Being A College Student – Part 2 [Academic]
May 2, 2006 4 Comments
Welcome to part two of my three part series called “Being A College Student”. The last entry, Being A College Student – Part 1 [Personal], chronicled all of the right choices to make with regards to having a sound personal life while in college. If you can’t have a good personal life in college, you won’t last. This entry’s focus is academic – the second most important part of college. Sadly, academics are why we’re in college. If you don’t learn about yourself and your chosen field, you’re just participating in an extremely expensive community living project.
A little bit of background – I’ll have a Computer Information Systems degree in about 10 days. While it may seem that degree may give me a narrow perspective, realize I have spent the last 5 years surrounded by music majors and students of the arts. Also, CIS is not just computers, but I have taken every class required of a Business Administration student. It took me three years to finally declare my major of CIS. I started, like most students, declaring no major. I took a few Computer Science classes and tried to get my Gen Eds (English, Civ, Humanities, Basic Math) out of the way. I figured I would major in Computer Science, so I needed to find a minor that I’d enjoy as well. Insert Philosophy. After one upper-level Philosophy course, I decided Philosophy wasn’t my bag. Insert Technical Writing. Same thing – not for me. Eventually, Computer Science classes had their programming emphasis removed and started to get more of a focus on discrete mathematics. Now Computer Science wasn’t for me. There went two and a half years down the toilet.
The moral of that story:
- Seek out a mentor/advisor
If I would have just been required to go visit my advisor before I could schedule, almost all of the wasted time and classes could have been avoided. Fortunately, Murray State now has “advising holds” which prevent mistakes like this from happening. I’m sure most larger universities have systems like this in place. While they seem like a real hassle, it’s for your own good.
All I knew about CIS was what I read on Slashdot from basement dwellers saying that CIS is for goons. I wish I had talked to my advisor about my interests and goals my freshman year—he would have said you need to drop Computer Science and go with CIS.
If you do not have a mentor/advisor to guide you through a completely new experience, expect to make some big mistakes along the way and having to make up for them in time/money.
The job of an advisor is to get you out of college. All universities want to graduate students. It makes them look good. So, find an advisor immediately before you start scheduling classes and follow his/her advice.
- Go to class
So obvious. So so so so obvious. There are a few problems with college classes that most younger students do not realize:
- All classes for the first week or two are painfully easy. Most of the early classes are review based or orientation, which gives a false impression to students of “this class is cake; I’m only going to go every other day”. Wrong. The meat of the material usually starts the third week, right when it gets to be so tempting to skip the class.
- Most professors don’t care if you show up or not unless it impacts other students (think presentations). The number one way to piss off a professor is by not showing up to a fellow student’s class presentation. If you’re going to skip, don’t skip on presentation days.
- Most professors will cancel class at least once. This semester I had two separate classes cancelled for weeks at a time. Score!
A lot of students, myself included, are so egotistical that they just skip classes. I have and do constantly say to myself “I’m not going to learn anything today, so why show up?”—it’s not about learning. At least, most of the time it isn’t. It’s about being able to increase your bullshit threshold to its highest point.
- No seriously, go to class
The two semesters I had diligent class attendance my grades soared. The others… not so much. I’m still getting out of school, but I could have a lot more opportunities with a higher GPA. It’s simple: there is a direct, positive correlation between attending classes and grades. As I stated in the previous post, simplicity does not always mean ease. It’s simple to attend classes – all you have to do is sit there.
You don’t have to be smart to put up with a lot of bullshit. You have to be stubborn and patient. I’m willing to bet that it is impossible to fail a class that you attend 100% of the time. Learning to put up with a bunch of bullshit (e.g., doing busy work, watching ‘instructional’ videos) now will make life a lot easier in the future when you’re working. I challenge each and every reader to find an occupation that does not have any bullshit at its core. It’s a part of life. The best thing you can do is embrace it and use BS to your advantage.
I’m reminded of a quote from the movie Brad Pitt in Se7en:
He’s pissing in our faces again and we’re just taking it.
Sometimes you just have to take it. It sucks—but the more you learn from the times you do have to just ‘suck it up’ the less likely you are to have to endure something like that again.
- Use your summers wisely
After making plenty of mistakes in scheduling and in my personal life, I had to make up for some lost time. Summer classes to the rescue. If there are any classes you’re absolutely dreading because of difficulty or boredom, take them in the summer. My two ‘attrition’ classes were Accounting 1 & 2. Those classes make most people question their sanity and weed out the non-serious students. I got through them both with high grades quite the sense of satisfaction. See below:
We grilled my Principles of Accounting Book. One of my mini-triumphs during college.
I also took COM161 over the summer in a two week session which was one of history’s greatest decisions. Instead of having to endure a semester of terrible speeches, it only took two weeks. Score another for summer classes.
Taking summer classes will get you out of school faster. My grades in summer classes were usually A’s because I didn’t have nearly as many distractions to manage. Only one class at a time, allowing me to give my full attention.
- Note taking and productivity
Note taking and productivity will be the difference between a C student and an A student. Earlier I said all you have to do is attend classes and you’ll pass. It’s true! Passing isn’t good enough though. The formula that’s worked for me:
- Make categories for all of your types of responsibilities (mine were personal, school, fraternity, work)
- Make a to do list for each category, and number each item sequentially
- Write out S, M, T, W, T, F, S … and put the number from step 2 with the day of the week you’re going to do it
- Cross them out when you’re done
I’m a little old school with this since I’m not completely dependent on nifty services like Tada List or Google Calendar but if Google Calendar does add their rumored Todo list feature… I may be sold.
While sitting in class I would have a lot of difficulty taking notes. It’s just difficult to pay attention to boring subjects. The best advice I can offer is make things fun. If you have to work on a class project and you get to be creative, make it a project you’ll actually use or you find a little humorous. If you’re taking notes, try listening for ways to take what the lecturer is saying grossly out of context while you’re taking notes. I call this the “cuss count” method. For instance, if a professor says:
When Roe v. Wade was passed it’s not like women said ‘Wow, I can’t wait to get an abortion’
Just make another page of notes for the classes cuss count: I – “I can’t wait to get an abortion”. When you’re looking over the cuss counts after class they can be pretty funny…plus you just payed attention in class.
That’s all I have for the Academic portion of “Being A College Student”—the final installment of this series will be over the glorious facets of social life in college.