How to Improve Your College Grades
First and Most Important: Expectations
That saying 'you can be anything you want to be' comes to mind when people ask me how hard college can be. As a biochemistry major, I know for a fact that what you get out matches the amount of work you put in. Sometimes, I had to spend 20 hours per week per class studying-- and for multiple classes simultaneously. And I did it somewhat begrudgingly, but I did it. Still, there were others who performed better than me and seemed to do it with without the same level of investment I had made. It was tough for me to swallow, but I recognized that everyone has there limits. That being said, I got through all my classes and still did quite well while others floundered and flunked because they didn't have the same motivation as I did. Keep that in mind. You may hit a wall, and nobody can do everything perfectly, but that wall can be pushed and broken through; and perfection is still worth striving for. So lets get into those habits you'll need to form to reach your goals.
Disclaimer: I doubt anyone call follow all of these rules, but they're the collective strategies of some of the smartest people I know!
Second: Study what you want to and experiment
Sure, everyone likes money, and many individuals have ideas for success in their futures, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to find something you enjoy studying. I know business majors who switched to biology, and I know biology major who switched to business. The fact is, there are probably things you'd love doing, but you just don't know about them yet. It's okay to come to college and immediately declare a major, but don't be afraid to try something new if things are going sour.
I promise, learning and studying is easier if the subject matter is something you truly enjoy learning about. It sounds like an obvious thing to say, but the list of people that come to mind who spent four years studying math and then walked dejectedly away from the campus is far too large for my comfort. If you're in music, try a science class! And if you're science, try music! Or even Economics! Who knows, you might find yourself following a much more promising path to happiness!
Third: Taking care of grades means taking care of yourself
I could probably write an entire hub about this topic, and I just might, but what you need to know is this: If you want a successful college career, you're going to need to have your health.
I know there's that stereotypical dogma that college is the land of late night parties, sleeping in, and top raman, but the people spreading this rumor aren't generally the people who do well academically. As important as it is to have fun, a healthy body can often translate to a healthy mind and thus a healthy transcript. Get some sleep. In case you missed that because a bird flew by or god knows what, I'm going to say it again. GET SOME SLEEP. I got a full 8 hours every single night and compared to the rest of my colleagues, I was one of the few people who remained competent in my early morning classes. This was especially true come finals time, when the already sleep deprived students became walking bags of stress-zombies. It's amazing how much clearer the mind can think when it has had enough rest. It may be tough to resist those urges to stay up late with your friends who want to go watch a movie or play video games, but be responsible, and save it for the weekend.
The same is true for most bodily function. To work well, you need to eat well too. Junk food might be more available and taste better, but eating the occasional salad at dinner or some fruit and eggs at breakfast isn't going to kill you. Quite the opposite really. And hygiene is important too! For christ sake, if you want friends, brush your teeth and shower. Nuff said.
Fourth: Allocate your time wisely and use your resources!
Almost more important that getting sleep is knowing how to use the tools you have available. Every college professor, to my knowledge, have open office hours for students with individual questions interests. This is a huge way to stay on top of things and boost your grades! Often times, professors are great at explaining their topics. And unlike in a filled classroom, the professor can work with you on a more personal one-to-one level. It's by far the fastest way to learn a topic you might have be having difficulty. Plus, and I admit this half-heartedly, there is a degree of politics in college. It really means something for your professor to like you, and if you come in for help and show them that you are really working at it, chances are your professor will keep that in mind come final grades. I had one instance where coming in to speak with my professor earned me an additional 5% on my entire semester grade and another where my grade was barely a C on paper, but I was good friends with my professor, and magically my transcript read B+ on the final version. Go visit your professors. Just do it.
If for some reason you cannot, then there are other good ways to learn the information. Specifically for math and science, I know Khan Academy videos are great. And many people have posted fantastically put together instructional videos on various topics that can give you a new perspective on things and teach you the subject in a fraction of the time.
Last on this topic is another no-brainer. And it's to study. It sounds so simple of a task, but a lot of people either wait till it's too late or they blow off studying altogether. You'll discover how important it is in your difficult classes no matter what, but remember to do it in even your easier classes. There's no reason to waste an easy A if it only takes an hour or two a week to study for.
Fifth: Don't be afraid of coffee
Embrace it. It will wake you up in the morning and give a good start to your day. I would recommend staying away from the sugar-laden and expensive stuff you find at a local starbucks, but do what suits you best. Thanks to coffee, I managed to be an early riser these last few years-- giving me an added handful of hours each day to prepare and be productive!
Sixth: Make studying fun
I spent way too many hours stuffed in my room trying to cover course material to know that it's an unsustainable model. True, it's good to reduce distractions and focus on the task at hand, but it's also important to take breaks and find ways to make studying fun. So go find some friends from your class or who already know the subject matter and work with them to better learn the information. Socializing and studying works great as long as everyone can stay focused a majority of the time.
