University classes are a monster you can’t prepare for until you’re in them. I have been through every up and down with schoolwork possible in the past year, so here are some tips that can hopefully help you avoid those downs:
Choosing and Registering for Your Classes
- Make sure to thoroughly check both your major requirements and your gen ed requirements. Normally, you’ll have an advisor to help you make sure you’re on track, but Vandy doesn’t assign first-year engineering students one until after registration when school starts, and I didn’t have an advisor for this year’s registration either due to my major change, so I’ve spent hours and hours doing this on my own. There’s often recommended courses and example schedules in the course catalog that tell you what classes you should be taking at this point in time. Pay attention to that and you should be fine. For example, you have to have taken a first-level writing class to qualify for junior standing here. Those are the little things you have to look out for. To keep track of it all, I have a spreadsheet I use for planning my sophomore - senior years that lists all the requirements I need to meet in terms of hours and courses in order to graduate on time. I plug in possible courses and see which requirement they would fulfill and when. You can check it out here to see what I mean, it’s very helpful.
- Find at least one fun elective to take if at all possible. It gets very tiring when all you have on your schedule are really difficult classes that you don’t enjoy. Try to find at least one class that you’re genuinely interested in to help get you excited for the day. Each of my last semesters, my schedule consisted of a calculus class, a lab science, a comp sci class, and Italian. Italian was the only fun one that I enjoyed going to. It really helps you out. You’re not just in college to get your degree, you’re there to discover what you really want to do, so feel free to explore your catalog and take something completely out of character just because you want to. Bonus if it fills some kind of requirement (Italian filled my Foreign Language Proficiency and one of my International Cultures reqs.).
- Have multiple versions of your schedule based on which classes you may or may not get into. I don’t know about your school, but at Vanderbilt, class registration is literally like the Hunger Games. You’re assigned an enrollment date based on your year (seniors get to go first, then juniors, etc.) and at 8 am on that day, you refresh the website and either enroll in your classes or get placed on the wait list for it. If you’re a freshman, you’re basically screwed because you go last, and so you could have planned out your perfect schedule only to find they’ve all filled up the day before your enrollment period starts. To avoid having to scramble, have multiple versions of your schedule, with back ups and substitutions for every class. This way, you won’t be surprised when you go to enroll and all but one of your classes are filled, then you have to search for other classes, but at that point, all that’s left are scraps that don’t fit your requirements. Plan plan plan and practice clicking the enroll button on all your classes as fast as you can for when the clock strikes 8.
- You have freedom over your schedule now; take advantage of that! No more 8-3 Monday through Friday; you can take classes whenever you want. I prefer to have all my classes on MWF in a block of a few hours and only one or no class on TR. Of course, sometimes you’re going to have to take classes at less optimal times, but do try to accommodate yourself and take classes at times you know will be good for you. Lots of people prefer to start early and finish early, while I like to start no earlier than 11, even if I don’t finish until 5. The best part of college is you can do what you want.
- Don’t take 8 ams. I’m repeating this cause it’s important. I swear, you’ll regret it. In high school, I woke up every morning early as hell to catch my bus at 6:30, but in college, it was nearly impossible for me to get up for my 11 am only three times a week. Don’t ever take an 8 am by choice. And if you have no choice, good luck lol.
- Don’t be afraid to drop a class. If you’re doing terribly in a class or you absolutely can’t stand it, drop the class. There’s a very little chance that if you’re failing during the first half of the semester, you’ll be able to change your grade dramatically in the second half. Maybe you decided to be an overzealous freshman and signed up for the maximum number of hours possible and now you’re drowning. Drop a class! Sometimes, a course is going to do more harm to you than good, so it’s best to get rid of it than have an F or a W on your transcript.
- Use RateMyProfessor! I totally forgot about this when I originally posted this and it’s already got almost 1,000 notes but hopefully people see this. RateMyProfessor is so fucking useful. It’s IMPERATIVE that you check this website before you enroll in classes. Someone at Vandy actually made a Chrome extension for our enrollment website that automatically shows a professor’s ranking while you’re looking for classes. Obviously, take it with a grain of salt, and make sure the reviews actually make valid points about the workload and class and isn’t just someone bitter about failing. I took calc with a professor who taught at my high school just cause she taught at my high school even though her reviews said she was insanely difficult and the class was near impossible to pass. Guess what? They were right and I failed as did a big chunk of everyone else in her class. You don’t have to let RMP dictate your schedule, but definitely check it out, and if everyone says the professor is awful, don’t fucking take them.
Attending Your Classes
- Establish a connection with your professor early. I recommended introducing yourself on the first day of class just so they know your name and face in another post. It’d be even better to attend an office hour or review session or something. Just make sure they know you. It’ll be easier to communicate when you need something later in the semester if it isn’t their first time seeing you.
- Actually use this connection with your professors. In my experience, they can be pretty understanding and when you’re in a bad place, they’ll likely help you out. If something is preventing you from doing your best in class, go to them for help (I didn’t go to many office hours but I wish I did! Who better to explain to you something you don’t understand than the person who grades you on it?) or explain to them your situation. I had professors let me take tests late and redo assignments due to my mental health after I explained to them I wasn’t just a terrible student; if it wasn’t for this, I would’ve failed all of their classes. Maybe at the end of the semester they’ll drop one of your wonky grades or bump you up that extra half point you need. Your professors are a resource, and it’s up to you to use it.
