1. Utilize School Resources
Most colleges and universities are bursting with resources to make your experience easier and more interesting. Some useful resources include (but probably aren't limited to):
- Library (or, in a big institution, libraries)
- Tutoring center
- Writing center
- Computer labs
- Career center
- Health and counseling center
- Financial services
- Disability center
- Transfer center (at community colleges)
Some campuses even offer a museum or arts center, film screenings and other forms of free, enriching entertainment.
2. Visit Your Academic Advisor Regularly
Your academic advisor is your link to everything you need for college success. Meet with your advisor early and often in college, usually before and after registration and any time you may be struggling. He or she can help you decide which classes to take each semester and how to meet your long-term academic goals. Always register as early as possible for your classes - they tend to fill quickly, and you don't want to potentially add on more semesters before you graduate. Your advisor can also guide you to campus resources, inform you of important deadlines, guide you through college policies and procedures, and inform you of campus events and organizations that could benefit you.
3. Stay Connected
All colleges and universities are busy institutions. From registering for classes to applying for financial aid, there are many important deadlines and processes to keep track of, and that's your responsibility. Thankfully, schools make it as easy as possible to stay connected with online student accounts.
Make sure to create your student account and check it regularly - this is how the college will notify you of important information. You should also pay attention to the student handbook and keep an eye on the school website to ensure you don't miss anything. Important dates, deadlines and information will always be posted in these areas. When in doubt, contact your academic advisor for more guidance. Lastly, connect with other students (preferably responsible students) in each of your classes and get their contact info. This can assist you in forming study groups, clarifying information, or catching up if you have to miss a class.
4. Get Organized
You're likely to have more assignments than ever before in college, and you can't rely on your professors to remind you when something is due. Each professor will give you a syllabus at the beginning of the semester, hold on to it! This is a contract between you and your professor that covers course expectations, assignments, due dates, grading and other class policies, as well as your professor's contact information and office hours.
Get a planner or a calendar application for your computer or mobile device - there are even free, Web-based ones that sync on both. Using your course syllabi and the college handbook, update your planner or calendar to track your class schedule, assignment deadlines and exams. It can also be useful for managing your homework load. You can break down larger projects into small, manageable goals by setting mini-deadlines along the way.
5. Manage Your Time
In addition to your new workload, you'll find that college puts an incredible number of demands on your time. Managing them carefully can truly make or break your experience. When you're planning out your week, make sure you set aside enough time each day for studying, socializing, extracurricular commitments and taking care of yourself. The rule, typically, is to allow two hours of study time for every hour you are in class. Working students have the additional challenge of incorporating their work commitments into their schedules.
Feel like you'll have every minute of every day planned out? You might, but as long as you make sure there's some fun time and down time in those plans, sticking to your schedule makes it possible to stay on top of everything and feel sane. College can be a fun time to let loose and try new things, but a lot of students end up taking things too far and hurting their studies - or themselves. Get out there and have fun, but make sure that socializing isn't eating up too much of your schoolwork or sleep time, and be conscious of making smart, safe decisions.
6. Set Goals
It's important to set both small and large goals to guide your college experience. As noted above, you can manage your coursework by breaking it down into manageable chunks and setting small goals en route to bigger deadlines.
However, it can also be helpful to think about long-term goals. Don't overwhelm yourself by trying to plan all the way to retirement, but set a series of realistic, attainable goals that help you achieve your dreams, just like they help you meet deadlines.
7. Perfect Your Study Techniques
Even the most successful high school students often need to completely revise their studying styles when they get to college. You'll want to find a specific system that works for you, but any approach you take should involve setting (and sticking to) a routine. Consider forming a study group - peer pressure can be a great way to make sure you get your work done. A visit to the tutoring center on campus can provide you with skills and suggestions along the way. Some colleges also offer courses that can help you discover your specific learning style and build strong study habits - ask your academic advisor for suggestions.
8. Go to Class (Prepared)
It can be tempting to skip class when no one is looking over your shoulder, but the old cliché is true: You're only hurting yourself. Besides, you're paying for your seat in class. There's no guarantee that all of the material in class will be covered in the readings, and missing classes may leave you stranded when it comes to essay or exam time. In addition, make sure you prepare for class each time so you're ready to actively engage in the discussion. If you have to miss a class, get in contact with your professor immediately and get a copy of the notes from a classmate.
