6 Study Tips for College Freshmen
Learn how to study more effectively during your freshman year.
It's no secret that college life is a huge departure from high school, and adapting to it can be difficult. You're away from home for the first time, you're most likely living with a roommate, and you probably don't know anyone aside from the handful of kids you met at orientation. Plus, you'll have to alter your study habits, because your university's approach to learning will be much different than your high school's. While there are a few major differences between high school and college academics, the important thing is to learn how to study smart.
"In high school, you have seven periods of class time during the day, and then you go home and have three hours of homework. It's reversed in college," says Beth Harrison, PhD, adjunct pre-professional advisor at Stanford University and founding director of Peninsula College Advising. "For every hour you spend in class, you're spending three hours preparing for class, whether that means reading or problem sets or whatever it is." That requires students to change their mindsets. Some class grades will only be based on homework, and not class participation, while others will weigh heavily on testing and iClicker quizzes in class. Because most of your work will be self-directed, it's crucial to figure out which study system works best early on. That's when you really start learning.
"They often say first graders learn to read, but by the time you're in third grade, you're reading to learn," Harrison explains. "When you get into college the first year, you're learning to read again, because you're learning how you have to skim material, you have to triage, because sometimes you can't finish all the reading assignments. That's true whether you're doing hard sciences, social sciences, or humanities." Instead of trying to read everything, learn how to prioritize — what's going to pay off more: writing the graded response paper for bioethics, or reading those 100 pages your professor might not even discuss in class? Especially with reading, it's nearly impossible to get everything done, so it makes sense to develop skimming, speed-reading, and note-taking techniques so you can figure out which passages to focus on. Read closely the sections you think will be discussed in class, and skim the rest.
"Initially you feel guilty about that and think 'I didn't read what I'm supposed to read,'" Harrison says. "But you're not trying to cover everything. You're trying to delve deeper and and make connections." When you're in high school, and you're taking AP classes, you learn a little bit about a lot of topics. In college, it's the other way around; you're learning A LOT about fewer topics, so you're walking away with more a more specialized knowledge base as opposed to a generalist perspective. Switching from generalist to specialist might seem daunting, but consider Harrison's top 6 tips during your first week of freshman year, and the transition is sure to be easier:
- "Don't panic."
- "Look at the syllabus." Often, professors will break down the components of your grade by percentage, so you'll know right away which types of assignments to emphasize.
- "Map out a semester-long calendar." Once you've received all your syllabi, write down every single assignment deadline and test date, either in a planner or on an app like iCal or Google Calendar. That way, you'll be able to anticipate busy weeks and prepare accordingly.
- "Don't overdo it." Avoid overwhelming yourself with too many classes and extracurriculars that first semester. It's an adjustment period, so you might want to consider taking fewer credits to give yourself some leeway. It's also not a big deal if you have to drop a class mid-semester, especially if that means getting better grades overall.
- "Try out different study places to see where you can be most effective." Location is so important when you're studying. A lot of incoming freshmen think they'll be studying in their dorms, but that's not always the case. It can be tough to study in your dorm because of noisy roommates. Ask upperclassmen about the best study spots on campus, check out local cafés, and explore all the libraries, academic buildings, and outdoor patios. You might find a hidden gem!
- "Think about essays ahead of time." As soon as you get your syllabus, start to keep tabs on term paper topics, so you can accumulate research over the semester. Flag a page in your notebook for "essay notes," so you have one place to jot down anything relevant your professor says in class.
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