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Freshmen Advice

Doing Well in College

If you asked a cross section of students why they are in college, you would probably get a wide range of responses. People go to college to educate and enrich themselves, to prepare for a specific career, to please their friends or family, and for a number of other reasons. Whatever the reasons, just about everyone hopes college will be a positive, worthwhile experience.

Many students, however, face obstacles to making the most of their time in college. Such students come to feel that they can't do the work required. But often their real problem is they don't know how to do the work. Making use of the following advice will help you to take the fullest possible advantage of all that college has to offer.

Having the Right Attitude

Your attitude must say, "I will do the work." As the semester unfolds, you must attend classes and complete assignments. When you hit crunch times, you must do the plain, hard work that college demands. Some people take on the work and persist even when they hit snags and problems; others don't take on the work or don't persist when things get rough. This inner commitment to getting the work done is probably the single most important factor needed for success in college.

Getting Off to a Strong Start

Making a good schedule is one way to start out well in college. Many schools require that all students have a fixed schedule their first semester. However, if you have some choice about what courses to take, make sure you read your college catalog closely. It may describe the content and objectives of most courses and indicate prerequisites-other courses or experiences you must have before enrolling. If you don't have the stated prerequisites, do not sign up for a course.

Before making up your schedule, it's a good idea to speak to some knowledgeable people who can help you select interesting and appropriate courses. Academic advisers, counselors, or upper- level students can give you sound advice about scheduling.

Try to plan your classes so you don't schedule on any day an uninterrupted series of lectures or labs. Such a routine can be fatiguing and prevent you from doing your best work.

Don't schedule more than the recommended number of courses your first semester. You don't want to end up with a heavy schedule and an impossible workload.

Doing the Work Despite Difficulties

Some people joke that college orientation-the day or so before the start of the first semester-lasts a year or more for many students. The joke is all too often true. You may find that the first year of college is a time of unsettling change and adjustment. You may start questioning long-accepted personal values. You might begin thinking about career goals. You are in a new environment and must learn to form new relationships. If you have been away from school for several years, or were never a serious student in high school, you may have to spend a good deal of time developing effective study habits. In addition, you may find that existing financial, personal, or family problems create even more stress during this already anxious period in your life.

Invariably, the students who succeed, in spite of their difficulties, have determined to do the work. You too, despite the worries and demands you may experience during a semester, must resolve to get the work done. Otherwise you will lose valuable opportunities that may not come your way again.

Rather than trying to do the work, you may decide to drop a course or drop out of college for a semester. Your decision may be exactly the right thing to do, but before taking such an important step, be sure to talk to someone about your plans. At school you will find people to talk to-counselors, advisers, teachers, and others-who can help you get a perspective on your situation. From time to time, all of us need the insights into ourselves that we cannot possibly get alone, but that others can offer us.

Learning the Ground Rules for Each Course

Another way to make a good start is to learn the ground rules for each of your courses. Many instructors explain course requirements in the first class, so be sure you're there and take notes. Your instructors may also distribute a syllabus or course description. Look at the syllabus carefully. It often tells where the instructor's office is, lists the instructor's office hours, and presents information about attendance, quizzes and exams, required reading, and so on. If such information is not covered in the syllabus or by the instructor, be sure to ask your instructor about these matters.

The first week or so of a new semester is generally hectic. If there are mix-ups in your schedule and you can't make it to the first or second class, let the instructor know that you haven't dropped the course and that you plan to attend class regularly. Also, don't forget to get the course syllabus and check with the instructor-not other students-about any work assigned during the classes you missed.

Keeping Up With Your Courses

If you have problems understanding the material in a course, don't waste time complaining about the subject or the instructor. And don't sit back calmly and assume that everything will work out. Make sure you get help, either from another student or from your instructor. Many students are reluctant to go to their instructors for help, but that is why teachers have office hours. Take advantage of these set-aside times.

Whenever you are absent, you should ask the instructor, not other students, about missed assignments. It's wise not to rely on other students for this information because they may not have understood the assignment or may not explain it to you clearly. Your work will invariably reflect this confusion. By going to your instructor, you will not only get the information firsthand, you will also demonstrate your commitment to your work.

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