I am not prone to give advice. Nor, if my wife and mother are to be believed, am I any better at taking it. My own children have apparently learned this habit from me since, no matter what I tell them, they are unlikely to do it. Consequently, it is with consternation that I write advice for anyone who is starting college in a few weeks. My first piece of advice is “Do as I say, not as I do.” Take my advice. It comes from years of standing in front of college freshmen and watching those who succeed and those who do not.
First: Go to class. This may seem like a no-brainer. Yet, itís amazing how many students give into the temptation to skip class. About the second or third week, many of you will notice that at least one of your professors didnít take roll on Wednesday. He didnít take roll Monday either. Perhaps he even announced on the first day of class that he didnít ever take roll. Perhaps he told you that it was your responsibility to show up for class, not his. If you donít show up, the Vice Principal isnít going to call your parents. If you skip ó just this once ó you wonít have to bring an excuse from your parents. If you did, the professor who didnít take roll wouldnít want to read it anyway. So, Friday comes around. This may be the last week that the weather is right for the Island. So . . . just this once . . .
The only way I know to resist this urge ó and believe me, itís a temptation most of your professors experience as well ó is to think of college as though it is your job. (I know, this may take a little imagination. Theyíre not paying you; youíre paying them.) Most of you have had a job or two. If you didnít show up for a shift one day, didnít call in sick, nothing, and then simply came back to work the following day as though nothing had happened, do you think youíd still have your job waiting for you? Someone else would already be sweeping those floors or flipping up those burgers. Letís face it, your college education is more important than sweeping floors or flipping burgers. Take it more seriously, or you might find yourself with that broom or spatula in your hand.
Second: Last minute cramming is for patsies. I know, some of you are convinced that you work best under pressure. Believe me, if you think that, youíve never really been at your best. When the professor gives you an assignment, do it right then. Donít wait until itís due. This goes double for essays and research papers. No one can do a good job on a 10-page research paper the night before.
I know Iím sounding like your mother, older brother, uncle, whatever. But I canít emphasize this enough. Start writing that paper the day you get the assignment and it will revolutionize your life. It wonít make you better looking, but it will improve your grades.
Third: make friends. (Didnít expect that one, did you?) Donít just go to class and go home or to your job. Those of you who get involved with campus life will start to feel like students, not just someone who happens to go to class when they feel like it. (Pay attention to the first piece of advice above.) Make your education the center of your life. Which it should be for the next four years. So, make friends in your classes. (You might even try to make friends with your professors. Drop by during their office hours with a question. Something simple. You donít want to strain them, just get to know them.)
One of the best ways to make friends is to start a study group, particularly if youíre taking college algebra, pre-cal, or microbiology. Meet with your study group once a week. Even if all you do is talk about how boring the professor is, youíll find yourself paying more attention to due dates and exam questions.
Avoid the classic mistake students make when setting up study groups: Most guys look for study partners who are good looking; most girls look for study partners who look friendly. Big mistake in both cases. Find someone who looks smarter than you are. Of course, the smartest students already know this. Theyíre busy looking for someone who is smarter than them. Want to look smarter so theyíll pick you? Take my advice.
Below are some short bits; just as important, but Iím running out of room:
Donít be afraid to ask questions. (Itís college, remember? Youíre there to learn; theyíre there to teach. Itís a perfect fit.)
Visit your professor during office hours the first week or two of class. (Most office visits occur during the last two weeks of the semester, when itís too late.)
Take notes during lectures. (Even if you donít want to. It makes the professor feel needed.)
Highlight your texts. (Cuts back on study time when reviewing for exams. And yes, the bookstore will buy back highlighted texts.)