You deserve a break today!
What Are You Actually Entitled To?
However, entitlement and deserving are actually two entirely different, even antonymous, concepts.
Entitlement is to have a right or claim to something, either by virtue of who you are within a certain social or professional network, by law within a given society or organization, or simply being human (i.e. basic human rights).
But to deserve something means your qualities or behaviors merit reward.
Entitlement refers to the rights you have, and deserving to the privileges you may (or may not) earn.
It is a problem when a student - or even a professional - can't distinguish between being entitled to something and being deserving of something. At best, you look like you do not understand how the system works. At worst, you look like an arrogant person who makes assumptions about what the world owes you.
So what does the world owe a college student?
"A" For Effort?
- Good grades
- Graduating on time and obtaining your degree
- Instructors being at your beck and call
- Luxurious accommodations
- An allowance or spending money
- Job, internship, or graduate school offers immediately upon graduation
When I went off to college, I struggled with math. Well, that's an understatement. For my entire freshman year I was engaged in a never-ending battle to get through the tests and quizzes and homework that threatened to permanently mar my GPA. But math was a requirement and I needed to pass.
I remember explaining to my father by phone that I was nervous about approaching the professor for help. "I don't want to bother him outside of class," I explained.
"You're not," my father insisted. "That's his job. We pay the school for you to attend and the school pays his salary. You're not bugging him; you're asking him to do what he's being paid for."
In other words, my father was pointing out one of the rights all college students have: access to educational support through instructors both in and beyond the classroom.
But please note, he never once said, "Hey, if we're paying for you to go there, you pass the class, no questions." I wasn't entitled to an "A," or even a "C," just by virtue of tuition money.
A Student's Rights
However, some individual schools have a student bill guaranteeing certain academic rights and responsibilities. Georgia College has a good example (seen here), and although California's Student Bill of Rights Initiative failed in 2012, its bylaws (seen here) were meant to give the state's students unlimited access to the educational resources needed to be admitted by California universities.
Based on my own experiences as both a student and instructor, these are some of the rights I believe all college students are entitled to:
Affordable College Education
It shouldn't cost an arm and a leg to get your undergraduate degree, and you shouldn't be paying off student loans into your forties. There should always be an affordable option, and it's up to you (or your parents) if you choose to go a pricier route.
Accessible and Invested Instructors
Nobody should be expected to be happy and "on" every day, but your instructors should actually care about giving students a good classroom experience - or at least transferring the knowledge students are paying to learn from them.
Sometimes teachers get burned out and express their frustrations through unreasonably harsh grading, aggressive behavior in the classroom, or simply being MIA when students need assistance.
That's not ok. Students who care about earning good grades and learning the material are entitled to instructors who care about their learning experience.
Transparent Expectations in the Classroom
Students have the right to a syllabus at the beginning of the semester, with clear directions from the instructor, in writing and in person, about what he or she needs to do to obtain a good grade.
A Safe Learning Environment
Students have the right to physical safety - having classes in buildings that are up to code with safety procedures in case of emergency. The campus should also protect students' safety while they are in class with appropriate on-campus law enforcement measures.
And finally, students have the right to a learning environment where they feel safe participating in classroom discussions without fear of being ridiculed or belittled by the professor or by classmates.
A Safe Living Environment
Similarly, if students live in on-campus housing, the university is obligated to make sure the living quarters are safe and protected to the best of their abilities.
A Safe Social Environment
Students have the right to a safe social environment, where they do not have to live in fear of being persecuted by the university (in overt and in more subtle ways) for their race, ethnicity, nationality, creed, gender, or sexual orientation.
If students do not feel safe or feel discriminated by a university's policies, instructors, or by other students, they have the right to ask that their concerns be addressed by the college.
What You Deserve
I remember two students in particular where I was impressed with their maturity in negotiating grade disputes with me.
The first was a young man who contacted me by email and respectfully requested a meeting for us to go over his paper together. He believed he had earned more points than I had originally awarded.
Now I should mention that at the beginning of every semester I told students:
I am not perfect. If there is a paper, test, or quiz where you feel like I made a mistake and you should have a higher grade, you are welcome to set up a meeting with me. HOWEVER, the burden of proof is on YOU. You have to prepare a case for why you deserve a higher grade.
This worked pretty well because students had to consider if it was worth doing the extra work of preparing an argument and meeting with me outside of class to get a few points back.
But this guy came ready. And you know what? He was right. He took out the assignment's rubric and pointed to two specific examples where he had, in fact, included the required information. While it wasn't as clear as it could be in his paper, his ability to explain what he meant signaled to me that he did understand the material. Good enough for me. I gave him the extra points.
Another time, a girl emailed me about her abysmally low essay grade and said, 'I was hoping to do better on this paper and am disappointed with my grade. I am not asking for a higher grade, but can you please help me understand what I did wrong so that I can get a better grade on the next paper?"
A perfectly worded request. I sent her a detailed outline of her paper, explaining her errors and how she could improve her future essays. Sure enough, her next essay was better, and by the end of the semester I gave her papers A's.
When the semester was over she thanked me for helping her improve her writing. I thanked her for asking for help and following through on my suggestions. Her work didn't originally merit a high grade, but her behavior definitely earned her my respect.
Students can come to deserve the following based on personal qualities or merit-worthy acts:
Good Grades, Academic Honors, and Awards
Work hard, follow the instructions on the syllabus and as issued by your instructor, and yes, you deserve that A. And if it's a really difficult class, you should be just as proud of your B!
The Respect of Your Instructors
You've probably heard respect is earned. Behave responsibly and follow through - ask for help when you need it, submit assignments on time, follow directions, and participate in class to demonstrate that you respect your instructor. It is likely he or she will return your respect.
The Respect of Your Classmates
Look, you can't make everyone like you. But liking someone and respecting someone aren't necessarily mutually dependent. Offer thoughtful contributions in class, learn how to give and receive critiques in a fair and measured manner, and offer assistance to your classmates if someone needs to borrow your notes or a book.
You're in college. Don't expect your parents or the university to continue issuing you an allowance. However, feel free to find a job and earn some spending money.
Jobs, Internships, and Professional School Offers
You aren't entitled to the best, most lucrative job or a spot at Harvard Law School because you have a college degree. But if you demonstrate an impressive track record of academic, professional, and personal accomplishments, you might find that potential employers and schools find you deserving of a position at their company or institution.