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College Survival Tips


More often than not, students are surprised by the challenges they face in the first year of college. Students who excel in high school expect to find the same level of difficulty when it comes to studies, despite the advice they receive from counselors. What many students don't realize is that many things change in addition to the subject difficulty level.

The expectations and responsibilities increase at the same time that students find themselves living independently -- and the teaching styles change pretty drastically, too. The challenges students face are complex and often overwhelming.

Don't make the most common mistakes! Be truly prepared for your college experience.

1. Learn to Read Difficult Content

There will be a big difference in the materials you read when transitioning from high school to college. The texts you read when attending high school and preparing for college will be written by textbook writers - people who are good at making information accessible and clear for students.

Many of the books you read in college will be written by professors and other experts. They write for other experts who are used to complex theories and advanced vocabulary. Your college reading list will also include scholarly articles that are written for scholarly journals at a very advanced reading level. Don't be surprised if you have to read passages three or four times to understand them!

In fact, you must read every piece of college material three times to be successful. The first time through you need to read to get acquainted with the message. The second time through you must look for any words you don't know and look them up. (Yes, each one!) The third time you read for review - and when you do this you should make notes.

Also know that you will read more books. Lots more. You should also get used to reading four to ten books for one semester-long course!

2. Understand the Difference between Teachers and Professors

The college classroom experience can be very different from any experience a student has faced in high school. Depending on the type of college you attend, your professor could be very different from a teacher. In fact, most college professors attend college for eight years or so to earn a Ph.D. in a subject like engineering or history - not in teaching itself.

To clarify, you take history from a history teacher in high school. In college, you take history from a historian.

Most college professors don't have an actual teaching degree, and some never take a single course in teaching. They are professionals in a given area, and their job is to share their knowledge. They may or may not be good at lecturing or testing!

College professors can have lots of jobs outside of teaching, too--like doing their own research and publishing articles and books. That's pretty normal in large universities.

The big point here is that students must understand that the responsibility switches in college: the student is responsible for learning, whether the professor is a great teacher or not!

This is a major challenge for students who have attended a high school with teachers who go the extra mile. It can be a real shock.

3. Don't Let Confidence Breed Laziness

Not to be harsh, but college professionals are used to seeing a few good students fail in the first year because they are overconfident to the point of being cocky. It's a mistake that is heartbreaking for administrators who work with freshmen, because it affects the students with the most potential.

These are students who breezed through high school without putting out too much effort. These students have developed poor study habits, like waiting until the last minute to write a paper, or failing to study for a midterm or final, because they got away with these bad habits it in the past.

Here's how the cocky-confident attitude hurts smart students. High achieving students hear that college is harder, but they don't take that warning to heart because they can handle harder. The problem is that it's not just a matter of harder material! It's more a matter of more subject matter to study.

Please believe your college advisor who tells you that college work requires more time. You just can't procrastinate like you did in high school.

4. Take Charge of Everything!

The single most difficult challenge for many college students is getting used to flying without a safety net. Many parents don't realize that by helping their kids to stay organized and helping them meet deadlines with constant attention and reminders during high school, they really set students up for failure in college.

Students who enter college without a sense of urgency, without the experience of meeting deadlines without reminders from Mom, without the experience of failing because they slacked off -- those students enter college at a real serious disadvantage.

Mom won't be there to pester you into starting your research as early as you should, and she won't be there to run to the store to buy supplies the night before a project is due.

If you don't take charge, you can become a college dropout before you know it! There are so many ways to get off track.

5. Focus on Math!

Math is a discipline that requires "building block" skills. You must have a solid foundation in math skills from your high school experience to excel in college freshman-level math. And if you plan to major in any field that requires advanced math skills, you must focus on math in your first semester of college. What students don't understand is that many majors will require advanced math--and if you fail to perform well in your very first semester, you might not be accepted into your major of choice. You can't afford to fall behind in your first semester, because it could change your entire future!

If you plan to work in the health professions, business, engineering, biology, chemistry, or any field that requires research, you should focus early and focus hard on math.

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