Sunday, August 31, 2014

The College Ready Mentality

Okay, welcome to college.  You have your room assignment, your class schedule, your books, and your campus map.  Now what?  Do you just sit back and wait for the 4.0 to happen?  I'm afraid it doesn't work that way but it would be amazing if it did.  No, college is work.  I say this year after year and I'm going to keep saying it until it isn't.  So how do you make college work?  By making the shift from high school student to college student.  I call it the College Ready Mentality.

The College Ready Mentality is a mindset that acknowledges the increased intellectual challenge and level of personal accountability that comes with being a college/university student.  College is hard, and it should be, but it's not impossible.  There are a few things I've identified that can help you make the shift.  They are:

  1. Manage your time:  In college you don't have free time, you have time to manage.  You don't have the same classes every single day and you may not have class all day.  Use the time in between classes to be a good student and either review notes from the last class or prepare for your next class.
  2. Prioritize: Take stock of your activities and be realistic about what you can do in a certain amount of time and how much you have on your plate.  There will be time when you have have to make decisions between one or two activities.  Here's a hint, choose academics.   
  3. Know when to ask for help: At the first sign of difficulty or challenge, go see your professor or teaching assistant.  Don't wait for the night before the exam or the assignment is due to seek assistance.  Get help early and often.  There is no shame in asking.
  4. Know how to ask for help: When you do see your professor or TA, go with specific questions.  Even if you don't know what to ask, take a problem (or outline or essay prompt) that is giving you difficulty and let your professor know where you get stuck.  That will get you so much farther than saying "I don't understand this stuff."
  5. Be accountable: You are responsible for your college education.  You do the work, you make the decisions, and you earn the grades.  Be honest with yourself about how much you are doing and if you are spending the proper amount of time studying (2 hours for each hour in class) and putting forth genuine effort.  You are moving into adulthood and you have to have the tough conversations with your instructors and be real with yourself. 
I'm not saying that college isn't fun, because this really can be the best years of your life.  You just have to remain conscious of why you're there and use your time wisely.  You'll have different experiences, meet different types of people, and learn so many things about yourself it'll be amazing.  You can do it.  And I'll help you along the way.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Keep it Real

Another week is coming to a close and it’s time to take stock of how you’re doing.  If you need some help, check out the personal habits inventory  (from the Resources) on my website.  Hopefully each week you will find that you can check “Most  Always” for items more than you are checking “Hardly Ever.”  However, as long as you find yourself making progress and moving along over time.

The semester ends in 5-6 weeks (depending on your school) and now is the time to kick it in gear.  Some of you are already there and I encourage you to stay the course and don’t burn yourself out.  Find a way to balance your academic pursuits with things you enjoy and allow you to get away for a while.  The NCAA basketball tournament is a great distraction when you need to lose yourself in something completely non-academic.

Now, if you’re experiencing some challenges, let me encourage you to take an honest look in your academic mirror and think about what you can do differently.  Be real with yourself.    If your first one or two exams in a course didn't go well, then you have a bit of ground to make up if you are aiming for a passing grade.  Earning that grade isn't impossible, but doing so means you will have to make some different decisions.  Go to office hours if you haven’t been.  If you are going, go more.  Incorporate some time at your campus’ academic success center into your time management plan.  If you are making up ground, your time management plan will be much tighter than the person who is seeking to maintain.

Whatever you do, aim for excellence.  The idea is that you will complete each semester with a GPA and knowledge base that will make you competitive for whatever you seek to do and give you options.  The person who graduates from college with the minimum required to complete a degree has very few, if any, options.  And that’s real!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Planning to Succeed

How is your semester and/or freshman year plan coming along?  Are things happening the way you imagined or does it feel like curve balls are being thrown at you?  The more you can establish a routine and work with your time management plan, the fewer curve balls you'll get.  By no means am I saying you won't have any curve balls, but the ones you get will be more manageable if you have a handle on other classes.

