advice for college freshmen:

tolkien your essays; hemingway your emails

essays are tangents and rabbit holes and diversions, woven together with lots of unnecessary descriptive words to demonstrate a proficient understanding of a subject you were meant to research in more depth but did not, in place of other pursuits, or could not, because you chose your subject poorly, and so now you must flesh out an arduous ten-page research paper and convince your scrutinizing instructor that you are well-versed in the topic at hand.

emails are blunt. say what you mean. be specific. end it quickly.

Writing is a skill that many people struggle with, and when it comes to academic essays, many people are so anxious about writing that they don’t even know where to start. Many find it easier to begin when they have a clear idea of what they should and should not be doing, so I’ve compiled some tips to hopefully alleviate your essay-induced anxieties.

1. Hooks—you don’t need one. In fact, I would argue that you shouldn’t have one. They’re a juvenile method of starting a paper and, in many cases, they involve broad generalizations that aren’t even true. “Since the beginning of literature, people have been interested in how evil characters are portrayed in novels.” Have they, really? When exactly is the so-called “beginning” of literature? What is your proof that a largely illiterate society cared about the way in which characters were depicted when people like Defoe and Behn were penning some of the first English-language novels? One could argue that most people now don’t even care about how characters are depicted in novels. Get my point? It’s juvenile, sounds lazy, and you can skip all of this by just getting to the damn point by opting to begin your essay rather than constructing a flowery hook.

2. Your thesis. In most cases, your thesis should make an argument of your own, and it should be an argument that you can prove with evidence. You could have a spectacular sounding thesis that is saturated with sophisticated claims and language, but it doesn’t matter how good your thesis sounds if you don’t have textual evidence to back it up. Further, you need to make sure that your thesis answers the question the prompt is asking—if the prompt asks you to use Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality to access the actions of Frankenstein’s creature, you better make sure that you directly and clearly relate those two texts in your thesis statement. When constructing your thesis statement, make sure that you are addressing the prompt fully, and ensure that you have adequate evidence to back up your claims. You don’t want to get too far into an essay only to realize that you don’t have enough evidence for your argument.

3. Creating a voice in your writing. Have a strong, confident voice. Sound sure of yourself. Don’t say things such as, “This might prove why this character does this.” Make a confident argument—explain in a clear and confident manner the way in which your evidence supports your thesis argument. This is easy to do once you learn how to integrate appropriate quotes into your essays.

4. Using quotes. Quotes are necessary for most forms of essay writing; without them, your argument is weak. Provide context when introducing a quote—don’t simply throw a quote at your reader with no context or explanation. Use shorter quotes when possible, and integrate them into your sentences. Try not to let a quote stand alone as its own sentence. Here’s an example of successfully integrating appropriate quotes into your writing:

“However, Caliban openly attempted to rape Miranda, and when Prospero mentions this, Caliban enthusiastically states that if Prospero hadn’t stopped him, he would have “peopled else this isle with Calibans” (1.2.420-421). Prior to this attempted rape, Prospero and Caliban apparently shared a reciprocal relationship, wherein Prospero taught Caliban English and, in return, Caliban “showed [him] all the qualities o’ th’ isle” (1.2.403).

As you can see above, quotes are used to provide succinct evidence for what you’re talking about. They show that you have read and possess a clear understanding of the text, and they provide textual evidence that strengthens your argument.

5. The structure of your essay. Your essay does not need to be a cookie-cutter five paragraph monstrosity that has been drilled into your brain since 8th grade; you can switch it up as you see necessary. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have paragraphs of varying lengths, multiple paragraphs discussing the same argument, or even to bring up previously stated topics and arguments in order to further explore what you’re talking about. Don’t feel obligated to constrain yourself to formulaic writing when frankly, it often isn’t the best way to write a paper. Make your argument in the most natural way possible, and if that required seven body paragraphs, then so be it. 

6. Editing your essays. I advise reading your essay out loud when editing. In your initial read-through, check for grammatical mistakes and typos. These mistakes will be obvious if you read your paper aloud. After ensuring that your paper is free from technical errors, reread it again to check how one idea transitions to the next. Does your essay have clear and natural transitions from topic to topic, or are there abrupt shifts that need to be worked out? Finally, make sure your paper adequately proves the overall argument you’re attempting to make. Is your argument the driving force in your paper, or do you make unnecessary digressions? These are all important things to consider before turning in your final essay. 

Remember, writing essays is something that, with practice, can become quite easy. Don’t treat writing an essay as some kind of foreign, impossible task; all writing an essay really involves is making an argument and attempting to prove your argument with evidence. If you can do this, then writing becomes substantially easier. Good luck!

hi guys!! i just wrapped up my first semester in college (thank the Lord), so i thought i should share some of the things i’ve learned with you.

  • make friends during the first few weeks!! 
    • participate in all the “welcome week” activities. step outside of your comfort zone and be willing to talk to anyone and everyone—everyone else is in the same position as you. find friends who have similar values as you. do not become too close with anyone who will influence you to do things that you do not want to do. befriend the people you sit next to in class—maybe they can become a study buddy. establish your friendships early on. from personal experience, it is harder to befriend people who have already formed their own friend groups. 
  • join clubs!!
    • join them early on in the semester.
    • join clubs that are specific to your major! not only will you meet people with similar interests and career goals, but you will also receive important information (opportunities, research programs, etc.) and get more hands-on experience.
    • if you are on a pre-professional track, join a club based on your program. i’m currently in the pre-dental health society club at my school!
    • join any club that interests you, but try not to join clubs that frequently overlap—it is better to attend clubs faithfully than sporadically. 
    • if you’re a person of faith, join a (or several) campus ministry/group to get connected with people who share your same faith. a majority of my friendships have come from doing this and it’s like having a second family. if you’re a christian, join cru!! cru is awesome!!!!
  • scheduling
    • only take 8 am’s if you are disciplined enough to go to sleep at a reasonable time and to wake up at or before 7 am. 
    • try to end your school day relatively early so that you have the rest of the day to do any studying that you have to do, while you’re still awake and alert. 
    • try to avoid night classes as they are very long and will probably interfere with a billion other things you want to do. 
    • if you are scheduling back-to-back classes, make sure you have enough time to get from one class to the other. 
  • coursework
    • exams are so important in college. there is homework, though, but it usually only accounts for a small percentage of your grade. you should still complete it. all of it. try to accumulate as many points as you can from homework and other assignments in case you don’t perform as well as you wish on the exams.
  • time-management is SOOO important!!
    • learn when to say no to social events. you can still do fun things, but know when you should refrain from it. 
    • managing time wisely significantly lowers academic-related stress.
    • create a skeletal schedule for your week–add your classes, when you want to wake up/go to sleep, any club meetings that you have, what time’s a good time for lunch, etc. 
    • determine what times work best in your schedule to dedicate to studying. 
    • schedule your free time so that 1. you have something to look forward to and are less likely to get distracted, and, 2. you can take a break from everything and feel refreshed.
  • dealing with professors
    • respect them (obviously). 
    • form good relationships with your professors, but, for the love of God, do not be a kiss up. they can tell when you are or aren’t being genuine. 
    • visit them during office hours for any questions you may have. make it known to them that you do care about what you’re learning and that you’re not only trying to get an A. 
  • reminders!!
    • sometimes you will try so hard and your grade will still not reflect the effort you put in.
    • learning > grades
    • grades do not always reflect intelligence. sometimes, a lower grade could be a result of something else, such as poor time-management.
    • your GPA does not define you.
    • you are here to learn.
    • rest!!
    • you can do this!!
    • i love you!!

