GUEST POST: Four Steps To Success - Advice from a Student
By Elizabeth Greenleaf
Elizabeth is a senior at Rhode Island College about to graduate with a BA in Psychology and a Minor in Behavioral Neuroscience. She will move on to Graduate School at Rhode Island College and earn her MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. For the last few months, she has been working as an intern for The Learning Scientists.
As a senior about to graduate and enroll in a Masters program, I can confirm one thing with certainty: college is hard. You have a lot on your place, and you also might have social and work responsibilities. Over the last four years of my undergraduate experience, As someone who worked all through college and felt constantly busy, I’ve been able to hone in on some of the things that have helped me not only get through it successfully, but also keep my sanity. Being organized, planning ahead, staying healthy, and having a support system are some of the main things that I have found to be really helpful in getting me through my degree program.
Being Organized: Color Coding and Checking the Syllabus
Staying organized during college is a great way to track and ensure success. Organization can help you stay motivated and structured on what you need to accomplish for the day, week, month, or semester. One thing that has helped me stay organized is separating and color-coding different classes. Try to buy a notebook and folder for each class, all in different colors. For me, math was always green and Research Methods was always red. That way, rather than searching through piles of papers trying to find that one for a certain class, you know exactly where you put it. Planning ahead of time is another is another thing that keeps me organized. I like to sit down every Sunday and look at what I need to accomplish that week. I keep a journal so that I can write everything down, and that way I can track what I’ve completed and what I still need to get done. Your professor will probably provide you with a syllabus that has most of your due dates for the whole semester. I would suggest looking at all of your class syllabi and recording each due date or exam in a planner or journal so that you can see when everything is due in advance. It’s much easier to plan your time when you know everything that you need to get done, rather than trying to figure out what you need to do for each and every class.
Planning Ahead: Spaced Practice
A lot of teachers and professors will tell you that you shouldn’t put things off to the last minute. You may hear that you shouldn’t start an essay the night before it’s due, or that cramming for an exam is a horrible idea. Unfortunately for procrastinators, this is true. Spaced practice, or studying for brief sessions over many days, weeks, or even months, is a lot more productive than massed practice, or cramming (see this post). In other words, starting to study early is a lot more beneficial than procrastinating. Instead of spending seven hours studying for your history exam the night before you have it, try spending an hour a day for a week before. You will feel a lot less stressed, and you’ll have a lot more time to figure out what you need to study more. Also, make sure you set aside time to study, in fact, you could put it in that planner of yours! Planning a time to study helps keep me organized and motivated, and writing it down so that I can see it and check it off helped me to actually make sure that I did it.
Staying Healthy: Sleep and Diet
A lot of college students might say that their favorite activity is sleep… Good! Getting a good night sleep is actually really important when it comes to learning. When you get enough sleep, you go into class full of energy and ready to learn, rather than feeling groggy and distracted by how tired you are. Also, your brain is good at processing information that it learned that day while you sleep (1), so make sure you get as much as you need! Another way to make sure you are prepared for learning is to adopt a healthy diet. If you feel good physically, you will probably feel better mentally, which can help you stay motivated. Also, healthy foods like fruits and veggies will give you the energy you need without making you feel weighed down or groggy (see this article). Making healthy choices with sleep and diet has definitely helped me succeed in college so far!
Having a Support System: Making Friends and Setting Goals
Having support is important in many areas in life. If you don’t feel like the people in your life are behind you, it can be hard to stay motivated in what you're trying to accomplish (see this article). For that reason, it’s important to try and find a support system while you go through college. Whether that’s your family, friends, or classmates, knowing that someone is in your corner will go a long way. Making friends in college can be hard at first, but finding people who have similar interests to you can be easy when your school has a lot of programs you can join. You might also notice that you have a lot of classes with a lot of the same people. Why not ask for someone’s email or phone number so that you can encourage and help each other? Even just having someone’s number in case you missed a class can help.
Another way to make sure you're staying motivated is to set goals. For me, I motivated myself through college by telling my parents what my goals were. Sharing those with people who are important to me helped to keep me on track. Try to think of someone who believes in you, and share your goals with them. Also, be proud of yourself! Realize that college is a big deal and can be difficult to get through. Make sure to celebrate your victories, no matter how small.
(1) De Vivo, L., Bellesi, M., Marshall, W., Bushong, E.A., Ellisman, M.H., Tunoni, G., & Cirelli, C. (2017). Ultrastructural evidence for synaptic scaling across the wake/sleep cycle. Science, 355, 507-510.