Plus, changing gears here and there can keep the blood flow going. One of the things I would do when I was studying by myself was to study for an hour or two and then watch an episode of a TV show or learn to play a new song on my guitar. It was a kind of reward system that kept me from going crazy but maintained productivity!
Seventh: Have a great music playlist
Not only did discovering and enjoying music give my an activity on the side when I was studying, but it allowed the hours to fly by while doing so. I know that not everybody can listen to music or be around a lot of noise when trying to learn something, but if you can, then downloading Spotify or Pandora and making playlists is a great way to give yourself a better learning environment without hampering your productivity!
Need somewhere to start, or just want more music? Try one of my three other music-introducing hubs. They're my favorites and I'm confidant a couple of them could become yours as well!
Eighth: If you're going to drink and party, then be smart about it
I couldn't tell you not to party or drink ever with a straight face. It's college and if you''re not allowing yourself to have occasional fun, I'd argue you aren't doing it right. Albeit, lifestyle choices aside, if you so choose to engage in the ever so prevalent tom-foolery, do it on weekends, and when you don't have projects or other coursework you'd be neglecting.
During your freshman and sophomore years, you might be cool for being the guy that drank and partied for a month straight, but you won't be cool when you're returning to college your 5th or 6th year and your GPA is still lower than everyone else's. Just keep the balance.
Ninth: Keep your home a sanctuary
College is a great place to meet new people and see how they live, but nothing is harder all-around on a student than unsuitable living quarters. By that, I mean you shouldn't have a roommate or neighbors who stay up all hours of the night playing music or disrupting your sleep in some other way. And you shouldn't live with people that aren't supportive of your academic pursuits. My sophomore year, I had a roommate who constantly wanted the entirety of the dorm in our room to play video games. To say the least, I played too much smash bros and not enough organic chemistry; and I couldn't be productive in the one place that was objectively mine more than anywhere else. So fair warning.
Tenth: Avoid having a demanding job
This one is more objectionable for certain people. Some people have to work during college, and that's okay. But there's no arguing about it, work will get in the way of academics. College, if you're taking it seriously, and are trying to get good grades, should make you a full-time learner. Unless you have a work-study type job, it just usually doesn't work to balance coursework and daily shifts somewhere else.
There are a few jobs that are good opportunities for students, and they include:
- work study jobs for your school
- weekend only jobs
- online writing (see what's happening here)
- other stay at home jobs with a 'create your own schedule' deal
- tutor (especially if you're etching your own field of study)
- receptionist (hopefully some free time for study)
- EMT/volunteer firefighter (takes some time for certifications, but these guys spend a lot of the time they are being paid sitting around without obligation to do anything. Lots of study time)
Eleventh: Avoid the dating game
As bad as it may hurt, having a significant other in college is usually a drawback on grades. Too many afternoons and uhh.... nights... are spent on them, which prevents you from studying and sleeping. And the stress of a relationship, both positive and negative, can tear your focus away from school. I know this from experience.
I've seen the occasional couple that managed their priorities well and stayed together happily, but most people cannot have both.
Twelvth: Invest in the tools you need to succeed
If you're choosing between a reliable laptop or a car, I hope you take the laptop. Versatility in how you do your work can be extremely important and useful for being productive. I have a laptop with a battery life that can last 7 hours at a time, which allows me to work later into the day and on trips and during activities some others are rendered useless in. And although you can probably get through all of your basic reports using microsoft word skills, having and knowing how to use excel for science and mathematical projects is becoming increasingly important in today's studies.
Additionally, there are online learning services or even learning services at your school that you can purchase subscriptions to. Admittedly, they are businesses and are for-profit, but that doesn't mean they are worthwhile.
And buy your practice problem books and their solution manuals too. Most courses never require these materials, instead offering them as optional, but that doesn't mean they aren't useful and important. I got one of the highest grades in my Organic Chemistry class because I did all the practice problems. Most people never even bought the darned thing.
Thirteenth: Embrace research
Research opportunities in your field of study are fantastic ways to learn and acquire additional interest in your courses. I had a friend who did a semester of research with a pharmaceutical company and came back to school with not only a full set of skills to easily grant her A's in her lab's throughout college, but also some nice spending money (decent job option). I never personally did any real research, but I've only heard good things from those who have.
Fourteenth: Keep Persepective
Every once in a while, you'll need to take a step back from your daily life and re-examine what exactly it is your doing. Combining everything I've mentioned above, you should be okay if you can pause and ask yourself 'what all am I doing?', 'Could I do it better?', and 'am I happy with what I'm doing?'. After that, realizing grades aren't everything is the final step. If your love learning and applying the information, and you make that important to you, the grades should come.
Conclusion-- work hard to make sure you are doing what you enjoy. Everything after that is in the details.