disclaimer: this post is based on my experiences and things i have heard from people who i have interacted with. this advice might not apply to everyone who reads it. artwork by: paul antonson

i will be adding to this! just wanted to get some of it posted! feel free to message me with specific college-related questions and feel free to message/reply/reblog with any advice you think i should add. :)

love, melissa (@studenting

I have been grading math homework and quizzes for the last couple of years, working with a number of professors and graduate teaching assistants, and I see students making the same mistakes over and over again. I hear the same complaints from other professors, GTAs, and graders. I thought I would throw out some advice that might help your grades, or at least endear you to the person in charge of them.

I think these tips will apply to any class in which you turn in problem sets on a regular basis, and you might be able to apply some of this to things like lab reports, but I am mostly focusing on undergrad-level math, computational or proof-based. I hope it goes without saying, but first and foremost you should do what your instructor, not a stranger on the internet, tells you to do.

So, if I am grading your homework, here is what I would like you to do:


  • MAKE MY LIFE EASY

The harder it is for me to grade, the less points you are likely to get. That’s not just me being spiteful - if I don’t see your answer to a problem, I can’t read your handwriting, or I don’t understand how you got from point a to point z, it is going to be very hard for me to award you points. I try to be generous, as do most people I know, but we can only do so much for you.

  • KNOW YOUR MISSION

What are you trying to accomplish in these assignments? How do you do that?

 - You are trying to practice the course material to get a better understanding. So, do all the work assigned to you, and don’t just copy it from your friend (we can tell) or a solutions manual (we can really tell)

- You are trying to communicate to me (and to yourself!) that you understand the course material. I don’t need to see all of your scratch work or first attempts, but I need to see how you arrived at your answer, and I need to know what your answer is. I urge you to type or neatly rewrite your finished assignment before you turn it in. Please highlight your answers with a box, a circle, or some other indicator. If you’re writing a proof, start with “Proof:” and end with “QED” or a tombstone (or even a smiley face!) so I know what I’m supposed to be evaluating. Your work should be readable - in terms of handwriting, spacing, and yes, even grammar. It should follow a logical order so that someone reading it can understand what you’re doing. Explain your steps if you think you need to. And if a problem tells you to use a certain formula, theorem, or method, use it.

 - You are trying to learn from your mistakes. Of course this varies from grader to grader, but in general, we spend a lot of time giving you feedback, so please write something!!! I can’t help you if you don’t even attempt a problem. And for what it’s worth, while this isn’t true of everyone, a lot of people (myself included) will almost never give 0 points if it looks like an honest attempt has been made. If you have no idea what to do with a problem and it’s the last minute, it might be worth it to write down what you’re confused about - “I thought I could do this using integration by parts, but I couldn’t work out what to use for u and dv” is something I can respond to, and hopefully give you some help!

  • BE AWARE: STYLE COUNTS

Most of the time, I can and will take off points for style. Some instructors have a certain number of points worked into their grading rubric for style. Here are some suggestions!

 - Staple your f&*%ing homework!!!!! No, do not fold over the corner. Don’t tape several sheets together. Staple it. With an actual, metal staple.
   –> It never hurts to write your name on every page, and number your pages as well. Just make it as hard as possible for me to lose a page.

 - Do not turn in paper with those spiral-bound frills on the edge. Most spiral-bound notebooks are perforated, so tear along the perforation! Otherwise, please use printer paper, loose-leaf binder paper, or really anything else…

 - …anything except neon pink paper. I’m only saying this because it’s in my grading pile right now and I am dreading it. Use conventional paper!!!! I don’t care much about the ruling, but it should be white, or very nearly. Yellow legal pad paper is pushing it. Engineering paper is fine.

 - And on that note, please write in a conventional color. Black, blue, gray, or very near those colors. It should be dark. It should be readable. It should definitely not be red. I personally don’t grade in red, but a lot of people do, and regardless of that, it is hard to read large chunks of red text.

 - I know I said this already, but: rewrite your homework. Seriously. If it is anything but straightforward computations, it is going to get messy, and fast. Do your scratch work on a separate sheet of paper, and then write up a final copy with everything you want me to see, and nothing you don’t.
   –> If you can, type it! Here is a post by @munirastudies to get you started with LaTeX, which is very useful for typesetting technical and symbol-heavy text. The benefit to typing your homework is that it’s easy to go back and edit!


That’s all I have for now! Please feel free to message me with any questions or suggestions you have! I hope this is helpful to someone :)

edit: here are suggestions other people added! [x]

tips all students need

1. learning is better than knowing. you don’t need to be a genius to do well in school, only dedicated enough to actively pursue your education. 

2. straight A’s =/= intelligence. don’t let your grades define you; test grades can’t capture the passion in your eyes and the resilience in your bones.

3.  friendships change, but sometimes that's a good thing. some relationships are bested by time, and people grow apart. in the absence of others, you may find that you’ve been missing out on what’s been right in front of you the entire time. 

4. rest is important. your health is always more important than school. while stress is inevitable, never be afraid to take a day off, or talk to a trusted adult. Mental health is just as valid as physical health.

