STUDENT LIFE / NOV. 03, 2014
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How to Excel as a Student in the U.S.

You’ve heard it a gazillion times, but it’s true: college isn’t high school. Teachers won’t be hovering over your shoulders, nagging you and calling your parents if you don’t get your work done. It’s called being an adult, and, for a lot of people, college is their first experience with adulthood. It can be a pretty rude wake-up call, but there are some things you can do to make sure you excel:

Understand that you’re starting over with a clean slate

Once you get to college, nobody cares if you almost flunked out of high school. But neither does anybody care if you were valedictorian. Once you get accepted and show up on campus, you’re in the same boat as everybody else: you’re an unknown entity, and you have to prove yourself.

Accept that independence is an illusion

Sure, there isn’t going to be anyone standing over you making sure you do your work. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any consequences. If you party all night and sleep all day, you’ll flunk out. You may even get a DUI and have legal consequences that are way worse than having to slink home with your tail between your legs. College isn’t a suspension of reality. It just means that you’re responsible for making smart choices and that there’s nobody to back you up if you make the wrong ones.

Go to class

For a graduating high school senior, that might seem obvious. But when you’re a college freshmen who was out doing beer pong until 3 a.m., that 8 a.m. class may start seeming optional. It’s not. Even if you’re a genius with a photographic memory, your professor will be discussing things in class that aren’t in your textbook. And then there’s the fact that professors tend to be slightly biased against students who never show up to hear their words of wisdom. That can show up in your grades.

Find a place to study

Your dorm room would be the ideal study spot, of course. But it may not work out that way. Maybe your roommate is a music major who’s pounding on drums all day, or maybe she’s having “visits” from her boyfriend at all hours. Don’t drag your feet about facing up to reality and realizing that you’re going to have to find someplace else to study. Maybe it will be the library; maybe it will be the cafeteria or student lounge. But if it’s not your dorm room, find somewhere else – and do it fast.

Learn the rules

More than one (or a thousand) college student has had to delay graduation because the one course they needed to graduate was only offered during a certain semester. Make sure you know which courses you need to take, when they’re offered, and what the prerequisites are. Otherwise, you could end up hanging out on campus while all of your more organized classmates are starting their careers.

Find your tribe

While too active a social life can sink your grades, loneliness and homesickness can sink your grades and your mental health. It’s important to spend time on campus, get involved, and find your tribe. That means the group of people you can be yourself around. If that’s the science club instead of a sorority, so be it. It’s no fun being in a sorority or any other group if you’re always worried you’re going to forget your lines. 

For a lot of people, college is a bridge between youth and adulthood. It’s a semi-safe place to spread your wings and make some mistakes. There may not be a safety net anymore, but there’s no concrete, either. That comes with a spouse, kids, and bills…when your mistakes affect more people than just you. Follow these tips to make it a success.

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