I was home schooled from birth through high school. When people would ask me what grade I was in, I would have to think about what number of Amish math book I was on currently and go from there. I had no need to study (because technically I was always at school) and I never took tests. Read a chapter, talk about it, do some math problems, and you’re done. I had never written a paper for a grade, I had only given a speech in my speech class for home school co-op, and I never received a letter grade for anything. Not that my mom was slacking at all, we just didn’t do school like everyone else. I still received a great education and despite my lack of writing research papers and speaking in public, I still learned how to articulate an idea so that others would understand and how to set up an argument that stated what I believed and why. Sure, I don’t know a lot about math, but if you want to talk about classical literature, I’m your girl 😉
The point of all that is to describe to you how under prepared I felt for college. I was doing work for a grade, I had to interact with other students (who weren’t my siblings!), and I took tests for the first time. Some of the things turned out to be the same though. I could wear whatever I wanted to school, I could do homework from my bed, and my notebooks were free for doodling (I’m not the greatest note taker). However, a lot was different and I wasn’t prepared for everything that I came across, so here is a post full of things I learned so you can either laugh at my silly mistakes, or to help prepare yourself for your own freshman year. Enjoy, and good luck!
Tip 1: Go to class!!
Don’t skip class! In general, each class you skip costs you about $30 or a little more. So before you skip the class so you can hang out outside with your fiance (yes, this is personal experience and we definitely shouldn’t have skipped), evaluate whether that time you gain is worth losing $30 and potentially affecting your grade. Now, there are some exceptions to the “no class skipping” rule. This past semester was the spring semester which meant that there was still a chance for snow a lot of the days. I remember two days in particular where it was snowing so hard that there was no way we could make it to class on time because of having to drive slower and being super careful not to slide off the road. On days like that, it is okay to be late or skip a class altogether. However, it is best to not skip other days because then it doesn’t become a regular thing for you. Professors are way more likely to give you some leeway on assignments if you only miss class once or twice due to the weather and not weekly for no reason. In addition to skipping because of weather, I did skip a class or two to do homework for a different class. Again, not right and I probably shouldn’t have done it, but at the time it was worth it. But as much as you can, go to class and don’t leave early. You won’t regret it, I promise.
Tip 2: Don’t buy from the campus bookstore unless you absolutely have to!
Everyone knows that anything you buy on campus is overpriced anyway, and textbook costs are ridiculous. Like, if you’re going to charge me $130 for a book about communication, it better be made out of gold and make me breakfast every morning! Rent your books, buy them used, get the ebook version, whatever you have to do to cut costs. Some of the books you don’t really need anyway, but I always get what’s on the list to make sure I have all the content. I just got 6 of the 8 textbooks that I need for this coming semester for about $25 altogether. Thriftbooks is the website that I use for most of my book purchases (for school and for enjoyment) and I would recommend it to anyone. The majority of their titles go for around $4, so it is very much worth it. Ebooks are also a great option, and though I can’t ever focus when reading online, my fiance uses ebooks a great deal and he has had a lot of success with them.
Tip 3: Don’t write your papers and assignments the night before they are due.
I am an awful procrastinator. Seriously, I think I have a problem. I always save my assignments for the last minute and end up with less than my best work for my final results. I had an eight page paper that I was supposed to be working on all semester long, and I procrastinated it until two weeks before it was due. In a mad rush to get that paper done, I didn’t do my best and haphazardly threw in scraps of research and quotes from authors I had read and though I received a decent grade, it wasn’t one I could be proud of. If you are unfortunately are faced with a short amount of time to get some writing done, you could try a “voice to text” type of feature on GoogleDocs. I’m not a fan of it because it isn’t very accurate and it doesn’t pick up my voice very easily, but once again my fiance uses it all the time and would recommend it for making writing papers easier, so you could give it a try.
Tip 4: Don’t buy food on campus.
The freshman 15 is a real thing, much to my dismay seeing as how I was trying to lose weight for my upcoming wedding. Buying food on campus throughout the day will only enhance this problem. Invest in a good lunch bag, and travel mug or thermos, and plan your lunches or dinners to go. I brought meals for our long school day on Thursdays, and it worked pretty well. They weren’t very complex but they were filling and hot, and when supplemented with other snacks throughout the day, were pretty efficient at tiding us over until the evening. In addition to this rule, try not to have more than one cup of coffee per day. Save the coffee for the morning and then for your midday pick-me-up, go for a fruit juice or a tea. Coffee actually started to make me more tired and induce more headaches the more of it that I drank, so I began to dial it back and saw good results.
Tip 5: Check and re-check your syllabus.
Sadly, it was a pretty common thing for professors to change the assignments or due dates on the syllabus and not remind the students to check it for updates. Professors either shift things around or miss days and focus on catching up, but regardless of the reason, it is your job to be keeping a regular watch on the syllabus and noting any changes. They probably won’t remind you and you won’t be able to use the excuse of “I didn’t know” when you miss an assignment because it technically was on the syllabus. Stay on top of that, and you’ll do just fine. To add to this tip, always check your student email throughout your school day. It helps you stay on top of updates for class and keeps you notified if a professor cancels or shifts things around. Also, many professors will send out an email about what is due or if there is a test coming up, so help yourself out by staying informed.
Tip 6: Take notes!
This is something I didn’t learn how to do in school (because I’m home schooled, I don’t really need to study for tests or anything) so when I started college, I didn’t really understand how important my notes would turn out to be. Taking notes not only helps you retain information, but it also helps keep your mind focused instead of staring off into space and thinking about lunch or getting home. Even if you just aren’t feeling it that day and can’t focus your mind, pull out your notebook and write or doodle or something to engage your mind and keep yourself from zoning out. I also recommend taking notes by hand on paper instead of a computer for a couple of reasons. The first being that a lot of the professors I had wouldn’t let computers be out while they were teaching. Second, paper notes keep you more engaged and reduce the likelihood of your mind wandering or the temptation to browse Facebook. And third (which might just be for me), writing notes reduces my chances of getting a headache from staring at a computer screen and it doesn’t tire my eyes out so much, which is always a plus!
Tip 7: Ask for help.
In my experience, professors and classmates want you to pass as much as you want to so don’t hesitate when you need help with something. Ask questions in class, talk with classmates outside of class, see if tutoring is an option for your class, look up explanatory videos, whatever it takes for you to understand and succeed. The professors aren’t out to fail you in their class, so take advantage of their office hours and talk about the things you don’t understand. You will be glad you did.
Other random tips for success:
- Wear comfortable shoes that allow you to walk, run, climb stairs, etc.
- Study outside as often as you can. Libraries can get stuffy.
- If you are taking a math class, color code your notes and problems you work. It helps keep track of which side of the equation is what.
- Also for math, invest in a good calculator.
- And if you can, make your math class the first class of the day so that you are fresh instead of being worn out and ready to head home.
- Study at school as often as you can. It is often the only time you will have outside of class to get some hardcore studying done and you have nothing else to do while you’re there anyway.
- Don’t stay up super late doing homework. Your brain works better in the morning.
- Look up “the inventional system of argumentation” written about by Dominic Infante and use it as a guide for persuasive papers and arguments. This changed my writing life 😉
- Eat breakfast. It is tempting to skip, but for your own sanity, don’t!
- Study in 25 minute increments with a 5 minute break between each time slot.
- Create a study playlist of relaxing songs.
- Don’t stress out! At the end of the day, classes can be retaken and things can be redone or done better in the future. It’s just school. It’s not worth losing sleep over or damaging your relationships for. Relax, you’re going to be fine.