5. your life is just beginning. i know that failing test grade or the fact that your crush rejected you seems like the end of the world, but i promise you that it’s not the end. life is literally the longest thing any of us will experience, so fall in love with living. think of every opportunity as just another beginning. 

How To Take Notes

Note Taking Methods

How To Make Notes Look Pretty

How To Make Notes Using One Note

Note Taking Printables

Things I learned during my first weekend at college
  • Your parents will hover like crazy and try to help you unpack when you move in. They mean well, but if you’re overwhelmed don’t be afraid to kick them out for a bit. 
  • Don’t ask your RA what bars to hit up in town (like one girl from my floor actually did)
  • Check your e-mail five times a day, your professors might be sending out syllabi or other helpful/important stuff ahead of time. 
  • You will cry at least once while buying textbooks from the campus bookstore that you couldn’t find used on Chegg (sidenote: use Chegg) 
  • Your dining hall probably has pizza available for every meal. Don’t eat pizza for every meal. 
  • Even if you hated salads your entire life, you will learn to love them so that, you know, you don’t eat pizza for every meal. 
  • Check your dining hall hours online. Some of them close between meals. 
  • Leave your door open or do random Internet browsing in the floor lounge if you want to meet more people. 
  • At least one of your posters will constantly fall down no matter how many 3M command strips you use.
  • A lot of campus events are lame. A lot of them are not. Go to as many of them as you can anyways to meet more people.
  • If you need time to yourself, take it. You’ll make friends eventually without having to hang out with them constantly. 
  • Don’t expect to become BFFs with everyone you meet, and don’t expect to become best friends over your first weekend. 
  • If you’re standing if a long period of time, bend/relax your knees every so often. If you keep them locked, you might trigger a nerve in your body that causes you to pass out (this may or may not have happened to me on my second day, oops) 
  • Drink water.
  • Carry an umbrella if there is the slightest chance of rain. Carry one even if there isn’t, just in case. 
  • Carry a sweater or hoodie always. 
  • Pokemon Go is lit on college campuses; every single building is a gym or pokestop and there are lures everywhere. Plus, your eggs hatch in no time because you’re walking everywhere. 
  • It’s okay to eat alone in a dining hall; either no one will care or someone will sit at your table and strike up a conversation.
  • If you really, really don’t want to eat alone, literally just knock on someone’s door in your hall. If they don’t want to go with you, try someone else. Chances are, someone else might be hungry, too or at least willing to walk over with you. 
  • Come up with a roommate agreement. Decide when you’re cleaning, sharing policy, guest policy, light and noise preferences, etc. 
  • If there is a massive involvement fair on campus, research some clubs online so you know what to look for. Otherwise you’ll be overwhelmed in two seconds. 
  • Join a group chat with people on your floor or in the same area of study as you, it’s super helpful for general information.
  • Ask everyone you talk to to add you on Snapchat. 
  • Simple things like taking out the trash or doing laundry will suddenly feel very overwhelming. 
  • You learn a lot of stuff from being in college for only three days and not even taking any classes. 
15 Questions to Know for COLLEGE INTERVIEWS

Hey! You there! Are you going for a college interview? Yes? Have you prepared? If not, here are some basic questions you should anticipate from your interviewer:

1. Why do you want to attend our school?

2. What can you bring to our campus?

3. Describe yourself in three adjectives.

4. If you could take a gap year, what would you do?

 5. How do you define success?

 6. What are your strengths/weaknesses?

 7. If you could change your school, how would you do it?

 8. What do you think about [latest news issue]?

9. Who is your hero? Why?

10. What do you do outside the classroom? 

11. What is your favorite book?

12. Does your high school transcript accurately reflect your abilities?

13. What do you want to major in/ Why do you want in to major in [desired major]?

14. If you could change anything about your high school career, what would it be?

15. Why do you want to go to college?

 —


 These are questions I’ve heard before multiple times, but they’re not always the same at every interview. And remember:

 Sleep well 

Eat breakfast

 Arrive on time 

 And be natural! Getting nervous won’t really help you! Do your best!

1 Get your textbooks and actually start reading them from day one. If you’re anything like me textbook reading can be a bit tedious and when classes are starting its the last thing you want to be doing. But it’s better to start early (or right in line with class) than trying to cram the day before an exam. 

2 Start planning early. Its never too early to start putting exam dates or assignments in you planner or calendar. There is a reason a lot of professors give you the class schedule ahead of them and don’t just tell you you have an exam 3 days out. That information is there to help you so make note of it; the sooner you put everything in the less likely you are to forget. 

3 GO TO CLASS. I know that sounds obvious but you would be surprised how early that bug sets in. Even if you feel like you don’t need to go to class and your textbook reading will get you decent grades, class time is important. Professor may use some class time to talk about extra information, review for exams, change dates, etc. You never know what kind of important information you may be missing. Besides, textbook reading alone may get you decent grades but why not strive for excellent grades!! 

4 Don’t wait until the day before an exam to ask for help. If you are lost day 2 in your class, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Confusion doesn’t follow a schedule, if you’re confused ask your professor/teacher or go to a study group. 

5 Breathe…You’re going to do great! Don’t worry this semester (and many more) are going to go wonderfully for you. Remember to drink plenty of water, hang out with friends, and take time for yourself. You’re effort and hard work will pay off, I promise!

College Advice

With one semester under my belt and a so far unblemished GPA, here’s a list of everything I wish I had known before I started college (plus some stuff I figured out along the way):

1. Read the syllabus for your class and then go one step further: pick assignments that you can do ahead of time, like readings, and then actually do them. At least at my university you hit a point about a month or so into school where all of the sudden you have no free time. Earlier on you’re going to have some slow weekends. I’m not saying do it all at once, but if you take away some easy but time consuming assignments earlier the whole semester will feel a little smoother. Important though: You still have to review your notes/work when relevant or you’ll be screwed later on.


2. The first like two weeks of school as a freshman you are shuttled through dozens of social events, infofairs, and mixers. You may find that you make a lot of friends at first, but then once that one month marker passes you look up from your textbooks and realize you haven’t spoken to another human outside of classes in days. Try to have at least one recurring social thing going on, whether that’s meeting friends for dinner once a week, going to a club meeting or a study group.


3. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Like seriously, if something is just not making sense, you need to get another person involved. Sometimes studying alone and Google only go so far! Office hours are good and so is tutoring. Ask classmates too if you can. I really hated my chem lab, and there was one lab where the data we got basically defied the laws of physics. I ran into someone from my lab section on the street and vented about it- turns out she had the same problem, but more importantly, she knew what caused it! My lab report was still pretty bad due to the nonsensical data, but I had a coherent answer when it came time to explain error.


4. Go to class, participate, and be nice to your professors. If they host optional reviews, definitely go to them. Depending on the prof’s style, you may be able to just sit and listen or they may expect you to bring questions. Have at least one just in case. The reason why this matters (besides networking and engaging in active learning) is that a lot of professors make a component of your grade “participation”. I had a course where I was borderline between an A minus and and A, which could have dinged my GPA. My grade basically was going to come down to a rewrite of a paper. I went to a not very well attended test review and got extra hints about what was going to be on the test and what the professor was looking for, which boosted my final test grade, and though I can’t prove it I strongly suspect my professor used my participation grade to nudge me over the edge to an A.


5. This wasn’t one I learned, but one I realized other people didn’t know: your school very likely pays a crap ton of money to give you access to academic research databases through the library. Use them, oh my god, please use them. For one thing, I’ve found it’s just plain easier than attempting to do regular research- you get lots of good, relevant, generally sound information; you can sort in cool ways (like if you don’t want outdated research you can set parameters for the time of publication); and most have pre-made citations! It’s cool! Even if you don’t have a research project/paper just go on once and dick around a bit, it’s pretty fun. That being said, if you are assigned a project requiring research and citations, don’t do what you did in high school and cite a bunch of news articles about scientific advancements or the results of studies. Go find original sources. You need to learn how to read published research in any case. (I’m speaking from a STEM major perspective but these databases have tons of cool stuff for arts and humanities students too- entire books, anthologies of art, images for use, music files, recordings of plays and performances, etc). But the reason I bring this up- in a group project in a communications course a well-intentioned teammate brought us a random person’s blog post about conflict in the workplace to cite in our speech. She had no idea she had access to like thousands of psychological and sociological research papers, books, etc. on the subject. Another student in that class orally cited a buzzfeed article about procrastination- unless you have a really good reason (like maybe you’re a communications student analyzing listicle style writing or the influence of social media on journalism) please don’t cite buzzfeed.


6. People talk a lot about networking, so I’ll just mention one specific and easy way to do it even if you’re not super outgoing: join a club or organization related to your major/career field. You will meet people who have experiences you can learn from, even if you may compete with them for some things (maybe they tip you off to an internship they had last summer or to a professor’s favorite snack/hobby). You will also potentially meet some staff members from your department who can give you info about research/internships and possibly write you rec letters. This worked for me- I joined an org for students pursuing teaching, I’m one of a few freshman (maybe the only one actually) who attends regularly, and I ended up getting to know the director of the supply room who does the hiring for student interns. Now I have a job as a workroom intern to make some extra money during school. More importantly, it basically lets me meet and work with the whole department who can potentially open up opportunities for me. (Plus according to one intern sometimes you get invited to the staff Christmas party and all the professors get sloshed).


7. Wait to buy your textbooks, but not too long. If it’s a niche book (i.e. your school uses something written by your professor that no one else sells or cares about) there will come a point where they are out of copies and you will have to ask to photocopy someone’s lab notebook every week. Basically, wait until the first day of class, determine what you really need, ask someone who’s taken it before (or ask on your University’s subreddit) whether the book is essential, then make your purchases. Also! If you have to purchase an online access code for homework stuff, check if an online textbook is included. Don’t buy a hard copy in addition to it. It’s not worth it and you may even be able to check a textbook out from the library for that one time you’ll actually read the textbook. (When I say that, I mean you can read it for a few hours in the library- they won’t let you leave with it).


8. Don’t go into any class believing you are “bad” at a subject. I used to say all the time that I hated math and I was bad at it. I really lucked out, because I ended up enjoying Diff Calc this past semester. Because I liked it, I was willing to practice more and I found that I got less frustrated when things were hard. I realized that “being bad at math” was a lie I had told myself, basically, and it wasn’t helpful. Learn to treat your brain as a tool or a muscle. You can learn to do basically anything with enough time and effort, and struggling with something doesn’t mean you’re “bad” at it. It just means you’re working out your brain. I know that sounds corny as hell but it’s true. Having the idea that your intelligence is fixed and limited stunts learning and just makes you feel like crap. Realizing that your intelligence is fluid helps you be kinder to yourself, ask for help when you need it, and lets you focus on accomplishments over failures.


My askbox is always open if people have questions about the transition to college!


If you’re someone who takes the most pride in their academic achievements, getting good grades is one of the most important things in your life (Note: Having achievements outside of the academic realm is still incredibly admirable, and I encourage all people to excel in at least one aspect of their life that is non-academic). Especially if you intend to pursue higher levels of educations (i.e. graduate school, medical school), it might even be pertinent that you get high marks all throughout your college life. This can prove to be a daunting task, especially if you’re not fully comfortable with your major or program from the get go. Here are my top 5 tips for getting good grades your freshman year of college…

1. Start reading up on your course subjects before the term starts. AKA hit the ground running. I can’t even put into words how important this is. Whether you’re in General Chemistry, Intro to Psych, or Film Production, getting a head start on your readings the week before classes begin will boost your ability to recall introductory information during the first few weeks, setting you up for success as long as you stay ahead of the curve the whole time.

2. Go to office hours. You might be in a massive first-year lecture hall with two hundred other students. If you don’t sit in the very front of the class during lecture, you might not make it to your professor before the herd of other eager students to ask them for clarification on a topic covered during class. If this is the case, the only way that you’re going to get personalized help is to attend office hours. Yes, it may be somewhat inconvenient (especially if you have other commitments during those times), but it the long-run it can really help to boost your grade if you’re able to get your specific questions answered. Not only will it probably boost your grade, but you’re more likely to establish a meaningful relationship with your professor, and that can really help you when you’re applying for scholarships or internships later on.

