Making the Most of College 101
We’re going to give you lots of advice, assistance and challenges during your college years. A large part of how well you do depends on what you do. Here are some suggestions to start you out (with help from a Harvard study):
1. Meet faculty. Make it a goal to meet at least one faculty member a term, and have discussions with him or her outside of class if possible. At a place like Alma, personal connections are maximized, so why not with teachers as well as other students? Knowing your professors as individuals may make learning more enjoyable. There’s always that recommendation you may need later as well.
2. Study in groups. Although you might need solitude to “get the facts straight” and for intense memorization of facts, studying in groups can help solidify and deepen learning. This is not a “chat session” but a “down to the bones” review, and a correlation of meaning and significance.
“Docendo discimus” means “We learn by teaching.” Faculty believe this, and you might find this attitude rewarding. If you already understand the material, explaining it to others will help you all. If you don’t quite get a connection, another explanation, as the group struggles for meaning, may just do the trick. If everyone is confused, it’s time to ask the professor some detailed questions.
A word of warning: Beware of group complaining sessions; if that’s all your group can do, find another group, or form one of your own.
3. Manage time wisely. We each have the same amount of time available to us. Studies show that students with moderate obligations (work, teams, clubs) sometimes do better than students with too much time and no focus. However, the real secret is a personal schedule that acknowledges your unique habits (morning vs. night, time for exercise, social needs, etc.) and obligations. Chatting at meals, watching videos, playing computer games or answering e-mail are all social times and need to be counted as such.
Try different schedules out to see how each fits for you. Remember to block in study times (and breaks) but don’t try to study in random blocks of 20 minutes. Most students do better if they link several short times with mini-breaks but stay on the same subject for a while. Attack your hardest or most unpleasant tasks first, while you have the most energy, instead of putting them last. Find out what you need to succeed, and talk to other students for ideas. Whatever the case, you will probably need to modify what worked for you in high school to meet the more intense pace of college.
4. Take a variety of courses. Look for variety in subject, size and class requirements. Consider learning a new language or strengthening skills you already possess. Be alert to interesting subjects that support your program but also anything you could take for fun. Distributive requirements (DRs) will help here. There are lots of choices in each area and most majors can be supported if you choose wisely. Don’t rush to take DRs to “get them over with” as some may advise you. Hold out for appropriate choices whenever possible; they can act as “breather” courses from your main field of study and add to the unique package of your education.
If you do end up with a schedule full of classes with large reading and writing commitments, remember to plan your preparation time carefully. You might even consider your due dates to be one week prior to the syllabus due dates so you have more time for revisions.
5. Get involved, but not over-involved, in activities. There is no question that becoming involved in campus activities supports and strengthens learning and provides the social interactions so necessary for survival on a college campus. Everyone needs friends to survive!
Alma College maintains a huge set of organizations, teams, activities and causes, so it is possible to be swept away by all the choices. Start at the edge of a group and see if its personality and goals match your own. If you want to become an officer, go ahead, but you should limit yourself to about two positions. Let others learn to be in charge too! Remember that the more obligations you rack up, the less freedom you will have to do what you want to do. Even the best activities can become crushing responsibilities during stressful times.
6. Get help when you falter. Whether it is that mental tickle that warns you of something you don’t understand, arguments with your roommate or the stress of meeting your obligations, seek help as soon as you detect a problem. Professors and academic advisors, resident advisors and other student life professionals, as well as counseling personnel are all available to help you with problems. There’s even a Writing Center to help you with papers. You don’t have to go through this alone. Students who seek help as soon as possible report more success, more happiness and deeper learning. And the Student Survival Manual on this site has even more helpful information about specific life and study skills.
Summary. So there’s a list of things that might help you! Huge national studies have made these suggestions too, so we know that the problems that students face are universal. No doubt each of you will experience a mixture of challenges at Alma College, for each of you is different. Make academic work your priority, but support it with activities that round out your life and help manage stress. You are working on behaviors that are likely to become lifelong habits. Make your choices thoughtfully.