Your first day. This is probably peak college. Today you are organized, and you are ready to learn. Your clothes are clean, you remembered your lunch, you got a parking space, and you found the right room. This is exciting.
Unfortunately, it is likely all downhill from here. Actually, it will be uphill – steep and Sisyphean for a lot of you. If you don’t get that reference, look it up – you are in college after all.
Did you Google it? I am waiting.
It sounds terrible, right? Knowledge is just one big rock that has to be pushed uphill repeatedly. College is meant to be challenging – but this is exactly what makes it meaningful.
Luckily, I have a few tips on how to keep your “first-day-mojo” going until you can finally hit the snooze button in late December. And these tips are pretty simple.
First, let’s cover the bare-minimum basics: sleep, water, and nutrition. These apply to college and pretty much every day after that. Sleep eight hours out of every twenty-four hours. Drink water regularly (but not before sleeping). Take a vitamin. Seriously, just take a vitamin because I know you don’t eat healthy now (I’ve seen your food selections at the cafeteria) let alone when you are cramming for an exam between the two jobs you have decided you have time for this semester. Leave bottles of water (in reusable containers, because the planet is a whole other problem) and your vitamins in a visible place – your desk, your car, at the front door, in the bathroom… I don’t care. Just make it easy for yourself to see them because that makes it more likely you will use them.
Now that you are healthy enough to make it to class, you should shut off your phone. (No one in the history of the planet uses their iPhone to “take notes” or read scholarship. Just no.) In fact, shut off your phone right now so that you can focus long enough to read the rest of this. Unless you are reading it on your phone, of course. (The off button is on the right – just hold it down and the phone will ask if you are really serious about turning it off. Swipe to off.)
Oh, you brought your laptop to class, didn’t you? Sneaky. You think you are going to take notes on it. You are actually going to Google fact-check something and then before you know it, you will be on Instagram looking at photos of your ex’s sister’s wedding from two summers ago.
I would recommend that you download an app that can prevent you from going down this road. Use an app like Freedom or Anti-Social to prevent you from accessing the Internet. This isn’t permanent. Just set it for the duration of class. And then use it while studying.
The struggle is real. You probably googled “Freedom App” and found yourself on Reddit. It happens to the best of us. This is why we need help. Consider it.
Better yet, leave your computer in your bag. You do not really need it for class. You just need paper and a pen. (We professors like to say: In university, the pen is always mightier than the keyboard. Hahaha.) But this might be too radical, and it probably makes me sound 100 years old. Besides, deforestation is a serious problem and every kid can’t just be using paper like it grows on trees.
Okay, open your computer again. Take notes on it. But you have to save the file to your desktop. And then you have to save it to the iCloud. (I actually have no idea how that works so maybe don’t trust me on that.) But the point is, you need to create backup files. Your dog isn’t going to eat your homework if it is on the computer. But your house could burn down. That happens in real life. So, email the files to yourself.
Come to class a few minutes early and make time to linger around after the end. This is how you meet friends. And class friends are so important. You can study together. You can share notes. You can complain to each other. And you can just talk about a mutual interest – namely, the course content. (Yes, you should be interested in the classes you take.)
Thus far you are healthy and attending class. That is pretty much how you succeed in college. That is the big secret. But if you want to totally rock it, I would recommend a few other things in no particular order:
Correctly spell your professor’s name in emails and on assignments. That is just good manners. And it will go a long way in earning their trust and respect. Never call your professor “hey.” Titles are confusing and names can be hard to pronounce. But you will never go wrong with “professor.”
Do not post your class notes on the Internet. You think you are helping friends, but it turns out that you misunderstood something and now you have misinformed the planet. The world has enough problems already. Just keep your notes to yourself.
Buy the books. Yes, they cost money and I understand that money is hard to find in this day and age. But I also see you at Starbucks three days a week. Grown-up life is all about priorities. So, get in line at Tim Hortons (bring a reusable mug because those cups are not recyclable) and save your pennies so you can buy the books.
Oh, and read the books. Even the boring ones. And the long ones. And the ones with no pictures. It will build character and help you on the exam.
But if you really don’t have the money, that is okay too. The university has a building called “Library” and there are literally thousands of books in it. It is generally a huge building. Often times, it is where the Starbucks is on campus. If you go into the library, really nice people work there and can help you find the book for your class. They will also let you sit down in a quiet place and read the book. For free. Yes, for real. Try it.
Read and follow the instructions. Your professor isn’t trying to pull a fast one on you. They genuinely want you to succeed. The test isn’t a trick. The assignment isn’t a scam. You are too young to be this cynical.
You aren’t going to read the syllabus. I have pretty much given up on that. But look at that one section that explains the due dates for all assignment and tests. Put all those dates into your phone and computer calendar. Or download an organizational app that can help you with that.
Bring a sweater. I think that is self-explanatory.
Ask questions. That is the whole point. You’re not in college to get a job. Okay, that isn’t the only reason you are in college. You also have the opportunity to learn stuff. I was a political science major (don’t roll your eyes, it is super interesting) in undergrad at the University of Calgary. I took an astronomy class where I was able to see the Milky Way through a 1.8m A.R. Cross Telescope on a cold night. I got to ask some of the most important minds in the world about variable stars. It blew my mind. I didn’t become an astronomer, but the class made me a more well-rounded scholar and introduced me to new ideas and friends. Don’t just study what you already know – and never be afraid to ask questions about the things you don’t know.
Good luck out there.
(You can turn your phone back on. Just hold down the button on the right and it will come back on, I promise.)
Andrea Olive is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Geography at the University of Toronto Mississauga, and the author of The Canadian Environment in Political Context.