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.