Finding Success as a College Student
We realize that, as a student, your goal is to earn your B.S. degree and move on to other pursuits. The staff of the Office of Student Academic Affairs is here to assist you in that effort. This section is a compilation of suggestions, tips, strategies, and thoughts on how you can be your most successful in the college environment.
Tips for the Successful Student
Where to Sit?
The response to this very simple decision can have a significant impact on academic performance. Making the decision to sit in the front of the classroom will instigate a whole host of related academic benefits.
- You will be naturally more attentive to the lecture.
- You will be less likely to fall asleep in class.
- You will be less distracted by the behaviors of other students.
- You will be more likely to arrive to class prepared.
- You will be more likely to be punctual.
Each one of these advantages provides a transferable life skill that carries lifelong value, and collectively, they greatly outweigh the alternative of mediocre effort and the mediocre performance it produces.
How to Prepare
Familiarity with the course material is the best way for any student to prepare for a course. To become familiar requires effort, but not necessarily any greater degree of knowledge than that of any other student.
The first opportunity a student has in preparing for any course is to read the course description and prerequisite information contained in the UCR General Catalog. This will provide a basic idea of the objective of the course, and the assumed background knowledge.
The next opportunity to prepare for a course comes in acquiring the textbook. Students should buy books before the start of the class. Not only does this alleviate long sales lines after instruction begins, it affords a key preparation step—that of simply opening the book and reviewing the table of contents. This provides insight into the direction that this particular instructor plans to take to achieve the course objective.
Still another opportunity is the course syllabus. Generally, this outlines the pace at which the course will progress toward the objective. By using the syllabus as a guide, a simple, but critical step in preparation is to read the assigned material in advance of a lecture (rather than after) to better understand the material presented in the lecture. See The college approach to learning for more on this aspect. Taken separately, or preferably together, these tips can provide greatly improved comprehension and understanding.
Review your Exams
One excellent resource that is available to all students in almost every case, is their graded examination. Professors will routinely return midterm examinations to students for them to use in studying and preparing for the final examination. This is a valuable tool to gauge understanding of the material and to assure understanding of the professors testing style. Most students then proceed onward to the final exam, and thereafter, rarely look back. With few exceptions, professors are prepared to return final examinations to students who take the initiative to pick them up, and will discuss with them any points which they did not master. This can have an enormous impact on understanding that is amassed in progressive subjects such as science, math, and engineering. In these disciplines, where knowledge builds upon previous knowledge, a solid foundation of understanding is critical to future success. Making good use of the final examination as a learning tool can be an effective way to improve understanding.
Learning Comes in Many Forms
Every student understands that he/she is expected to learn in the classroom. That message has been reinforced since kindergarten. What makes college unique is the increased expectation to learn outside of the classroom environment. Students are asked to assume a greater degree of independence while in college, and to take on a number of different roles. It is these varied roles that present the learning opportunities in the non-academic aspects of college life. Students are asked to pay bills in a timely manner, to select courses for efficiency and manageability, to be attentive to deadlines, to manage their time, to critically evaluate their options at every turn, to be paying tenants, to take on leadership responsibilities, and much more. It is the skills gained in these challenges that compliment those learned in the classroom to create the ultimate image of success—the college graduate.
Use a Calendar
This seemingly simple practice can help students to become better masters of time management, avoid last minute cramming, and improve course preparation. By maintaining an 11 week calendar of events, to correspond to the 11 total weeks in a term, students can record examinations, project and paper due dates, social and family obligations, and other non-negotiable commitments. Rather than the mastery of hours in each day, this time management tool focuses on major milestones, and predetermined challenges to those milestones. By viewing the ‘big picture,’ students are more likely to plan ahead in preparation for an impending due date than to overestimate their availability, and become better able to incorporate multiple (often competing) factors into their decision making.
To observe a tightrope walker, balance can be appreciated as an art form. It can also be appreciated as a finely honed skill—a skill, like any other, that required diligent practice. Finding balance requires constant practice, whether on a tightrope, or in simple, everyday life. However, some settings make the balance requirement more obvious than others. Students, for example, have a responsibility to balance their personal lives with their academic lives. Again, constant attention is required to retain balance. Every new factor—a surprise quiz, an unexpected auto repair, a sick relative—requires a reassessment of the balance equation. In the academic world, it is not the circumstances of life that explain performance, but rather a black-and-white, non-descriptive transcript. In other words, maintaining the balance that yields acceptable grades is the ideal, but finding that balance can be the greatest challenge. Like many other self-sufficiency requirements in college, students are held responsible for maintaining their own balance. This is not to say that the University is unwilling or unequipped to assist, but the underlying assumption is that the student must know him/herself well enough to identify when help would be of value. To seek assistance, the best place to start is with the Student Academic Affairs Office. From here, advising or referrals can be provided in response to the issues affecting an individual student.
Progress vs. Performance
In order to graduate, all students must demonstrate both progress (taking course required for the degree) and performance (maintaining scholastic standards required for graduation). Most of the time, progress goes hand in hand with performance. Occasionally, however, one or the other of these may assume greater priority than the other. It is important for every student to know their academic situation well enough to determine when they should treat these two factors differently. For example, a student who is in academic difficulty, and in jeopardy of being dismissed, will need to place a higher priority on performance than on progress until they return to good standing. Alternately, a student who is doing well in courses, but consistently takes courses outside of the major discipline is failing to move forward, and is in danger of being lapsed for failure to make progress in the major. Being able to distinguish between these two, and being able to treat them differently (as needed), are keys to successful management of an undergraduate degree program.
The College Approach to Learning
An old adage says ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ Loosely translated, this suggests that it is better to prepare for something than it is to suffer and treat the consequences. The adage also suggests that it is also more economical to prepare than to remedy, too. With these benefits going for it, preparation would seem to be the smart choice, and yet few students sufficiently prepare for courses. The difficulty often lies in the expectations. Professors expect students to read the material assigned for a particular lecture before coming to class. Their intention is rarely to reiterate that material, but rather to challenge students to think about the material in a new way, or to take their understanding of the material to a new level. To arrive unprepared leaves students at the distinct disadvantage of not being able to make any use of the lecture. The expectation to do what is required, without having to be quizzed to confirm this, is a fundamental difference between high school and college. To be successful as a college student requires meeting the expectations of college and not of high school.