When I was a college freshman at Syracuse University, I got two good tips from my favorite professor: First, bring a pen to class. Second, make sure your parents take you to Danziger’s Restaurant for roast beef sandwiches when they visit.
Good advice, of course, but, as an adjunct professor for several colleges in and around Boston, I believe I can do better. Here are seven things students should know as they begin their college careers. And for those of you not quite there yet, these tips, according to my daughter, a high school teacher, are applicable for you, too. You might as well get into good habits early.
7 fool-proof tips for college students that will make you look like a rockstar.
Take notes from lectures and from your reading. It helps you pay attention, it impresses the material on your brain (seriously), and it creates an automatic study guide for exams or papers. It also guarantees you are not that student who stares blankly at the professor. With few exceptions, those are usually the students who ask, about three-quarters into the semester, if there is anything they can do to boost their sagging grades.
There is usually nothing you can do to boost your sagging grade three-quarters of the way through the semester. This is not junior high school. You can’t write a three-page paper on John Adams for extra credit. Most teachers want every student to succeed and will do what they can to make that happen, but that does not mean they will rescue lazy students who have not turned in work, or not come to class, or not prepared for exams.
[Find more tips and helpful articles for college-bound students in the Guide to Preparing for College.]
Demonstrate you have done required reading or homework by asking questions and participating in class discussions. Now is the time to break out of the shy-student mold. Most of your fellow students are nervous, too, at first (yes, even the quarterback), but, especially in smaller classes, they are also supportive of each other.
If you feel yourself sinking, ask for help, and do it right away. Even the sharpest teachers don’t always see the students who are struggling early on. If you are having trouble with the material, seek out your professor or teacher and ask for help. Or go to whatever offices your school has for additional help: a writing center, a tutoring program, a center for international students. I admire students who ask for my help toward the beginning of the semester, and I am in a far better position then to help them than I am right before final exams.
Turn your phone off and put it away. Unless you are moonlighting as a labor-room nurse, there is no reason for you to keep your phone in your hand, in your lap or on your desk. And, trust me, every professor, every teacher, knows when you are checking out your Facebook page or on your phone texting. It’s distracting to your classmates, it’s rude to everyone, and it almost always ends up affecting your grade.
Sit up front and with each other. I once had a class of six students who all sat in the back three rows, several desks apart, until I made them move up and in. I get the personal-space thing, but imagine how that looks from the point of view of the person lecturing at the head of the class. Be confident: Choose a desk in the first or second row. First, you’ll be able to hear better. Second, your professor won’t think you are sitting in the back row so you can check your phone (See Tip 5). And third, when it comes to college, the environment is supposed to be, well, collegial. A classroom is a community. You may spend the rest of your life working in a cubicle, or in an office. Enjoy the group experience while you can.
Get some sleep. Especially for college freshmen, staying up all night with friends is a real temptation, but adrenaline will only take you so far. You want to be as engaged as possible in the classroom. And, constantly yawning or, worse, nodding off at your desk? Not a good look.
To sum up, then: You want to be that bright-eyed, note-taking, non-phone-holding, question-asking student sitting in the first row.
Oh, and don’t forget to bring a pen to class.