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Ask the Experts: Colleges and Universities - Survival Tips

By Peterson's Staff updated on Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Question What is the best advice you can give a high school senior about succeeding in college academically? Also, the college I am attending is a big University, and most of the time grades depend on tests scores. And I am bad at test taking. What is your advice on that too? - Lensa

AnswerThis is a great time to be thinking about these issues, and to start planning for college success. Too often students worry only about getting into college, and not about how they will do once they arrive. There are many pieces of advice to offer, but here are a few of our favorites:

Don't overload your first semester. It will be the toughest of your career, since you will be adjusting to college socially, having some fun, and learning the ropes academically. Balance your courses and take some subjects you are familiar with to have a manageable first semester and year. Don't try to take all the graduation requirements right away, especially in areas that are your weaker subjects.

Plan for your college weekday to be your academic workday. The biggest shift for you in college will be the lack of structure in your day compared to high school. This is particularly true at larger universities. You will have at most a few hours of class time each day, and in some days no classes at all. So, plan an eight hour day comprised of some class time, prep time, work on short term assignments, work on long term assignments, meetings with faculty and advisers (hint:  meet all of them at least once each semester), reading, and so on. If you work like this, you won't need all-nighters, your evenings will often be your own, and you'll have lots of free time on the weekends.

Get involved. Join a club or two, try new things, and/or continue the things you enjoyed in high school. This will help you get connected, meet folks with similar interests, and enjoy your college experience.

Talk with your professors, and teaching assistants in those larger classes, about test taking. You can improve with practice, and knowing what is on the test and how to approach the material from the standpoint of college requirements/expectations will be important. Work hard on your papers, getting professors to look at early drafts, working on rewrites where permitted, and making sure you understand assignments so that you can compensate for potentially lower test grades.

Go to class. There is no substitute for it!

 

Question i was wondering what kind of things should you automatically take to college, like for your dorm - maria

 

AnswerWell, we have yet to encounter a college student who did not bring to his new home in a college dormitory all of his/her electronic equipment, these being primarily a computer and music media. Of course the computer is the most essential since faculty will assume that all their students are able to word process, research online, and communicate with them via e-mail.

Beyond these two items, some very basic items to take with you are the following: a very good reading lamp for your desk and for your bedside (you surely will be reading a lot more than was required in high school); comfortable chair for your desk and possibly a reading chair or small sofa if they are not provided by the college; lots of hangars for clothes; the loudest, most obnoxious sounding alarm clock you can find in order to get you out of bed in the morning for class or at night to start studying for an exam or to write a paper. Try to leave at home as much junk as you can since dorm rooms are invariably too small and that stuff will only become a nuisance.

 

Question What is the best way to succeed in college? - tina

 

AnswerGreat question. Here are the keys to succeeding in your college studies. Take as many of the subjects that appeal to you, while at the same time fulfilling any general distribution requirements. Develop good time management and organizational skills. In college you will have only three to four hours per day of formal class time. You have to learn how to plan out each day to complete academic assignments, including reading and paper writing. You need to put in a logical order the key things you need to get done in the day and estimate how much time you need for each task. That is organization. 

Get plenty of sleep. Many students run into difficulties because they do not plan rest and sleep time. They can easily fall apart and fall behind. Avoid drugs, really, and binge drinking. You will feel sick, be sick, and lose all sense of responsibilities and focus. Find a really comfortable place to study, be it the library, a classroom building, a study hall, the computer center. No one ever gets meaningful work completed in the dormitory. Find the right friends, those who share your goals for success as well as a balance of some fun.

 

Question Would you suggest staying in a dorm room by yourself or with someone else your first year? - Shannon

 

AnswerDuring your first year, it's nice to have a roommate, who will often be your first companion on campus. Most colleges don't offer a lot of single room options for first-year students in any event, though if you have particular concerns about having a roommate, you might request one.

 

Question When creating my schedule for my first year of college, should i try to set it up so i have classes continuously during a day or should i space them out throughout the day? - Anita

 

AnswerOne of the major surprises first-year college students experience is the relatively few hours of actual class work compared to high school and the great amount of free time that must be organized for the best study results. A majority of colleges operate on a system of two to three hours of assigned work for every hour of class time. It is not easy to control the exact hours a student prefers for all the classes that are of interest or required. The key factor in setting up a schedule is to select the proper courses of study and to balance the week long schedule so that no one or two days is overloaded with classes while the other days are completely free.

 

Question I will begin my first year of college this fall at Pepperdine. I will be living at a dorm. However, i have a sleep disorder which causes me to wake up a lot during the night. Should i let the school know about this as it may be best that i do not have a roommate? - Jack

AnswerOur primary advice if you have a sleep disorder is to get assistance in overcoming this disability so that you can function at your best level in college. One of the biggest problems students create for themselves is an inconsistent life style which leads to lack of proper sleep. What follows is missed classes and failure to get work done on time. You should speak to the dean of students about your situation and request a single room.

 

Question I'm going to start for College in September. What should I do to get ready? - Mika

 

AnswerBegin by planning an appropriate curriculum for the fall and spring. Don't overload yourself and try to fulfill all the university requirements immediately. Take courses in your areas of strength and avoid those you know will be overly demanding in your first semester. You'll have a lot of social adjustment going on, as well as an academic adjustment associated with learning what is required for college-level coursework. So look for balance and consider your course plan as a whole for the first year, which is usually the hardest you'll face.

Plan your week like a workweek, and recognize you'll need to be organized and assertive in scheduling your time. There is a lot of empty space in college life which you'll need to fill proactively so you don't fall behind.

Finally plan to attend your college's pre-orientation if it has one. Such programs allow you to go on outdoor oriented trips, participate in a community service activity, or get involved in the arts, for example. They are great ways to make friends and learn about the college prior to the formal orientation.

 

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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