3. Study. Study. Study. Yeah, duh. I mean to make studying fun. Don’t make it out to be this insufferable chore, because (while it very well may be), having that mindset makes it even more challenging to get through those long sleepless nights. Do whatever you have to do to make studying bearable. Some people use pomodoro, some people use pizza. Some people buy pretty stationery that motivates them to study (me, me, me). Some people blast tunes at 2am (which might irritate your flatmate). Essentially what I’m trying to say is, find a study system that works for you and make sure you do it frequently enough to be successful in your classes.

4. Make sure other aspects of your life are in order. One of the most common explanations that students have for not being able to get high marks are personal troubles. Whether they be financial, or familial, or friend-related, your situation outside the classroom plays a very big role in your overall success. Most college campuses have a counseling or psychological services office that helps students get through loss, stress, depression, and a myriad of other troubles that may hinder personal and academic success. If you’re not keen on talking to fully grown adults about your issues, trying turning to friends or peer counselors. Although they may not be professionally trained to deal with the kind of issues that you might face, they are potential support systems nonetheless, and having that support system firmly established can mean the difference between success and failure. Note: Your mental and physical health are much more important than grades on a transcript. If you find yourself dissociating, losing motivation, or have just not been feeling happy at all for longer than a couple of weeks, I would consider confiding in a mental health professional on campus.

5. Do not, under any circumstances except emergencies and special events, procrastinate. This kind of ties back to #1 on the list, and it’s simply the most important piece of advice that I could give you. Procrastination is a student’s kryptonite, and it’s so easy to do with all of the distractions that exist today. At some point or another in your academic life, you’ve probably procrastinated. Most of my friends from high school procrastinated. And while I may be generally better about holding off on doing assignments, I still find myself occasionally procrastinating unintentionally. Procrastination inhibits your ability to encode information because you aren’t able to space out our encoding over a longer period of time, and are instead forced to cram as much information as your brain will allow in your head the night before you’re supposed to recall it on a big test.

I’m probably going to do a Part II on this particular topic because I have a ton more tips to share on how you can improve your chances of getting good grades. If you don’t want to miss a single notification, follow my blog here! Have a wonderfully studious day!

tips for science majors (and all college students)

hey everyone! i decided to compile a list of tips for college students, specifically science majors because a lot of people are starting college soon. a lot of these could apply to any majors in general, but i’m simply speaking from my own experience.

  • handwrite your notes! I know it can be tempting to type them on your laptop because so many science classes are so heavy with information and lectures move so fast, but handwriting notes is super helpful and a lot of times an easier option, especially when drawing diagrams and writing reactions 
  • make at least 2 friends in every class to study and share notes with. chances are you won’t understand everything perfectly and getting a different perspective might make things clearer. also helpful if you miss a lecture!
  • practice questions are your best friend! this is true for most classes, but they’re absolutely necessary when it comes to classes like organic chemistry. look up practice questions and tests online and use them.
  • if you don’t already know any statistics, learn the basics. stats is ESSENTIAL and has come in handy for almost every science class i’ve taken. knowing what a t-test is, p value, alpha value, etc. beforehand is super helpful for labs and reading papers.
  • practice reading scientific journal articles as much as you can. this is a skill that i’ve yet to master and can be really frustrating but knowing how to process and understand those dense articles is really important no matter what you want to do in your life. most school libraries have subscriptions to most major databases like pubmed and journals like nature and science, so dedicate some time once or twice a month to read an article that’s interesting to you. focus on trying to interpret the figures and summarizing the data.
  • youtube is great for explaining scientific concepts you don’t understand. because certain processes and molecules etc. are so complex and may be hard to understand from a textbook with words and 2-D pictures, videos on youtube might explain and help visualize things better. there are some good ones out there but googling the topic you’re looking for usually brings up some helpful material!
  • get involved in research as early as possible. even if you don’t think you’ll like it, getting involved in research is a great experience for anyone. research professors and their work and email as many as you can before the semester starts to see if you can work in their labs. not only does it look great on your resume but you’ll also learn so much about the scientific process.
  • get a chalkboard/whiteboard for your room. it’s a great study tool to practice drawing mechanisms, reactions, processes, figures, etc. it literally saved my butt in organic chem last year.
  • don’t get stressed if you don’t know what you want to do with your major. try different things. do research in different labs on varying topics, talk to your professors and advisors, do some shadowing, talk to people in different industries.  
  • rewrite your notes and redraw diagrams. rewriting notes is a good tip for anyone, but redrawing diagrams in a different way than they’re presented in your textbook or lecture in a way that you understand better is super helpful.
  • don’t put lab reports off until the last minute. lab reports are the bane of my existence, but there’s nothing more stressful than doing one at the last minute before it’s due and realizing your results made NO sense. start them as soon as you finish the lab and don’t be afraid to ask for help from your lab instructor or other students.

those are all the ones i could think of at the moment! hopefully some of these are helpful for some of you :-) 

University Survival Tips
  • Instant rice is your friend
  • Srs tho it will save you so much time
  • Actually go to your contact hours
  • Keep a stockpile of tinned pulses in your cupboard
  • They’re a v inexpensive source of protein
  • Plus you can make them into a meal in about 10 minutes
  • Always have a ‘crisis meal’ prepared
  • Like a frozen pizza or a can of soup or something
  • Something really quick and easy for evenings when it’s all going tits up
  • Keep hydrated
  • Cliche yeah but seriously it will make you 100x more productive
  • Try to stay like semi organised and on top of things
  • Will save you so much stress
  • Sometimes you’re going to have to stay up until 1am working
  • That’s okay and normal
  • But do try to keep some kind of sleep cycle going
  • Pick 2 or 3 things to do outside your degree
  • Like join some societies or do something with your uni’s student council or just anything that isn’t directly to do with academics
  • Balance is important
  • Sometimes it will all get a bit much and you’ll have a good cry
  • That is very okay
  • Uni is hard and adapting to uni is hard and I promise we’ve all been there
  • You wouldn’t have gotten in if you weren’t academically capable
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback
  • If your lecturer puts the slidesets up somewhere in advance and you make written notes please please please print them off ffs
  • Much easier to annotate a handout than try to scribble down what’s on the slides
  • And that way you will actually hear what the lecturer is saying
  • Don’t be afraid to talk to your tutor
  • They’re there to help and I guarantee you will not be the first or last student to come to them with whatever issue you’re having
  • Take care of yourself
  • You will be fine
  • You got this

things i learned my freshman year of college

1. don’t worry so much about what other people are spending their time doing.

