It’s easy to be surprised at how different college is from high school. When I started my college career in 2005, I didn’t know what to do with myself. There was nobody telling me to do my homework, no one there to keep me on track, and nobody to set a curfew or any real rules. It’s odd to think of it like this, but a complete lack of rules and direction can be fairly daunting for a young person who is out on their own for the first time. Another silly idea is that this lack of direction can hurt a person, right? Well, it can. As a tutor, a mentor, and a friend, I have seen many college students hurt physically, mentally, emotionally, or financially by lack of direction. By following a few simple tips however, you can protect yourself in every way and make yourself successful in your endeavor for a higher education.
1) Emulate other people who are successful. Being in college, it’s easy to spot people you live with or that live around you in the dorms or even just in class that are successful students or that are not successful students. By looking at what successful students are doing in their lives, you can get a good idea of what you should be doing. For example, you might not want to be like those guys down the hall who skip all their classes in favor of playing video games all day long… but you might want to follow the lead of that guy in your class who sticks to a schedule. You have to look at what somebody is doing, and figure out if it will work for you, and if not, figure out what does work for you.
2) Don’t procrastinate. This is probably the number one thing that hurt my grades the most when I was a freshman. I would always put my work off until the last minute, thinking I had time to do it, and then something would come up and I wouldn’t get it done, or would rush it and get a bad grade. Procrastination always left me stressed out as well, because I couldn’t have fun if I knew in the back of my mind that I had a pile of work to be done. It wasn’t until I was a sophomore that I figured out that making a schedule of what had to be done and stuck to it that I learned to live a less stressful college experience.
3) Make a schedule. When you make a schedule start off by listing all of your waking hours of the day (for instance 7am – 11pm if those are the times you’re awake. Next mark down things on the schedule that are written in stone, such as classes and work hours. After that you can more clearly see when you have time to sit down and do homework, when you have time for personal things like sleeping, showering, etc, and when you have time for fun. Do not forget to schedule yourself in for fun, and do not forget to give yourself plenty of time for rest and hygiene. Going along with tip #1, emulating successful people, you might take a note out of their book. Most students keep one day a week open for play only, such as Saturdays.
4) Study consistently. This means no cramming for tests. While cramming for a test the night before might get you through the test the next day, it will not get the information into your long term memory for that final at the end of the term. Instead of waiting until just before the test to cram, try studying a little bit each day from every subject. One thing that has worked for me is to read through the assigned reading through the week, highlighting important concepts and vocabulary as I go. Then a few days before the exam, I look over only the highlighted material and study it until I am confident I know it.
5) Know what kind of learner you are. Do you learn best by listening? By doing? By memorizing? Each person is different in the way they learn. Some people can never take a note down and get A’s all the way through school. Other people need to take mass amounts of notes, and others learn by doing or verbally repeating information out loud. Figure out what kind of learning style works best for you, and stick to it.
6) Know the professor’s teaching style. Ask people who have had the professor before how they teach and how they test. Some professors will tell you to buy the $100 book, but never ask a single test question out of the book. Others will give you tons of notes, but never test you out of the notes. Some professors care if you come to class, others don’t. Regardless of whether or not professors are allowed to grade on attendance, some of them do it anyway in secret and call it a “participation” grade. Knowing how your professor teaches and grades can definitely help you. My favorite professor in school was one who never tested out of the book. So long as we were in class taking notes, we were getting A’s on the test.
7) Make sure you’re visible in class. Most people head straight for the back of the room in every class they have. The best idea however is to sit right up front in the first or second row. Believe it or not this can impact your grade in a number of ways. I always sat up front because I didn’t have glasses and had to sit front and center to read notes on the board, but the secondary effect was that teachers knew who I was and always saw me in class. If you sit in the front, professors think you’re interested in the subject. They see you every class. Even if you’re gone, they recall all the times they’ve seen you up front, and when it comes time to give out grades, this can be the difference between a high B or a low A. If you’re a couple of points away from an A, a professor is more likely to give you the A because from their perspective you were one of the interested students who was always there up front (even if you weren’t there every day). Raising your hand and answering questions, and asking questions in class also helps in this endeavor to be noticed. Sitting up front also tends to keep students on task, because they’re less likely to be doodling on their notebook, or chatting with a neighbor. Being up front forces you to pay attention.
