Everyone tells you that college is a lot of work, but if you’re anything like me, it’s tempting to think “maybe it was hard for that person, but it won’t be a problem for me.” (Conceited, I know, but I have to be honest with you if my experiences are going to help at all.) You may have excellent study habits in high school, and if you do, then congratulations, you’re on your way to success! Half the battle is building those habits.
I was the opposite of those incoming students with excellent study habits. I coasted through high school on minimal effort, not because I was genius level smart, but because I was lazy. My senior showcase essay for AP Composition was written about procrastination, since I didn’t start it until the night before it was due and I knew I could get away with it by crafting some clever sentences about how it was a fitting topic. I still remember the conclusion – a pretty lame Harry Potter joke, followed by the quip “I could think of a better analogy than Harry Potter, but it’s getting late and I have math homework to finish.”
As it turns out, engineering classes don’t accept jokes about popular culture in place of the correct answer, something I quickly learned upon arrival at Purdue. I’ll be honest – I was not a model student when it came to studying. Or finishing homework. Or going to class. As a matter of fact, I probably attended 50 percent of my Calc I classes. DO NOT DO THAT. I had taken calculus in high school and had gotten a good score on the AP test, but had decided to retake the class since I didn’t feel ready to move on to Calc II. “I can totally do this, Calc wasn’t even hard in high school” I rationalized every time I didn’t feel like waking up for class. The 37% I got on the second test of the year shocked me into studying, but by that point I had tanked my grade enough that I got a C in the class, which is not easy to admit.
I would argue that learning to study was my hardest assignment that first year. There was a lot of trial and error, and I learned that studying for hours if you’re distracted or if you’re studying things you don’t really need to review is not as effective as diligently focusing on the right things for a shorter amount of time. You have to find what works for you – I get by on my monstrous to-do lists, color coded calendars and by keeping myself busy, since I’m more likely to study if I know this is my only opportunity to do so.
I’m not going to pretend that I now have it all together, and frankly there are much better people to take study advice from. There are so many parts of my study habits that I am trying to improve upon, and I still fall into the trap of thinking I can handle more than I actually can. I also can’t pretend that the bad grade I received my first semester kicked me into gear and suddenly I studied diligently between classes from 8 AM to 6 PM (which is not a bad strategy, honestly); even my junior year of college, I stepped back and realized “yikes, I need to re-evaluate what I’m doing to study.” But the sooner you realize that you need to put consistent, dedicated time and effort into your classes, the better – your grades will improve, your stress levels will drop, and you can stop living entire days hopped up on deadline adrenaline. Procrastination feels good in the moment; a well-earned grade keeps you proud and confident for days.