2. social media is a lie. it’s all fake. it might seem like your friends at other schools are having the time of their lives, but it’s so easy to pretend to be happy online when in reality you are downright miserable. so just because someone’s instagram is prettier than yours, doesn’t mean their life is any happier or better.

3. it’s absolutely okay to sit by yourself at the dining hall and have a meal alone. no one will judge you for it. no one will point at you and whisper, “there’s the girl that eats alone all the time.” i promise you that no one is looking that closely at you. the only reason they would notice is if you make it seem like you’re miserable. so go ahead, order a hamburger and a huge plate of fries, pick up a good book, and eat by yourself. i promise that no one will give a fuck.

4. if you want to sit at home and watch netflix while eating chicken tenders in bed on a friday night, then do it. don’t feel obligated to go out and have a great time if you know that you would be happier just sitting at home. for a long time, i used to think that if i wasn’t going out with friends or studying, i was wasting my time. but that is so not true. you need your alone time, especially when you’re in college, so don’t be afraid to do the things that really make you happy – not just the things that you think will make you happy.

5. grades are important, so don’t slack off. it might seem like you’re doing more work than everyone else, but if other people are getting good grades, i promise that they’re doing just as much work as you are (no matter how many times they say “i only studied for like an hour the night before the test and i got an A!”). you’re not paying a fortune just to party and hang out with friends, so make sure you’re learning and keeping up with your schoolwork.

6. by the end of the year, you will have completely lost touch with many of your high school friends who you promised you would never stop talking to. and that’s okay.

7. make use of the library. it’s there for a reason. find a good study spot where no one can bother you, and whenever you get there, put your phone away and actually get shit done. leave the procrastinating for your dorm room.

8. frat parties are overrated. clubbing is overrated. if you go, make sure you’re with someone you trust. but if you know that you’ll have a better time just hanging out with one or two close friends or curling up in your room with a good book, then do that instead. no matter what the tv shows tell you, you won’t miss out on finding your soulmate just because you don’t go to one party.

9. no one will hold your hand in college. no one is going to tell you “take this, this, and this class” or “study one chapter a night and you’ll be good for the test.” you have to figure that shit out for yourself. in high school, you might have gotten away with studying for a test the night before, but if you do that in college, you will most likely not get the grade you were hoping for. unless you’re a genius, it’s just impossible. so make sure you start studying way before you think you need to.

10. do your laundry. take out your trash. make your room look nice. yes, even during finals week. it’ll make you feel like more of a human being.

11. go to your professors’ office hours. i’ve found that most of the time, the professors are sitting in their office, just waiting for students to come see them during office hours. so if you’re struggling, go talk to them. and don’t wait around until the week before the final. the professor will be much more willing to help you out if you go see them near the beginning of the semester. never, ever, ever be ashamed to ask for help. each time i’ve asked a professor “how can i do better in your class?” they’ve been delighted to talk to me and figure out a plan to help me improve. also, you will most likely need a letter of recommendation from one of your professors at some point in your college career, and you don’t want to have to be that person sending an email to that professor you had three years ago that starts with “i’m sure you don’t remember me, but…” – how do you make a professor remember you? go to office hours!

12. sure, drinking might be fun and it might make you seem cool. it might make it easier for you to be in social situations. but when you are entirely incapable of having fun while sober, that’s when you know you have a problem. that whole “you’re not an alcoholic until after college” saying is bullshit. it’s fine to have drinking be a part of your social life. just make sure it doesn’t become your ENTIRE social life. also, if a party gets too loud and rowdy, do yourself a favor and get out of there before campus police shows up. it’s not worth the stress to have that be on your record.

13. the great thing about college is that you can pick your friends (unlike in high school when you kind of were forced to be friends with the people in your classes), so please choose wisely. be friends with people who do cool things and support you while you do cool things. if someone makes you feel shitty, don’t hang out with them. just straight up tell them that you don’t want to spend time with them anymore, too. life is too short to be friends with people you hate.

14. take lots of pictures – but not just for social media. for yourself, too. so that you can look back on these moments ten or twenty years from now and see how much you’ve learned, grown, and changed.

15. there were douchey people in high school and, unfortunately, there will be douchey people in college, too. but anyone who still tries to be “popular” in college is just setting themselves up for disappointment and embarrassment. so just ignore them. eventually, they will grow up and realize the error of their ways. but until then, stay as far away from them as possible and just do your own thing. “leave lame people to keep doing the lame shit that they do.“

16. i know you’re busy, but don’t forget to call your mom, dad, brother, sister, grandma, grandpa – whatever. if there’s someone back home who cares about you, call them. and more often then you think you need to. because i can promise you that they’re probably worried sick about you.

17. be confident. if you’re not confident, then fake confidence until it becomes real. you are glorious. you are wonderful. once you’re no longer afraid to show your true self to others, you’ll give others the confidence to reveal their true selves, as well. so what if you’re a little chubby? so what if you still have acne? so what if you don’t have clothes that are as nice as everyone else? you’re still a force of nature, and people should be dying to want to hang out with someone as awesome as you.

18. get involved in things. new things. never danced before but always wanted to? try out for the dance team. always wanted to sing but never had the guts before? try out for an acapella group. nothing is holding you back.

19. the whole “no one knows me here, i can be whoever i want to be” is true, but only to a certain extent. you can change yourself in college, but you probably won’t be able to change who you are fundamentally. you are still the silly, goofy, crazy you that you were in high school. so even though you might tell yourself that you want to be friendlier, cooler, prettier, smarter – whatever – don’t lose sight of who you really are, because i can promise you that people will see past your facade. and the more honest you are to people, the more likely they will be to open up to you.

20. be a nice person. hold the door open for people. smile at everyone you make eye contact with. talk to the person you sit next to in class, even if it is a 100+ person lecture. college is hard, and it can be very easy to feel lonely and lost. so just be nice to people. you never know whose day you’ll make. plus, it has its perks.

5 Tips for College Freshmen: Midterm Season

I recognize at this point in time almost half of college students have already had their midterms, but I just wanted to put this out there for those who haven’t had theirs yet and for those who want to keep these tips in mind for finals:

1. Normalize your sleep schedule before exam season. While you may have survived your classes thus far with minimal sleep and crazy eyes, it’s not a habit that you can reasonably maintain without causing detriment to both your health and your grades. It’s very dangerous to go without substantial sleep the night before your midterm for a number of reasons that I won’t go into. Basically, go to sleep on time during exam season and make rest and your overall health your #1 priority at all times. 

