These types of articles pop up around August and September every year. In fact, several months ago I wrote up a list of 9 things I wanted my college-bound daughter to know and I also asked my many professor and grad-degree-ed friends to chime in on what made them successful or what they would want freshmen to be thinking about.
But this type of list is invariably in one ear and out the other amidst of the firehose of information and life experiences hitting these 18 and 19 year olds all at once as they begin their post high school journeys.
But now, with some real college classes now behind them (and some accompanying scars and bruises to show for the process), I wanted to revisit the topic as they are starting or are getting ready to start their second semester. Hopefully these tips will resonate more now with the benefit of a bit of perspective under their belts.
Below is a revised version of my original list with quotes and comments added from my friends and associates in higher ed:
1. Stay AHEAD.
It is a helpful trick to think about the importance of any period of time in college as inversely proportional to how far along you have progressed (e.g. Your freshman year is your most important academic year, sophomore year the second most important, etc. The first week of the semester is the most important, the second week is next most important, etc).
“In the first month of class each semester, you will have hardly any work due. Use this time to get ahead in class. Do papers and assignments early. That way, you won’t suffer when you get sick, your grandma dies, your boyfriend dumps you, or whatnot. Instead of being a month ahead, you’ll only be three weeks ahead. You’ll have no stress and college will be easy. You won’t cheat or plagiarize because you won’t feel pressure. You’ll have more fun at parties and such because you won’t feel like you’re procrastinating.” ~ Professor, Georgetown University
“I made a point to always read one chapter ahead. So I’d been introduced to the concepts before hearing them in class. This worked well for me in science and math classes.” ~ MD, Phoenix AZ
“That reading a chapter ahead tid bit… I didn’t figure out until dental school.” ~ DDS, Tucson AZ
“Being ahead is sweet, you can always drop what you are doing and be there for a friend if you are ahead on all the readings.” ~ Professor, Creighton College
2. 1 hour in-class = 2-3 hrs out-of-class.
Further, the most valuable form of independent study is SELF-TESTING… Flash cards, quizzing, online study platforms, practice essays, blogging/journaling, recorded vocal practice, etc. Reading an assignment or your notes from class is only preparation for independent study.
“I treated it like a job (the best I could) 8-5. I studied during the day when the library was quiet. I took early classes to get me out of bed (and reduce hangover). I ran drunk a lot too, early in the am.” ~ DDS, Tucson AZ
3. Use professors’ office hours.
Leverage these visits to both support your immediate academic needs and develop mentor relationships over time (1-2 years).
“[Showing up during office hours] is the most under-appreciated… make it a game with yourself. See if you can read the professor’s expectations and deliver.” ~ Professor, Creighton College
“Professors liking you helps you, professors were all undergrads once before, they have heard every excuse, and obviously not stupid.” ~ Professor, University of Arizona
4. Use tutoring resources.
Leverage these visits to both support your immediate academic needs and develop connections/friendships with upperclassmen.
“I used the writing tutors to help for any essay I did. I learned a lot about checking my own work and it helped me a ton!” ~ DDS, Tucson AZ
5. Get the urgent out of the way of the important
At least 50% or more of college is proving you can dedicate yourself and succeed over a long period of time within a large bureaucratic organization. College is a perfect opportunity to develop an ability to efficiently manage (do, delegate or dispose) those tasks that may need to be done but are distractions from deeper more meaningful opportunities and work.
“Don’t try to do five things. Whole-ass one thing; don’t half-ass two things.” ~ Professor, Georgetown University
6. Focus on growth, real experiences, & meaningful outputs, not GPA*.
Take summer school to round out your learning (financial accounting and business law are two good suggestions), get an internship, go abroad, work on projects that can go in a portfolio of accomplishments. Bottomline, if you start avoiding worthwhile challenges for easy A’s or B’s: You’re doing it wrong.
“Intern and go abroad if possible. But be selective about your study abroad program. You want to immerse yourself in the foreign culture.” ~ Professor, Western Carolina University
“Experiment with classes. Do not let yourself be forced to take what others think is good for you.” ~ Professor, Georgia State University
“Do hard things to develop character. Take classes you’re not quite smart enough to succeed in. Join a sport that will physically test your limits. Do things that force you to radically step outside your comfort zone. Suffer a little. Character applies to all situations and lasts a lifetime, and this is a good time to develop it.” ~ Professor, University of Maryland
* Please note that this advice comes purposefully AFTER I have already told you to stay ahead, study 2-3 hours for every 1 hour in class, go to office hours, use tutoring, and focus on priorities… If you are doing those things GPA will take care of itself.
7. Take care of yourself first but not only.
Add healthy non-academic activities to your weeks. Get a job, do regular exercise, join the outdoor recreation club, go to church on Sunday, get together with friends. Choose housing based on what is best for your success. Use a solid, healthy lifestyle as a springboard for success in over areas.
“Sleep. Get at least 7 hours per night. And eat reasonably healthy. Take care of your body, esp the sleep part.” ~ Professor, Ball State University
“If I had it to do over again, I’d have a meal plan throughout. The opportunity cost of your time is too high to mess around with grocery shopping, cooking, etc… I lived on campus all four years, and I’d recommend this, as well. Expensive? Yes, but again, the opportunity cost of your time is high enough that messing around with commuting and parking probably isn’t a good choice.” ~ Professor, Samford University
8. Have fun.
“Earn vacations… then take them.” ~ Professor, University of Arizona
“My advice: Sex, drugs, and rock and roll–but at least make it to all your classes.” ~ Professor, University of Arizona
“The biggest thing I’d say is that by the end of college, you want to be able to look back on a lot of really awesome, fun, and boundary-testing experiences that you could only have had as a young person in college, but you also want to be able to look back and say that you worked your tail off and took advantage of the incredible learning opportunity you had. So make “Work hard, play hard” your motto, and never forget that the first part comes first but should always be followed by the second.” ~ Professor, UNC
9. Don’t take any of this too seriously.
You will reinvent yourself many times in your life. The modern world moves too fast for much of what you learned in a class one time over one 4 or 5 year period in your early twenties to stay relevant or even true. Treat college with your best effort as you should any opportunity, focus on the fundamentals, learn how to learn, make the big things the big things, love lots, do things you will be proud of, make a difference… and remember to call home.