8) Stay safe. This is an important topic for both men and women. It’s easy to forget simple safety tips when you’re out on your own. Be aware of your surroundings, especially if you’re out at night. Campus Safety officers on duty are usually willing to escort students across campus after dark or to their car. Also be aware of the type of people you’re around. It’s perfectly fine to be cautious about the people you choose to be friends with until you’re sure they’re not going to try to do you harm. Remember, a real friend always has your best interests at heart. If they don’t, it’s probably not going to work out well for you.
Staying safe also includes keeping your things secure. It’s a good idea to purchase insurance on your valuables like laptop, cell phone, and other personal items. Thefts happen all the time in dorms and even apartments when people have a new “friend” over, who then takes something.
You also need to be aware of financial security. Many scam artists target college campuses, advertising on bulletin boards and through campus e-mail for “easy” jobs like stuffing envelopes or filling out forms. They usually ask you for a small fee to get you started. Remember, that any legitimate job will not ask you for money to get started, or will not place responsibility on you for possible damages or costs. When you look for work, start with campus jobs where they work around your class schedule, and then expand out to other businesses in the area.
9) Don’t wait until it’s too late to ask for help. Generally there is free tutoring available through each college for every subject the college offers. Most professors are also usually willing to set appointments with you to help you if you aren’t understanding something in their class. The key to taking advantage of these free services is to ask for help immediately when you need it. Don’t wait until the night before your math test to get a tutor and try to cover two chapters of material. This goes along with studying consistently and not procrastinating. Instead, if you know you’ll need a tutor for math or writing or another subject, set up regular tutoring times several times a week. While tutors won’t help you cheat, and won’t do your homework for you, they are usually a good tool to put in your learning arsenal.
This tip also includes asking for extra time when you need it. If you were sick or had family issues at home that needed dealt with before homework, don’t be afraid to ask your professor for an extension. Explain the situation, and ask politely, and most professors will be more than willing to let you make up that test you missed, or let you turn the work in late, especially if you know ahead of time you’ll need extra time.
10) Live on campus for your first year. While most sophomores and above move off of campus to cheap apartments or other cheap housing, it’s always a good idea to live on campus for your first year. There are several reasons for this, all of which are beneficial to you.
First, living on campus is cheaper because dorms are usually covered by financial aid. Living in dorms on campus also eliminate gas costs because you can roll out of bed and walk to class instead of driving from somewhere else in town. After moving off campus I definitely missed those days of rolling out of bed ten minutes before class started and still making it on time.
The second reason for living on campus is making a good social network for yourself. You’ll make a lot more friends on campus then you would living off campus. Another bonus is that your friends live down the hall or on the next floor, or in the next building, and even at 2 am there is usually somebody to hang out with or help you if you’re stuck on a homework problem.
The third reason for living on campus is that most dorms offer free activities that you can’t participate in if you don’t live there. These activities include free movie nights, free parties, ice cream socials, game nights, pumpkin carving around Halloween, gingerbread house making around Christmas time, self defense training, capture the flag at night, pool tournaments, video game tournaments and other fun activities, most of which include free food.
11) Get involved. Getting involved is closely related to living on campus. Colleges always have numerous clubs to get involved with. If there’s not a club you’re interested in, then start one. Most colleges give funding to each sanctioned club. If you’re not into clubs, try sports, theater, choir, or other activities offered on campus. For one reason or another, getting involved in clubs actually helps your grades. It helps you set up a social network, and often teaches life skills that are invaluable.
12) Take advantage of on campus resources. Whether it’s free health care at the college health clinic, tutoring, free skills seminars, clubs, or career services, take advantage of it in whatever way you can. You’re tuition goes towards all of these free services, so you might as well use them. Go to the health clinic if you’re not feeling well, use tutoring services when you need help, join clubs, find work through career services, and make yourself successful in any way that you can. Take advantage of your professor’s knowledge, and your adviser’s knowledge of how things work at the college and out in the working world. Technically these people are all working for you, and they are there for your benefit. There is no reason not to use services put there for you if it will help you succeed.
13) Go to graduation. Even if you don’t have friends graduating, go to graduation and watch. I went to every graduation since I started school, and it kept me on track. It’s easy to get disillusioned or burnt out in school and have the urge to give up and quit. But going to graduation and seeing other people’s family and friends there cheering as they walked across the stage, ready to go onto the next stage in their life really gave me motivation to keep going.
By following these 13 tips, you can be a successful, healthy, happy, safe college student. Above all follow your gut instincts, and take advantage of services there to help you. The main key to success in college is knowing where to find help and know how to take advantage of it and when.