2. Study for your midterms all semester/quarter/etc. While it might be a little late for some of you, it’s okay! Just start as soon as possible! Spacing out your learning and accumulating your knowledge instead of cramming it in your head will ultimately boost your content retention. tl;dr DO NOT CRAM FOR YOUR MIDTERMS!

3. Have someone test you or, alternatively, teach someone. I think that once you’re able to teach the material to a small child, you’re golden. Bonus points if the kid actually remembers what you’re teaching them for more than two seconds. If you live at home, you can ask your younger sibling to be your guinea pig. If you live on campus, ask your roommate or a friend who isn’t taking that class. On having someone test you, you should have someone who is in your class help you. Have them quiz your vocabulary retention with flashcards or ask you to explain basic concepts from the content you were assigned to study. Revise in whatever ways you know yield the best results.

4. Pack your bag the night before. Some people simply have papers due as their midterm, or a project of some sort. If that’s the case, make sure that the first thing you put in your bag the night before a midterm is that assignment. If you’re taking the more traditional pen-and-paper exam, make sure you have all of the materials you think you’ll need during the testing block in your backpack the night before, and double-check in the morning to make sure aliens haven’t confiscated them. Remember to bring water with you so that if you get dry mouth from nervousness, you won’t have to suffer through the discomfort of a parched tongue.

5. Inhale, exhale. There are two outcomes to every exam—you either pass or you fail. Don’t let your fear of the latter dictate how well or poorly you do on the test. If things end up going sour, remember of how hard you worked and hold on to that thought the whole way through. It’s perfectly reasonable to be upset about a bad grade, just as it is to rejoice over a good one. Take the time that you need to recuperate and get back on the saddle again.

Bonus: Remember to give yourself a reward after you come out of the testing hall. You’ve been working so hard all term and you deserve a little break. You could go out with your friends, curl up in a ball and watch your favorite TV show, or eat your favorite foods. Just do something that makes you happy, because you totally deserve it.

I hope midterms go well for you! If you have any questions, please send them to my ask box. Have a wonderfully studious day! :)

psa for college freshman

hey, whats up, hello! so you’re gonna be a freshman and you’re probably moving in real soon, and you might be excited but also nervous, not to worry i got you! here are some tips and tricks and general advice based on my own experience. 

okay so step by step:

MOVE IN

okay so this is easily the most stressful thing about the first week of school. you gotta get all of your stuff into a tiny dorm if it’s a big room i am literally so jealous my dorm was like a prison so don’t freak out, stay cool and pack efficiently!

  • try not to overpack, it’s really easy to believe you’ll need everything you’re bringing but trust me you won’t even look at half of it
    • a good tip for this is, if you don’t use it at home, don’t bring it to school! (plus it’s really easy to just buy stuff you need on amazon so don’t forget that that’s an option too)
  • if you’re going to a school that deals in snow, DON’T bring that stuff (jackets/hats/boots/etc) with you when you move in. if you know you’re going to go home for a weekend before the snow sets in, definitely leave it at home and bring it with you later!
  • let your parents/guardians/friends/family help you move in. it might not seem like a big deal, but letting them help you will make them feel better. and if you don’t like how they arrange things, let it be! you have all semester to rearrange and settle in, they only have this one day, so just let them have it! also don’t forget to thank them when they leave!

ROOMMATES

ah yes, the wonderful concepts of roommates. i was lucky my freshman year, but some people aren’t

  • try and connect with them via facebook/school emails/phone, settling things like are you gonna share a mini fridge, microwave, coffeemaker and how you’re gonna decorate (if you’re into that) will help when you finally settle into your room
  • definitely go over ground rules once you’re all unpacked and settled in. my dorm had us go over a list of questions, come to an agreement, and sign it in case there were any future conflicts. cover things like: 
    • is it okay to have my friends sit at your desk or on your bed when you aren’t there?
    • how should we handle overnight guests?
    • do you want me to give you a heads up if i have friends coming over?
    • 100% agree to give each other a heads up on parents coming to your room
    • sharing food?
    • cleaning responsibilities
    • definitely definitely give each other a copy of your class schedule, and if you have classes at the same time maybe you can agree to make sure you’re both awake at the right time!
  • you don’t have to be bff’s with your roommate, sometimes it turns out that way and sometimes it doesn’t. what you do need to be is open and honest with your roommate. your year will be miserable (especially if you can’t switch roommates) if you don’t communicate with each other. don’t be afraid to tell them if something is bothering you. if you’re to nervous to do that or don’t like confrontation, talk to your RA or RD

so now that we got all that out of the way, here are some general tips about social things:

  • that whole keep your door open and people will come talk to you think is a load of bs. me and my roommate did that for weeks and no one came in. everyone is just waiting for someone else to take that chance. so go into peoples rooms and ask them if they wanna grab lunch/dinner! walk around and poke your head in their room! it might be awkward as hell but at least you’re trying :)
  • go to all (or as many) dorm activities as you can! this allows you to meet more people too even if the event is really dumb, at least show up. you always have the option to leave!
  • go to club meetings! even if you aren’t sure you want to stay in the club. it’s much harder or maybe just more awkward to join when you’re an upperclassmen, so try and get those roots down as soon as you can
  • that being said, you can always leave a group without any hard feelings. people do it all the time, so don’t be scared that once you go to one meeting you’re stuck in the group forever
  • don’t let anyone tell you that as a freshman you can’t get involved. if you want to, you can. there is absolutely nothing stopping you. you might have to work a bit harder but i know you can do it!
  • sometimes freshman year can suck, or at least have it’s moments. don’t give up. everything gets infinitely better as time goes one, i promise. if you’re having a tough time or feel isolated or overwhelmed, reach out to someone, a parent, friends from home, an old teacher, anyone really! don’t give up, things might get tough, but you ARE strong and you WILL get through it

[you can check out the companion video here]

First and foremost, I manage the time I have available for my test. I look at the days I have ahead and try to understand what is the best time to study and how many hours I will have available during those days. Dividing my studying sessions throughout one or two weeks makes studying a much less stressful task and it also guarantees that I am able to cover all of the material during that time.

