College Corner: Christa Faces College Unprepared

College Corner is a new feature here on our blog.  It’s meant to help you learn through others’ experiences.  Below, Christa, shares her experience as a freshman college student that was completely unprepared for the college workload and how she managed.

College Corner: Freedom
Freedom by Lara Cores  cc

One word comes to mind when most high school graduates begin thinking about how life will be in college: Freedom.  No longer are your parents going to be there to hold you accountable for completing your assignments.  Gone are the days when you could only spend time with your friends for a few hours each week outside of school.  Suddenly, you will wish you had learned to budget years ago! There is freedom, for sure, but with that freedom comes a great deal of responsibility to make wise decisions – ones that could impact you for the rest of your adult life.  Most college freshmen seem to have a mindset that says, “I’ve got this! I know how to be a responsible adult. It can’t possibly be that difficult!” To anyone with this frame of mind, I feel obligated to tell you that you are in for a rude awakening. I should know, because that’s exactly what I thought when I first entered the college environment.

I was a fairly responsible student in high school, and I found it easy to earn high grades with little to no studying involved.   In fact, I would often procrastinate completing projects until the night before they were due, and I still managed to receive A grades on most of my work, without even missing more than an hour of sleep.  College assignments are on a different level than those of small-town high schools, however, and I quickly learned that I would need to invest a great deal more time and effort into my college courses if I wanted to be satisfied with my scores.  The fact that I hadn’t developed any true “study skills” in high school meant that I was forced to catch up on learning these skills during college and fight the urge to put off assignments until the last minute.  One thing is for sure: Procrastination and poor time management skills are two of the worst practices in the world of college academia.  Even if a subject comes easily to you, it is still not plausible to cram all of your studying into one night and expect to retain all of the relevant information necessary for your future career (or for the course final, for that matter).

With dreams of a career in the veterinary medical field, I knew that I would need to step up my studying skills in order to retain all of the exciting new information presented in college-level science courses.  Simply reading over the information several times, I discovered, would allow me to pass an exam.  However, being a perfectionist and desiring to pursue graduate school in the future, I was not satisfied with merely passing.  I wanted to do as well as possible.

Review Cards by Ben + Sam
Review Cards by Ben + Sam  cc

I had heard of people using note cards to study, but I wasn’t quite certain what exactly they did with them.  As I said, the most studying I had needed to do in high school had involved simply attending class, taking notes, and skimming over them about an hour before the test.  Once I realized that the note cards were to be made into flashcards — much like those for multiplication tables used in elementary school– I found it quite humorous that I had been over-thinking the concept so drastically.  Implementing flashcards into my studying routine proved to be a fantastic idea, and I immediately noticed that I was able to score high B’s to high A’s with this method, depending on the subject.  I purchased so many flashcards each week that my roommate became convinced that I was solely funding the note card companies!

I still wanted to see whether I could do better, though, so I continued my search for even more methods to enhance my new-found studying skills.  Eventually, I decided to go back to an old method from learning vocabulary words in first grade.  This method was re-writing, and I had despised it as a child.  However, I added a new element to the practice that made it seem more fun – colorful highlighters!  I have since read numerous articles about the benefits of highlighting important portions of notes in a favorite color in order to better retain the material, and I have experienced these advantages first-hand.  By re-writing my notes, using the brightly-colored highlighters to indicate what I considered to be the most important information, and then reading the re-written notes aloud, I discovered that, during an exam, I was able to mentally flip back through the pages of my notebook and see the answers standing out in their respective colors.  This studying method completely revolutionized the way that I learned.  I believe that this is because I was able to experience all three learning styles at once: kinesthetic (re-writing the material), visual (highlighting important points), and auditory (speaking the notes aloud.

Time Management by Ryan Hyde
Time Management by Ryan Hyde  cc

Now that I had the studying skills down, I only lacked one important element to successful learning in the college atmosphere: time management.  Although I still found it relatively easy to cram all of my studying into one night and earn satisfactory grades, I wanted more than good marks. I knew that I needed to retain this information long-term, not simply memorize it for the exams and then throw it out of my mind afterward.  I knew that most of the information that I was studying would come up again in higher level courses, as well as in my future career, so I decided to face the fact that I would need to review my notes more than just the night before the test.  This sounds like an easy endeavor, right? Wrong!

Perhaps it was the stress of wanting everything to be perfect, or perhaps it was pure laziness (or a mixture of the two), but I found it very difficult in college to motivate myself to use my time wisely.  In fact, procrastination has always been a struggle of mine.  If an assignment has a deadline three weeks from now, it is almost guaranteed that I won’t start on it until two weeks and six days in the future.  This is a particularly unfortunate problem in the academic world, and it can quickly become overwhelming, especially if a student is juggling 22 academic hours in one semester (which technically isn’t even allowed), as I found myself doing during my freshman year.

I quickly began pulling all-nighters and barely completing assignments on time. Even though I would usually still receive high marks on my assignments, I knew that my schedule being devoid of time for sleeping would soon become detrimental to my health.  That’s when I decided to come up with a plan to defeat the urge to procrastinate.  As my weapons, I chose peer accountability and careful planning.  I enlisted my roommate, whom I had known since middle school, to keep me in check by basically nagging me until I picked up my books.  I also went to my local Walmart and picked up a basic planner, in which I pretty much wrote out what I would be doing during every hour of each day.  Although I continued to struggle with procrastination throughout my college career (and still do struggle with it in my post-graduation life), I have found that accountability and having a plan are the two best medicines for treating a case of procrastination.

Looking back, I definitely wish that I would have been more challenged to develop study skills prior to college.  However, it is never too late to learn how to learn!  I still use the methods for studying and time management that I learned in college, even though I am now a post-grad.  Now that I work in the veterinary medical field, as well as offer freelance writing and editing services, I often find myself implementing my planning skills, and I have learned to be my own accountability partner when it comes to completing assignments.  Although procrastination still attempts to sabotage my plans, I am thankful to have discovered ways to combat it while in the college environment.  I suppose some lessons require self-teaching, rather than learning in a classroom setting!

Christa

I hope you found Christa’s’ experience helpful.  If you have a college experience that you think others might find helpful and would like to share, then send an email to Greston.Wise@Prepwise.com.

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