For many students, especially incoming freshmen, college can feel like an overwhelming undertaking. Worries that plague students vary from the amount of homework they might receive, the daunting task of keeping tabs on a busy schedule, cultivating effective study habits, and navigating social events and extracurricular activities. Luckily, college students: you have allies on your side, people who have gone through college and learned how to succeed from a grueling but enlightening experience. This post distills some of those insights into five success tips for college students that actually work.
1. Study Over Time
For some reason the idea of being a stressed-out college student has become romanticized in movies and on television shows, but do not be fooled. Being stressed out is not enjoyable and is not even necessary. Rather than procrastinate and cram before each test or major assignment, take the time to study course material over weeks and months.
Our brains absolutely love being primed for information. Before each class, take the time to review past material and preview upcoming material in your textbook so your brain is ready and willing to take in the information you are about to learn. Take detailed but organized notes during class, and go over them once after class is through to solidify the information in your brain.
Turn your notes into a study guide long before your test, and when you do need to study a little extra before the big day of an exam or even presentation, you will have all the information organized and ready to absorb. This tip will help you avoid the unattractive task of running around trying to gather notes from friends or re-read the entire textbook one, last, time. Understandably, you might still feel slightly nervous for the test, thanks to your body’s fight or flight response, but you will have already been studying and will feel much better than if you put the whole ordeal off until the very last week—or even day—before a test.
This tip works for more than just tests. If you know you have a big paper or project due in a class at the end of the term, take the time to read the prompt ahead of time. As you get ideas while you are learning valuable information in the class, write them down. By the time you are ready to write the paper or complete the project, you will have a whole brainstorming list to draw from and will feel like you have won the game of college.
2. Keep a Calendar – And Keep Track of It
Whether you like your smart phone’s calendar application or prefer to keep a written calendar or planner, find a way to track your classes, appointments, and deadlines, and check it each day. Once you have cultivated the habit of keeping your calendar, you will surely forget what life was like without it and never want to go back. Even simply writing down your daily activities will help you remember them, and keeping your calendar can help you plan your study time so you never get too behind on a class.
You can even try color-coding your calendar in a way that works for you. For example, maybe you highlight social activities in orange, class times in yellow, and study time in blue. When you look at your calendar, you will know exactly what kind of day you have planned and will be able to prioritize when you’re feeling extra busy. More than that, you will have a colorful calendar to keep your spirits high on tough days.
3. Take Advantage of Office Hours
You might have heard this tip before, and you will definitely hear it again, but make sure you follow it, because it works. Professors and Teacher’s Assistants are there to help you, so when they have office hours or free time for students to visit and ask questions, certainly take advantage of it. Even if you do not have a specific burning question, getting to know your professors and TAs is a solid idea—especially in large lecture classes. If they know you and understand what your goals are for the class, they can help you in the future or look out for your papers and tests and give you tips when you need them.
Office hours are also a great way to ask questions your professor might not have time to answer in lecture. Maybe you need an extra explanation of a complex concept or have a specific question about a paper. Your professor or TA will have more time to spend with you one-on-one during office hours to explain the answer to a question or offer another way to think about a complex concept.
4. Get Involved
Most colleges offer myriad ways to get involved through on-campus clubs or activities, student organizations, or volunteer opportunities. Think about different interests you have and look for ways to fulfill those interests as a student. For example, your dormitory or residence hall might organize activities you can join in the community for a discount, like plays or visits to museums, so keep watch for flyers and emails about those types of activities.
If you do not live on campus, you can still get involved by joining different student organizations and extracurricular activities that focus on activities and topics you might be interested in. By staying involved you will have a chance to meet other students and even get to know members of your campus’ surrounding community. If you love volunteering, taking time to help others can be a welcome break from studying as well, which will help alleviate stress and cultivate more meaning from your college experience.
5. Remember Self-Care
Speaking of stress, although this advice might seem trite and overused, take care of yourself. Amidst the constant stream of homework, social activities, and exciting new learning experiences, college students far too often forget to take care of basic needs…like eating, sleeping, exercising, and staying healthy.
No matter how busy you think you are, you have time to take a five-minute break to take deep breaths and eat a snack or drink some water. Remember you are only human, and though you are certainly ready to take on the world like the collegiate superhero you are, a little yoga and an early night’s rest is often the added spice you need to have a successful college experience.