We all knew them: the kids who walked around high school lugging their AP textbooks and who seemed to think that their college-level classes needed to be involved in every conversation. "Yeah, I love lunch — speaking of, I learned in AP US History that in 1837..." Heck, you might've even been one! If you were one of those people, you might've thought to yourself (on multiple occasions) that you were so prepared for college. You were taking hard classes, hard tests, and maybe you learned a few lessons about hard work and procrastination. But chances are, when you got to college, you found yourself sorely unprepared for what was coming.
When I was in my junior/senior year of high school, I was told something very profound by an old friend who was finishing his Bachelor’s degree in Engineering. I had gone to him hoping for some advice and words of encouragement, as graduation was getting closer and closer. He said simply this, "You will fail at least half of your first semester classes." Now, he might have been wrong. I only 'failed' one. And technically it wasn't a fail, it was just a D.... but he made a good point. Expect yourself to be in a sort of culture shock the first semester because it is so different from what you've spent the last 13 years of your life dealing with.
Why We Are So Unprepared for College Classes
It's simple: the difference is between intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. If you're naturally the type of person who stays on top of in-class notes, goes home and makes flash cards and study guides, and never forgets about a test, this might not be an issue for you. But for the majority of high school students, there's an intense reliance on teachers, parents, and in-class work to make sure you get your work done. The extrinsic motivators are never-ending. The communication between your school, your teachers, your parents, and you is incomparable to any other educational experience.
And then there's college. Sure, your professors might have in-class work, but chances are the majority of what you'll see is lectures, PowerPoints, readings, and maybe a class discussion. Even worse, you don't even have to go to class for the lectures with most teachers! Few make you turn in your work, no parents are making you study, and no school is telling on you if you miss 3 weeks for no reason. You have zero extrinsic motivation, and suddenly any motivation you have for school has to come from you. For many of us, this transition is one of the hardest parts of college, and the reason we find our grades slipping for the first few months. Still, have hope; there are things that you can do that will help you prepare yourself mentally, and develop habits that are crucial to a successful freshman college year!
How to Prepare for College Classes
The first thing you need to do is to take your classes seriously. Take notes on what the teacher says, start your homework as soon as possible in the library or at home, rewrite notes, color code, organize, etc.
The next thing to do is to commit to your education, but not just in school. Take the time to work towards whatever your goals are. Read books about anything you find interesting, and remember to allow yourself a creative outlet, as this reduces stress and will help you stay centered throughout all the madness.
The most important thing in college is showing up. Show up to your classes. Show up to your tests. Show up to your study groups, or to your study desk. Show up for yourself. If you show up, and show up with an intention to be present in that moment, focusing on only the things you are there to do (i.e. do not spend lectures on Facebook) then it is less likely you can fail, and you're on the road to being a driven and highly successful adult!
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