walks of life.

    Also, a very important part of communicating in college is how you deal with your roommate. Speak respectfully. Even if your roommate is a slob while you are a neat freak, think of how you would like to have the issue addressed, if the situation were reversed. Consider that your roommate is scared and adjusting to college life, just like you, and she may be acting out because of the stress. Bring up conflicts early on, so that you don't build up resentments. However, bring them up by offering a solution. For example, you may state how much messes bother you, then ask what you can do to help her to be more neat. For example, you may share your garbage can by putting it in a space where you both have easy access to it, or you may make a chore wheel so that you establish boundaries of when each of you should clean up.

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    In Conclusion

    The communication skills of college students will be a work in progress for much of the time spent in college. Yet, that's no excuse for not putting in all the efforts possible to communicate effectively and respectfully with all of the people you meet. Your personal relationships and even your relationships with your parents with flourish all the more, as you learn to communicate with respect and honesty about precisely what you want, need and will contribute to others.