9. Take Thorough Notes
A lot of information will get thrown at you during lectures, and the best way to absorb it all is to take notes and review them later. You won't be able to write down every word, so get familiar with short-hand techniques and look for free note-taking applications online. If you have a disability and are unable to keep up with the fast pace, visit your campus disability center to see about any accommodations.
10. Do Your Reading
And do all of it! In high school you may have been able to coast by with class notes and Cliff Notes, but completing the assigned reading is essential for success in college classes. Many professors base their lectures on the fact that you completed your assigned readings. If you didn't, you could end up very lost and behind. It can also be helpful to use sticky notes or a highlighter to mark passages you found particularly important or confusing. (Using an e-reader? You can highlight and take notes digitally!)
11. Strengthen Your Writing Skills
From short essays to 20-page research papers, writing is an essential part of the college experience. If you're unsure of your writing ability, don't be afraid to enroll in an introductory composition course. The skills you learn there will help you excel in the rest of your classes, and being a strong writer can help you throughout your academic and professional careers. Many college campuses also have writing centers and tutoring centers that can help you perfect your skills.
12. Get to Know Your Professors
Building strong relationships with your professors can have many benefits. First, it will help you develop a better understanding of their expectations in class, which can lead to better grades. Pay attention to their teaching style and where they get most of their test questions (from lectures, videos, reading assignments or other sources). Second, it can lead to invaluable mentoring relationships. Whether they're helping you figure out what major suits you best or writing you letters of recommendation for grad school, professors make excellent mentors throughout your college experience.
13. Seek Help
Everyone runs into especially challenging classes during college, and there's no shame in asking for extra help. Visit your professor or TA during office hours to ask for more guidance on difficult concepts, or check out your school's tutoring center or writing center for help with homework. Seeking help immediately when you encounter a problem will help keep you from falling behind or feeling lost.
14. Explore New Subjects
Even students who start college knowing exactly what they want to do with their lives will often change their major 2-3 times before they graduate. College is a great time to learn more about your academic interests and explore ways they might develop into a career.
While you're still choosing your major, take classes in a variety of subjects and try to get outside of your comfort zone. Even after you're set on a specific path, try to leave some spots in your course schedule for fun classes outside of your major.
15. Get Involved
Personal development is another important part of college, and there are tons of opportunities to explore new things outside of class. Depending on your interests, you might join a student club, run for student government or try out for a sports team. College can also offer many low-cost travel opportunities - contact your advisor to learn more about study abroad programs and funding options.
16. Complete an Internship
If you're not already working, consider pursuing an internship. These positions offer you a chance to try out a profession and find out if you really like it while adding valuable experience to your resume.
17. Create a Professional Network
Someday, you'll graduate from college and the bonds you formed in school won't just be important socially - they can facilitate networking, that all-important professional tool. Your roommate may just be pre-law now, but he or she could one day be an attorney. Get to know your peers and form meaningful connections that will outlast your college career.
18. Create a Support Network
Don't go it alone! Whether you need to cry, complain or squeal with joy, college life is easier and more fun when you can reach out to people for more than professional relationships. Stay in touch with your family back home, and form meaningful bonds with a few of your classmates instead of just collecting a hundred new Facebook friends. It can also be helpful to utilize the free counseling services offered through most college health centers to manage stress and other emotional challenges.
19. Stay Healthy
College stress can be taxing on your mental and physical health, and letting your health suffer can have negative consequences for your schoolwork. Make sure to get enough sleep, cook healthy meals and incorporate some basic stress-reduction techniques, like regular physical exercise, meditation or personal down-time.
20. Master Your Finances
Money management can be challenging, but if you learn to do it well in college, you'll have a skill that serves you for the rest of your life. Map out a budget for yourself, including books, food, bills and entertainment expenses, and stick to it.
It can also be beneficial to seek out sources of financial aid, in addition to your institutional loans and grants. A Web search can turn up hundreds of scholarships related to your field of study, demographics and more.
Not sure what study techniques might be right for you? Don't miss college studying 101.