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General Tips for a Successful College Career
So the time has come. You are finally starting college. Are you nervous? Excited? Anxious? All of the above? It is perfectly normal to be feeling that way. There are some things that you can do to help keep that anxiety away and let you take control of your education. While these tips will not guarantee success, they will help maximize your potential and relieve stress.
Too many students fall into the same trap of exhaustion and poor time management which leads to poor study skills and not absorbing the course material. Besides affecting this semester's grades, it will have an impact on future upper level classes, which require prerequisites. If you don't have a good understanding of the 100 and 200 level classes, you won't be able to build on that foundation when you take your 300 and 400 level courses. My best advice is start with good habits in your freshman year.
Even if you were in the top of your class in high school, realize that this is now college. It is going to be hard. It is suppose to be hard. Hard is not bad. Giving up is bad. Do not give up. Focus on learning the material, not the grades. If you really know the material, the grades will take care of themselves. Don't be afraid to fail, try your best and learn from your failures. Pick classes that interest you, but don't be afraid to explore new interests. And do not be afraid to challenge yourself. Now for those tips. Show up for class! Every class! This should be obvious. You are paying for the classes, so just show up. You can't learn if you are not there. You may think you can make up for it by just reading the book. And you should do the required reading! But what you are missing if you are not there are some important discussions and insights.
While you are in class, pay attention! Actively pay attention! Take notes. Ask questions. Participate in class. Trust me, you will appreciate it. The more involved you are in the class, not only will you have a better understanding of the the material, but you will actually enjoy the class more.
Study, study, study! Do your homework! Plan on spending at least one hour per class credit doing homework, and studying each week. Schedule your study time just like you would schedule your classes and show up to study. Make your workspace conducive to learning. Have your study materials near by and minimize distractions by having the space neat and organized. If you find it difficult to stay focused in your dorm room find another quiet place to study. Go to the library, or many of the buildings have quite little nooks or rooms that you can go to to study. Have a study partner. Not only will you be able to help each other understand key points, they can also let you know what you missed if you have to miss a class (Because you are dying, right? Because that is the only reason you would miss class, right?).
Break up your study time and work into manageable chunks. Spend an hour or so working, then take a short break. Go for a run, exercise, have a healthy snack. You will feel refreshed and ready to tackle the next assignment. Speaking of homework... Prioritize! Use a white board, or a day planner, or what ever works best for you and write down all important dates. Many times your test and papers are assigned during the first class. It is up to you to remember. Stay organized and plan ahead. Most importantly, if you don't understand something, seek out your professor during his office hours, or get a tutor. Don't wait until you are so lost and confused that you will never recover. Get help when you need it. That is what it is there for.
Take care of your self! You can't learn if you are tired, hungry or sick. Get a routine and stick to it. This means sleeping enough hours every night. Five or six hours of sleep per night, every night, is not enough for your brain to absorb and retain information. Additionally, not keeping a consistent schedule can be detrimental to your attention span. Imagine a schedule of 8 am classes on Monday/Wednesday/Friday and your first class being at 2 pm on Tuesday/Thursday. You might think sleeping until noon sounds incredible on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but you will actually feel groggy and that will translate to a hard time focusing and remembering. The solution to this is to find a (mostly) stable schedule, and keep it as if it was a class requirement, since success starts and ends with sleep.
For those who do not like breakfast, remember, it is the most important meal of the day. Assuming you slept for 7-8 hours, and now you are now sitting in a 75 minute lecture, and likely heading somewhere else after. Your body could be fasting for 10-12 hours. Anyone would have trouble focusing and performing mentally or physically. You need protein, you need vitamins, and you need calories to keep your mind healthy for critical thinking. So have something to eat, even if you just stop at the dining hall for a quick bowl of cereal (or keep it in your room) and give your body the fuel it needs. College campuses are known for their unhealthy cuisine, but they usually do have some healthy choices to choose from. So eat your veggies. Have a piece of fruit. Every single day. You will feel less sluggish, happier and less anxious, plus, as an added bonus you will look healthier too.
Speaking of sluggishness, it is common for many college students at some point to feel tired, unhappy and anxious. But there is a cure! Exercise! Try to set aside 30 to 45 minutes a day, two to four days a week to exercise. Go to the gym. Go for a jog. Take a yoga class. Whatever your thing is, just do it. You don’t need to be a body builder or fitness model to be healthy. Just maintaining moderate, modest exercise on a regular basis will release endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine; all of which contribute to making you feel good, focus more, sleep better, and fight off depression and anxiety. As a student with free gym access, consider this the cheapest way to solve a ton of common college problems.
Do you want to know another way to fight off the blues? Make connections! Get out there and meet people. Some of them may even become life long friends. How? Join clubs. College campuses have a breadth of activities. Join one of your favorites, or try something new. One of the best parts of the college experience is experiencing new things.
Finally, Party right! Do not feel that you have to drink just because you think everyone else is. There are many other students who feel the same as you. Seek them out, look for sober activities and don't fall for peer pressure. Binge drinking, needless to say, is detrimental to health and cognitive ability. Remember you do not need to drink, but if you do, drink moderately and responsibly. Slow down, eat something, and hydrate and make sure you make it home safe. DO NOT DRIVE. You are in college to get a college degree, and nothing will ruin that or the rest of your life faster than drinking and driving.
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