As a current grad student who struggled getting through a UC during her undergrad, I’ve had my fair share of late night study sessions. From drastic all-nighters to freaking out about tests I’d waited too long to study for, here are some of the tips I learned when transferring from a baby-step community college to plummeting headfirst into the challenges of a four-year university.
1. Take a break!
Huh? Take MORE breaks? How am I going to get any studying done if I keep taking breaks? Well, you’ve heard this all too often- budgeting your time is the key! It’s not easy, but once you get the hang of taking much-needed breaks from staring at that computer screen, you’ll feel way better. Try installing a Pomodoro App on your phone or computer and setting timers while you study. Taking 5 to 10 minute breaks in between 25-30 minute study sessions is the ONLY thing that got me through finals. Caution: Be sure to STOP what your doing right when the timer goes off! This will keep you motivated to come back to your task after the break and grab a sip of water or take a quick walk outside for some fresh air. Just make sure you get back to studying after the break alarm rings (Pro tip: keep the volume high on your device for when the alarm goes off)!
2. Out of sight, Out of mind?
One of the biggest distractions for students trying to study is that extra limb we’ve glued to ourselves known as the cell phone. Putting your phone on airplane mode or “do not disturb” can really help when attempting to study or write that dreaded final paper. Better yet, tuck your phone away someplace where you won’t find it! Studies have shown that silencing your phone is no longer enough to keep your mind off it- you’ll have to answer those Tinder messages later. Put your phone in a place you won’t be tempted to take it from, and get your work done. The longer you stay off it, the more productive you’ll be.
3. Meal Prep
Those hunger pains hitting you every five minutes after you’ve only typed the header of your ten page essay? Foodies rejoice- eating while you study could actually extend your 30 minute study of web browsing/crying/calculating-my-grade-to-see-if-I-really-need-to-do-this-right-now to a few hours of actual productive work! By preparing your food before sitting down at your computer or picking up those books you’ll certainly avoid constantly getting up for food and water. This tip is particularly handy when studying at the library and trying to avoid binging on chips or candy and accumulating coffee charges. Snacking is great, and healthy snacks are even better for your brain! So stop using food as an excuse and keep a reasonable supply of snacks and water at your side so you can keep working.
4. Find Your Study Space
The most difficult part of transferring to a UC for me was figuring out whether I was a library person or a “study-at-home” person. Most four-year universities have a myriad of study options, from cafes to libraries and even outdoor quiet spaces that are perfect for Santa Cruz tree huggers like myself. In any case, figure out your ideal study space fast- it’s amazing how some people need extreme quiet to study and others prefer people watching and a steady stream of white noise. There are many pros and cons to studying at home (or in your dorm) to studying in the library or anywhere else outside your living space. Try doing both in the beginning before your workload piles up so you can find where you feel most comfortable and the least bit distracted.
5. Catch some Z’s!
Another very common but crucial tip for college students. Remember that popular image of a triangle with sleep, social life, and good grades on each corner? Were you able to pick two things on that chart in good conscience? I know that’s how the reality of college feels, but it’s important to recognize the immense benefits that sleep can bring you- especially as a college student! Sure, you might be living it up at college parties and doing some necessary networking- but remember to treat your body to at least 7 to 9 hours per night so you not only maintain that fitness bod, but also stay awake in class!
6. Study Buddies
Whether you’re a freshman or a transfer student, it can be super intimidating talking to other students your first week of class. Gather up your courage and try introducing yourself to the person next to you. Odds are, you’ll be seeing one another a lot and classes will be so much more interesting when you have someone to share them with. As an introvert and one of the youngest transfer students in my class, I get that this is a challenging one. But just think of all the difficult papers and quizzes you’ll have coming up that are so much easier to study for with someone you already know! Just make sure your professor says its ok to work together… plagiarism is a serious offense when you get to a four-year university! Yes, even the dreaded group projects will most certainly come up in your undergraduate career. So make sure you’ve got someone you can tolerate in your class as a group partner and you’re good to go!
7. Planners and To-Do Lists
Some people enjoy writing things down, others type them into their phone’s calendar or “Notes” apps. Whatever works for you, I highly suggest keeping track of important dates from the first day of class. That first day or week reading the syllabus might seem like time off or even an introduction to the university, but make no mistake of taking a vacation here! Write down, highlight, and keep a mental note of all your quiz/paper/extra credit assignment due dates so you don’t miss a beat. Upon receiving my class syllabus, I always highlight the dates and (if time permits before the lecture) write them down in my planner. Making a to-do list and planning when I really want to get down to writing an assignment or studying helped me keep my head on straight when juggling three or four classes in a quarter system. When applying for a university, it’s imperative that you know the difference between a quarter system and a semester system so you can figure out your workload. Check out this video if you still aren’t sure which one works best for you.
8. Book worm- Buying books and alternatives to skimming
If your university is like most, you probably know or have heard of the stereotype that professors assign expensive books you hardly even end up using. Most of the books that I ended up reselling without even reading were cheap from the beginning- some of them I ended up keeping because they were so interesting I decided to read them later. There are endless ways to save on college textbooks, so buying books shouldn’t be too big of a concern. If you think your books are too expensive, try talking to your financial aid advisor or using one of the many tips here. Many of the books or articles I needed for a class were also found online. Your university library should grant you access to several academic journals you can use for research. Be sure to read the assigned portions of your book/article carefully, taking notes or creating index cards for future reference. Though “skimming” is a popular college remedy for long books and assigned readings, I’d steer clear of that technique. If you really are short on time, try reading the summaries (abstracts) or end paragraphs of the chapter/article to get a feel for what it was about. Then, try doing some “in-depth skimming” by reading as much as you can and summarizing the main points in your notes. Even if you hate reading, this tip can save you a world of time and energy so you don’t freak out during finals.
9. Finals brain
Speaking of finals- one of the biggest mistakes students make is underestimating the mental and physical toll they take on your mind and body. If you haven’t experienced finals yet, make sure you’re prepared. This may sound exaggerated or funny, but trust me when I say finals are no joke. We’ve heard it over and over again: procrastination is your biggest enemy in college. Using some of the techniques above, prepare yourself for the amount of studying you’ll need to do, get some rest, eat healthy, and study hard- and early- so you don’t suffer during finals week. Most universities have several mental health outlets during finals so students can detox their brains with fun activities and quiet study spaces. Keep yourself informed and motivated by following your university’s social media pages or even just online student groups where people post group study sessions or other activities to lift the burden of finals. You’ll get through it, so long as you feel prepared and try to get as much work done early as you can.
10. When the going get’s tough… It’s ok to change your mind!
This last tip is less relevant to studying, but really matters when it comes to what you’re actually studying. Countless college students end up changing their major during their undergraduate career- even when they’re about to finish the major! So, don’t worry if you feel unsure about the class you’re taking or the major you’ve declared upon starting at a university. Talk to your counselor, parents, friends, or just someone you trust to get some advice about that college major. Sometimes even sitting in on other classes from your potential new major can help you decide if the switch is right for you. Perhaps adding a minor is a tiebreaker to get the best of both worlds. Either way, do your research and figure out the best decision for your future. More often than not, it seems like a Bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for most jobs. As long as it’s something semi-relevant to your future career, don’t stress too much over the specifics of your major. I know most of my fellow alumni haven’t even gone on to work in the same field as their major (myself included) because they were able to tailor their combined job experience and degree to that particular position. So don’t stress- just study hard and get that degree so you can move on to the career of your dreams!