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Advice for Your Freshman Year of College (From a Survivor): Part 2

August 18, 2016 Erica 1 Comment

The college advice continues! As promised, Part II is going to be more focused on academics, so if you haven’t read Part I yet, here it is.

Without further ado, Part II (that rhymed ):

1. Registration sucks; be prepared.

It’s just very stressful, ok? Have a backup plan (or 2 or 3) for whatever your primary schedule is, it’ll save you a lot of grief.

2. Make a separate school account on your computer.

At the beginning of my first semester, I made a separate account on my laptop for school. It has a different color scheme, a different New Tab page in my browser, and a different background slideshow, among other things. That may sound superficial, but I think it was a great decision.

My browser isn’t crowded with all my usual bookmarks, instead it just has the ones relevant to my classes, which makes everything cleaner and nicer. My New Tab page is actually from the Chrome Extension Momentum (which I highly recommend) and it has an encouraging quote, the time, a space for your daily goal, and a lovely background. Also, the only tabs I have are school related, which is super helpful for keeping the distractions at a minimum.

The main plus about my school account, though, is the distraction minimization. Not only are all of the social media sites and other things I get distracted with not bookmarked, adding that extra step to getting there, but I’m not logged into anything. Sometimes I’ll find myself trying to get to Facebook while I work, and the login page will come up and remind me that I shouldn’t be on Facebook right now (also that I’m not sure I remember my password because autofill…).

It’s the little things.

3. Use a planner.

Please, please, please use a planner! Buy one from the Dollar Store or from Etsy, or maybe get one from your school if they provide them. Use an app, I don’t care. Just have some sort of planner. Use it.

I currently use Google Calendar and My Study Life, two apps/websites I love and highly recommend for coordinating school and other life things.

4. CHECK YOUR EMAIL.

At my orientation, a presenter told us that we should check our email every five minutes. After a second, he corrected himself more seriously to ten minutes.

But really, check your email all the time. That presenter then recommended that we check our email as often as we eat. Whatever works for you, but keep on top of it.

Your email is how your professors communicate with you about cancellations or any other changes, and it’s how the college in general communicates with you. It’s very important!

I don’t check my email every time I eat, but I added my school email to the mail app on my phone, so I get a notification every time I get an email, which is just as good (if not better).

5. CHECK THE SYLLABUS.

Remember how no one cares? If it’s on the syllabus and you missed it, that’s on you.

At the beginning of every semester I like to go through the syllabus for each of my classes, and if it’s the kind that details the assignments and assessments for the entire semester, I go ahead and add everything to my planner that first week.

So far (in my two semesters), my professors have been pretty good about at least mentioning when a due date or assessment is coming up, but if it’s on the syllabus, they don’t necessarily have to tell you.

If it’s online or if I get an email saying it was updated, I check the syllabus throughout the semester as well, to make sure I don’t miss any changes. Or to make sure I didn’t write something down wrong.

Check the syllabus. Double check it if you want. Just check it.

6. Drop it (if you can).

Since you’re in charge, you can drop a class if you want. I mean, obviously there are some classes that you can’t drop because they’re required for your degree, but still.

If you go to a class first day and don’t find it interesting or just think it isn’t a good choice for you, drop it if you can.

I happened to be one math class ahead of the usual because of college credit I came in with, and with everything going on and my ridiculous cartoon character professor, I decided it would be better for everyone involved if I dropped it that semester and took it the next one. I’m taking the math class this upcoming semester with a different professor and with people I know (my twin brother counts, right?), and I think it was a really good decision.

7. Advisors. Talk to them.

No one is going to guide you through registration and the classes you need to graduate unless you make an effort to talk to them. I meet with my advisor around registration time every semester to ask for recommendations and make sure I’m on the right track, and I implore you to do the same. Meet with them more often if you need; just keep on top of your schedule, because you’re the one in charge now.

8. Communication is key.

I’m a hypocrite for telling you this because of how little I followed this piece of advice, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Introduce yourself to your professors after class on the first day, or at least the first week. Go to office hours. Get to know your TAs. These connections will help you so much over the semester and even over your college experience because they can help you with topics you don’t understand. If you show interest in your grades and in the class, you’re much more likely to do better and to have the professor on your side if you need a little bit of help near the end of the semester.

Also important, and something I was at least slightly better at, get to know some people in your classes. Exchange numbers or Facebooks or something. It’ll make class a lot nicer in general, but also if you end up missing a class or just getting there late, these people will be your saving grace. You can ask them for any notes or information that you missed! You can study with them, too! It’s a win-win situation.

