What I Wish I'd Known About College Academics

College Academics

By Ester Bloom And Ben Shestakofsky

Amid the name games and dorm parties that dominate freshman orientation, it's easy to forget that you actually came to college to get some work done. You'll have to choose your courses, adjust yourself to a college workload, pull yourself out of bed to get to class every morning—and all that's before you've even taken your first midterm. Want to get the jump on academics in college? Just follow the advice of students who have already made it through freshman year.

Try something new: “College is a time to explore. Take a class that seems ridiculous to your parents and even to your friends. You may be a bio major but you’ve always thought you might like to draw—college is the place to learn.” – Libby, Wellesley College

Set two alarms...: “Another thing I wish I had known is how difficult it is to actually go to class. All your life you've had your parents to wake you up and ship you off to school, but in college, you decide if you go to class and how much effort you want to put into your schoolwork. On that note, if you don’t drink coffee yet, start now.” – Lindsay, Notre Dame

...or none at all: “I wish I’d known not to schedule early classes. Many of my peers engineered their schedules masterfully, and I was stuck making the trek across campus in the early morning hours while everyone else slept.” – Sarah, Virginia Tech

If you never ask: “There were some awesome classes out there that I assumed I'd never get into, so I didn't try. There are papers I would rather have written but I didn't pitch my question. But really all you have to do is ask.” – Jordan, Johns Hopkins University

Extra help: “If you feel like you aren't ready for an exam, don't be afraid to ask to take it at a later date. Professors do not want to see you fail.” – Asha, MIT

Make connections: “You might be taking a linguistics class that feeds into your cinema class in some way. Taking diverse classes gives you a way to integrate various bits knowledge and create a more comprehensive experience.” – Nirokhi, USC

Work hard...: “The professors don’t mess around like in high school. Most of them won’t take late papers or late assignments. The ones that do keep track of attendance don’t take excuses without legitimate documentation.” – Iva, Virginia Commonwealth University

...but not too hard: “Grades and GPA aren’t that important anymore. Stop being a perfectionist.” – Alexandria, Cornell

Get to know your profs: “Testing-wise, I found that the more times I went to office hours, and the more times I e-mailed my professors, the better I understood the way that the testing went, and the more lenient the professor was if he or she knew me. They have recommended other great classes to me, advised me to partake in particular organizations, and are even there to calm me down.” – Chelsea, Syracuse University

Keep in touch: “I don’t think I took enough advantage of developing close relationships with professors. Professors are very willing to help you with almost anything including editing your papers, helping you get internships and eventually coaching you in your job search.” – Laura, Ithaca College

No shame: “In high school I was always very elitist about things like SparkNotes, feeling that they were ruining proper education in America and blah blah blah. It wasn’t until I had about sixty-three thousand books to read every semester that I finally conceded that maybe it was okay to use SparkNotes on occasion.” – Stephanie, Columbia University

Start thinking about study abroad: “RIT is really developing great study abroad programs now, but I waited three years to look into them, and although I'm doing one this summer, it would've been great to do more than one. Nothing beats the experience, and once you're done with school, you will never get the chance again.” – Sara, RIT

Seriously, get out of Dodge: “The best experiences in college usually occur during study abroad programs. First, study abroad programs allow you to take courses that are usually not offered at American institutions (for example, British Culture). Moreover, during study abroad programs, students can learn about new cultures and visit amazing sites. Third, after years on the same campus, school can be routine, a little depressing (especially if you are braving a cruel, cold Midwest winter), and restraining. Study abroad programs offer you a great chance to break away from your college’s ‘bubble.’” – Myles, Carleton College