As a freshman student, you are fulfilling general education requirements and perhaps one or two major requirements each semester. The same way every student is different, every major is different, but there should be at least one course each semester that doesn't push you to your intellectual limits, leaving room for you to put more effort into the more challenging ones.  Take advantage of that balance now because no matter what your major, at some point you will have a semester with several challenging courses and find yourself studying hard all the time.

I've said it once and I say it again, many times your GPA and transcript aren't a reflection of your intellect so much as they are a reflection of the decisions you make.  You have 7-8 more weeks to make work on making your plan happen.  Make good decisions (studying before you go out, getting up and going to class etc.) and you'll have fewer regrets in May.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

And the Oscar Goes To . . .

In honor of Sunday's Academy Awards, I want to use the emotional and poignant speeches of a few winners for this week's post.  These are people who've worked very hard at their craft and have put it a large amount of effort to get where they are.  Some are more well known than others and some have been working at this longer than others.  However, they all have made something amazing happen and have been recognized by their industry for their work.  I take this as inspiration and hope you do, too.

Lupita Nyog'o is more or less a newcomer to the film industry.  When she affirmed that "no matter where you are from, your dreams are valid" she was talking to every one of you who takes the time to read this blog and so many who don't.  How does she know? She knows because it happened to her.  What she has done would make one think she is an overnight sensation.  Sensational she most definitely is, but it didn't happen overnight.  She has a degree in film and theater studies and a masters degree in acting from Yale School of Drama.  She worked to make this happen.

Jared Leto also worked to make things happen.  He, too, attended schools for the arts and spent time honing his craft.  Becoming good at something takes an investment of many hours and multitudes of energy.  He was encouraged by his mother, as many of you are, using her support as his strength. Televisions shows, independent films, blockbusters all are in his repertoire.  He's portrayed many types of characters, demonstrating range and adaptability, both of which can be helpful in many fields, not just acting.

We all know Matthew McConaughey and we know he has been acting for a while.  He is another example of an actor who worked years for the type of acknowledgement he received Sunday night.  Many films and many characters.  He also acknowledged his support -- his family.  Family can be important as you enter this very different and very challenging phase of your life (and beyond).  Family can often be the source of strength and when they have your back, you know it.  Use family to help you grow and succeed.

So the moral of this story is to recognize your talent, put in the time, and the rewards will come.  For some, they come faster than others.  For some, the reward is knowing that you've done your absolute best and are proud of your performance.  That goes for actors .  . . and students.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Are You Just Showing Up?

What are you doing this week to have a great semester?  It's hard to think about academic performance with Spring Break so close, but I implore you to stay focused.

I know you may think I sound like a broken record, and for that I apologize.  However, there are things that I witness students doing semester after semester and year after year that can make or break their GPA.  The second semester of your first year can sometimes prove to be a bigger challenge than the first, particularly if you were able to rely on high school habits to get by.  There are also bare minimums that work, they do.  
  • read, Read, READ
  • attend and be present for every class meeting
  • complete every assignment
  • ask questions when you don't understand
I've said this before and I'll say it again.  Being a good college student isn't magic and it isn't rocket science, but it is work.  Real work.  Perhaps more work and effort than you've put into being a student before.  Commit to doing more than just showing up.  Commit to making school and learning a priority and you'll reap the benefits.  You know I have faith that you can do it and won't have to be on the wrong side of academic probation before you believe me.  Now go forth and learn!

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Art of Stuyding

Learning to study isn't really an art; it's more like a science because you're not waiting for inspiration or trying to find your muse.  Studying is something you need to do to successfully get through college.  Remember, you don't just want to get by, you want to do as well as possible.  That is different for every person, but regardless of who you are, it will require some amount of work.

So, back to studying.  Before I get into the other parts, I want to talk about where to study.  Definitely not in your room and preferably not in the residence hall.  If you live a home, either try to find a quiet place at home or head out to campus (or the public library). Find a place that is conducive to studying.  For some people it's in the library -- but not where people hang out.  Others may find success in an academic building on campus.  There are those select few who can work in a coffee shop or something like that.  I must say, personally, that turns into a session of people watching for me and is very counterproductive.  So find that space and use it as much as possible to help condition your brain to go into study mode when you arrive.

