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Preparing to Deal With College Life

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Graduating high school seniors who are heading to college will spend a lot of their time this summer fantasizing about what college will be like. They may try to imagine what dorm life will offer. Maybe they’ll think about pledging Greek life. Thoughts of meeting an entirely new, different and diverse set of classmates and future friends is exciting and may be a cause for some anxiety.

Of course, the academic challenge of college looms large. Yes, high school may have been challenging, too, with advanced classes, their related hurdles and the pressure to do as well as possible in order to get into college. Higher education stress can be something else, though, and that’s the unknown that can inspire either eager anticipation or sweaty palms right now.


For those of you trying to imagine what college will be like and how you’ll be able to handle it successfully, ask yourself: What are my criteria for success? Do you have some kind of special mental image of yourself prospering academically, socially and possibly athletically during your years inside those ivy walls?

Visualization can be an important part of your preparation for college. You may even know someone who is currently in college whom you fancy as your collegiate success role model. Unless you have had close contact with current college students or have a brother or sister in college, you may not be aware of what it takes to be successful in college. It’s a matter of discipline and planning, mostly … an attitude, if you will.

Success Can Mean Different Things

Don’t be misled, though. You don’t have to maintain a 4.0 GPA and be editor of the campus newspaper (or even class president) to qualify for the moniker of “successful.” It would be helpful, then, if someone could come up with a specification for how to rise above and conquer the challenges of four (or more) years of undergraduate (and possibly graduate) education.

Well, our friends at Campus Grotto have delivered exactly that kind of specification. Their article 12 Habits of Successful Students covers a lot of ground and may be able to help you generate that mental image of yourself becoming a successful college student. Let’s take a look at a few of those 12 habits. You’ll also have to endure my comments about them.

- Successful students set short-term and long-term goals. Setting goals and reaching them really gets the momentum going on success. Having goals gives you a sense of direction in your college journey and pushes you to go forward when you’re not sure what lies ahead. …

When I was in college, one of my main short-term goals was to be on time for meals. For me, a long-term goal was to survive until the weekend, so I could sleep in. Those 8:00 morning classes were the pits.

- Successful students stick to a weekly study schedule. College is all about mastering the art of multitasking. To do this you need to create some sort of schedule to follow and have a study plan.

My weekly study schedule demanded that three times per week, my regimen would include a one-hour timeout so that I could walk across the street to the Hilltop Sub Shop and get one of their world-famous cheesesteaks. One needs protein to think properly, and red meat filled the bill for me. Since I started out in Business Administration my first-term freshman year, I could always do those accounting balance sheets better once I had some grease, mayonnaise and chocolate milk surging through my veins and brain. Of course, as they say, your mileage may vary.

- Successful students are active in activities outside the classroom, being involved in things like college clubs and intramural sports. Contrary to popular belief, extracurricular activities do not detract from academic performance; instead, they increase students’ overall satisfaction with their college experience and contribute to learning.

I played varsity tennis in college and found that a vigorous practice session stimulated my thinking and brought my senses alive, which came in handy for studying. The downside of being a varsity athlete involved long road trips we had to make for away matches. Don’t kid yourself; you’re not going to get a lot of reading or writing done on the team bus.

Belonging to college clubs has its advantages, since you may be able to meet new friends who have experience in areas that could advance your academic progress. For example, if you are involved in campus politics, such as the Young Republicans or Young Democrats, you might befriend someone who could aid you in your approach to a political science major, if that happens to be your academic focus.

- Successful students take on a balanced course load. They choose classes that vary in both size and difficulty.

When I entered college, I had (1) no idea what I wanted to do in life, thus my default choice of a completely mismatched Business Administration major. Plus, (2) my class scheduling was done for me by an academic advisor with whom I had fleeting contact. The whole scheduling process was a mystery to me.

Today, things are much different. Class registration can sometimes be done remotely by computer, plus today’s incoming college students appear to be much better informed about how to go about the registration process. An added bonus is the availability of such resources as Rate My Professors, which is a kind of college consumer sounding board that gives (admittedly somewhat subjective) opinions of professors’ pros and cons, written by students who have actually had classes with these teachers. Tools like this can be a big help when trying to achieve that elusive balanced course load.

- Successful students go to class and participate. The most successful students sit in front and are involved in classroom discussions. Ask questions and contribute. …

If you have ever seen the classic movie The Paper Chase, you’ll note the fact that where students sit in the classroom can affect their performance and impress (or not) their professor. I tended to be a participant, not because I was an extroverted personality, but rather because I was curious about facts and opinions. I didn’t always believe what the professor was saying, or at least I didn’t agree with him or her sometimes.

If you are a participating type, be careful not to overdo it. A couple of negative consequences could result: (1) you could get a reputation as a class brown-noser, which isn’t the most sought after label you want. Plus, (2) some professors view with cynicism those students who speak too often, emitting an impression of arrogance. Better to be selective in your participation. Quality responses and questions are much better than constant blabbering.

- Successful students get proper sleep. When it comes to college, you need to be well-rested, healthy and mentally ready. The amount of sleep you get has a major impact on your academic performance. …

Right. It seems to me that the majority of college students get only the “proper” amount of sleep when they’re home for the summer or on holiday break. As a father, I know this to be true. My son and daughter would get four-to-five hours of sleep (max) per night when they were in college. I often wondered why they sounded like zombies on the phone when we would speak. Fortunately, there was no Facetime or Skype back then. Otherwise, Mom and Dad would have wanted to call 911, based on the pale, worn out faces of our children.

Health is another issue. If you’re a parent reading this, trust me. Your child will be awash in a sea of collegiate germs. You won’t be there with your trusty spray can of Lysol to eradicate every germ-laden microbe that lies in your son’s or daughter’s path. Thus, that phrase above, “When it comes to college, you need to be well-rested, healthy and mentally ready” is a bit laughable. “Sure, Mom. I’m getting plenty of rest and I’m eating my veggies every day.” Right.

So, there’s a half dozen of Campus Grotto’s dutiful dozen ways to college success. I urge you to check out the rest. In the meantime, I’m heading to Hilltop Sub Shop (now referred to as “New”). Maybe I can get Gus to throw some green beans on that steak sandwich.