On special request from RifatMursalin, I am going to take a little break from my college admissions series to give hints on getting the most out of college. Here are some lessons I learnt while in college. I wish I knew them before I entered college, but at least they may help you.
Many of you who are in college will have already made a shocking discovery: most of your college classmates, like you, were the stars of their high schools. Suddenly you are just an average student, and it may be playing havoc with your psychology. Some of your classmates seem to effortlessly get excellent grades course after course, while no matter how much you struggle you cannot get better than average grades. But here’s the thing: geniuses do not grow on trees. Then what tricks do your classmates know so that they excel while you struggle? Here are some of them:
- Do your homework in groups. If you do your homework on your own, you may struggle for hours. But if you do it in a group, you may be done in a very short time. Whenever you are stuck on a problem, you can immediately ask a friend for help. Your friend will explain his logic to you, helping you, and also getting the chance to argue out his reasoning and test his theory. Both of you will gain from this. Most courses allow students to work together, in fact, expect it. If in doubt, ask your professor if working in groups is allowed.
- Attend Office Hours of your Professor and/or Teaching Assistant. This is also a good time to do your homework. Who better to answer your questions than the Master Jedi (Yoda) himself? And your Professor will also get to know you personally, which comes in very handy when final grades are being handed out and when you need a recommendation letter from him/her.
- Remember that you know yourself best. You know how you work best and in which environment. Trust your instincts. I am, for instance, a day person. I like to wake up at 6am and sleep by 10pm. I do my best work till noon. Once it is 4 or 5pm, my day is done. Yes, I have pulled all-nighters when I have needed to, but that should only be when I need to, rather than my daily routine. When I first entered college, I followed my natural rhythm, and I was doing fine. If I had homework due in the morning, I would get up at 4 or 5am, and then continue with my homework. My professors were happy with me, and I was happy with my life. Then some of my college seniors got hold of me and drilled it into my head that I was doing it all wrong. How could I go to sleep without finishing my homework? They hounded me till I changed my ways, and then I started messing up. I had a hard time finishing assignments, and I was getting very little sleep. At night, when I was exhausted, it would take my 2-3 times longer to finish my homework than if I had slept early and continued early morning with a fresh body and mind. Unfortunately I did not manage to break away from this negative cycle in college, but I had learnt my lesson when I entered Grad School.
- Ask questions in class. When something the professor says confuses you or you need further clarification, ask immediately. If you are shy about raising your hand during class, then catch your professor when the class ends to ask your questions. It would be best, however, to ask during class, when the confusion first arises. Most probably, half of the students in your class are as confused as you are. Asking questions will allow you to know the subject much better. In fact, students who ask questions in class consistently outperform in tests and exams those who are too shy to ask.
- Go through the study material and make an effort to understand what you learnt in class when you are back in your room, or just before you start doing homework. Derive the equations yourself, and try to understand what they imply. This way you will have an intuitive feel of the subject rather than just learning formulae that you will use in the semester and then forget. Going through the material will also allow you to ask your Professor questions at the start of the next class or during Office Hours.
- Related to point 3, get sleep and exercise. They will keep your body and mind fresh and alert. That allows you to do everything much faster (homework, understanding the courses, daily chores) than if you are exhausted.
- Have a life. Join an extra-curricular activity. Have friends and socialize. You may think you do not have the time, but you have to make the time. A social life will refresh your mind and soul like nothing else will.
- Get an internship at a company or an undergraduate research project in your college during the semester related to your major, and preferably to your specialization. The practical experience will allow you to apply the subject material you have learnt in class on a daily basis, till it becomes an ingrained part of your knowledge. The final exam will feel like a piece of cake then.
- And remember to have fun. You will never get your college experience back. So enjoy it. And take all those classes that intrigue you, since you will probably not get such a chance again once you enter the real world.