Freshman Survival Guide: Part III Academics

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College brings with it a whole new set of academic challenges, but you can be prepared to meet them.

The biggest difference between high school and college academic life is certainly independence. In high school, you were legally required to be in school during specific hours everyday, your teachers probably checked every assignment and did all they could to make sure all students were staying engaged in course material, and your parents were there to make sure you were studying hard. In college, all of those things change, which can help or hinder your learning. To succeed in college, you must be able to motivate yourself and take responsibility for your understanding of material. That may sound daunting, because it will seem foreign at first, but there’s no reason to panic. Here are some thoughts, ideas, and tips to help you ace your first semester of college.

  • You Learn What You Choose to Learn: That is to say, you must choose to keep up with course reading and assignments if you want to master material. Your professors will not go out of their way to make sure each student understands concepts or assignments, so you need to figure out what means of studying is the best fit for your learning style.

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  • Get Excited: You now have more flexibility in choosing your classes than ever before, so find classes you will enjoy! Your first year or so may be filled with a lot of GERs (general education requirements), which require you to take courses in a range of subjects, some of which may not be your cup of tea. However, many schools offer a huge range of courses which meet each requirement, so look for the ones you find most interesting. In addition to your required classes, make sure you take at least one related to a field you are particularly interested in: for example, if you are hoping to go into law one day, take a class on the philosophy of law or on the history of the Supreme Court. If you find your schedule dismal, you will never find determination to do your work, so don’t have a dismal schedule.
  • Find Your Study Spot: Although it seems like everybody studies in the library, you do not need to study in the library! If you are most comfortable in the library, by all means, study there; but if you are more comfortable in your dorm room, your hall’s study lounge, or a nook in an academic building, why not go there instead? Do you need total silence when you study, or do you prefer to have some friends around? Do you like to study indoors or outdoors? In the first few weeks of classes, try a bunch of study spots to find out where you can get the most done.
  • Takes Notes: Go ahead, buy that quirky recycled notebook with woodland animals printed all over it, then use it, every page of it. In a lecture format, like that used for most college courses, taking notes is crucial. Professors often assign reading assignments or problem sets in advance and then discuss the material in the next class, stressing the information they consider important. When it comes time for exams, you need to have a record of all of those things your professor considered important, because those are the things which will pop up again on the exam. Here are some great note taking strategies to try!
    • Five Note Taking Methods
    • Avoid using your laptop during class (it is a distraction to you and many professors prefer to see you writing notes, because it shows that you are engaged).
    • Try color coding your notes.
    • Use a 3 ring binder and loose-leaf paper so you can more easily organize notes.
  • Office Hours, Office Hours, Office Hours: If you want to succeed in college, going to office hours is one of the best things you can do. Not only do office hours give you an opportunity to ask you professor questions you have about assignments, they also give you an opportunity to talk to your professor one-on-one and prove that you are a dedicated, hardworking student. In the end, professors really are more willing to give students who came to office hours the benefit of the doubt in grading. One week, I went to office hours to talk to my linguistics professor about some problems I had on a previous homework assignment. The next day, I got to class and realized I had left my homework for that day in my dorm, which was a 15 minute walk away. I explained my mistake to the professor, and he let my scan the assignment and email it to him after class for full credit. If I hadn’t gone to office hours before that, I doubt that he would have believed me when I said I left the paper in my dorm.
  • Procrastination Is, As Always, the Enemy: Be prepared, do your work ahead of time, and save your self loads of fuss.
  • Take Five: Take study breaks. Studying yourself into a stupor will never help you, so close your books and laptop every now and then. Try taking a walk, working out, watching a movie with friends, or picking up a hobby like knitting or drawing—or start a blog, that’s what I did.

*Bonus* Academic Resources!

  • Quizlet: flashcards galore
  • Purdue OWL: Online Writing Lab, which is to say, they have the answers to every citation or formatting question you could think of
  • Khan Academy: Your math and science salvation
  • And, here are 50 more!

Have any questions about college academics? Leave them in the comments!

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