There’s tremendous pressure these days at many colleges for students to declare a major either at orientation or very early in the first year. Unless you’re 100 percent, positively, without-a-doubt sure about what you want to study, don’t. A much better idea is to take three or four courses in the field – some introductory, some advanced – and then see what it’s actually like to work in that field. And don’t double- or triple-major unless there’s some academic reason to do so.
Most students have a cutting budget – the number of classes they think they can miss and still do pretty well in the course. For four, five, six, seven classes you might think, “No problem, I’ll get the notes.” But, miss seven classes and (if the course has 35 meetings) you’ve missed 20 percent of the content. This can do major damage to your GPA.
The single most underutilized resource at college is the office hour, now available in-person, by e-mail or by Skype. You might not have realized it, but professors are required to be in their office two to four hours a week to meet with students and help them with the course. Your tests and papers will go better if you’ve had a chance to ask questions about the material.
Though nobody quite tells you this, at college most of the work is done outside of the classroom. Rule of thumb: one hour of lecture, two hours of preparation. As soon as the semester starts, find yourself a quiet place to study and block out the times of the week you’re going to do the studying.
More points are lost on tests and papers by not answering the question asked than by giving the wrong answer. Professors go to great lengths to craft appropriate questions and expect head-on answers to exactly what they asked rather than general surveys of an area, dumps of everything you know about the subject, or rambling garbage.
Before the exam, construct a pre-test (use questions from the study guide, last year’s exam, or hints from the professor) and take it under “test conditions” (write it out, under strict time limit, with no looking at the book). At the actual exam, write full answers that draw on all the course materials. Then, when you get your test back, go over any comments your instructor has written and do the question again in your head, given the new information.
For many students, the most striking difference between college and high school is that at college there’s no one there to stand over them telling them what to do. Getting to class, doing the homework, getting your papers in on time – all of these are things you’re going to have to do without a parent or teacher to remind you. Take responsibility; you are in charge of this thing.
You’re used to getting your content in short, entertaining blasts; one-to-three minute YouTube videos, abbreviated text messages, and 140-character tweets. But your professor is thinking in terms of a 50-minute lecture. Retrain your attention span to process a long unit of content (rather than zoning in and out as things strike you).
Many entering students think they should just take the standard first-year program their adviser hands them, and be done with it. But a far better idea is to go to the first class or two and assess the course. Ask yourself: Do I understand the goals of the course? Is the material presented in a way I can understand? Is this someone I feel I can learn from? Do I find the course engaging? If the answer to any of these questions is no, ask yourself and your professor how you can better engage with the course. The bottom line is whether or not you feel you can be successful. If you don’t then you should consider dropping rather than failing the course. A word of caution; please be aware of the add/drop period and the refund policy of the college so that you avoid charges or penalties for changing your course. Dropping a course may also have implications for your financial aid.
Below are a number of resources from St. Charles Community College that can help you be a more successful student.