Approaches to Studying in College

You will often find homework, projects, and exams to be very different in the college world than they were in the high school world.  This doesn’t always mean “harder,” just different – although yes, they will often be significantly harder.  But the major differences that make these assignments so much more difficult include the tighter time constraints, drastic changes in environment, and lengthier tasks in question.  All of this will be so brand new to you, nothing like the days when you came home at 3 p.m. to sit and work on worksheets at your kitchen table.  With all the surrounding distractions, identifying a successful study atmosphere on a college campus can initially seem like a lost cause, so here are some paths you can take that will guide you in a helpful direction.

Study Groups: Never, ever, ever underestimate the power of a study group.  Even if you’re one of those people who prefers to work independently and thinks groups slow productivity down, you’d be surprised at how many more answers you can come up with just by working with other people.  Whether it be in a lecture or a small discussion class, if you’re having trouble understanding a concept, odds are other students are too.  By coming together and literally talking through it, you have multiple minds working, reading, and brainstorming aloud.  Since you’ve all been through the same class sessions with the same professor and are therefore on the same page with this particular curriculum, you automatically form the best team to nail down the answers to your questions.  One student may have missed a bullet point that another student picked up and some students may grasp a concept where others have no idea where to begin.  These groups are the ultimate way to put the pieces of the puzzle together and find the solutions upon you when you least expect it.  It really does roll back to the old cliché, “two heads are better than one.”

Libraries, Coffee Houses, and the Student Union: These are the quintessential college spots you always hear about.  No matter who you are, these will be prominent parts of your college experience just by physically living on campus – you can’t help but find yourself in one of these buildings from time to time.  Some, actually many, students go particularly out of their way to head to these places over and over again.  Why?  Because they make great study spots.  Caffeine is readily available, you are never alone, and most importantly, they are open late.  The latter can’t always be applied to the coffee shops, but certainly for the libraries and most likely the Student Union.  These are terrific alternatives to your noisy dorm or drafty apartment and the way their atmospheres cater to students leaves you never feeling out of place.  These are environments where it’s acceptable to show up in sweatpants and set up camp with your laptop open, Red Bull by your side, and midnight snack in hand.  This approach to studying culminates a key part of the collegiate experience.

Professors and Office Hours: The idea of office hours is usually blown off by students right when they read it on the syllabus or first hear the professor speak of them.  The reason for this is that office hours are usually held at random times in the afternoon when students either have another class or just don’t want to take the time to attend.  If you want to understand class material better and none of your efforts independently or with fellow students has worked, then going directly to the source should be your next step.  Your professor is required to hold office hours, a time when he or she is guaranteed to be in their office and ready to answer any questions you may have, so why wouldn’t you take advantage of it?  If you have another commitment at this time, such as class, then email your professor to set up a different time to meet and they will almost always accommodate you.  If you aren’t busy during this time, you must overcome the laziness and get yourself over there.  Talking to your professor one on one and being able to ask follow-up questions you might have been too nervous to ask in class will do wonders for you comprehension of a lesson plan.  This is the ultimate way to get a real handle on things and receive actual insider advice on how to triumph the academic challenges in front of you.  It is the most personalized learning you will get.  Plus, showing up in the first place will ensure you stand out positively in the professor’s mind for outwardly showing effort – a perk that may help you when grading time comes around.

The common element in all of these studying approaches is self-discipline.  In college, no one is there to make sure you get all this work done on time nor are they there to wake you up and get you to these classrooms when you need to be in them.  Succeeding in college relies on your ability to take full responsibility and control of what you do.  Put yourself in the right places with the right surroundings and you will study well.