Even though I’m a bit late with this one (oops!), it’s never really too late to get organized, get prioritized, and get on track towards achieving academic and all-around success in college. Freshman year of college is an overwhelming time for even the most prepared of young students. The demands and workload are greater, and the accountability systems and oversight are fewer than in high school, so many new students are understandably overwhelmed. Add in the pressure of a new social life with far greater temptations, and college life can seem unmanageable and trying to navigate for new students.
However, with some simple tips (and then putting them into practice!), all students who want to achieve success can. Here is Part 1 of my tips for a successful college career:
1. Get acquainted with your school, program, and dorm
Every school is quite different in terms of how offices are set up, how and what services are provided, how information is disseminated, etc. The more you know, the more you can tap into all of those resources and maximize your experience and tuition dollars. Here’s how:
• Attend all orientations
• Walk around campus until you feel like you know it well (use a campus map!)
• Spend time on the school’s website and platforms (e.g. BlackBoard) that you’ll be using and will be required to navigate effectively
• Find out about services (career, tutoring/writing, accommodations/disability services, health center, counseling/psych, etc…) and locations of those services
– Go right away to any offices or services that you need immediately (or know you will need in the future)
– Many schools have different tutoring centers for different subject areas. Some will have a science specific tutoring center that is separate from writing help, for example. Find out what these services are and where on campus they are located, and don’t wait to go if you need help as appointments are generally required and are usually booked on a first come, first served basis
– If you have a documented disability, go to your disability services office immediately AND tell your professors right away
2. Be proactive with academic planning
As I said recently to a college student (who wanted to not make a plan and instead see how things would “pan out”): Panning is not planning! As in, don’t just go through the motions with a wait and see attitude. I’m not suggesting that plans will not change or that all will go according to your plans, but making plans that are real but flexible is a necessary task for academic success. Do the following things:
• Meet your advisor and get to know her or him right away
• If your advisor in nonresponsive, follow up via email, phone calls, and then showing up to their office to follow-up.
• Some academic advisors are very active and participatory and helpful, others frankly are not
• Go to the head of an office or department (or loop them in) if you are not hearing back or receiving the help you need from an advisor. CC them on emails and show up at the office to speak with someone
• Take your school’s core requirements ASAP
• Don’t put off required courses beyond a semester
• But DO wait to take a specific class if you’re waiting for a specific professor to teach it
• BUT…Don’t rush to declare a major
• Take different classes and explore your options. This is the time to do that!
• Plan smart:
• Don’t overload your schedule with too many challenging classes in one semester
3. Manage your time
I know, this one’s easily said, but not so easily done for many. However, it’s a worthwhile endeavor as scheduling, planning, and prioritizing are critical for success and a less stressful experience in college and beyond. College is much less structured than high school and there are no parents or teachers to hold you accountable in that way. College assignments are not broken up and checked the way high school assignments and readings are, so it can be easy to fall behind. Find pragmatic, day-to-day strategies such as setting a timer, that work for you. And utilize metacognition and goals to guide you towards intentional, realistic behavior. Some strategies for time management include:
• Create your own pacing schedule with reading, break up large assignments into smaller ones, and set due dates for yourself
• Use a planner/calendar religiously
– Find a system that works for you: get a weekly/monthly planner from the store, use the calendar or an app in your phone or tablet, etc…
– Always have that calendar with you and check and update it daily
– If you need more structure to your daily schedule, use an hourly calendar to block out your day
• Have a long-term and a daily to-do list that you constantly update
– 2x per day is reasonable: morning and evening
• Be realistic with your time goals and expectations for what you can accomplish
– If you notice that you have a tendency to underestimate how long projects or tasks will take, take that into account! Add on an extra hour or day (whatever) to your initial estimate
• Deadlines are real, even if you pretend otherwise!
– Don’t stick your head in the sand if you find yourself getting behind. It happens, it’s almost expected during freshman year.
– Do reach out for help- talk to your professor ASAP, reach out to your advisor if needed, and seek help from a tutor or the writing center.
– I’ve seen students be afraid or ashamed to speak with a professor if an assignment is late, missing, etc. Remember: This happens to most students at some point, so you are not unique or special because of this and no one will remember (or care).
4. Stay organized
Again, easier said than done. But I firmly believe that anyone can stay organized if they’re willing to put aside time each day or week to do so.
• Go through your school bag 1X each week- file away papers in proper binders/folders, recycle garbage papers, make sure things are neat, clean, and follow an order that makes sense
– Don’t throw away old work or tests. File them away – just label each file or notebook with the class and semester
• The syllabus is your main set of guidelines, due dates, and schedule for each class. Use it religiously, bring it with you to every class, and write down ALL changes to the syllabus on the syllabus- because it WILL change
• Keep your desk/workspace neat. A few times a week, go through all papers and books and again, put them in the correct binder, folder, or recycling bin. Sell back (or donate, if you’re feeling giving) old books that you’re certain you will not need again (I suggest holding on to books relevant for your major)
Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ve gleaned some practical strategies for college success- comments are welcome! Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I’ll address procrastination, self-advocacy, how to navigate group projects, and more!