- Take notes however you want. I used my laptop in some, paper in others, and even my iPad and a stylus for calculus. In all of your classes will be a mixture of different techniques and no one cares what you do. Whatever works best for you and helps you get down the most information is what you should do. Also, you don’t have to write down everything. If your professor uses slides and posts them for you to download, you don’t really have to write down anything at all unless they add extra points, so that’s really convenient.
- You don’t have to sit in the front. As long as you can see and hear, which you’ll likely be able to due to large projection screens and microphones, it literally doesn’t matter where you sit. In my experience, the professors call on people from every part of the lecture hall, so everyone gets an equal chance at participation. It’s up to yourself to make sure you can pay attention, not your seat.
- Do your best to attend every single class meeting. It’s inevitable that you’re going to miss class at some point; you will get sick, you won’t have finished an assignment, you’ll need a mental health day, something will happen. Missing class can too easily become a habit if you do it often, so try to never do it. Don’t force yourself to go if you can’t handle it, obviously your health always comes first, but I mean don’t skip cause you want to sleep in or cause you just don’t feel like going. If you do have to miss class and 1) you have a good reason for it (i.e. sickness) and 2) it’s a class small enough that your professor will notice you’re not there, email them and let them know why, just so they’re aware you’re not just skipping to skip.
- Try to make friends in your classes. A little study group would be even better. It’ll be really useful to have someone who can help you with a homework question you don’t understand or send you their notes when you miss a class. It can also be great to study with other people, depending on how you study best. I’ve had friends in all my classes so far and it’s been a great help, even if we just complained about the test we just failed then went to get pizza.
Tackling the Coursework
- Make a REALISTIC study schedule. The key word here is realistic. During winter break I made a study schedule that started with me waking up at 8 am every morning to go work out and ended with me going to sleep promptly at 11 or midnight after spending literally the entire day studying with breaks only for meals. No breaks on weekends, no room to socialize, and I thought this would be perfectly fine for me to follow. Of course, I didn’t last a week because that was fucking ridiculous. You don’t need to schedule every hour of your day; college doesn’t work like that. Just do something simple, an hour for a class or maybe less depending on how hard it is and if you have a test coming up. Trust your instincts. There’s no need to go overboard, and you don’t need to spend six hours a day working, just dedicate a time to studying and stick with that.
- Explore study techniques until you find one that works for you. Everyone doesn’t study the same, so if you do what everyone else is doing you might not get the results you want. Even if you had a great system in high school, it might not be fitting for college, so check out a bunch of different methods and see how you do with them. Once you find the best way you study, you’ll be unstoppable when exam time comes.
- Start your assignments early, as soon as you can after they’re assigned. There’s nothing worse than having a bunch of assignments/tests/papers due on the same day and you haven’t finished any of them. Trust me, it is so much less stressful to complete an assignment as soon as you can after it’s been assigned so you don’t have to worry about it anymore. Putting things off has much more severe consequences than it did in high school and you will regret procrastinating. If you have a weekly assignment due every Friday, try to complete them by Wednesday every week. At the very least, start an assignment the day you get it even if you can’t finish it that day. It’s a lot easier to do something after you’ve already begun working on it, and that one thing you do is progress.
- The name of the college game is prioritization. If college teaches you anything, it’s how to prioritize your duties. You need to create a hierarchy of importance for your classes and types of assignments. For me, calculus assignments were always done first because that was the most difficult class and the one I absolutely needed to pass, and Italian was always done last cause it was my easiest class and I could complete even our biggest assignments in one day. You’re going to have a very large amount of work and sometimes you have to sacrifice finishing a small homework assignment to finish a huge paper or study for an exam. I liked to complete my hardest/longest assignments right when I got back from class to get them over with and leave my easier ones for later. Prioritizing is essential if you want to succeed in university, so learn how to do it immediately!
- Remember that uni is really difficult and your grades don’t define you. Something I learned the hard way is that sometimes you can try really really hard, do the best you can, and still fail. That’s just life. Sometimes you have to do something a million times before you get it right, or before you discover that it just isn’t right for you at all. I worked harder than I ever had this past year, and what I got in return was two failed classes, two D’s, academic probation, and a 2.3 GPA. Actually, my current GPA isn’t even a 2.3, it’s a 2.295, which is probably blasphemy to the studyblr community, but this shit happens. It happens to all of us and it sucks. It can be really shitty to feel like your effort wasn’t reflected in your result. What you need to do is adjust your expectations and keep working hard. After you hit your stride, your grades could be great in no time. Or you could discover that math or science or english just isn’t for you. Maybe you’ll discover university as a whole isn’t right for you, and that’s okay! Bad grades, whether you define that as a B or an F, don’t mean you’re a bad student or a bad person. You do what you can, and then let go of what you can’t control. The sooner you grasp this idea, and the sooner you learn to be gentle with yourself, the easier a time you’ll have.
So I feel like I forgot a lot of things but also this is pretty long so I’m going to end the post here. If you have any further questions or topics for a post you’d like to see, my inbox is always open. I don’t know which post is coming next, but I’ll keep you posted. Thanks for reading and I hope this helped you out!