Careers & Education

Preparing for the first year of college

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Creating good study and time management habits will help you in school and in life
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As you embark on your first year of college, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed with all of the new responsibilities you will soon be facing. Choosing classes, deciding what to pack, social activities, securing a part-time job, meeting new friends and getting settled into your dorm are certainly very important aspects of getting acclimated to college life. But remember this: your first responsibility is to develop into a strong college student. In order to do this, you need to establish positive and proactive routines. Developing good study habits should be a top priority during your first semester, so here are some suggestions to keep in mind while you find strategies that work for you!

You may be accustomed to high school teachers who repeatedly reminded you of upcoming assignments, deadlines, and tests. They meant well; they wanted you to be prepared. At the time, you may have appreciated the reminders or felt they sounded a little like your parents, always nagging you to get something done. Well, as you enter college you will quickly realize that nagging no longer exists. It may be a breath of fresh air, but, unless you set some guidelines for yourself you can fall prey to some of the many freshman pitfalls. These tips will serve you well as a college freshman:

Study Skills

Study independently.You should engage in some experimentation to identify what type of learner you are and figure out which study methods work best for you. Consider the following:
  • Are you a visual learner? Train yourself to sit down and read the textbook. Learn how to highlight key words and concepts, taking notes on a pad or on your laptop computer as you go. Review your notes from class and fill in the gaps as you read new information. Write down questions that emerge so that you can ask your professor directly.
  • Are you a kinesthetic learner? Try sketching concept maps while you read, helping new ideas stick to concepts you already understand. Keep your hands moving during a lecture so that you are encouraged to remain focused and actively engaged in the learning process. Use color-coded sticky notes and highlighters to group concepts together and prioritize information.
  • Are you an auditory learner? Explore using audio tapes to record terms and definitions. Listening to the recording before you go to sleep at night is a great review. You can also audiotape your professors' lectures and review them later.

Form study groups

If you learn best by talking about ideas, you need to seek out others with whom you can revisit class information with. There are plenty of people who'll make great study partners and chances are, they will not be your best friends or roommates. Why? You associate certain activities with certain people. Consider Pavlov's dog: when you see your roommate, you may automatically feel like having a snack, cracking jokes, or even worse, taking a nap. Instead, you'll want to branch out of your network of friends and form study groups with other students in a specific class. Try to select serious students who will help, not hinder, your study performance. The best way to meet disciplined, serious students is to arrive early to class and sit up front. You will have a few extra minutes before the professor starts the lecture when you can engage in some chitchat about the homework or upcoming assignments. Ask them questions. Compare notes on specific topics. The students you meet in this environment can make great study partners down the road.

Visit the tutorial center

It may not be the most exciting thing to do in the little spare time you will have during your first semester, but you'll want to see what your school offers in terms of free tutoring assistance before you desperately need it. Go in and meet with the coordinator. Ask if the tutors are upperclassmen specializing in certain disciplines or if they assigned tutor duties as part of their work-study program. This way, you can anticipate the quality of instruction you may receive. Try to meet a tutor who specializes in one of your weaker subjects and talk to him about the class you are taking. One of the most stressful experiences you will face is cramming for a next day exam only to realize that you really don't understand the information. Plan ahead and get the help you need early.

Locate 2 favorite study areas

Try and find a favorite spot in the library. As you revisit it, it will slowly start to feel like your home away from home and you'll be more comfortable studying there. Familiarizing yourself with the library is important: get to know the librarian or research aids, learn how their computer software works so you can easily locate books and research materials, and identify both quiet study areas as well as sections designated for group study. If you don't feel like being in the confines of a library all the time, designate a back up plan. When the weather is nice, you may enjoy sitting in the grass under the shade of a huge try while you read.

Visit professors

For some students, this can be a very uncomfortable or stressful experience, but it is important that you make an effort to meet with each of your professors personally. Professors are people who entered the field of education to help students! Be sure to observe their office hours and try not to stop in to their office right at the end of their available times. During your first meeting, introduce yourself, remind them which class you are taking with them and be prepared to ask a few questions about the course. These can include questions about a concept you didn't fully grasp during her lecture or a specific inquiry about an assignment or presentation. Finally, don't abuse their time, especially if other students are waiting outside. Twenty minutes or so is reasonable. Finally, try to leave on a positive note and thank your professors for their time. As you are preparing for your first year of college, make the commitment to developing strong study skills. The time you dedicate to developing good habits and routines now, will serve you well for the rest of your life. As you develop these skills and apply a consistent method for attacking assignments, you will find that you will become proficient at managing your workload and are likely to enjoy more free time and success as the year progresses.

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