I’ve done a lot of school. A LOT. I’ve been the student and I’ve been the teacher, and there are a few common mistakes that I see college students make. Here they are, and here’s how to remedy them.
1. Staying in a class that isn’t right for them. Each student is different, and some classes won’t vibe with who a student is and how a student works. This is an aspect of college that you have to be attuned to—you have to choose the classes that can work with your style of learning, and you have to drop the ones that don’t. This doesn’t mean that you drop every class that looks scary or that has something that you don’t like. What it means is that you try to choose classes and teachers that can work with your learning style. If 20% of your grade depends on participation, and you don’t like to participate, then switch out of that class. If 60% of your grade depends on a major group project, and you don’t do well with group work, then drop the class if you can.
2. Not dropping a class soon enough. This ties in to #1. If you’re going to drop a class, you need to do it within the first week of school. This gives you the best chance of getting into another class that you want. Many schools let you drop and enroll into another class during the second week too, but you’ll end up missing quite a bit and you’ll be behind the other students.
3. Feeling like a failure for dropping a class. Life happens, and you must, as my dad puts it, protect the system (meaning your mental and physical wellbeing). If a class really doesn’t work for you or if you find having that particular class is just too much, then drop it. Dropping a class does not equate to failure. It means that you’re doing what’s best for you and, quite frankly, a “W” on a transcript is a lot better than an “F.” You can always retake that class another semester, and if you drop soon enough, then you will be able to receive a full or partial refund for that class.
4. Not bringing the appropriate materials to class. You literally need 2-3 items: a writing utensil, paper, and a calculator if necessary. That’s it. Nothing fancy. You can even get away with not bringing your textbook by sharing one with a classmate if you forget yours (just don’t do this too often). If you’re having trouble paying for these items, know that there are campus services that help students get funding. You can also make friends with someone who works at a reception area or with an administrative assistant and they’ll often let you have a pencil and paper.
5. Not reading the syllabus. The syllabus is your roadmap to a class. This is your teacher saying, “Here. This is how you can do well in my course.” Read it, please.
6. Believing everything that they’re told. College is a place where you’ll meet and interact with a variety of ideas. But understand that not all of these ideas are factually correct and/or fit with your belief system and who you are. Keep in mind that just because someone touts something as truth doesn’t necessarily make it truth. There are always multiple sides. I once took an English class and an economics class in the same semester, and these two teachers, despite not knowing each other, talked about the same issue within the same week. Interestingly, they gave polar opposite opinions on the same topic. This just shows that you’re going to meet with a variety of opinions. Take them all in, think about them, let them lead you to questioning the world around you, and then form your own opinion.
7. Not taking care of themselves. Pizza is not a food group. Walking from the dorms to class is not enough exercise. Three hours of sleep a night is not enough. Take care of your body, and this doesn’t necessarily mean six-pack abs and a bikini-ready body. It just means to be healthy, whatever your “healthy” may be. Taking care of your body will help you to take care of your mind.
8. Forgetting the primary goals of college—to learn and to earn a degree. The social aspects, the athletic endeavors, and the networking opportunities are all wonderful benefits of college. Still, the main goals are for you to learn and get a degree. That is why you are there, isn’t it? Let the drama and the pressures of everything else take a backseat to those main goals.
9. Not asking for help. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed in college, and that’s why there are services such as tutoring centers and writing centers to help. Your tuition often pays for these services already. So, go ahead and check them out and use them. Remember, asking for help doesn’t make you “less” than anyone else.
10. Feeling like they are completely alone. You are never alone, even though it may feel like it. Students have been through what you are feeling. There is support if you need it. Reach out to your family. Reach out to your friends, your roommates, your neighbors, your classmates, your RAs, your school’s health center, your school’s mental health services, your academic counselors, your teachers, your bosses, your brothers or sisters in the Greek system. Reach out to someone if you feel completely alone. People may not understand exactly how you’re feeling, but at least give them a chance to.