We’ve talked about the transition from high school to college before – but perhaps the biggest difference you will find as a new college student is the change in academic schedule structure. This new college structure requires a lot more self-discipline and initiative.
In high school, many of your classes are arranged for you, where in college you arrange your own schedule and consult with your adviser. And, while you’ll spend fewer hours in class during college,the amount of work you will have to do outside of class is much greater. This is where a lot of students struggle, as the responsibility to make time for this work outside of class is, often for the first time, entirely on you as the student.
Joyce Draper, Independent Educational Consultant and founder of Draper College Consulting, said preparing high school students for this shift is important.
“When I meet with families, I like to have a college readiness conversation with them because I actually think that’s one of the most important parts of this whole process. When we sit down and think about getting into college, yes that’s important, but we want to be able to stay there and when we’re there, we want to be successful. So I spend a lot of time talking about college readiness and what that needs to look like in a high school student, and what kind of skill sets they need to have to be successful in college,” said Draper.
These skill sets include a good system for taking notes, organization skills, competency with essay writing, and structured study techniques for tests and exams.
“That basic understanding is key. It’s just a very different responsibility in college that you have on yourself,” said Draper.
Draper advised that students plan on spending three hours studying and doing homework for a class for every hour spent in class. Most professors give students a syllabus at the beginning of the class that provides major due dates. While some assignments may be smaller and can be done in a fairly short amount of time, students need to have a more planned out system for big-picture deadlines, such as a long essay or research paper, or an important exam.
“Whether they do this in a planner or their phone or an app, they absolutely need to be able to break down those huge papers. They have to monitor themselves and create [their own] deadlines. For example, if you’re writing a 25-page paper and it’s due in two months, every week you need to plan out a deadline as to what’s going to be due for that paper so it all comes together and you’re not working on it in the last moment,” said Draper.
It is also a good idea to plan to finish a big assignment like this a few days before it’s due so that you can, in this case, take it to the writing center and be able to re-edit after taking a step back from your work. Breaking down these deadlines will allow you to stay on top of your work and not have a 25-page paper feel so daunting.
“The reason we stress is because it seems like there is so much to do and so little time to do it. I create infamous spreadsheets with my students that list out all of the needed application materials and their due dates. We then agree upon how we are going to proceed, how often we are going to meet, and which one we are going to tackle first–usually based on the deadlines,” said Jessie Pilewski, Career Coach at Earlham College.
Draper compared these big assignments to the college application process, which may be the first time a student has encountered a series of deadlines for a final outcome.
“When we spend all that time looking at all the components of a college application process, that’s how we have to break down a large paper or a big exam,” said Draper.
But, you will have to hold yourself accountable for these deadlines and the work associated with them, as no one in college will be telling you, for example, to put down your cell phone and get to work.
“There’s no one monitoring you but yourself. The most important thing, I think, in college is establishing a routine and when the best time is to study for you,” said Draper.
Distinguish a consistent time that works for you based on when you’re most alert and what your schedule allows for. Whether you prefer to study in the mornings, afternoons, or evenings, establishing a routine for this will help you stay on top of your work.
Part of this routine may also be establishing a study space. While many students utilize the campus library, you may want to study in a different space on campus, a coffee shop, or your living room. Wherever you feel you can be productive can make for a great routine study space.
While you will have to take the initiative to actually do the work and utilize resources, one way to help you ease into this accountability is to find someone to help hold you accountable.
“Find a person on campus who can be ‘your person.’ Make sure that they fully understand your goals and the steps you need to take to get to the next step. This can be a professor, mentor, or even a friend,” said Pilewski.
The college or university may also provide resources and groups to help students with academic and career-focused work.
“Last fall we started the Graduate School Accountability Group, and this spring we have a Job Hunters Group for seniors. Both are informal weekly meetings, with snacks provided, where students come and work on whatever part of the process they are on. A career coach is present to help facilitate and answer questions,” said Pilewski.
Pilewski said she also has students schedule “work hour” appointments, where they can work through a major task or assignment with her and other students. Your career coach, academic advisor, or professors may provide similar opportunities.
Establishing a system and routine for studying, along with scheduling your deadlines, will help you stay on top of your work and be academically successful in college. Everyone goes through a learning curve between high school and college, so make sure you take advantage of campus resources to help you make this transition.