Afterwards I like to make a numbered list of all the topics, questions and sub questions I need to learn to be a hundred percent prepared for that test. This list is very useful so you can keep track of your studying rhythm. You can tell yourself you need to study, for example, from point 15 to point 30 in a certain day, while also making sure that you don’t leave any small details behind. I like to take my time while developing this list, as it will serve as an index or table of contents for my test as well as future exams.

After I evaluated my time and I made my list, I like to make a final calendar, dividing all of those topics I have just numbered for my remaining days. Try to be as mindful as possible of your availability - I always like to take into account weekends, holidays and days when I am just going to be plain busy, and when I know it will be impossible to study. This is important so you can manage your workload – sometimes you are going to study more in a certain day and in other days you may only have half to one hour of productive time. Have this in mind as you make your calendar.

After I have decided all of that, I just do my best to study - study as in reading and trying to memorize. I normally incorporate all of my textbook notes into my main binder and by this time of the semester I already have the most condensed version of my notes already filed and put together. This helps a lot during revision time because you can count on a batch of notes instead of carrying your textbooks around all the time. Generally, before I start complying with my calendar, I will first skim through all of my material to get a general idea of the main issues that the test will focus on and afterwards I will study the dedicated topics during each day. I like to read slowly and take any notes on the margins if I have the need to.

If I have the time, I also like to create study guides for individual topics or for the overall subject. Study guides are mainly developed topics in bullet form that comprehend all of the points you should cover in an answer. These are very useful so you can structure your answers in advance and take your time to understand how you should respond in your test, while also further reinforcing your knowledge on the subject and making you understand how ideas and concepts connect and work together. Of course that this mostly applies to essay-based questions instead of more direct or multiple choice questions; in that case, using flashcards is a more effective studying method because you are relying on definitions and concepts that you need to directly translate into your answers.

I do all of this while using the Pomodoro technique, this is, studying for twenty five minute blocks and making short breaks in between. You can use any timer for this as well as apps like the Pomodoro app or the Forest app, which makes the process a little bit more fun. 

Happy studying!

Mariana

{how I got a 5.0 this semester}

Hi everyone! Yes, I haven’t written a post in  f o r e v e r, but I figure now is a good time to update y’all on what’s going on in my life.

Last semester (aka Fall 2016), I took 6.034 Artificial Intelligence, 6.046 Design and Analysis of Algorithms, 21G.901 Korean I, and Conversations You Can’t Have on Campus (a seminar style class). I ended up getting 100% in 6.034 and scraped by with an A- in 6.046, so overall I am pretty satisfied with my grades :)

I want to use this post to reflect on what I did last semester to do well in my classes, and hopefully give you a few tips on how to get the most out of your classes as well!

The theme in all these tips is simple: don’t just study harder, study smarter.

  1. Make a schedule and stick to it. I use the Calendar app on my Macbook to schedule in all my classes, office hours, study time, and even breaks. I use different colors to denote different classes, and I use one color for scheduling break time. That way, I can hold myself accountable for using all the time I scheduled to study for an exam and also motivate myself until the next break. It’s also easier to change around my schedule, and I never forget events.
  2. Know the syllabus. If homework is only worth 5% of your grade in Class 1 and it’s worth 40% in Class B, but you only have time/energy to complete one of the assignments, then it’s a no brainer which one you should do.
  3. Know the teacher. After the first quiz or exam, you should learn how the teacher writes exams. Then, for the next quiz, you can try to predict what kind of questions will be on it and study for that material. This is especially useful for multiple choice questions.
  4. Know yourself. If your first exam grade is lower than what you want, don’t just study for longer – learn from your mistakes. Why weren’t you able to come up with the right answer? What was your thought process and how did it differ from the answer key? If you ran out of time, what did you spend your time on during the exam and how can you cut down on it? On the flip side, if you are satisfied with your grade, learn from your success. How did you study for this exam and what helped the most? What was your thought process during the exam and how can you replicate it for the next one?
  5. Go to office hours!!! I’m pretty sure teachers are required to make themselves available to answer students’ questions outside of class. If you can’t go to the teacher’s office hours, then ask if you can come in during lunch or before or after school. If that doesn’t work, write them emails with questions that you have. Teachers love to see that you’re putting in effort to do well in their class, and going to office hours is the best way to show it.
  6. Ask questions. If you don’t completely understand a concept, the first thing to do is try to find an answer for yourself. The second step is to ask your teacher if your understanding is correct. The algorithms class I took is notoriously difficult, and one thing that really helped me was asking questions and then trying to put the explanation in my own words. That helped me get a better understanding of the answer and if I didn’t quite get it right, the teacher can explain further.
  7. Find your motivation. Try to motivate yourself beyond just “I want a perfect GPA.” For me, I wanted to a TA or grader next semester, and I knew that I needed to get A’s to qualify, so I used that to motivate me to learn the material to the best of my ability. For quizzes or exams, I would treat myself to a nice meal, a gadget I want, or half a day of shopping when I get a good result. Positive reinforcement works!
  8. Study and do homework independently. I know a lot of people will encourage you to form study groups, but all the exams are completed on your own. When you do homework in a group, if someone else figures out the solution, you can convince yourself that you would also have gotten it on your own, which isn’t always the case. What I found most helpful was attempting all the problems on my own, writing down questions I have, go to office hours and work on it with a TA, and then confirm my solutions with my friends.
  9. Get 7+ hours of sleep. This is actually probably the most important point. On average last semester I would say I got around 7 hours of sleep every single night. When you sleep, your brain solidifies everything you learned that day. For classes that require memorization, read through your notes before you go to bed, and flip through them again in the morning. But if you’re only getting 4-5 hours per night, your performance goes down drastically.
  10. Go on studyblr. Honestly the studyblr community on tumblr is so pure and filled with people who love to study and do well. Surround yourself with this positivity. When you’re around people who love learning and doing their best, it pushes you to do the same.


So yeah that’s it! I hope these tips help you this next semester as school starts up again. As always, if you have questions or just want to talk, please send me an ask or a message!!

If you still can’t find something feel free to ask! Also be sure to check out my study tips!

Study Strategies

“How should I study for…?”

School Supplies

General College

College Majors and Pre-Career

GPAs and Grades

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