If you encountered this question on a test, how would you answer?
On a scale of 1 to 5, how difficult is college?
- (somewhat easy)
- (somewhat difficult)
- (very difficult)
If your answer is either a one or five, you’re probably wrong.
For most students, college is neither easy nor impossible. Depending on their background, intellect, and skills, most students who’ve been through college would likely answer within the range of two to four, from somewhat easy to very difficult.
In my own experience both as a student and professor, I’d argue that the best answer for most students is a three, somewhat difficult.
Of course, many variables come into play:
- Colleges have different standards.
- Teachers have varying expectations.
- Subject matter ranges widely.
On the whole, though, most students preparing to enter college will find that classes are somewhat difficult, not impossible. In fact, once students master certain practices, they’ll find that college classes become much more manageable than before. What are those practices?
In short, they are…
- Know your syllabus.
- Manage your workflow wisely.
- Actively engage in learning.
- Study for tests continuously.
- Learn what’s expected and do it.
Let’s look at each of these practices in turn.
Know your syllabus
Essentially, a syllabus is a contract between a teacher and students in a given course. In most–if not all–college classes, you’ll be given a syllabus at the beginning of the semester. As mentioned in another article, a course syllabus will…
- provide information about textbooks and meeting times and locations,
- inform you of the professor’s attendance policy and late-work policy,
- let you know what assignments you’ll need to do during the semester, and
- help you understand the professor’s grading practices.
Because so much vital information is provided in a course syllabus, you really should read the syllabus at the beginning of the semester and keep it at hand throughout the semester.
Whether you need to contact your professor to ask a question, learn about what assignments are due this week, or check the professor’s late work policy, you’ll find answers in the course syllabus.
When in doubt, go to the source–the syllabus!
Manage your workflow
On average, one-third of your time spent learning will be in class; two-thirds will be out of class.
On a typical week you may spend fifteen hours in class but thirty hours on homework. Because so much studying takes place out of the classroom, you’ll find it necessary to wisely manage your workflow wisely. It’s too easy to spend time socializing, gaming, or playing sports when you ought to be studying.
To manage such distractions, create and follow a weekly study schedule, making exceptions to that schedule only when necessary or beneficial. To maximize your time during study sessions, create lists of assignments with due dates to help yourself stay on track.
While studying, block distractions by closing your door, studying in a quiet place, avoiding social media outlets, and/or turning off phone notifications.
Actively engage in learning
Educational researchers have found–not surprisingly–that students who actively engage in class or with homework learn and remember more. What does it mean to actively engage? Put simply, it means paying attention and doing something. How do you do this?
You can actively engage during lectures by taking notes, asking questions, and responding to prompts. You can actively engage with assigned reading by previewing the material, making marginal notes, highlighting key points, and summarizing the reading.
If you remain attuned to what you’re hearing and reading, you’ll find college classes much more manageable.
Study for tests continuously
While it may be tempting to put off studying for an exam until you have time for an all-night cram session, such a practice has several drawbacks:
- You’ll be more tired the following day.
- Your mind won’t work as well.
- You won’t retain the information long term.
To study well for a test, you should make a practice to review class lectures and reading assignments early and often, following a structured review process. How does this work?
- Immediately after a lecture or reading, summarize what you’ve heard and read, reviewing the material to check for any gaps or misunderstandings.
- Within a week, read those summaries again to bring back to mind what you’ve learned.
- Check the summaries again a couple weeks later to refresh your memory.
- Just prior to the test, spend time reviewing these summaries, additional notes, and any study guides.
If you actively engage with what you’re learning and follow a structured review process, you won’t have to pull an all-nighter to get ready for a test.
Do what’s expected
While it may seem simple, the most essential practice that leads to success in college is just doing what your professors expect. Although in most classes test grades make up the majority of the grade, in many classes other kinds of work–papers, presentations, project–also make up a significant portion of your grade.
If you pay attention to expectations by reading your syllabus and listening to your professor, carefully follow directions while completing assignments, and submit your best work on time, you’re almost certain to pass your classes. Once you know what to do, just do it.
By applying the other practices mentioned in this article–reading your syllabus, managing your workflow, actively engaging in learning, and studying for tests continuously, you’ll be able to succeed even more.
Such practices move college classes from impossibly difficult to certainly do-able.
Having been born abroad and raised in different cultures, Lyle Witt has enjoyed spending much of his career supporting international students. After earning a M.A. in Education from a state university, Lyle taught international students in college prep programs at a community college and university before joining the faculty at a regionally accredited college, where he serves as a division chair and assistant professor.
When he can, Lyle spends time reading, gardening, and disc golfing. He also enjoys camping, hiking, and mountain biking. While not teaching, he finds it a refreshing change to work with his hands, building decks, repairing houses, and fixing things.
Lyle is blessed to be a husband, father of two sons and two daughters, and a follower of Christ.