Advice for First Time College Students

Summer is over and another college year is starting.  The campus is full of eager first time students.  Unfortunately, some of these new scholars will drop out, be asked to leave or simply disappear before the academic year is over.  I have noticed that students who do three simple things have a much better chance of academic success.

1: SLEEP is the first and the most important thing.  Lots of students (and adults) are massively sleep deprived.  Don’t expect your body to suddenly get by on less sleep in college than you got in high school.  There is always someone interesting to talk to in college at 3am or someplace fun to visit at midnight.  The problem with college is that you have to make choices.  A lot of students choose fun over sleep, under the mistaken assumption that they will make up the lost hours by spending most of Sunday in bed.  Falling asleep in class, while studying or even while chatting with friends means you are not getting much out of the situation.

Why is sleep important?  A few years ago just before one of my lectures to a very big class, a student came up in tears.  She said she was afraid her low course grade would cause the University to cut her scholarship.  We talked up until class time but I couldn’t figure out this student’s particular problem.  I asked her if we could continue our talk later.  She sat down in the third row right in front of the video camera used to tape my class.  Fifteen minutes into the lecture the women was sound asleep.  She woke up about ten minutes before the class ended, having missed most of what I said.  The next class was two days later.  She sat in the same seat and had a boyfriend sit beside her.  Fifteen minutes into the lecture they were leaning on each other and both asleep.  Her problem was pretty clear, not enough sleep was destroying her grades.

2: GO TO CLASS (AWAKE).  Even if the professor is following a textbook closely, the classroom experience adds an important dimension to your learning.  Think about this.  The vast majority of textbooks cost less than three hundred dollars.  The tuition for lectures typically cost thousands.  Why don’t people save all that tuition money and just buy and read the textbooks?  The answer is that the classroom experience helps you learn.

Even if you don’t think you are learning anything more than found in the book, the professor might be providing some key information that will have a huge impact on your grade.  I once had to move the date of the midterm after the semester started.  I try not to change the dates, but this one time it had to be done.  I announced it in class for weeks.  I sent reminder emails.  Every student, but one, showed up for the midterm.  The missing student came to class the first day and didn’t come again until the day he thought I was going to hold the midterm; he also didn’t look at email.  Unfortunately for him, the actual midterm was held a few days earlier than he expected and he got a zero for missing the test without an excuse.

3: SHUT OFF SOCIAL MEDIA.  Temporarily disable Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, your cellphone and any other app that provides you with a steady stream of interruptions whenever you are about to go to class or start studying.  Many people think they are amazing multitaskers.  When I film lectures I often accidently capture what is on the computer screen of the student who is sitting in front of the camera.  I have watched movies of myself saying “this is the key point to write down.” However, the student in front of the camera missed taking notes at that moment because they were busy on social media.  Status updates about the pizza a friend is eating can wait.  You are paying a lot for the class in both actual fees and lost wages that you could have earned if you were not in college.

Get enough sleep, go to class and shut off your social media for part of each day and your chances of being successful in college are much higher.

2 thoughts on “Advice for First Time College Students

  1. Your point about textbooks vs lectures ignores the signalling component of education. If college is mostly a signal to future employers, the price difference between textbooks and tuitions is not important.

    Nevertheless, I would still recommend to go to lecture to everyone.

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