9. Missing class isn’t the end of the world.

I’ve been of the opinion that missing class is a terrible offense that must be avoided at all costs since far before college, but there is a stigma around college classes specifically.

It isn’t the end of the world if you miss a class, though. Sure, there are some class days that are better to miss than others, but ultimately you can’t help it if you desperately need a mental health day or you’re so sick you can’t sit up.

These situations are where the friends you’ve made in classes come in handy! Ask them for notes and things you missed, don’t fall apart if you need to miss a class. I’m not saying you should make a habit of skipping, either. You’re not paying a ridiculous amount of money to admire the sites. If you can, try not to miss classes in the week before or after a test, just because that’s when a lot of reviewing and information about the exam is shared.

If you’re missing a class because you are in fact ridiculously sick, it may be beneficial to email your professor about it. Not for a typical day of class, especially in a lecture, they probably won’t notice, but I once got the flu the weekend before an exam and was told I couldn’t go to class for the next week. I was about ready to declare the end of the world as I knew it, but I emailed my professor about my situation, she asked for proof (a note from my doctor), and everything was fine! She told me to definitely not come to class if I had the flu, and we set up a date for me to make up the exam. So remember your options.

10. Learn to study!

Focusing enough to study in the first place can be difficult enough, but knowing how to study is a thing of its own, and you have to study. I don’t care if you’ve magically gotten through the rest of your life by paying half attention in class, you need to study.

You can create a space in your dorm or wherever you’re staying for studying, and you can also find areas on campus that you find great for studying, too. Personally, I found the library, and a main building on campus fantastic for studying or working in general. Make sure the area isn’t cluttered or anything, you need to be able to focus, and also don’t be afraid to change up your location every once in awhile to keep things from getting mundane.

I find listening to music helps a lot with keeping my focus while I work, so I’d recommend that as well. Only listen to instrumentals since lyrics can get distracting, but you can make or find playlists on Pandora, Spotify, Songza, or plenty of other websites/apps. I’ve found that film scores and video game music can be particularly fun to listen to, and I read somewhere that video game music is specifically designed to help you focus on the game. I’m not sure if that’s true, but either way it’s fun to listen to while studying!

The main thing you need to learn about studying though is how you learn best. For example, I find that writing my notes by hand rather than typing them helps me remember things I lot better, and visual things like charts are great for me too. Know how you learn best and tweak your study methods accordingly. Also, everyone loves a good mnemonic device, so remember the simple techniques.

11. Back up everything.

My school actually has a policy that students need to have backups of their laptops. Just do it, you’ll be so glad you did if anything ever happens.

12. Take notes.

I was tempted a few times last semester to just listen in class rather than bothering to write anything down, but take notes! From the textbook, from the PowerPoints, from your professor’s words, whatever.

Notes are very important, as well know. I’d recommend writing them yourself, because that works best for me, but also because I had a professor ban laptops and say we had to take handwritten notes in his class because science said it was better for the memory, so science is on my side. If you have a tablet or a fancy touchscreen laptop, you could technically handwrite digital notes, if that’s something that seems more appealing to you.

13. Make time for lunch!

Remember how I said you’re in charge of you? No one makes sure you’re taking care of yourself with basic necessities like having time in your schedule for lunch. That’s up to you. Just remember when you’re registering for class or planning out your schedule that you need to leave time for lunch!

14. Pay attention.

This is self-explanatory, it’s a tale as old as time. Seriously, just do yourself a favor and don’t be the guy I saw in lecture watching anime during class, or the other guy I saw playing a game in class, or another guy the professor caught smiling suspiciously at his laptop who then had to tell the class that “… it was a meme” that had him giggling.

15. Try to sit near the front.

Sitting near the front is better for you in more ways than one. The most obvious being you’re more likely to pay attention if you’re closer to the front. Also, your professor will most likely come to know your face even if you never introduce yourself (…like me), so it’s still helpful for your relationship with them. I don’t like to sit in the very first row of any class just because I feel like that’s too aggressive or something, so I normally sit in the second or third row. Not to mention that the board or PowerPoint or whatever will be much easier to see from the front of the room and the professor will be easier to hear, thus saving you the struggle of trying to decipher what the heck is going on in the first place.


Anyway I hope these lists have been helpful, and I wish you the best of luck with your college experience! If you have any questions for me you can head over to my Tumblr and send me an ask, or you can just leave a comment here.

Remember: you are stronger than you think!

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