Skip to content

5 Secrets of My College Success

October 21, 2010

Another reader requested post! A reader who wished to be identified as S* is in her first year as a non-traditional student at a four year liberal arts college, who is struggling to balance the school obligations with her life obligations (work, family). S* asked how I got through college while working and here are five of my tips/secrets.

1. Avoid Monday classes if at all possible, unless they are in the evening

Monday is a popular day for classes, but if you work or have other obligations, it’s the worst day to schedule classes. In my experience, the MW sections of English, Math, Psychology and such are usually the most crowded and often not always populated with the best teachers for non traditional students. Evening classes are better, but if you can help it, try to arrange your class schedule Tuesday through Friday and save yourself a lot of heartache. If you do so, you’ll never spend another frustrating frantic Sunday night trying to complete assignments while trying to prepare yourself for the work week. I worked full time while doing both my undergraduate and graduate coursework (as a non traditional student) and trust me, when I say it makes a big difference.

2. Group similar classes together.

If you’re taking a lot of similarly disciplined classes such as Anthropology, Sociology or Statistics and say a hard science, try to take them on the same day. I tried to group my Sociology classes with my other humanities classes and usually with whatever English Literature or Writing class I was also taking. The semesters when I was able to do so, i found that I did very well in all my classes, because each one informed the other and the English/Writing classes made my writing for my Sociology and Anthropology classes much sharper. As for my sciences. I am forever grateful for the advice to take Physics and Statistics together, because sequestering those less satisfying classes together meant I only had to dedicate one or two days per week to them.

3. If you’re not as strong in a subject, take a class that meets EVERYDAY.

I took a Portuguese/Brazilian/Afro-Carribean Literature class, and while I was able to demonstrate reasonable competency in Portuguese, I needed to be in that class every single day (even Monday) to ensure full immersion. The final paper required critical analysis written in Portuguese, which I am happy to say I did not bomb! No, I am not fluent. Just hard working. Ditto for a German Sociology class I took.

4. Become best friend with the campus librarian!

The first people I try to meet at a college is the people who will be feeding me (dining staff) and the people who keep the library open for all those ungodly hours. The former is necessitated by of my food allergies. The latter is because I lived at the library when I was in school. The librarians were tireless and resourceful at helping serve the needs of students on the margins – various reasons – in ways that weren’t being met by student services, learning centers or disability student services. For example, disability student services wasn’t always adept at advocating for students with ADHD or mental illness issues – or heck a lot of other disabled students – but I often found my librarians were skilled at advocating on my behalf and assisting me with navigating the various programs offered. The best thing: one college librarian helped me find a large screen monitor in order to help me complete my computer tasks with greater ease. This was back in the day where large monitors were kind of rare! Librarians rock.

5. Flash Cards!

The biggest secret to my college success – besides privilege and all that – FLASH CARDS! If you’re working or caring for a family, you aren’t going to have the kind of time as a more “traditional” student. You have to be much more organized. This means buying tons of inexpensive index cards and a sharpie. You might not have time to do a big study session, but with key concepts, vocab words, formulas and answer keys on flash cards, you can take a few moments a couple times throughout the busy day to review your cards and make a game out of it. Every job I had during college was familiar with “my cards”, which I reviewed before boring meetings, during my lunch hour, while sitting at the doctor’s office or standing in line at the grocery store. I wrote mine by hand, but obviously that’s not a reality for everyone. making them on the computer or cutting words out of magazine, or photocopying and gluing onto cards. Whatever you can do to get the information in a portable card form!

I wish you the best of luck, S*!!!

Advertisements
7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 21, 2010 3:45 pm

    Great suggestions. My main trick to college success was writing chapter outlines — generally the first and only time I ever read the chapter in question. Then I’d condense my outline, and keep condensing it, until I could fit it onto the smallest possible number of pages — ideally, a single index card (yes index cards are very important).

    I also learned that the notes I wrote in class were generally useless, particularly as the text in them frequently turned illegible as it sleepily spiralled down the edge of the page.

  2. October 21, 2010 7:03 pm

    Thank you for the great post! I will be heading back to school next semester as a non-traditional student and although I won’t have to a family to worry about (just a cat), I will be working full-time and I have been worried about how I’m going to balance everything.

  3. hsofia permalink
    October 21, 2010 9:13 pm

    Very good advice.

  4. Valerian permalink
    October 27, 2010 7:32 am

    #1 is exactly the tip I needed all along, as a non-traditional student heading back to school this winter. Thank you. I’m still completely terrified, but now I’m also a little excited.

  5. October 28, 2010 8:13 pm

    Very good advice. I’d add to #2: if possible, fulfill curriculum requirements with related courses. I went to a liberal arts school, and for my two required science courses I took Planetology one semester and Astronomy the next. They not only interested me, but meshed nicely in content. For a required history course I took Politics of Identity, whose curriculum involved some great biography and fiction reading to satisfy my English major self.

  6. October 30, 2010 6:08 pm

    Very good advice. I’d add to #2: if possible, fulfill curriculum requirements with related courses. I went to a liberal arts school, and for my two required science courses I took Planetology one semester and Astronomy the next. They not only interested me, but meshed nicely in content. For a required history course I took Politics of Identity, whose curriculum involved some great biography and fiction reading to satisfy my English major self.

    Definitely. I was intrigued by Astronomy, but weary of the math. For history I took a great Graphic Design survey course where I learned more about Walter Gropius than anyone who cannot draw should know!

  7. Patricia permalink
    November 1, 2010 4:28 pm

    Now that I know about your proficiency in my language, may I hope for a blog post in Portuguese someday?
    —from a Brazilian reader

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: