As a high school teacher, I believe education isn't about just stuffing information into people's heads. I also know my classes can't be disconnected from the rest of life. In fact, I try to teach in a way that helps my students succeed in the real world. As for those students who will be heading off to college soon, I know that I'm preparing them for the next step in their educations. To help with this preparation, I've come up with seven principles that I always pass on to my own college-bound students. I believe you'll find these principles helpful as you prepare for your own transition to campus life.
1) Find the Balance
A lot of college students get caught up in all that college has to offer, like Abby, a highly motivated sophomore enrolled at The Master's College in Santa Clarita, California. At the beginning of her first semester, Abby committed to a schedule without one free evening. As the semester wore on, the pressure mounted. Finally, exhausted from her obligations, Abby says, "I called my parents to help me straighten out the mess I'd created. It was embarrassing, but I had to back up and figure out what was really important."
When it comes to college life, you'll want to stay focused, work hard, and still find time to hang out with friends. That means you'll have to choose what's more important at the moment. Yes, a spur-of-the-moment trip to the bowling alley might be appealing, but you'll be stressed later when you remember you probably should have caught up on your chemistry reading. This really isn't anything new; it's about setting the right priorities for yourself. Deciding what's important to you nowor as soon as you get on campus will make your first semester much easier.
2) Follow Your Road Map
During the first hour of each course you take, you'll get a handout that explains the professors' classroom expectations, grading policies and semester plan. It's called a syllabus, and it usually lists the dates of any major projects, research papers or exams.
Save it. Read it. Use it. This is important because, as Garry Morgan, associate professor at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota, says, "Few professors are willing to let you turn in an assignment late because you say, 'I didn't look at the syllabus.'"
Your syllabi (that's the plural) will form a "roadmap" to guide you through the semester. What you'll need to do is take out a calendar and write down all those important and even those seemingly unimportant dates from each syllabus.
As you check out your calendar, you'll be able to predict where your "crunch times" will happen. Those are the times when you'll be bogged down with deadlines and test dates. But you'll be ready because you'll have worked ahead on required reading or research papersanything you can do to lighten the load for when it really matters.
3) Plan Ahead
As you use your "roadmap," you'll be able to set smaller, daily goals. This only works, though, if you keep a few basics in mind:
Know where and when to study. When are you most awake and able to focus? What kind of environment helps you study? Is it a quiet place away from the dorm and without distractions? Is it a study lounge surrounded by people? Dan, a junior at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota, hits the nearest Starbucks. "It has a fun atmosphere," says Dan, "but I can still focus."
Get into a routine. You'll actually spend less time if you make your studies a daily habit.
Pace yourself. Don't burn out by pulling all-night cram fests, which leave you on a major low after the caffeine and sugar wear off. Instead, break a big project into smaller steps, and plan your study schedule so you do a little each day.
Don't overschedule. College life doesn't have to be all about studying. Careful planning should include some chunks of open time when you can just relax or hang out with friends.
Check your progress. Remember to actually use your "roadmap" to help you stay focused and on schedule.
4) Take Good Notes
Now is the best time to learn some note-taking shortcuts.
"The thought of listening to a professor lecture for an hour and a half straight was scaryuntil I learned shorthand," recalls Jason, a sophomore at Northwestern College in St. Paul.
Like Jason, you've got to have a systemlike shorthand or your own code of abbreviations. But it'll also help to know that not all professors teach the same way. That means you'll have to train your mind to look for the main idea and what supports itthe framework. In other words, you'll need to look for the big points and any examples or subpoints that flesh out those big points.
When using shortcuts in your notes, here are a few tips:
Start a new page with the day's date at the beginning of each lecture. (Dates serve as a quick reference to help you find points more easily.)
Don't write down everything. It's too hard to keep up, and you'll end up missing the big points.
Jot down anything your prof says is important. (If your instructors say, "This will be on the test," believe them.)
Jot down key people, events, dates, phrases, terms and definitions.
Watch for important numbers, facts, percentages and formulas.
Use some of the following symbols as you develop your own system:
* = take note/important
^ = insert
w/ = with
w/out = without
e.g. = for example
b/c = because
5) Know When It's Time to Get Down to Business
Successful students have something in common: When it's time to study, they get down to business. They also use these helpful study tips:
Make connections to real life, like a bridge. As you link new ideas to your own experiences, studying will become more meaningful and facts easier to remember.
Create visual pictures. If you're like most people, you learn better through pictures. Visualize a scene of what you're learning or design a grid, map, chart, stick figure or simple illustration.
Simplify big points into one key word or phrase. This will help you remember lists more easily.
Use memory techniques like flashcards, acronyms or rhymes.
Study with classmates before an exam.
6) Learn How to Write (and Research) Right Now
OK, so I'm a little biased. I'm an English teacher; what do you expect? But seriously, you won't want to learn the basics of a research paper when you're strapped for time. It's like trying to do advanced algebra when you're not sure how to multiply or divide. So take advantage of the opportunities your high school teachers give you to research and support your ideas in writing.
One of the best books you can get is Writer's INC: A Student Handbook for Writing and Learning by Patrick Sebranek, Dave Kemper and Verne Meyer. I use this resource in my classroom to help students with everything from writing a paragraph to citing sources on a research paper.
The Write Source website, developed by a group of teachers and authors, is home to Writer's INC. It's a great source for current writing rules and guidelines. Visit their website at thewritesource.com.
When it comes to researching, I give my students this helpful acronym from the Wisconsin Department of Education: PALBEG. It's a great way to figure out quickly if the source you want to use in a paper is actually reliable:
P: PurposeWhat is the purpose of this article?
A: AuthorityWhat education, research or experience does this author have?
L: LogicAre the ideas logical and well supported?
B: BiasFrom what point of view is this article written?
E: EvidenceWhat facts, incidents, reasons, examples or statistics are used?
G: GainWhat will the author gain from this article? (Profit, vote, image, etc.)
7) Be a Student for Life
College isn't all about the "A." Education doesn't begin and end in the classroom. Actually, this brings us back to finding the balance at college. Good grades are important, but if you overstress on the grade, you'll miss out on what's really importantbeing a well-rounded person. Make that a well-rounded Christian person.
In an address last October to an auditorium full of freshmen, Dr. Leland Ryken, professor of English at Wheaton College, said:
"A Christian student's calling is the same as it is for a Christian in any vocation. Its focus is the individual's relationship to God. Loving and serving God should be the foundation for everything else that you do at college. It is a requirement, not an elective.
You might graduate with a high GPA. You might also get into the graduate school of your choice. But if you haven't grown in Christian virtue and remained in some measure a whole person during your years here, you'll have missed the mark."
Education is what you make of it. If you love learning for its own sake, you'll approach the college experience as an opportunity to learn, grow and develop your God-given gifts and abilities.
Your success as a student really comes down to two things: 1) your ability to focus on what's important, and 2) your ability to organize your time into a well-ordered but flexible schedule. With a balanced approach to your studies, you'll not only survive, you'll thrive during your college years.
Danielle is a high school English teacher for a homeschool co-op and author of JumpStart Your Future: A Guide for the College-Bound Christian.