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Tips: Success in College, Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Updated on August 8, 2015

1. Be on time for class. If at all possible arrive at your classroom five minutes early. Important information is usually given out at the beginning of class. Many teachers collect papers and projects at the beginning of class. If turned in a few minutes late, a hefty price is usually paid (20% deduction) if they decide to accept it.

2. Don't sit in the back of the classroom. There are too many in the back. You can see every side conversation. It becomes tempting to hold one of your own. Try sitting as close to the front as possible. This will help you stay engaged with your teacher.

3. The library should become your best friend. It is the common tenet that a student should study 3 hours for every 1 hour spent in the classroom. If the library is too quite or slow moving, find a place where you can get away and concentrate (ie. lounge, park, etc.).

4. Learn to take good notes. I learned quickly that you cannot write down everything the professor says. And, everything he or she says is not important for an upcoming test or exam. I took a University Experience class which taught me the technique of "Cornell Notes." This style gives you an opportunity to create and place relevant questions in the left margin. There is also a space at the end where you can devise a summation statement. While creating these tools, you are going over your notes multiple times which leads to retention. Creation of higher order questions allows you to take the information one step further. Finally this style of note-taking can be used for almost any class or subject.


Explanation of How to Take Cornell Notes

5. Take summer classes. If you were like me, then you moved at a snail pace when it came to stacking your credits to go towards graduation. I didn't like taking more than 12 credit hours a semester. You have to take at least 15 credit hours a semester if you are going to graduate in four years without taking summer classes. The average student though, is no longer graduating in 4 years.

6. Don't be afraid to beg a professor if you have to. At one point in my college career I landed on probation. You'd think that I would learn a lesson and pick up my performance. Unfortunately, I continued to slide the next semester until I could see the exit door. My grades in my major were horrible (partially from lack of effort). I went to my Analytical Chemistry professor's office and asked him if there was any extra work that I could do to bring up my grade of 50%. I told him it didn't matter how much work I had to do. In the end he decided to give me an extra quiz and drop my lowest one. He also decided to weight my next exam (which I scored an A with the curve). Ultimately I pulled myself up from an F to a C- which was good enough to keep me in school.

7. Arrive very early if you want to find a parking spot. You will not be able to arrive 5 minutes before class and find a parking space. In some instances you may miss your class if you come too late. I learned there really is a technique to finding a parking space (wait in line and follow the students as they leave class and enter the parking lot). If you can, take a shuttle bus or car pool. In certain small colleges you may be able to avoid buying a parking permit if you become familiar with the surrounding streets.

8. Take a variety of classes. There are ample opportunities to take classes out side of your major if you aren't taking a minor. Doing so may spark interest in another field which you may decide to pursue later in life. Take a course that will further cultivate one of your hobbies. Doing so will give you a nice change of pace.

9. If you want to achieve high grades, hang with the kids who are succeeding. In graduate school, I surrounded myself around like-minded students who always got their work done. When I put half effort into an assignment, I felt out of place because it felt like we held each other to a high standard.

10. Don't feel intimidated because you may need help. In reality, the students who are succeeding are going to study groups and making use of their professor's office hours. There are also many professional societies that offer help/study sessions. Many of my friends were a part of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). However I never joined because of my ego. I didn't want them to know I was doing so horribly in school. My grades may have improved if I would have taken advantage of their help.

11. It's ok to switch your major. Why continue pursuing a particular career if you detest it. Eventually you will get your degree and either spend many years working in in jobs that don't make you happy or you will quit altogether. The average person changes their career up to six times within their lifetime. So, if you don't succeed the first time, try again.

12. Continuously cultivate your mind, body, and spirit. All three components are important for your success. I didn't get the required rest that my body needs on a daily basis. That led to chronic sickness which hindered my performance in the classroom. There will be many trying times during your college career. Being spiritually strong will help you to cope and get through these situations. Finally, participate in a sport or recreational activity that you love. This will help you relieve the stress that accumulates from the many demands (ie. writing a term paper, taking midterms).

13. Find a healthy balance between work and play. All study and no fun is not appealing. But dusting off your books at the end of the semester for an exam is not a good sign either. Work hard throughout the week so you can enjoy your weekends and days off. Unfortunately, I did not master this balance for the majority of my undergraduate career. Although I was not as bad as the students who began their excursions on Wednesday (at various bars), I suffered the long lasting effects of hitting multiple fraternity and sorority parties during a weekend. Mix that with a job and attending church, you can understand why I wasn't back to full strength until the following Wednesday. My lack of rest resulted in a decreased immune system strength. I now know why I had chronic sickness.

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