Different courses require different techniques for studying, as do different people.  You may want to do an assessment to determine your learning style.  That will help pinpoint the types of learning aids you need or the best way to take notes.  When reading is involved, strategies like SQ4R can be very effective.  If you are solving quantitative problems (mathematics, chemistry, physics, etc.) try to complete assignments without checking the solutions until you are completely finished.  And try some extra problems that aren't part of the assignment to stretch your brain a little, see what you know, and perhaps get some material for asking questions during office hours.  It may take a little while to figure out what works for you.  If you have no idea how to study for a particular subject, don't be afraid to ask your advisor, prof, or TA for suggestions.  Tell them what you are doing and the type of results you are getting.

Getting better takes time.  Overnight sensations really aren't -- that goes for celebrities and successful people.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Trying to Figure It Out

Tonight's post was supposed to be about Studying, but I think I may post it later.  I served on a panel last night for a black women's group on campus and was struck by the young ladies who attended.  Despite the fact that many of them were upperclassmen, some of the verge of graduating, they were still trying to figure out college and making everything work.  Now, by no means do I expect them to be perfect because all phases of life are times of growth, but I was a little surprised -- not by the fact that they were trying to figure it out, but that some of them had not been served well by us.  When I say us, I mean the university as a whole, individual faculty and staff, and the system.

College is a time for growth and exploration.  It's often the first time in a person's life when they are in charge of managing their own lives and negotiating difficult situations.  It is an opportunity to figure out who you are and where you want to go.  On the panel with me was a former Olympian -- pause for moment of awe -- who encouraged the ladies to see college as putting tools in their toolbox for present and future situations.   She sensed the frustration of one attendee and noticed how another wasn't feeding her soul.  When you reach out for help, be it from an advisor, a tutor, a friend, or family there may be time when you're not getting what you need.  The Olympian says walk away in those instances.  Another panelist voiced similar sentiments.  Your path is your own.  Yes, you can learn from what others have done, but they are not you.  In each situation, take what you need and leave the rest.

While there will always be new challenges to figure out at each stage of your life, the key is balance.  That may look different depending on the stage.  You can't be all things to everyone all the time.  You have to know when to let go and when to press forward.  As you press forward as a young scholar, reach out to those whom you trust and who have your best interest at heart.  Find mentors -- academic mentors, spiritual, professional, etc.  People do exist who are willing to listen and offer guidance.  They may not always come in the package you expect, but if you're drawn to someone because something they do or say resonates with you, just go with it.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

How Do You Manage?

Time management can be the key to college success.  It takes a lot to do the right thing -- which in academic situations is frequently choosing to study instead of the other things that are so much more fun.  However, at some point being student has to come first.  Otherwise, why be in college?

Creating a time management plan can be tricky, but it's possible.  Now the plan acts as a guideline, but sometimes you may have to rearrange when you do things because life happens.  Some weeks you need to put in more time for a particular subject.  There are instances when family obligations take priority.  Try to use the time management plan to keep you on track.  

I put together a sample time management plan for you.  This one is based on a 14 credit hour load for the semester.  It got a little sticky.  After putting in class meetings and work, I had to find 28 hours for study time and be able to have some sort of a social life. Well, it's hard.  Take a look at what I put together and keep in mind that this doesn't include much social time, organizational meetings, or going to office hours.  The point is that it takes a lot of time to be a good student and unless we're realistic about what it takes, it will be hard to become one.

Check it out and make one of your own. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Dear Summer . . .

Spending your first summer as a college student following academic pursuits doesn't sound exciting or romantic, does it? If I told you that making strategic choices about how you spend your summer can help propel you forward in your future career, would that sound better?

It's true.  Taking courses, a summer research experience/internship, or study away/abroad are all ways to gain knowledge and/or experience and make yourself more marketable post-graduation.  Each one can serve a different purpose, so I'll sum each of them up.

