What’s Most Important for a New College Student?

In some perspectives I was a terrible student. I was a late bloomer regarding learning how to study, never established a study schedule, waited until the last minute to complete tasks, and failed to establish a razor-focused trajectory. I stumbled along, made decent grades, covered all my requirements, and even went to grad school. I didn’t shine, standout, or achieve scholarship status.

I try to keep those little details of my college days at the forefront when I teach so I am able to avoid delusions of

grandeur and falsely perceive my days as better in some way.

I happen to be a staunch supporter of the modern day college student and I refuse to dump them all in the same barrel like some old Luddite that is convinced that my university days were superior. Quite the contrary. I do my best to empathize and sympathize as much as I realistically can all the while drawing out some hard-earned lessons I’ve had the opportunity to endure from my experiences.

The default pressures and then some

Anyone who’s had the opportunity to attend college can attest to the usual set of peer pressures along with the tasks of being as independent and responsible as possible. All of these responsibilities are thrust upon us all at once. Simply navigating to survive is tough enough. Thriving takes real willpower and discipline.

Incoming freshman are like chickens with their heads cut off running around the yard bumping into everything. They experience confusion, frustration, and intimidation. Not every student is a perfect little adult able to negotiate every obstacle and come out on top. The mere fact that they’ve crossed over to the adult world doesn’t include a comprehensive toolkit for like behavior and habits.

Yes, college and adulthood are “hard knocks” crucibles of sorts that act as rights of passage for all young people, but this modern world is one that has presented a new set of hardships, complicated circumstances, and unique challenges that weren’t around even in the slightest during my young journey.

The perfect storm of distraction

The modern day college student has plenty more to contend with. Online interaction alone is enough to make one go mad. Couple the default pressures mentioned above along with this new and uncharted (and in the relative infancy of study) landscape of more complex communication, expectation, and accelerated learning complete with always updated and emerging technology and you have a fine recipe for overwhelm.

As much as someone like me can try and relate my days to those of today I will always fail to completely empathize and understand how the shoes actually fit. Yes, it is almost too easy to blame “those young people” for being lazy, unmotivated, and self-centered. But isn’t that how every new generation is and was perceived? We cannot forget how our parents looked at our generation.

I truly feel that understanding is the first step. Aside from class requirements, rigor, and students developing self-discipline (always important) we must also consider this new world of distraction

The “embarrassment” of going against the grain

Let’s shift gears. Now that we know the “what,” let’s get to the “how.” You know the cards are stacked against you as a new college student. Heck, even the experienced ones coming off of break need a shot in the arm to get back to the so-called grind. But it doesn’t have to feel this way.

Remember nerds? No, not the cool guys who like the Marvel franchise. I’m talking about real nerds who made 4.0s and seemed to always be overachievers. It’s time to turn on your inner nerd. It’s time to stop trying to act so cool, calm, and collected and to start actively organizing your schedule of classes, studying, work, rest, and leisure.

I was that guy who felt like if I were to become an ultra disciplined student turning everything in ahead of time, I’d somehow be exposed as some circus freak. Early in my college days I prioritized fitting in above almost everything. I studied when I had to and pretty much went with the flow of my friends.

It was all in my head. Instead I should have been more aware of why I was there to begin with.

Identifying what matters

If you want to be successful in college you’ll have to get organized. There’s no other way. Make a list of a few key items to prioritize first.

  • What are you in college for? What is your major? Do you have a major yet? Are you on track to graduate in a decent amount of time?
  • Do you have a weekly schedule/calendar? Are you tracking your days, making classes, scheduling regular study times each day?
  • Do you have a part time job? How does that fit in with studying?
  • Are you getting enough sleep? Are you sleeping in too late? Are you going to bed at a decent time?
  • Are you scheduling leisure time with friends to recharge? Are you a part of any social groups/organizations? How do those fit in with the other priorities on your list?

How to set up your college day

The more discipline you have in your daily, weekly, and monthly schedule, the more productive you’ll be at all aspects listed above. For example, if you stick to a strict study schedule, one that is forward-thinking and has you prepping a little every day to avoid all-nighters, then you will have much more flexibility for rest and leisure.

When I was in the Air Force there was a singular mission for every airman. Every job on base was for one thing and one thing only: the airplane. My job was to establish communication for those who had to talk to pilots. The dinning facility fed the pilots who flew the planes. The ordinance personnel loaded weapons on the planes, the fuel trucks serviced the planes. You get the idea. Everything from the pilot to the person making omelets all centered on the airplane and the mission it (and the pilot) was tasked to do.

This is how you need to think about college. Everything you do should be focused on success in all of your classes and ultimately earning a degree worth having. It all boils down to focus. The more focused you are on why you’re there in the first place, everything else will fall into place.

So when you are scheduling study time, leisure time, rest, your classes, or anything else that comes along, ask yourself if it’s a priority in fulfilling your mission of success.

Focus.

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