20 Proven Tips and Tricks to Breeze Through College
May 30, 2011
Even for the best of students, college can seem like an overwhelming challenge. While there's no guaranteed way to make it easy, the following tried and true tips can help you get the most out of your college experience academically, socially and professionally.
1. Utilize School Resources
Most colleges and universities are bursting with resources to make your experience easier and more interesting. Some useful resources include (but probably aren't limited to):
- Library (or, in a big institution, libraries)
- Tutoring center
- Computer labs
- Career center
- Health and counseling center
- Financial services
Some campuses even offer a museum or arts center, film screenings and other forms of free, enriching entertainment.
2. Stay Informed
Colleges and universities, especially big state institutions, can often feel like faceless bureaucracies. From registering for classes to applying for financial aid, there are many important deadlines and processes to keep track of and that's your responsibility. Pay attention to the student handbook and keep an eye on the school website to ensure that you don't miss anything. When in doubt, contact student services or your academic advisor for more guidance.
3. Get Organized
You're likely to have more assignments than ever before in college and you can't rely on your professors to remind you when something is due. Get a calendar application for your computer or mobile device - there are even many free, Web-based ones that will sync on both - and use it to track your class schedule, assignment deadlines and exams. It can also be useful to break down larger projects into small, manageable goals by setting yourself mini-deadlines along the way.
4. Manage Your Time
In addition to your new workload, you'll find that college puts an incredible number of demands on your time. Managing them all carefully can truly make or break your experience. When you're planning out your week, make sure that you set aside enough time each day for studying, socializing, extra-curricular commitments and taking care of yourself. Working students have the additional challenge of incorporating their work commitments into their schedules.
Feel like you'll have every minute of every day planned out? You might, but as long as you make sure that there's some fun time and some down time in those plans, sticking to your schedule will make it possible to stay on top of everything and feel sane.
5. Set Goals
It's important to set both small and large goals to guide your college experience. As noted above, you can manage your coursework by breaking it down into manageable chunks and setting yourself small goals to meet on the way to big deadlines.
However, it can also be helpful to think about long term goals. Don't overwhelm yourself by trying to plan all the way to retirement, but setting yourself a series of realistic, attainable goals can help you achieve your dreams just like it helps you meet your deadlines.
6. Perfect Your Study Techniques
Even the most successful high school students often need to completely revise their studying styles when they get to college. You'll want to find a specific system that works for you, but any approach you take should involve setting (and sticking to) a routine. You may also want to consider forming a study group - peer pressure can be a great way to make sure that you get your work done.
Not sure what study techniques might be right for you? Don't miss college studying 101.
7. Go to Class (Prepared)
It can be tempting to skip class when no one is looking over your shoulder, but the old cliché is true: You're only hurting yourself. There's no guarantee that all of the material in class will be covered in the readings and missing classes may leave you stranded when it comes to essay or exam time. Make sure that you also prepare for class each time so that you're ready to actively engage in the discussion.
8. Take Thorough Notes
A lot of information will get thrown at you during lectures and the best way to absorb it all is to take notes and review them later. You won't be able to write down every word, so get familiar with short hand techniques and quick outlines and look for free note-taking applications online.
9. Do Your Reading
And do all of it! In high school you may have been able to coast by with class notes and Cliff Notes, but completely the assigned reading in essential for success in college classes. It can also be helpful to use sticky notes or a highlighter to mark passages that you found particularly important or confusing. (Using an e-reader? You can highlight and take notes digitally!)
10. Strengthen Your Writing Skills
From short essays to 20-page research papers, writing is an essential part of the college experience. If you're unsure of your writing ability, don't be afraid to enroll in an introductory composition course. The skills you learn there will help you excel in the rest of your classes and being a strong writer can help you throughout your academic and professional careers.
11. Get to Know Your Professors
Building strong relationships with your professors can have many benefits. First, it will help you develop a better understanding of their expectations in class, which can help you earn better grades. Second, it can lead to invaluable mentorship relationships. Whether they're helping you figure out what major suits you best or writing you letters of recommendation for grad school, professors make excellent mentors throughout your college experience.
12. Seek Help
Everyone runs into especially challenging classes during college and there's no shame in asking for extra help. Visit your professor or TA during office hours to ask for more guidance on difficult concepts, or check out your school's tutoring center for help with homework.
13. Explore New Subjects
Even students who start college knowing exactly what they want to do with their lives will often make a 180 degree switch midway through. College is a great time to learn more about your academic interests and passions and explore ways in which they might develop into a career.
While you're still choosing your major, take classes in a variety of subjects and try to get outside of your comfort zone. Even after you're set on a specific path, try to leave some spots in your course schedule for fun classes outside of your major.
14. Broaden Your Horizons
Personal development is another important part of college and there are tons of opportunities to explore new things outside of class. Depending on your interests, you might join a student club, run for student government or try out for a sports team. College can also offer many low-cost travel opportunities - contact your advisor to learn more about study abroad programs and funding options.
15. Complete an Internship
If you're not already working, consider pursuing an internship. These positions offer you a chance to try out a profession and find out if you'll really like it while adding valuable experience to your resume.
16. Create a Professional Network
Some day you'll graduate from college and the bonds you formed in school won't just be important socially - they can facilitate networking, that all-important professional tool. (Your roommate may just be a pre-law now, but he or she will one day be an attorney.) Get to know your peers and form meaningful connections that will outlast your college career.
17. Create a Support Network
Don't try to go it alone! Whether you need to cry, complain or squeal with joy, college life is easier and more fun when you can reach out to people for more than professional relationships. Stay in touch with your family back home through the phone (or Skype, or email...) and make the effort to form meaningful bonds with a few of your classmates instead of just collecting a hundred new Facebook 'friends.' It can also be helpful to utilize the free counseling services offered through most college health centers to manage stress and other emotional challenges.
18. Stay Healthy
College stress can be taxing on your mental and physical health and, in turn, letting your health suffer can have negative consequences for your schoolwork. Make sure to get enough sleep, cook healthy meals and incorporate some basic stress reduction techniques like regular physical exercise, specially set-aside down time or even activities like meditation or breathing exercises.
19. Master Your Finances
Money management can be challenging, but if you learn to do it well in college you'll have a skill that will serve you for the rest of your life. Map out a budget for yourself, including books, food, bills and entertainment expenses, and stick to it.
It can also be beneficial to seek out sources of financial aid in addition to your institutional loans and grants. A Web search can turn up hundreds of scholarships related to your field of study, demographics and more.
20. Party Smart
College can be a fun time to let loose and try new things, but a lot of students end up taking things too far and hurting their studies - or themselves. Get out there and party a little, but make sure that socializing isn't eating up too much of your schoolwork or sleep time and be conscious of making smart, safe decisions.