College is interesting because it feels like time moves so slowly, but by the end you realize it flew by. Everyone’s college experience is unique, and can be completely changed by a single decision to join an organization or even take a certain class. This is by no means a comprehensive guide to doing well in college, but rather some tips that I would have appreciated knowing going into college.
Join some form of an organization as soon as possible. This could be a recognized student organization (RSO), sports team, or Greek life, or something else. This doesn’t sound like academic advice, but feeling like you belong to a community can go a long way to help your mental happiness. And while you may think that has no effect on your grades, being happy is more than half the battle.
Befriend older students. It’s great if the majority of your friends are your year, but older students can give you valuable perspective on classes, career choices, or organizations without you having to experience yourself. No one knows what you’ll have to go through better than someone who’s already done it before.
Learn about the professors and the classes before you take it. There will be easier professors than others, and there will be notorious classes that you should avoid. When you walk into a classroom, there are two types of people: those who know what to expect, and the suckers. If you don’t know who the suckers are, then you’re probably the sucker.
Go to class. There will be days you are too sick to make it, or days where you’re profoundly hungover and can’t get out of bed. That’s fine. Unless you’re at a school which posts recorded lectures for every class (damn you Berkeley), there is no replacing the in class interaction with a professor. But don’t go to class just for the sake of going. Go with the intent of actually paying attention, and don’t be scared to ask questions. You may be shy and worried that your question sounds dumb, but I assure you no one spends their time memorizing the kid that asked a dumb question once. Even if it’s dumb to others, you’re going to end up taking the same test and if you can’t answer the ‘dumb’ question how are you going to do well in the class? Chances are someone else had the exact same question and is relieved that someone finally asked it. Smart people aren’t afraid to ask for clarity and know that no one started off learning with all the answers. If so, it isn’t learning.
Office hours matter. There are two parts to this:
For humanities classes it’s especially important to listen in class and in office hours to what the professor cares about. Your papers aren’t fundamentally graded on how well you wrote it, but by how much your professor agrees with it. It sucks, but if you can create an echo chamber for your professor, you’re probably going to get a good grade.
When you’re doing poorly in a class, don’t believe that you’re stuck with the grade you necessarily deserve. At the upper echelons of grades (A- or A range) this will matter less, but if you’re struggling you aren’t doomed. Professors are humans too. The earlier you talk to them the better, but there are definitely ways to get them to boost your grade. Own up to your grade being your problem, but ask what they would recommend to do to fix it. I’m not saying they will give you a free A, but talking to them can definitely boost your grade by a half or full letter grade. Suck up the embarrassment and humble yourself in front of them, the worst they can do is not change your grade. The embarrassment is momentary but the GPA boost is forever. Who knows, you might even get a funny story out of it.
Do your homework and problem sets in a group. There’s multiple positive externalities from working in a group. Socially, it’s one of the best ways to make friends. There’s very little that bonds you to people like studying with them until 3am every day. Also, assuming they’re around a similar academic level you can help one another when you’re stuck. When you guys can’t find any solutions, the pool of people you can ask for help is larger when you’re in a group than when you’re alone. Don’t discount the amount of help a friend of a friend can give. <
Be generous with helping others. Everyone gets busy and feels stressed, but if a younger student is asking for help with a class you’ve taken, find time to help them. They could even be a student your year asking for advice. If you want to find time, you’ll be able to make time. You never know when you’ll be the one who needs help, and nothing feels better than having someone help you with something you’re struggling in. No one likes the snake who refuses to help their classmates. Everyone wants to see you fail, and no one wants to be that person. The more you give, the more you’ll get. But make sure you’re giving help freely, no one likes to feel like help is being held over their head as a debt to be repaid.
Never count something out until you ask. This applies for teachers, administrators, and friends. I’ve had friends who dropped five levels in a class (math 153 to math 131) just by asking the administrators, even though school policy says that a 5 on the calculus BC AP test automatically places you into math 153. Don’t be scared to ask your teachers for an extension or to take a test at a different time for extenuating circumstances, the worst they can say is no.
Finally, Oscar Wilde said it best when he said, “everything in moderation, including moderation”. It could be from exhaustion, but I can’t remember any of the nights I stayed up late studying for a class. What I can remember is escorting friends to the hospital during Halloween and getting called to the dean’s office for a something I will not write the details of. The best memories of college come from the nights where you stray from moderation, but that can’t be too often either. You’ll be the best judge of what is too much, but just know that you don’t always need to be on top of stuff, but you can’t always be going off the rails.