For lack of a better opening, here’s a Twitter-sized anecdote.
Mom, to teenage brother: “You know, you should ask Hannah for ideas about college. She’s been doing it for awhile now.”
But I guess, after accidentally doing college in cuttime and surviving, I really do know something about how it works.
Let’s be honest. College is an amazing opportunity (thanks for the blessing, God) that’s also terrifying and awful and will probably suck the life out of you (thanks for the sanctification, God). We do it, because we know that higher education can actually benefit us later in life provided we do it right and survive to graduation. But how? How to survive college?
Glad you asked, because it just so happens I have a list. (Mycroft has a file.) To cut to the chase, this post is about basic hacks that will help you survive college. These are just things that I’ve found useful, and maybe they’ll work for you too. And the best part is, you can start using some of them right now.
Step 1: Begin before the semester.
- Ask advice from other people who go to college- preferably, your college. Find out about the hardest courses and how to ace them, and look for little life hacks from other students. (Hint: You’re already doing that!)
- Do everything ahead of time. Don’t procrastinate. Figure out what courses you’re taking, get them all set up, and fill out all the forms well before the semester starts. This leaves you extra time in case you miss something.
- When you’re not in school, practice writing essays. If you’re still in high school or are taking a summer break, now is the ideal time to practice writing a generic five-paragraph essay. Find some prompts, set a timer for 40 minutes, and see what you can crank out.
- Update: Learn to speed-read. I neglected to mention this before (facepalm) but if you do it right, speed-reading can help you study effectively by teaching you different types of reading. Try this article for starters.
Step 2: Go in with a plan.
- Read the syllabus. Just… read the syllabus.
- Download everything: all assignment instructions, rubrics, source articles, and anything else you might find useful. It may seem ridiculous, but it’s so much easier than desperately hunting for that old article a day before your paper is due.
- Organize your files using your computer’s file explorer, Google Drive, or Microsoft Office Suite. Downloading stuff is no good if you can’t find it later.
- While you’re at it, organize your tasks by day. I use Google Calendar and Tasks, which lets me assign daily tasks to myself and check them off as I go. Other people use planner apps which basically do the same thing.
- Keep track of your textbooks. When you’re buying and renting multiple books (see below) for a whole semester, it’s really easy to forget which ones belong to you and when to return the ones that don’t. Ergo, write it down.
Step 3: Get the right resources.
- Rent your books instead of buying them. Chegg Study and Amazon.com are great resources for this.
- If you can, earn credit in other ways. CLEP and DSST exams give you credit for subjects you already know, and ALEKS courses give you a fast-paced review until you’re getting good grades. P.S. ACE Credit can store your credit on a transcript until you’re ready to send it to a college.
- There are also some great study sites. Free Clep Prep is technically for CLEP and DSST, but the site has all kinds of resources for pretty much every intro-level course and subject.
- InstantCert is great test-prep, designed for CLEP exams.
- Quizlet is also good. Personally I hate studying with flash cards, but if they help you, Quizlet is the way to go.
Step 4: Work.
- College is basically a job, so treat it like one. Work hard and take it seriously.
- Do your school from nine to five. School starts promptly at 9am and ends right before dinner (with good breaks in between), and then you can watch Netflix. This way, you probably won’t have to pull any all-nighters.
- Get over yourself. The truth is college often makes you work hard at things you don’t even like- for example, recording videos of yourself talking. Just do it anyway. Chances are you’re a lot better at school than you think.
- Sleep at night. I shouldn’t have to say this to you adults (and almost-adults), but put your phone away and go to sleep before 11pm.
Step 5: Make it fun.
- Make yourself have fun. Let’s face it, college isn’t always fun, so you have to find little ways to enjoy it. It’s as simple as talking yourself into being excited or choosing essay topics that sound interesting and don’t stress you out.
- Listen to music that makes you happy and helps you study. Try Spotify or Pandora, or just plain old YouTube if you can resist the cat videos. (I’ve heard video games soundtracks can help people focus on tasks.)
- Reward yourself with snacks. After thirty solid minutes of writing that dull essay, give yourself a snack. A healthy snack. Maybe a little chocolate if it’s a really dull essay.
- Find fun ways of studying. Do you like to sit and read outside? Can you make up a song to memorize the rulers of England? Do you learn better mind palace-style? Try it and see.
Step 6: Think twice before making a dumb decision.
- Keep at it. Everyone feels awful in the heat of the semester: some people are tempted to cheat, others just want to give up trying. Both of those are wrong. College really is a huge opportunity, regardless of how you feel now. Don’t waste it.
- Talk about your problems. Ask your mom for advice when you’re stressed out, or have your friend group ask you every week how you are doing. It does wonders for accountability.
- Don’t be stupid. Cheating is always a wrong decision, and it almost never improves your grades even if you’re not caught. (For example.) Remember, school is for learning, not proving what you already know.
- Get the help you need. Try Chegg Study or check out the resources in your university’s library. Think about it: for 30 bucks, would you rather buy two crappy essays or actually learn how to put your thoughts on paper?
Step 7: Live a life outside of school.
- Start a project outside of school. Volunteer, learn to make bread, or get a part-time job. This gives you balance and lets you invest in something besides three months of papers.
- Don’t let college kill you. Drink water so you don’t die. Find some kind of exercise that you like (or, at least, you don’t hate); if you live close enough to your campus, try walking to school instead of driving.
- Talk to other humans. Don’t just be grumpy about how misrepresented the Puritans are; go rant to a friend about it. It helps you process and understand the facts better, and in the meantime you’ll actually be talking to people.
- Give your brain a break. Try watching a movie on repeat (like, ahem, Doctor Strange) or re-read your old favorite book. Just find something to help your brain relax.
- If you need to, quit during the summer. Most people take a summer break. College is brain work, and sometimes you just need to rest.
And here we are. This list is not a lifesaving device, but hopefully something on it will make your life at college a little bit better. At the very least, you should be able to survive.
Enjoy the rest of your summer. *evil cackling*