Taking Classes
If your GPA isn't very strong and you either want to repeat a course or boost your GPA, taking courses may be the right choice for you.  Taking the courses at your institution will replace your first grade with the repeat grade.  If you take courses at another institution, only the credits transfer, not the grades.  This will help by removing the lower grade, but won't boost it by calculating in the repeat one.  Check with your institution to determine whether or not there are stipulations on transfer credits.  I understand if you want to stay on track with your 4-year plan of study, but take it from me . . . most people/employees/graduate schools aren't shocked if you take 4.5 - 5 years to finish undergrad.  Quality is more important in most situations.  So if your GPA is stronger you may want to consider the other two options.

Summer Research/Internship
This will allow you to gain experience in your field.  Summer research programs or internships can either affirm your career choice or let you know the major you've chosen may not be a good fit.  Every major is multi-faceted, so don't be completely dismayed if your first experience isn't an earth-shaking one.  Use it to get a better understanding of your field and don't be disillusioned what about you think the experience should be.  As an undergrad you will rarely find yourself in a position where you are lead on a project that will make or break your employer.  However, you may be doing something that lays the foundation for that work.  Understand where your work fits into the bigger picture and you'll see how you are important.  Research and internships are learning experiences where you can apply your coursework and reinforce understanding.  They are often situations where you will receive guidelines, but not direct instruction -- i.e. room to really problem solve.  They also require self-motivation, the ability to self-pace and manage your time, and make an impression for future letters of recommendation.  Oh, I forgot to mention that you also get paid!

Study Away/Abroad
Study away is going on a domestic trip that doubles as an academic or cultural learning experience.  Study abroad is an international trip for the same purpose.  Depending on the length of the trip, you may or may not take courses.  There are different types of trips; some are academic and others are service-based.  Either way, it's a new place and is always a great experience.  You can leverage this experience when promoting yourself to future employers and graduate programs to highlight your ability to adapt.  Larger institutions have study abroad offices and information sessions that will share criteria, cost, and any possible funding opportunities.  They may be a little harder to identify at smaller schools, but they do exist.

Regardless of the choice you make, think strategically about how you will spend Summer 2014.  Make the most of your college experience.  You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Still Bouncing Back

This week's radio broadcast on Tassel to Tassel Radio was all about bouncing back from bad grades.  There I made some suggestions for having a good Spring semester, regardless of your GPA.  The bottom line is . . . you can do well in college.  The key is to identify your talents and be committed to the level of work that is necessary for success.  That is potentially different for everyone so you may have to do things differently than your friends or classmates.

It may take time to get as good as you want to be.  Don't get discouraged; dig in.  I'm not naive; I know at times this is easier said than done.  You can do it if you stick it out.  Etch that class material into your brain by reading, working problems,  seeing your professor, and studying.

Do a little more each day.  Read 10 more minutes.  Do one extra problem.  Ask one question in class or office hours.  The more you do it, the easier it gets.  Soon enough it'll be second nature. I have faith in you.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Starting Fresh

You're two to three weeks into the semester and you're facing a new set of courses and a new set of challenges.  Last semester was a learning experience in terms of both content and the college experience, and you got schooled.  So now what?

Every semester is an opportunity to be better than the semester before.  College can be hard, but it is definitely possible to succeed, with the right tools and attitude.  Look back at where you were in September of last year and what would you go back and tell yourself if you could talk to September you?  Tell yourself and take your own advice.  Did you study too little?  Too much?  Did you balance your academic life with social and personal activities?  Did you find a way to process stress?  Did you use the resources and student services offered by your department or program?

Whatever it is, identify what you did well and what needs improvement.  Be honest and real.  Then, actually improve it. Try it and let me know how you're doing.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Welcome Back!

Today is a new day!  Maybe not today, specifically, but it is a new semester and you are starting fresh.  Whether you are braving the cold or in milder temperatures, the Spring semester has started. Look at this as an opportunity to (re)create your brand.  In a simple sense, your transcript is the foundation for your brand.  However, you have to supplement your grades with things that create a positive, productive image of you.  This includes your social media presence, your participation in student organizations and research, and your attitude.  Keep all of these things strong for the right reasons and you're off to a good start.  

If someone generated a word cloud about you, what would it look like?