Woohoo! You’ve done it! After all the hard work creating beautiful animations on Powerpoint, memorizing the Monarchs involved in the War Of The Roses (the ORIGINAL house of Lancaster before Game Of Thrones co-opted the name by changing three letters), and busting your behinds trying to memorize SAT vocabulary words (only to hear that next year the test won’t have a vocabulary section. Oh the humanity!), you have finally gotten into college! So, now what? Sure you know how to thrive in the bustling world of high school, but how do you succeed when there are no parents to keep you honest about whether you have completed your work, no curfews to keep you home in time to get a good night sleep, and no one there to make sure your laundry gets done and you don’t smell like the inside of a tennis shoe after a marathon? The start of a more independent life is both daunting and exciting. There are a number of paths to success in this new arena, but here are a few ways to make sure that this next step towards adulthood also sets you up for success academically and professionally for years to come.
1. Incorporate out of class work into your work day.
Without school all day everyday and parents to keep you on task, time management is the most important tool for success as an adult. High school is a game where, for the most part, work is assigned the night before and must be completed by the next day. Most classes in college, however, do not meet every day and therefore assignments end up being spread over a few days, a few weeks, or the entire semester. These assignments often involve lots of reading that may not be tested until midway through the semester, making it is easy to put this reading off, and off, and off. This is advice every human being has likely heard before, but waiting until the last minute to complete assignments is a mistake! Generally speaking, students have between 2-5 hours of classes a day Monday through Friday. That’s it! But for many students, the time to complete the work outside of the class is equalto or more than the class time. This means that you must be smart with your time!
Think about every day as a normal school day (6.5 hours plus lunch) if you have only three hours of classes between 10am and 5pm, that leaves you with 3.5 hours to complete any and all work that you may have for those or other classes and you are still done by 5pm. If you complete your work early? Wahoo! You’re done! The trick is to fill this time with work until there is no more work to do. If you have a twenty page term paper due in two weeks, use your 10-5 time to complete that term paper until it is done. What happens if you finish it a week early? You get to party guilt free for a week (or, more likely, you get to focus on other work that is due around the same time)! Organizing an unstructured day like a work day sounds straight forward enough, but I promise you when you are in the thick of social and extracurricular activities, this will seem IMPOSSIBLE. The good news is you can give yourself days off, just do it in a scheduled way! Give yourself five play days a semester, (as well as a lot of time off on weekends), but when these “vacation days” are gone, the work has to be priority number one. With Friday classes, it may be difficult to complete all work necessary for Monday before the weekend begins, but you need not keep to the 6.5 hour work day on weekends. Some times it is easier to think of Friday after classes end as the start of the weekend, and Sunday after 3:00pm as the start of the work week. This is quite healthy as long as you give yourself the time necessary to complete special assignments that require lots of weekend time (you can give yourself time off later in the week).
2. Study Smart!
Not all the information that is important to success will be covered in lectures fully, but the stuff that gets talked about in class is going to be by far the most important stuff. Go through your reading looking for the topics mentioned in class and try to expand on your notes from class as you are reading text books. Copying notes from a lecture the next day is also a very helpful technique for solidifying information in your mind. Teaching information is a good tool for making sure you understand a topic. Get a study group together and have each person teach a topic to the group or offer to tutor someone in a topic that you yourself find challenging. You will likely find that attempting to figure out how to teach the topic will help you to understand it. Be sure to talk with professors and TA’s. It may seem like there is an antagonistic relationship between students, but professors want students to succeed, not fail. Ask professors about how tests are formatted, the topics that will be covered, and even for example tests from the past. This will likely not fall on deaf ears, especially if your requests are phrased in such a way as to imply that you care about the topic and want extra practice and materials. This will also help you to develop a relationship with your teachers, something that is extremely important when the time comes for letters of recommendation or inquiries about internships and jobs (Every application you will EVER have to complete will require references. Start building relationships with faculty early).
3. Allow yourself to explore extra-curricular activities.
College is so much more than an academic institution. Most colleges have worked hard to assemble an extremely diverse and talented student body who have many interests that do not strictly fall into the fields covered by the core academic disciplines. College is a place to start practicing for life, and life is long these days (hopefully!) and allows for a diverse palette of experiences. Check out organizations that either engage your interests or excite you for some other reason. It would be a shame to not utilize all the resources that college has to offer.
4. Schedule time for yourself, and for everyday life.
Laundry needs to get done, shopping for toiletries, food, and school supplies needs to happen, and activities like exercise or other self care activities that are helpful for stress relief and maintaining health need to be prioritized. Try to give yourself a few hours a week to do maintenance tasks for your life. Its important to get into the habit of giving these tasks time so they don’t fall through the cracks and leave you stressed and smelly.
These are just a few suggestions for how to be successful in this new collegiate environment. The truth is, you will likely have to try things, succeed, fail, and figure out for yourself how to best navigate all the different demands that will be placed on you in college. You are not alone in this! Your college advisers, parents, professors, and TA’s are there to help, so do not be afraid to ask for help. Just know that you are not just teaching yourself information, you are teaching yourself how to work unsupervised and stay organized in the world of independent living. These are tools that will help you to be successful in nearly any field. You are capable of success in this environment, so go out and have a great freshman year!
David Greenslade is a Veritas Prep SAT instructor based in New York. His passion for education began while tutoring students in underrepresented areas during his time at the University of North Carolina. After receiving a degree in Biology, he studied language in China and then moved to New York where he teaches SAT prep and participates in improv comedy. Read more of his articles here, including How I Scored in the 99th Percentile and How to Effectively Study for the SAT.