I’m not sure I’m one to talk, due to the overarching fact that I’m not entirely sure I have a handle on my own life right now as a student, but I can at least provide guidance to those of you in or considering college. As I’ve received my Bachelors of Arts and am working on my Master’s degree, I can at least offer some valid life-experience advice.
1. Show up to every class
More so at the undergraduate than graduate level, students have a tendency to ditch classes. They will attend one, but not another in a given day. Sometimes this is due to midterms or finals weeks, but these classes usually have the most to offer for review or lesson. It’s also a very expensive absence when you don’t attend a class—typically you are paying to be there. I recommend attending every class. Unless your professor explicitly says, “You may not need to show to every class to pass,” it’s probably best you attend every session.
2. Pay attention to the lesson
I know it seems like common sense, but you would be surprised how easy it is to get distracted (trust me on this one). You’re allowed to have laptops out, sometimes you can even have your cell phones on the desk without repercussions, but this is a mental trap. If you can see the phone, you’re more likely to check it for new messages. Though taking notes on your laptop can be extremely fruitful, try not to browse the web. Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr will be waiting for you when class is over (and when your homework is done). Honestly, you aren’t missing out; promise.
3. Do the homework
I admit, this one is much more difficult than the other tasks. We get super busy trying to balance classes, activities, friends, family, and projects that we end up sacrificing smaller readings or assignments for priority deadlines. While this is a useful strategy to simply survive the college experience, you aren’t actually doing yourself any favors. If you aren’t doing the work, then you can’t benefit from the classes that review the material in depth. Hell, some classes won’t even review the textbook and you’re required to self-teach and apply the skills in the classroom. Pop quizzes are a thing, and your professor is not afraid to use them.
This one may be obvious, but you’d be surprised how hard fitting a meal into your schedule actually can be. If you’re a commuter with a box lunch, you want the lightest, easiest to carry lunch box possible. Does the food need to be hot or cold? Know what you have access to on campus—a microwave, a refrigerator. If you’re tight for cash, you don’t want to buy a meal each day you’re on campus. Hell, even some meal cards for dorm students only include lunch and dinner. You want to make sure you’re eating enough to keep your strength up and have the energy to get through the long days. You’re health is your top priority, even if it seems like your classes are.
5. Sleep at least 7 hours per night
As our lives get hectic, we often sacrifice sleep for more hours in the day. This is definitely not where you should cut your time. Without sleep, your overall performance and ability to even function declines severely. There is a high possibility you are working and going to school, maybe you have a spouse or kids to attend to, or there might be a sick relative. My recommendation is that you establish house rules with the people in your life before school starts. Let your boss know that your availability may fluctuate with the time of the school year. Forewarn you spouse and children that you’ll be busy for a little while, but you’ll be able to spend time with them soon. Whatever you do, don’t sacrifice sleep. Shaving an hour or two here and there is okay, but functioning on 3 or 5 hours of sleep in a night is not going to carry you through your day, or through the quarter / semester, for that mater.
I know these may sound like common sense, but it’s amazing how quickly sense goes out the door when you start a college program. We often get caught up in due dates and deadlines that we forget about what’s happening right now. If you’re not at your best, your degree won’t benefit your learning at all. There’s only so much you can bullshit on a piece of paper before your grades and focus start to drop. Breathe and take the time to focus on yourself and your work.