What I Wish I Had Known About College: Help (3 of 4)

What I Wish I Had Known About College: Help (3 of 4)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
  • Baccalaureate degrees are only a start, Except for professional degrees. And including professional degrees. This a continuation of the discussion that began here.


I wish I had known that the purpose of college was first and foremost to graduate. I knew that I should finish, but I did not know that the bachelor’s degree was the gateway to another level of learning. I did not know that graduate school would be different from the undergraduate experience and sequencing. Because of this, I realized later than the ideal timing what the skills of study habits, research skill, and course selection meant to my education, my GPA, and my enjoyment of college.

Study Habits are as important as you would imagine. Most of us think we are effective and efficient students. But, many of us base that on our grades, not our work ethic. Study habits have an impact on your matriculation as well as your learning. With poor study habits, you may spend too much time on prep tasks like reading or test prep, have trouble in sequenced courses, or ultimately repeat courses.

sleepingBeware of the dreaded “studying” without knowing what it means or how to do it. Creating flashcards is a basic-level intervention. Teaching to others is the advanced level.

Sequenced classes are those classes where you take one section, one semester. You then take another course, the second in the sequence, the next or another semester. These are difficult because the information in the second course in sequence builds on the information in the first course in a sequence. If you were not engaged effectively in the first course, the second course could be a nightmare.

Repeating courses not only costs money, it costs time. And, time is a valuable commodity in college. It literally means money in a tangible sense. Your college expenses are increased with each repeated course. Getting your study habits in order is about applying yourself, but it is also about knowing what you need to succeed. Make sure that you have the environment, tools, supports, and disciplined schedule to apply to each course. Use the syllabus from each course, each semester to plan out a strategy for learning, project completion, and course success.

Research Skill refers to your ability to find information and formulate it into a research paper. In college, you will have term papers, essays, and reflection papers. Each requires you to incorporate knowledge from other sources. You will want to get a handle on the types of sources available to you and the utility of those sources. You also want to have a sense of how to review and digest copious amounts of information.

The types of sources available to you are mostly organized in your campus library. You have books, periodicals, and media sources to choose from. Under the heading of periodicals, you have journals and serials. The most respected type of journal is the peer-reviewed journal. You will want to know the titles of those journals respected in your field.

The utility of sources is wrapped up in at least two considerations: date and source. Dates that are closest to the current date are more respected. Periodicals that are less than 3 years old are best. Though if you have a source that was the first to present an important finding, it may be used no matter the date. A source can be the typical sources from your library or personal correspondence received by email or even in person. You can cite these communications like how you cite other sources. The quality and credence of your source is based on its community sanction and perceived bias. Government documents are usually more trusted than corporation publications. Professional’s communications are often more respected than non-professional blogs or public rants.

Digesting all that information can seem daunting. For the uninitiated, it can be an enormous time suck. The key to efficient research review is to recognize that written works all follow a pattern. If you understand why you are reviewing the work, you can engage the portion of the work that responds to your review questions. For example, research always presents an introduction, review of literature, methodology, findings, and conclusion. If you are looking to reflect on the findings, you only need read that section. If you are wanting to replicate the study, read the methodology section. If you are only interested in the aims and point of the study, only read the abstract.

Course Selection is critical to your success and progression. This is so much so that some colleges are now requiring their Freshman students to enroll in cohorts with pre-selected courses within the liberal arts sequence. These pre-selected pathways allow for students to establish patterns and adjust to the new culture of college without the pitfalls of poor sequencing. The dangers of poor sequencing range from delayed graduation to complete academic dismissal.

Delayed graduation is the result of enrolling in classes that do not fit the graduation requirement for your degree. Without guidance and/or attention to the posted sequencing guidelines, students can put off courses that are needed. You could be in a situation where a sequenced course is only offered every other year. Because you decided to take another course, you must now wait another year until the first course in the sequence is offered. This isn’t a big deal in your Sophomore year, but it can be devastating in your Senior year.

Academic dismissal is the result of poor grades. Without an understanding of the workload required in a certain set of courses, you could enroll in two or more demanding courses at the same time. Your grades could suffer in easier classes because your focus was on passing the more demanding courses. You could alternatively be enrolled in too many courses and earn poor grades just because you could not get to all the work that needed to be completed.

A course sequencing advisor, peer support, or department advisor can be a tremendously important bulwark to these course selection challenges. Make sure that you rely on their expertise and experience to inform your choices. What you don’t know can cost you a price you dread to pay.

[This discussion continues here.]