How To Handle Constructive Criticism And Feedback In College
Nobody likes to be critiqued. Okay, maybe some people do, but for the most part, nobody enjoys getting negative feedback on their work in college or the professional world. It feels, for lack of a better word, icky to have your professor or boss analyze something you worked really hard on only to tell you everything you did wrong.
Here are a few tips I’ve picked up throughout my college career on handling constructive criticism and feedback in college.
1. Remember: It’s Not Personal
I’m an emotional person— Scorpio, Type 4, ENFP. It’s tough for me to separate my emotions from my academic and work performances.
One of the most important things I’ve learned over the years is that it's rarely personal when you receive criticism or feedback in college. It’s easy to get an essay with red marks all over it back from a professor and automatically assume they think you’re a bad student, they wish you weren’t in their class, and they think you’re an idiot.
Not true. Your professors are there to help you learn and grow. They’re giving you constructive criticism and feedback to help you do well in their classes and to help you build a solid foundation for your future career.
When you receive feedback, remind yourself that it isn’t an attack on your character or your worth as a person. It’s just advice to help you improve.
This one is especially important if you’re receiving face-to-face criticism or feedback. There have definitely been times when I've tuned out criticism and thought about how embarrassed I was that I was being judged or how wrong the professor was with their corrections rather than actively listening to what they were telling me.
If you make it clear that you’re actively listening to your professor’s feedback, they’ll see that you’re interested in learning and improving. Plus, actively listening to the feedback will help you retain as much information as possible so you can do better next time.
3. Ask Questions
Part of engaging in active listening is asking questions. When your professor is giving you feedback, don’t feel like the conversation has to be one-sided.
College is all about learning and growing. You’re absolutely allowed to ask questions if you need clarity or further explanation. You’re also allowed to explain your thinking and reasoning to show a professor why you made the choices you did.
Don’t think of asking questions as challenging them or questioning their intelligence. Think of it as having a mutually beneficial conversation that will help you and your professor understand each other better while also improving your work.
There is a right way and a wrong way to ask questions, though. Try to avoid raising your voice and taking on a defensive tone. Instead, stay as neutral as possible and really try to learn as much as you can from the conversation.
4. Focus On The Feedback
There’s nothing worse than receiving what feels like an onslaught of scathing feedback from a professor you already don’t care much for.
In situations like this, you need to set your feelings aside and focus on what’s being said rather than who’s saying it. If you let yourself stew over the fact that the criticism you’re getting is coming from your least favorite professor, you’re going to miss out on the point of the message. You’ll also probably feel more attacked and offended than you really should.
You aren’t always going to click with your professors, and that’s completely normal. Just because you don’t like a professor doesn’t mean they don’t have valuable knowledge and experience to share with you, though. Practice separating the criticism from the critic so you can learn and avoid getting too worked up.
5. Take Some Time To Reflect
I know how tempting it can be to fire off a million questions and get super defensive when a professor gives you their feedback on a paper or a project. You worked really hard on that assignment, and it kind of stings to have someone critique it.
This sort of goes hand in hand with remembering not to take constructive criticism and feedback in college personally. When you do receive that feedback, it’s important to take some time to reflect on it. Sit down, review the comments, and really take a minute to understand what the professor is trying to tell you.
After you’ve spent a little time going over the feedback, then you can respond. Having that time buffer will prevent you from impulsively lashing out and fighting to defend yourself.
6. Say, “Thank You.”
It might feel a little silly to thank a professor for telling you everything that’s wrong with your paper or project. You don’t have to grovel and make it awkward, but you should show that you appreciate their feedback.
Most college professors don’t make a habit of providing constructive criticism and feedback just for funsies, at least from what I can tell. They’re taking time out of their schedules to really analyze your work and think of ways you can improve it.
I like to remind myself that if my professors didn’t care, they would slap a grade on my work and provide no further explanation. I’ve really grown to appreciate constructive criticism and feedback in college. It gives me something to work toward and improve on.
7. Try Not To Dwell On It
You should absolutely take notes, both mentally and physically, when you receive constructive criticism and feedback in college. It’ll help you remember what to do and what not to do in the future.
Don’t let the criticism consume you, though. I know it’s hard. I’m the kind of person who lies awake at night thinking about an awkward conversation I had in like 2013. I’ve had to learn to accept feedback and move on. Otherwise, you’ll constantly be worried and stressed, and your mental health will suffer.
Reflect on the feedback, take notes so you can refer back to them in the future, and keep moving forward.
8. Don’t Let The Negatives Outweigh The Positives
It’s almost impossible to go through college without receiving some constructive criticism or feedback on your work. It just comes with the territory.
Don’t get too hung up on the criticism. Negative criticism tends to stick in our minds more than praise or compliments do. When you receive constructive criticism or feedback in college, take it in stride and remember all the positive things you’ve accomplished in your college career.
If you need a reminder of the positive feedback you’ve received and the great things you’ve done so far, take pictures or screenshots of your professor’s praise or positive comments and stick them in a folder for you to reflect on when you’re feeling not so great about your work.
Conclusion: Positively Handling Constructive Criticism And Feedback In College Can Be Hard, But You Can Do It!
All college students in all college majors will receive constructive criticism and feedback at one time or another. It’s just part of the college experience. How you react to and what you do with the criticism will determine how much you learn and grow.
P.S. I’m a communications major, and I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s a major that involves a lot of receiving and processing feedback. If you’re interested in majoring in communications and you want a little more guidance and reassurance, check out this post: 5 Tips For Future Communication Majors And Minors.