These prefaces to each post are getting out hand. I’ll make it short this time. Today, I have some things to say about what might seem like the biggest slice of college: surviving and thriving in the classroom. This is clearly a place where people’s habits vary, but I’ll suggest a few things that I think most people can get behind. If not, feel free to tell me what works for you (and might for others, too)!
- Get a planner. A lot goes on in college. You need a way to keep track of it all. A planner is a great way to do it. Keeping mental notes will only go so far before you forget something. It’s your choice how you do this–you can buy a paper planner or do it on your computer/smartphone. Regardless of how you do it, you’ll want it to add some order to a very cluttered life. You can use that planner to…
Schedule ahead. On the first day of each class, your professor will probably give you a syllabus that outlines what you’ll cover over the semester and when you’ll do it. Pay special attention to when midterms and finals and scheduled and write them down in your calendar. You’ll get an idea of what your midterm and finals periods look like. You might notice that you have two midterms on the same day, one a day for three days straight, or huge gaps of time between a couple finals. You can figure out how to pace your studying or plan out when to write papers so that you don’t die from doing so much at once. Also, once you figure out the date or your last final, you know when you can go home for the winter.
- Make to-do lists. Set it somewhere where you can always see it. That way, you’ll be sure to think about finishing that stuff in due time. Also, you’ll feel immense satisfaction when you check things off. There were times when I’d actually write down really simple tasks that I should do, just so that I could check them off and feel productive. Don’t abuse that, though. I would only do that whenever the actual tasks I had on my list were massive endeavors (like “finish first draft of thesis”) that I couldn’t finish quickly.
- Go to class. Honestly. You’re paying good money for time in the classroom. Get out of bed and go! If being a student is a job, going to class is going to work. The most common reason why people don’t go to class is that the professor is lousy: “I learn more from reading the textbook than I do from class!” That might be true. You’ll see your fair share of not-so-great professors that lead below-average lectures, and you’ll feel like you’re wasting your time in class. In most cases, though, there is still good reason to go to class. If you do have problems in class, the professor might be more merciful if they recognize your face. Also, you’re bound to miss some information by not attending. There was at least one occasion when one of my professors announced that a test was rescheduled, only to have a group of students not know and show up on the wrong day. Some professors pretty much wink at you as they practically tell you what material will be on the midterm or final. Even if the class totally sucks, at least go to class and just read the textbook. (This might be one reason to sit in the back of class.) Think of class as dedicated time to focus on the course material. If you don’t go, it’s easy for you to not think about the class for a long, long time. I sure said “class” a lot of times, didn’t I?
- Check out the school library. (No pun intended.) It might be your second home for studying. I mean, it’s a quiet area with lots of seating areas and an academic environment. That sounds like a perfect place to be productive and uninterrupted. Don’t just think of the library as a place to get books (though you can obviously do that). You might be surprised by how much you like the library as a studying spot. It’s especially nice if you’re one of those people that really likes to draw a solid boundary between relaxing space and working space. Be forewarned, though: The library can get jam-packed right before midterms and finals.
- Be wary of 8 AM classes. Right off the heels of high school (which typically begins before 8), you’ll think that 8 AM courses sound like a natural transition. If you definitely know that you’re a morning person, that might be true. My first semester in college, I took all morning classes and was done by 11 AM or 1 PM every day. But it came with a cost: I am not a morning person. The first couple weeks were fine, but as my sleeping schedule kept being pushed back further and further, each morning that started at 6:45 AM felt like a nightmare. I dragged myself out of bed and sat in the 8 AM classes with only about half my brain engaged. I scorned myself the entire semester. Really think about this before you sign up for classes. Of course, if you need to take a course that only takes place in the mornings, then this isn’t really meaningful. Just stay strong. But if you have a choice, there’s no reason for you to torture yourself. At the same time, don’t try to schedule everything so that you can sleep in too long everyday. The idea of sleeping in leads me to the next tip, which is obvious but always bears repeating.
Show up on time. When you’re in a small class where everyone gets to know one another, you instinctively feel embarrassed when you try to quietly walk into your class after it’s already started. Nobody in the room even has to acknowledge that you were late or stare at you in some disappointed way in order for you to feel at least mildly apologetic. Well, that’s what I would think, at least. The tricky part about college is when you have large lecture courses that give you some anonymity. You feel less guilty when you try to sneak into the class a few minutes late and figure that the professor won’t even know who you are. If there’s no participation grade in class, then there’s even less concern. Don’t let that kind of thinking inspire you to prance into class whenever you want. It’s annoying to other students and definitely irritates the professor, even if they don’t spend time chastising you for it. And every once in a while, a professor will let you know that they aren’t happy about it.
- Anecdote time! My freshman year of college, I was in a 300-person macroeconomics class that started at 8 AM. (I didn’t come up with that 8 AM tip out of thin air, you know.) The early start time meant that lots of students just didn’t show up, and many that did show up arrived late. For the first few weeks, the professor just ignored it, but with every passing class, students were showing up later and later. The main door into the room was also in desperate need of grease; it squealed like a baby pig every time it was opened. So one day, as the professor is about 5 minutes into his lecture, about 20 kids walk in to the class. He loses his mind. He screams across the room at the 20 students and orders them to get out. They first think this is some weird joke (he was entertaining in class), but he made it clear that he was dead serious. Out, he said. One other kid wearing headphones that didn’t know about this came in about 10 minutes later, trying to be as quiet as possible as he found a seat in the back of class. Little did he know that every student was looking at him or the professor, wondering what would happen. The professor yelled at the kid to get out, but he couldn’t hear because of the headphones. The professor stomped off the stage, walked over to the student, pulled his headphones off, and personally ordered him to get out. It was quite the scene. Now, I think the professor was just in a bad mood that day, because he didn’t ever do that again–but students didn’t show up late like that ever again, either. It’s better to show up late to class than not at all, but it’s best to show up on time.
We’re just halfway through our academically flavored advice. I’ll get into more of the nitty-gritty aspects tomorrow. (Update: Those nitty-gritty aspects are here.)