With school in full swing again it seemed like a good time to do a post geared toward helping people who are experiencing college for the first time. If you aren’t in college, but know someone who is, please consider passing these tips on to them.
Learn outside the classroom
What you learn in the classroom will only be a very small part of your college education. It is easy to get so focused on the formal side of education that you miss out on learning from everything that is going on around you. College is a great place to learn how to interact with people from different backgrounds and cultures, deal with strange and difficult people, and negotiate. Too often, students overlook the chance to gain broader life experience because they have the mistaken belief that most of what they will learn is in the classroom. Here are a few ideas for expanding what you learn at college:
- Join or visit a club that is different than what you’d do naturally. For example, if you are a Republican, you might see if you can visit on of the Young Democrats meetings.
- Try to do things with different groups of people. Be careful not to settle into having a small group of two or three friends.
- Take advantage of cultural opportunities. As a student you can attend a number events very inexpensively or even for free both on and off campus. Now is a good time to visit museums, operas, symphonies, etc.
Network, Network, Network
You’ve probably heard the saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” That isn’t entirely true. Your skills determine what you are capable of accomplishing, but who you know may be a big determiner in whether or not you have an opportunity to use those skills. You need to be intentional about networking at college. Obviously there are good ways to do this and there are annoying ways to do it. Here are a few suggestions for getting the maximum networking benefit out of your time at college:
- Take the time to meet new people and make new friends. Don’t get so self focused with a small group of friends that you don’t make an intentional effort to meet new people. Keep in mind that a lot of people–particularly incoming students are in a very unfamiliar setting a little bit of effort on your part to reach out will probably be very appreciated.
- Start a rolodex. Well, maybe not a physical rolodex, but college is a great place to really put together a good contact management system. When you meet someone new, put them in your contact management system a long with a few notes about who they are so you can remember them in the future.
- Stay in touch at college. Try to stay in touch with the people you meet. This may be a matter of just making an effort to walk across the library to say “hi” to someone you met, but haven’t talked to for a few weeks.
- Offer to help. Helping a fellow student move some boxes into their dorm and other simple acts can go a long ways toward starting or building a friendship.
- Keep in touch with your teachers. Even something as simple as sending a thank you note after you graduate can be very beneficial.
Keep good records
When I was getting my undergraduate degree, I would get a copy of my transcript every semester. One semester I discovered an error. They had transferred in about 15 hours of credits that I hadn’t actually taken. Colleges do make errors. In this case it wasn’t to my detriment (I did call and get them to remove the classes I hadn’t taken), but there was probably someone else who was missing the credits. There are all kinds of record keeping problems that can occur at college and you need to make sure you have any documentation you need if something should go awry. Teachers can misplace your homework, computer problems can erase classes from the official record, etc. Here are some tips for keeping good records at college:
- Get a copy of your transcript every semester.
- Get a small hanging file cabinet and create a file for each of your classes at the start of each semester. Keep the syllabus and all returned homework and tests in the class file. Have another file for finances and another for your degree plan sheet and other college documentation.
- If at all possible keep a copy of your homework before turning it in. It may get lost and if it would be very difficult to recreate, make sure you have a copy on your computer or a photocopy.
- Make sure you keep copies of any degree requirements. For example, when I was working on my second masters degree, they changed the order that certain classes had to be taken. I had a copy of the original required order that I could produce if there was ever a question about my eligibility for graduation.
- Keep a record of who you talked to. For example, if someone in the registrars office says they will let you transfer in credits from a previous college, make sure you have a record of who said it and when they said it.
- Backup your computer on a regular basis.
There are a lot of different ways to study. You are going to learn what works well for you and what doesn’t. Make sure you are being intentional about how you study–a 20% increase in study efficiency can make a huge difference in either raising your grades or having more free time. Here are some ideas for studying:
- Avoid trying to study with people where they just want to complain.
- Spend study time focused on studying so you can spend your free time doing things you want to do. If you try to combine studying and entertainment, you probably won’t be happy with the results of either.
- Teaching what you know to others can be one of the best ways to learn it yourself. Organizing and leading a study group or tutoring others can be extremely beneficial to you.
- Triage your classes. You are probably better of working on a class where you have a B+ that can be moved to an A than a class where you have a B- that can be moved to a B+.
- Make sure you know exactly where you stand in each class and plan your study accordingly.
- Read ahead. Most teachers lecture and then have you read what they lectured about. If you do the reading ahead of the lecture, you are likely to retain more of the lecture and have a better opportunity to get questions answered.
- Read other textbooks. When I’m struggling with a particular section, I’ll get a textbook by a different author and read the part that covers the topic I’m struggling with. Sometimes a different point of view can be very helpful in gaining understanding. The college library likely has many different textbooks on each subject.
Jobs and employment
Try to get work that will help you in your studies and career. I worked as a tutor in the music department when I was working on my undergraduate music degree. This gave me an opportunity to really solidify everything I had learned by explaining it to others. During the summers I got a job in the IT department at a local hospital which helped give me the experience I needed to get my second masters degree and provided pretty good pay. All of my jobs were selected to give me not only some income, but vital experience that I’d need in the future.
If you view your jobs as part of your educational experience, you can gain skills much faster and push your career ahead. The trick is finding a position that is challenging enough that you can learn a lot, but matches your existing skill set enough that you can be well paid.