College Advice from Someone who Graduated with a 3.986/4.00 GPA – and Still had a Life!

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My academic success is a large motivator for why I started All Wavelengths. I want to share my experience and advice for doing well in the classroom while balancing everything else in life! It is possible!

This post will scratch the surface of the main things to which I attribute much of my academic success. Let me know your advice for academic success in the comments!

I discovered the best study methods for me.

I knew that I had to study in college. But I didn’t know how to study! Specifically, I didn’t know the best study methods for my learning style. I definitely studied for tests in high school, but I was given more guidance and structure in order to prepare for those exams. Further, the amount of material covered in high school was typically a lot less per test. In my first few college classes, it felt like they were jamming in so much information in 15 weeks. I needed a study strategy! I had taken a few of those online quizzes that tell you what type of learner you are, but never really knew what that meant in a practical sense. I tried many different methods through trial and error; I attended guided study sessions, did group studying with friends, created flashcards, typed my notes, and read class material over multiple times.

Through a lot of trial and error, I discovered the way information stuck for me. Besides actively listening in class (minimizing online shopping and texting during class), I would take my computer or iPad with a keyboard and take notes (with the exception being math class). I would also take a notebook in case there was a diagram or chart I could replicate easier by hand. Then, ideally shortly after the lecture, I would write or rewrite my notes in my notebook using color coding headings, highlights, etc. to create the “pretty” version. To study, I would just rewrite my notes, create outlines or sections that weren’t sticking on paper again, on a chalkboard, whiteboard, any place I could just write the information. Having to continuously think about what I was writing multiple times seemed to help the information stick for me. Importantly, when I was trying out different study methods, I kept an open mind, but I didn’t force myself to adopt another person’s study style if it didn’t fit or feel right to me. Group studying turned into gossip sessions, and reading my notes over and over again worked extremely well for one of my roommates, but I retained very little information when I tried that technique.

I learned how to manage my time.

Through trial and error, I learned what organizational tactics worked best for me. I used a planner for my first few semesters, but tapered off as the daily and weekly planning didn’t fit my personal preferences. My most reliable organizational tool was my desk calendar where I wrote all my major academic deadlines, work/internship schedule, and other events so I could see the monthly and semester-long spread of what was coming up. Starting the Spring semester of my freshman year then until I graduated, I worked an internship and/or jobs. I slowly ramped up my outside commitments because I learned improved my study skills and became a better student. I treated school like a job (for me, a full-time job) so I got better at the “job” (being a student) as I got more “experience” (took more classes), despite courses getting more difficult at the upper level. I slowly added extracurriculars and work commitments, and by my last semester, I was working 30 hours while managing a full course load that was all classes that counted towards my major or minor! Keeping myself busy forced me to manage my time properly and account for fun things and job hunting my last semester.

I planned my academic career and revisited that plan frequently.

I took my 4-year plan very seriously from my first semester (3.5 years for me because I came in with AP credits). I didn’t have to change my major, but I did add a minor. I invested time into what was required of my major and minor, and was able to really understand how to plan my semesters, even years in advance. I figured out how I could structure my course schedule to accommodate a job or internship that usually require interns to have a full day free. It definitely took time because there was never a guarantee that I would be able to get into a particular class, but I had backups listed as well; at my alma mater, some classes I had to take were only offered during certain semesters in certain years! Knowing when to fit those into my schedule helped me have it all figured out. Additionally, I was able to take a lower-level class when I was a senior, so that helped me focus more on job hunting.

I knew when to ask for academic and emotional help.

I wasn’t able to get through college without help from my teaching assistants, professors, classmates, family, and friends. Although it took me a while to gain the confidence to ask my instructors for help, I came to feel confident that my instructors were truly there to help me learn. I learned it’s okay to speak up even when everyone else in the room is nodding that they “get” what the professor just explained–usually there are other people in your class who are too shy to speak up but are just as confused as you are! Additionally, I frequented office hours, participated in class, and had my “class friends”, people I would sit with and work with during class, but didn’t hang out with outside of class. With my family and friends, I leaned on them for emotional support when I felt like I just couldn’t focus on school anymore. There were days I felt seriously stressed out, anxious, and sad, but I relied on my emotion support team to get me through by venting to them or visiting them.  

I discovered my passion and stuck with it.

I love learning, which is a big reason why I am going back to school for my Ph.D. I didn’t enjoy every class in my major, but I enjoyed the majority of them. I did contemplate changing my major, but I was fortunate enough to really enjoy the majority of my coursework part of my major and minor. Although studying is never what I would consider fun, the topics and material in my classes were usually interesting to me. I discovered my passion in high school, but I had friends who discovered their passions through classes they took that steered them towards a field, or even away from a field! I was able to find like-minded people who were passionate about the same topics I was passionate about in my classes and extracurriculars.

I controlled my distractions.

In college, I usually started my day scrolling through social media and ended with scrolling through social media…and was also scrolling throughout the day. I discovered social media was a huge distraction for me, particularly on my phone, when I needed to write a paper or study. I would read 1-2 pages of an assigned reading and I’d suddenly be back scrolling through my social media feeds! I deleted social media apps from my phone as I was going into finals one semester, and found it really useful for me to focus on getting through the tasks at hand. Some people may call it a social media “detox”, and it definitely helped me focus not only on my schoolwork but on myself as well.

I made time for myself.

I made sure to treat or reward myself when I needed to. I went out, watched movies, went shopping — things that acknowledged my hard work. I rewarded myself for getting through a tough test, or finishing applications for internships or jobs. I tried to work out as much as I could. But, I put myself schoolwork first when I needed to. This may be a bit of an obvious point. Although I did carve out time for myself and tried to put my mental health first, my GPA was important to me because I knew I wanted to get into graduate school eventually, and I knew potential employers would likely using a that as a metric to assess me in a pile of other resumes. If I had a big exam or paper coming up, I stayed in and studied if I needed time to prepare. Although there were always things I wanted to do besides study, I planned enough time to ensure that I wasn’t short-changing myself the time I needed to study or prepare for class.

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When I look back on my college experience, I attribute my academic success to putting in the effort to study and work hard but also making room for personal growth.

What would you like to see me talk more about? Study tips? Organization tips? Let me know in the comments!

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