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    Maximize Your Learning

    Six tips for doing your best.

    Elesha Coffman

    Life at CollegeAcademically, college is almost nothing like high school. The good news is, most college students figure out how to have a positive educational experience. The bad news is, some of them don't "get it" until their junior or senior year. By then, they've already missed out on some great learning opportunities. So that you don't accidentally fall into this trap, here are six tips to help you start off right:

    1) Don't overload

    Your college's course catalog lists dozens of classes that look really cool. And since you need what seems like a million credits to graduate, you should probably take as many classes as you can every semester, right? Wrong.

    While you might not be able to avoid a couple of maxed-out semesters, you'll be much happier—and less stressed—if you can keep your course load in the light-to-medium range (around 15 hours per semester). You'll also learn more since you'll be able to spend a decent amount of time with each of your subjects.

    How can you keep your schedule manageable and still graduate on time? Explore your options. Maybe you can test out of some basic classes with competency exams or CLEP (College-Level Examination Program) tests. Maybe you can take some courses over the summer or during breaks. You may be able to find a summer job that can count toward internship credit.

    One rookie mistake you'll definitely want to avoid is overlooking "hidden" course requirements. Courses with lab requirements are the big offenders here. For example, a lab science class might only register as four credit hours, but you'll also be required to spend two to three hours per week doing experiments, plus whatever time you need to prepare your lab report—in addition to the four hours you'll spend in class each week. Foreign language courses, computer, math and performing arts classes usually require lab work, too. Make sure to check for these in your course catalog. Try to schedule no more than one lab class per semester.

    2) Come up with a plan

    When you first sit down with a course catalog, you won't be able to accurately map out your schedule for all four years at college. But there are a lot of benefits to looking ahead and sketching out a general plan.

    What does a smart plan look like? Freshman semesters should be heavy on core classes—ones needed to complete the general education ("gen-ed") requirements most colleges have. If you're leaning toward a certain major, mix in one or two classes from that area too. A schedule like this allows you to investigate several different subjects—any of which might become your major, since most students change their major at least once. And no matter what your major turns out to be, those core classes will count toward your graduation requirements.

    When it's time for you to choose your courses for the semester, spend some quality time with your academic adviser. Plan out your years on campus as accurately as possible. You'll need to plan very carefully, because some courses are only offered during alternating years or must be taken in sequence.

    As you become more familiar with your campus, try to take classes from profs who have been recommended by upperclassmen. Once you find a prof you really like, take two or three classes from him or her. You'll take some of the guesswork out of scheduling, and you'll also have an opportunity to build a relationship with this person. When it comes time to collect references for a job or graduate school, you'll know exactly who to ask.

    3) Keep up

    What's the difference between high school homework and college homework? You usually don't hand in the college stuff. Some classes might only have one paper or exam that counts for your entire grade.

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