6 Tips for Adapting to College Academics
No matter what you college attend, you will have to adapt to a different type of academic environment than what you experienced in high school. There will be no parents to help with homework and no teachers to ensure you are making progress. Yes, you will have professors, but they will not micromanage your work. You are entirely responsible for your education from here on out. The responsibility is daunting for some students. While college is still a somewhat controlled environment, it allows much more social and academic freedom than high school. You will be free to navigate these things on your own with minimal guidance from authority figures. So in the interest of preparing you for what lies ahead, here are some things you can expect in your adjustment and tips for how to cope with them:
The Challenge: Academic Freedom
The instruction you receive more vague direction in college than you did in high school. Because you will be given more academic freedom, some assignments, especially in the liberal arts subjects, will be open to your personal interpretation. In many cases, there is no right or wrong answer, and you are free to deduce what you will. The challenge comes in showing your reasoning and backing up your argument. Your grade does not depend on whether or not your professor agrees with you. It depends on how coherently, logically, and respectfully you have argued your point. In college, you will not be told what to think. You will be asked to interpret things in your own way. College gives you the option of a number of elective classes, and it will be up to you to choose the ones that are right for you. While this is an advantage in the sense that you are free to explore and learn the things that interest you the most, too many electives can hinder your ability to complete your degree on time. Work closely with your advisor to ensure that you are choosing your electives wisely. You will have the freedom to choose your own classes within the requirements of your major. You are even free to choose more than one major. While this level of freedom is exciting, it can also be overwhelming. College allows for a great deal of self-exploration and self-discovery. You will be free to learn about the things you enjoy and the things that you dislike. This goes hand in hand with learning to manage your own time. You must balance this self-discovery with your academic obligations in order to get the most out of your education.
What You Can Do: Set Realistic Goals
Make sure that you set realistic academic goals. Don’t go into your first semester overloaded with credit hours and extra classes and extracurricular activities. Take on what you know you can handle at first and then adjust accordingly at a later time. Your first college semester should be used to learn how to adjust to the new academic setting.
The Challenge: Increased Study Requirements
You will do very little actual work in the classroom. The college classroom is designated for note-taking and group discussions that stimulate your mind. You are responsible for completing your homework on your own time away from the classroom. You will not be spoon-fed notes on a projector in a college classroom. And in the event that the professor does put notes on a projector, the lecture often moves so quickly that you have to decipher what is most important from the lecture itself and take notes on that.
Because you cannot complete your homework in class, you will be required to spend much more time doing homework and studying than you ever had to do in high school. This can be a difficult task if you are living in a dorm or even in an apartment with roommates. It is difficult to gain privacy. Fortunately, colleges put resources in place to help you with this issue.
What You Can Do: Create a Study Schedule
Once you complete your first week of college classes, you will have an idea of what to expect from each class and from your schedule as a whole. This information will help you to create a study schedule that works best for you. Always make sure that you schedule time to simply review material from your classes. This will save study time in the long run as you retain information over time rather than attempting to cram for your exams.
The Challenge: Time Management
Unlike high school, your time will not be micromanaged in college. Yes, there will be scheduled class times and events to attend, but the rest of your time is yours. The trick comes with balancing your workload in that time. In college, you will often be given large, long-term assignments. This includes term papers, final exams that make up a large part of your grade, and extensive projects that require an entire semester to complete. You will be responsible for managing your time effectively in order to complete these assignments on time. The college schedule is much less structured than high school. Yes, your classes are scheduled at the same times every week. However, you may have long breaks between classes or have all of your classes in the morning or afternoon with the rest of the day free. If you learn how to appropriately manage your time during these breaks and not overload yourself with extra obligations, you will be able to strike a balance in our academic and social lives and have a fulfilling college experience. Not only is there a learning curve in the academic transition between high school and college, you will also encounter a social aspect that you have never seen before. Navigating the social quagmire of college can be even more daunting than adjusting to your education. It is very important that you prepare yourself for the different social environment the best you can before entering college.
What You Can Do: Learn to Say No
This does not mean refuse to complete class assignments. This means that you should set boundaries with your friends and classmates. If you have a lot of work of your own to complete, you will have to decline to help another friend with their studies. If you are invited to a party but have a project that needs completing, you will have prioritize in order to complete the project on time. Setting boundaries and saying no are going to be a crucial part of your academic career.
What You Can Do: Take Time for Your Health
It is very easy to let your health decline when you are swamped with work and social obligations. But if you are going to adjust and maintain the necessary energy to complete all the work you will have, make sure that you are taking care of your physical and emotional health. If you have an issue, don’t be afraid to see the campus doctor. Take time to exercise and eat as healthy as you can. Working health into your schedule is a necessity, not a luxury.
The Challenge: More Difficult Work
This is probably a given, but the level of work you will be doing is more difficult than the work you encountered in high school. Not only do you have more freedom, but you have less people invested in your academic performance.
What You Can Do: Ask For Help
If you find yourself struggling with a particular class or an area of your studies such as writing or time management, it is up to you to ask for help. There are a number of student resources available in college, but they will not come to you. Your first step may be to talk to your academic advisor about what steps you can take to better your education. Email your advisor or drop in during open office hours to discuss any problems you may have understanding the material. Your advisor will likely point you to other campus resources such as a tutor or the campus writing center. You should also utilize the resources of financial aid to help pay for your education and professional campus counselors to ensure strong emotional health. And don’t forget to use the library! The campus library exists for a reason! Use it to your advantage. If you are struggling with noisy roommates and need a place to concentrate, take your work to the library. Obviously, it is also an excellent resource for research materials in order to complete your work on time.
The Challenge: Participation
Again, no one will be looking over your shoulder to ensure that you get to class on time. You are responsible for participating in class discussions and for your own attendance. In some college classes, participation is a large part of the grade. In classes that participation is not graded, tests and papers are often assigned based on discussions in the classroom.
What You Can Do: Get Involved
Make sure that you get involved in your local college community. Participate in class discussions. The more you talk and share, the more you learn from others. You may even make new like-minded friends in your classes and find someone who will help you study and keep you motivated. Remain open to new ideas. You may encounter ideas you had never considered before, and it will help you make the most of your education to be open to ideas that you may have disagreed with in high school. Listen, have conversations with your classmates and professors, and study ideas that interest you outside of class.
The Challenge: Responsibility
In addition to academic and social obligations, college comes with a lot more home-based responsibility. This means that you are solely responsible for your own laundry, housing, and finances. Learning to balance these things with one another is incredibly challenging. College affords you the opportunity to learn to adjust to an independent life within a controlled environment. This is especially true if you choose to live on campus. You will be required to make more choices, and your professors will treat you as if you are a responsible adult.
What You Can Do: Learn How to Budget Your Money and Time
Learn how to use your available resources to save money and pay your bills on time. If you work during college, learn how to budget that money so that you are able to save and still manage to have all of your bills paid and your refrigerator appropriately stocked. You can also take advantage of a number of jobs on campus. When you create a schedule for your chores and your money, you may think you are limiting yourself when you will actually be allowing yourself more freedom. A well-planned schedule for handling the things outside of your academic life will help to reduce stress and ensure that you fulfill your obligations. Adapting to college academics can be overwhelming, but it is worth it in the long run. The important thing is that you create a schedule and plan with a small degree of flexibility. College is a whole new experience for which it is difficult to be fully prepared. But if you plan ahead and make adjustments where necessary, you will have a successful and fulfilling college experience.