There are countless reasons why many college students burn out every semester and every year. Whether it’s from an overload of classes, poor time management, poor study habits, or from inexperience when it comes to pairing easy and difficult classes together, students are bound to run into these issues sooner or later. It takes a lot of trial and error and experience that inevitably saves us from flunking a course or choosing a bad professor. I hope this article helps prospective and current college students to drop their bad habits and get on track to becoming a motivated and successful college student.
1. Read your syllabus for each class.
One huge mistake a student makes is when they don’t read the syllabus or even worse, when they toss it away. Each professor’s syllabus will differ from another’s. You may receive a syllabus that details and lists every single quiz, exam, and all assignments due for the course and you might have another syllabus that simply has the title and description of the course and nothing else. If you choose your professor well (which we will get into later), you’ll probably end up with the better syllabus of the two. A syllabus gives you an idea of what is expected within a certain time frame so you can work ahead and manage your time well. You don’t want to be the lost student of the class who has to constantly be reminded of what and when something is due. Staying ahead and staying prepared is crucial to being successful in college.
Here is an example of two very different syllabi (or syllabuses) from two very different professors of mine:
As you can see, each professor works differently and what information you will get will ultimately be in the hands of the instructor you personally choose.
2. Research your professors.
Unless you have relatives or older friends who have been to college, you are probably not going to figure out how important it is to pick the right professor. Everyone will have to take English 101, but an understanding and helpful professor can make your time worthwhile. If you choose a professor who takes a week to email you back, quizzes you on topics irrelevant to the course and frequently changes their deadlines without telling you, you cannot blame the professor or the school … but you can blame yourself for not researching your professor. There are countless websites where students can rate their professors based on their experience with that professor. Reading up on your potential professors can increase the possibility of you getting a better grade for the class and you’ll enjoy school more if you’re actually having fun while learning.
3. Manage your time wisely.
Learning to manage your time well is a desperate skill everyone needs to hone and further develop. Not only do you need it for school, you’ll need it for running errands efficiently and when it comes to juggling your job/career with your family life and your social life. If you have a test on Friday and you’ve waited all week until midnight on Friday to “study”, you’re most likely going to cram, and not do as well as another student who has been reading through the material all week and spends their Friday evening reviewing (not learning) the material for the test. Time management is all about prioritizing and making the most of your time. You may have to give up some social events, especially if you are full-time student or if you’re taking more difficult courses, but you’ll probably do better in your class if you stay prepared and on top of your assignments.
A lot of people “multitask” and I used to do it as well. I would go into a study session thinking that I would read a chapter or two, and even though I tried to focus on my reading assignment, I would find myself peeking at the Facebook tab or wondering if I might study better if I turned on a movie and let it run in the background. Realistically, multitasking does nothing for the multitasker and I say this because when you multitask, you are dividing your attention back and forth between various tasks without processing that information. According to Dr. Wayne Weiten of the University of Nevada, “Research suggests that the human brain can effectively handle one attention-consuming task at a time. The cost of divided attention is the undermining of people’s performance” (226). I found that if I watched a movie and checked on my Facebook account while trying to read thirty pages from my psychology textbook, it could literally take hours if not all day for me to finish. When I remained purely focused on the reading material, I retained more information and I finished in an hour.
4. Learn to Schedule Your Classes Efficiently
The main problems when it comes to scheduling are when students either overload themselves on their course load or when they take too many hard classes. When it comes to registering for your classes, you can easily find yourself in a pickle if you decided to take five classes (let’s say 15 credit hours) while working a 30 hour work week. I’ve been there and it’s doable but either your health, your grades, or your work performance (or all three) will suffer so don’t think you’ll come out unscathed. Now the question of how many classes you should take is purely up to what your study habits are like and how disciplined you think you are with schoolwork. I don’t recommend getting a job (even a part-time one) if you have the scholarships or financial aid to cover your living expenses. Even though you won’t have deep pockets, but you can better focus on school. However, if you must work for a number of reasons (family, medical bills, the need to buy designers shoes), make sure you lighten your course load depending on how many hours you work.
Here is a very simple chart to help you decide how to plan your course load if you have a part-time or a full-time job. I don’t think the rules are set in stone, but how many classes you can handle taking is ultimately up to you.
When it comes to the second issue about scheduling, balancing difficult classes with several easy (or non-stressful) courses, as opposed to taking all challenging courses, will certainly make your life much easier. Colleges and potential employers would much rather see that a student can take a healthy balance of challenging and non-challenging courses while maintaining a high GPA through good grades. Taking all easy classes in the beginning will leave you inexperienced to handle the pressure that comes from more difficult courses and taking only challenging courses will cause you to burn out in no time. Of course, there is always the handful of students who never seem to have to work for it, even when they’re taking 18-20 credit hours a semester. Some students take one or two easy classes and manage to fail them. Everyone is different so do what will work for you in your situation and make sure you get those grades.
5. Reward Yourself
Rewarding yourself is very important because you are essentially garnering mental and emotional support. You can reward yourself in many ways whether it is receiving a compliment from telling a loved one about your success on a pop quiz, buying yourself a big gift for acing the final exam, or even spoiling yourself with a box of chocolates after a long study session. The act of receiving a reward or a favorable outcome not only gives you a mood boost, you are essentially training yourself psychologically that hard work does pay off through a type of learning called operant conditioning. The reward acts as a positive reinforcement and you would most likely repeat the same steps and methods in order to achieve the same positive result. You end up creating a cycle that motivates you to be successful because you are drawn toward the incentives. It’s a crazy way of doing things but it works.
At the end of the day, it takes a lot to be a successful and motivated college student. In my post coupled with this article, I wrote about my first year in college. It was a rough and difficult time for me and there are definitely things I wish someone had told me. However, I’ve turned my academic career around and I’m a top student at my current college. Although there are many more ways to be a successful college student, I think this article will suffice for now. Let it sink in and tell yourself that you can do it.