A Beginner’s Guide To College Survival

Seeing that school has started for most of you, this post will hopefully be helpful to those of you transitioning into University from high school. Starting university is a big step in your life, and so here are some of the main things I wish I knew before I started my Bachelor’s degree:

1. Ability is malleable and comes in many forms

I’m not sure how it was in your high school, but for me, I had to do an intensive two-year program, which required many assessments and examinations (shout out to my fellow International Baccalaureate survivors!). I was under extreme pressure to attain a certain grade for my university applications, and there came a point where I thought my score defined who I was. The predictive scores became an indicator of my abilities, and how ‘worthy’ I felt. This is an extremely unhealthy mentality to have, and getting good grades is probably better than getting bad ones, but there is more to your identity than your exam results.

At University, maintaining good grades is important, but your other skills and assets start to get recognized, too – public speaking abilities, your capacity to work with others and getting things done on time (you’re going to be juggling around 6 courses in a semester, and chances are… many of the assignments you get will be group work). I also think that you are given many more opportunities in university to apply these skillsets, and you’re most likely going to be assessed on these skillsets overtime, not through a do-or-die exam that a lot of you may be familiar with from high school. In time, you will find yourself getting better at applying these skills (that you might not have known you had!). So take the chance to first recognize that your abilities are malleable, and take the time to discover your strengths and weaknesses.

2. Take good notes

I used to go into every lecture with my notebook, and wrote down everything that was on the professors’ lecture slides. And of course, what happened most of the times is that my hand didn’t move as fast as my professors’ speech, so the notes ended mid-sentence. Come exam period, my incomplete scribbles weren't helpful, so I got a sore hand for essentially nothing. One change I made (and wish I made sooner) was that I started to print out lecture notes prior to going to the lecture, and wrote any supporting notes around the lecture slides.

I know some people have the prettiest notes – it’s like their notebook is a birthday card with flamboyant highlights and glitter pens. If this method works for you, by all means, don’t stop. For me, an overload of colors just makes me dizzy, so I take plain notes in black pen. When exams are around the corner, I make reworded and condensed notes on cue cards (this ‘decoding’ process helps you memorize material because you’re ‘translating’ what was taught into language you actually understand. Another perk of using cue cards is that they’re small enough to carry in your bag to revise while you commute!). I then highlight key terms in yellow, and terms/concepts I really had trouble with in green. They’re called highlighters for a reason. If the intended use of them were to color the entire notebook, they’d be called crayons.

3. (Ab)use the textbook!

I know textbooks are extremely expensive (why can’t they just print them in paperback? Hardcovers are more expensive and they don’t fit in my backpack anyway). Many of you may be intending on keeping them crisp and in new-like condition in order to sell it after the semester. As much as it kills me to make the first move of scribbling in my new textbook, I do it every time. I think they are worthy investments because chances are, you’re (hopefully) interested in the courses you are taking and therefore will be coming back to the books in the future.

Like I said above, the very process of highlighting terms is a studying process, and it will make reviewing easier for you later because all you have to do is look for the highlighted terms and concepts. Again, you can also make notes and write your own summaries around the textbook to make sense of all the information you’ve read. You will thank yourself later.

4. Amount of time spent ≠ Output

Have you ever told yourself, “Okay, I’m going to study in the library for 3 hours today”, and after the first 20 minutes you’re ready to call it a day? I think many of us fall in the trap of equating the number of hours spent with productivity. The worst is when we associate being in the library with fruitful studying – we all have that one friend who says, “Yeah man, I was in the library for 14 hours last night”, and you see that they reached level 97 on Candy Crush.

The way I see it, if you’re not into it, you’re just not into it. Some days, even if you genuinely planned on getting things done, you’re just _________ (insert convenient excuse here). And there’s really no point in studying on such days, so take a break. You’re going to be wasting time and resources if your mind isn't fully into it, so study in 20-minute intervals if that’s what works for you – just because you spend hours on something doesn’t mean it was effective. If you’re disciplined enough, you will make time for studying when you’re fully energized and ready to go.

5. Give yourself time

Some of you may be going to a completely different area or country for your undergraduate studies, and this can be overwhelming. The environment may be completely different from what you were accustomed to, even if you are to attend a university in your hometown – university as a whole is very likely to be extremely different from what it was like in high school. This transition was quite hard for me to get used to initially, and this might be the case for some of you too. But give yourself time to adjust. Take it as an opportunity to discover what works for you, be it study habits, daily routines, or people you feel comfortable with.

More importantly, give yourself time just for yourself – this sounds kind of silly as a sentence, but I cannot stress how crucial it is to allocate time to check up on yourself physically and mentally. In the midst of all the workload and everything else that is going on in your life, it’s easy to dismiss your feelings and emotions. You might be homesick, or simply stressed out. I speak from experience: the more you put off your emotions, the harder they will hit you a short while later. If you need to cry, just cry. If you need to scream, just scream (but maybe when your roommate is out). The point is for you to allocate time just for yourself.

And there you have it! The top five things I wish I knew before I stepped into university. I hope they give you some ideas, and will be at least somewhat useful to all of you. Bottom line is: be flexible, and stay true to who you are. Good luck, and have fun!

Moeka Komachi

About Moeka Komachi

"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." - Maya Angelou

Moeka Komachi

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