It is two o’clock in the morning. You have just stumbled back to your dorm room after a late rehearsal for a production headed by a very serious senior director. Your legs are still sore from rugby tryouts earlier in the week. That psychology assignment is due tomorrow afternoon, but you have to finish it in the twenty-four-hour computer lab tonight because you have to work at the café in the morning. Your roommate is still awake, waiting to hear your advice on this great-new-somebody he or she just met.
Now what are you going to do to make sure that all of the high school preparation, careful application work, diligent essay-writing, hard-won financial aid, and lofty aspirations will play out successfully on the stage of this collegiate experience?
Finding the balance: College is a nonstop mélange of experiences. Juggling studies with social life, extracurricular activities, jobs, and friends can be harrowing. The idea is to enjoy each facet of your life to the fullest, without losing sight of important priorities.
You know yourself. Try not to take on too much if you are the kind of student who needs as little distraction as possible. Try not to take on too little if you thrive on a tight schedule to keep yourself motivated and challenged. Above all, develop a schedule that will focus on your classes, with occasional varied, diverse, and interesting demands on your time.
The filofax syndrome: Electronic planners and little black books are no longer accessories to be found only in the boardrooms of corporate America. They can be spotted peeking out of many a backpack, tucked away among Henry James novels in dorm rooms, and present on the desks at student government meetings. College students aren’t kidding about “penciling you in.” It’s often wise to keep track of your commitments in writing. You’d be surprised how much easier deadlines, meetings, and social events fall in beside each other when you can see them written in front of you.
Break up the days of the week: Set aside chunks of time that you regularly spend dedicating yourself to your classes. Just as you would make a work schedule at any job, you should have an academic work schedule that you attempt to follow. You are your own boss, so punch in for physics on Monday evenings after dinner, English lit on Tuesday mornings before practice, and so on.
You won’t have to set your academic plan in stone. In fact, you’ll need plenty of flexibility (for the weeks when you have an English paper due, but no physics lab because you finished it early). The point is to promise yourself that you have blocks of time solely for the subjects you are studying each semester.
Use the in-between hours: Maybe on Thursdays you have two hours in mid-afternoon between your seminar and your art class. You could fill those two hours with errands that you’ve been meaning to take care of. You could score two extra hours in the library researching a project. You could finish a problem set or run to the gym to work out. It’s important to steal the hours in your day that are sandwiched between other commitments. That precious time can be easily lost in the Bermuda Triangle where time runs when you are busy and thirsty for more hours in the day. Instead, grab it and put it to good use before it gets away. Making each moment count is the key. (That doesn’t mean you can’t use those hours to meet a friend for coffee. A little R and R is definitely a priority, too.)
Elect Passions: Not every class of your college career will change your life, but you will definitely move from high school chem labs and single-sex phys ed to more engaging academic pursuits. You’ll find flexibility, even within the requirements. Your major will allow you to focus on something that you feel strongly about, while still dabbling in areas that are new and challenging.
Experiment. Push Yourself: Try New Things: If you have no idea what a cognitive science course called “Time” could possibly cover, but the idea of meeting to discuss such a broad subject fascinates you, take it! If you love the humanities, make sure you take a science as well. And if you admire art with the eye of a true aesthete, but you can’t draw to save your life, make sure you sign up for basic life drawing at some point in your college career. Studying something that falls outside of your main line of interest is an excellent way to spice up your classwork.
This is a Rich, Rare Time: Even when the work load brings you down and your calendar is filled with deadlines for papers, exams, presentations, and projects, try not to forget how lucky you are to have this time in your life. You are being asked to study, to work, to grow, to expand your mind, and to look through frames of reference and windows that you have never experienced before now. College is a precious opportunity. Covet your right to acquire so much knowledge in such an individual way.
Look at the Syllabus: Early in the term, your professors will provide careful plans of what they will cover throughout the semester. Most professors let you know right away the important dates to remember, required readings, and class topics for the duration of the course. The class syllabus can jump-start your timeline for the final paper, or allow you to stay on top of things for the midterm project. Check the syllabus in the beginning of the course for all of your classes. You can coordinate the crunch times (such as those times before breaks when every professor assigns work as if his or hers is your only class!). Knowing ahead of time allows you to be prepared for the avalanches. When you are prepared and you have stocked your research and your resources, it becomes easier to successfully weather any academic storm.
Meet the Professor and/or the TA: Know the professor’s office hours and take advantage of them. Find out if professors or assistants are accessible via e-mail or phone and contact them frequently to talk about your work, your ideas, your progress.
Make Classes Number One: Want to do well in college? Then make college classes your first, most important priority and look out for number one. You will be making room in your life for lots of things: jobs, volunteerism, sports, clubs and activities, friends, dating…the list goes on and on. Believe it or not, there are enough hours in the day to get to everything. Although it is impossible to accomplish all that you think you might want to try between freshman and senior year, it is feasible to try everything and still succeed academically. Just make sure that the library becomes an important part of your week (and yes, sometimes your weekend, too!) and get your priorities in order.
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