How to Succeed In College
The following tips were collected and compiled from on my personal experience, the experience of others I have known, and discussion in a class designed to help incoming freshman understand the college experience. It is by no means a comprehensive list, but it has the advantage of being easy to read and understand.
I. THE COLLEGE EXPERIENCE: GENERAL TIPS
1. Understand Your Strengths and Weaknesses. Only you can do this. Develop your own productive work habits and use them. For example, some people write better in the morning, others in the evening.
2. Buy the Books. Why not? Find the money somehow. It's part of the cost of doing business in college, and you can't excel if you don't read.
3. Copy All Research. If you use magazine or journal articles in your class or research, copy them (as well as the title pages, for your bibliography). You don't want to be studying or writing some night and have to check an article which is in the library.
4. Don't Waste Any Time Wondering about the Grades, Work, Etc., of Others. It's your work, your education - that's what you are there for. What other people are doing is their business.
5. Don't Be Afraid to Excel. In simpler language, don't be afraid of standing out. For example, if no one wants to participate in discussion except you, great! More opportunity to explore your ideas.
6. Small Groups Can Be Time Traps. If you have to do a project with a group of people, pay attention: Make sure the group stays focused on the goal and that discussion centers around that goal. After an hour, suggest that each of you do a smaller, specific task before you meet again, and conclude the meeting.
7. Talk to Your Professors One-on-one. Develop a relationship. It will help immeasurably in your research, and other areas which you won't know about unless you give it a try.
8. Don't Expect an "A" in Every Class. We all want them, and if you get one, fine. But the goal of a college education is to get an education, and if you do your best you will learn.
9. Cheating is Always Wrong. You always lose. If you get caught, the penalties can be severe, and if you don't get caught you have still cheated yourself out of the education.
10. Understand the Rules about Plagiarism. The most important thing to know about plagiarism is that it is still plagiarism even if it is unintentional on your part.
II. TIME MANAGEMENT & PLANNING
1. Make a Calendar for Bigger Projects. Start by setting the deadline and work backwards, marking the days when you should be finished with each phase of the project (this, of course, will not work unless you stick to the plan!).
2. Always Plan to Get Projects Done Early. This removes any chance that they will be late - a simple, but effective trick. In addition, you can then check them over at your leisure and catch anything that may need correcting.
3. Finish Papers at Least Two Days Before They Are Due. You can then set it down for a day, and when you check it again, it will read as if you haven't ever seen it before. This means you will be more likely to catch things that may need correcting, clarification, etc.
4. Plan Little Tasks for Times When You Only Have a Few Minutes. Between classes, during a reading break, etc., you can check your email, make short phone calls, do your dishes, or any number of small jobs that have to be done every day. Plan on this.
III. THE CLASSROOM
1. Always Go to Class. There is nothing better you can do for your education. Skipping class "just this once," for any reason, is never a better use of your time.
2. Sit up Front. This not only puts everyone else (including the instructor) on alert that you are serious about your education, but does something for you as well in that regard.
3. Review Your Notes Right after Class. Immediately after class go over your notes. Type them into the computer, re-order them, make notes to yourself about the notes - do something. You will be glad you did this when it comes time to study for an exam.
1. Make Notes in Your Books Instead of Highlighting. Highlighting is passive. Writing notes to yourself about the material is active, meaning you are much more engaged while doing it. It also helps (obviously) when reviewing the chapter later.
2. Read in Short Blocks. Most people cannot concentrate on college-level reading material for very long. Read in 15-30 minute blocks, then put the book down and do something else for a few minutes before resuming. You will retain much more this way.
3. Make Yourself Read Quickly. This takes practice. Remember, you are usually looking for main ideas, not details. Pay attention to section headers and use them, especially when you review.
1. There is No Good Reason to Pull Stay up All Night Studying. Even in your shakiest subject, you will benefit from a good night's rest before the exam. The amount of material you can reasonably digest and retain at 3:00 AM is minuscule. Compared to having your brain work properly in the exam it's not worth it.
2. Take a Few Minutes Before the Exam and Stop Studying. The most important element in taking an exam is your state of mind. Studying until the last minute, however tempting it might be, tends to produce nervousness and anxiety. This is bad. So make yourself stop at least 15 minutes beforehand and do something to relax.
3. Understand the Importance of the Exam or Quiz. If it's not worth much for the grade, don't kill yourself studying for it - you can probably be doing something better with your time.
4. Choose Study Partners Wisely. Your best friend, dorm mate, or boyfriend may not be the smartest person in the class. Why study with them? It should not offend them if you decide to study with someone more qualified. Remember, you are in college for you.
5. Make Sure You Understand the Question Before You Begin to Answer. This sounds simple, but many people forget this. Two things will be helpful here. First, identify the key words in the question, like "explain, "why," or "justify." Second, restate the question to yourself in your own words. If you can do this, you understand it.
6. Before You Begin Answering an Essay Question, Think! Good essays require several things, but most of all they need to be well thought out. Take a few moments and think about what you will need to write in order to answer the question properly and about how you should do that.
7. Make Sure Your Essays Are Well-structured. This relates to the previous point. Start with an opening paragraph which states what you will talk about, make sure there is a sentence in each paragraph which summarizes the paragraph, and include a conclusion which sums the essay up. In other words, make sure your tell the reader what you are going to tell them; do that; and in the end, tell them what you have just told them.
8. Use Exam Time Well. Plan your exam. This too seems fairly obvious, but in the middle of an exam might be easy to forget. For example, make sure you leave enough time for writing the essay. Or, if there are difficult questions, skip them, answer the rest first, and go back to the tough ones. Nothing is more frustrating than not finishing an exam!
1. Buy a Computer and Learn How to Use It. Never turn anything handwritten in (exceptions, math classes), even if it's not required. You are a professional: Make your work look as professional as you can. This also means you shouldn't waste time with fancy graphics on your papers. This looks great on greeting cards, but is inappropriate for college work.
2. Spell Check Your Papers. Spell checkers are perhaps the greatest gift to college work ever invented. Use them. In addition, you should also pay attention to spelling when you edit your work, since there are many specialized words in college classes; also, certain words should (or should not) be capitalized. Your spell checker may not catch these things.
3. Always Make Back-ups of Your Work. For everything you do in college, make sure you have two copies in two different physical locations (for example, on your hard drive and on a floppy disk). The day will come when you will be glad you do. If you don't know how to do this, ask someone.
4. Find out How to Avoid Computer Viruses. Computer viruses are not that mysterious. There are just a few basic rules to follow. Find out what they are and follow them. The last thing you want is to have your data destroyed!
(See also My Tips: Safe Computing)
1. Please See A Guide to Preparing and Writing a Good Paper or Essay for These Tips.