Today we are welcoming our first ever guest blogger! Stacey A. Forsythe, Ed.D. is an Assistant Professor in Sport Management, Recreation & Sport Administration (M.S.) at Western Kentucky University.
I have been in higher education for 13 years and the start of a new academic year is still always so exciting for me. The slate is clean, there is an entire crop of new students I get to meet, and everyone is refreshed and ready for new adventures and opportunities. It has been my experience that students do not come in to a semester with the intention of falling behind or slacking on work; it’s an unfortunate chain of events that usually begins with a general lack of time-management abilities, the absence of a true schedule, and the inexperience of balancing all of the wonderful experiences present on a college campus. For many college students, especially first-time freshmen, self-scheduling – and ownership of those scheduling decisions – is not something with which they are familiar. And therein lies their potential struggle as they enter college and are faced with new-found independence and autonomy. In addition to inexperience with managing their time and freedom, students often enter college without the knowledge of critical resources offered by their campuses that could prove helpful as they strive to maintain a balance of academic and social success. Many of you may have students headed to college, returning to college, or thinking about college. As students begin to move in to college campuses across the country, I thought I’d share my Top 3 Tips for Success that could help your students start the semester/academic career off right and avoid the downward spiral of disorganization that cripples many well-meaning students.
Top 3 Tips for Success
TIP # 1: ESTABLISH A ROUTINE:This seems so obvious but when I talk to students who are struggling, the first thing I ask them to do is show me their planner. Many of them do not even have any sort of calendar (paper, electronic, or otherwise). They know when their classes are and they rely on the school’s content management system, in my case, Blackboard, to remind them of due dates and assignments. In these cases, I encourage them to get a calendar of some sort and go through the following steps for each course:
Write down your class schedule for the semester by actually drawing a visual block of time in the schedule (i.e. Monday/Wednesday/Friday from 9:20-10:05am, etc.).
Write the due date for all assigned reading, assignments, projects, and exams (most professors provide this information on the syllabus or through the content management system)
Think of a realistic, self-imposed timelines for completing all assignments and projects and work backwards from the actual due dates to allow enough time for final edits or last-minute additions.
Schedule in time for sustenance. This is sometimes overlooked when scheduling classes. Food/fuel is important!
Next, fill in any work/volunteer obligations.
Students typically can handle the first five steps easily. This next part is the critical part:
6. It is recommended that for every 3-hour course, you spend at least double that on studying/reading/writing/working on that course. If a typical student is enrolled in 15 hours a semester (which is highly recommended if you want them to graduate in 4 years), he or she should be spending at least 30 hours a week on studying/reading/writing/working on his or her courses. Many times, spending that much time a week on school stuff is not realistic. However, students should schedule time into their calendars for working on course work. If students add study time to their calendars, they are more likely to actually do it. I encourage my students to write in study time just like it was a job – because going to college is a job.
7. Stick to the schedule but make some adjustments when necessary. You may have a huge project in one course and an easier week in another. Shift time and resources to conquer big projects but do your best to get back on schedule to maintain consistency. Consistency creates habits and positive academic habits lead to success.
Online courses are a different beast. Because students don’t physically sit in class, they tend to not spend as much time on working on these classes. As a result, they often procrastinate on work and turn in sub-par work right before the deadline. My advice for online classes to schedule time each day to work on the class like you are going to class, just like you would a traditional course. For example: if it is a three-hour course, set aside at least an hour or two, three times a week, to work on that course. Physically block it out in the calendar.
There are several options for planners in today’s world and finding one that works for you is key in getting – and staying – organized. Some colleges provide free paper planners and those are always good because they usually have important add/drop dates, withdraw information, university closings, and holidays. A lot of students find success with the iPhone (or whatever phone) calendar + reminders. Other students really like semester digital planners right on their iPads. I encourage students in my classes to add all dates to their calendars during the first week of classes. If they have a visual of the work ahead of them, they can learn how to more quickly and efficiently manage their time.Click edit button to change this text.
TIP # 2: KNOW WHERE TO FIND RESOURCES:
Colleges need students in order to keep the lights on. In an attempt to keep those students on campus, Universities often provide incredible resources – FREE OF CHARGE. The travesty of it all is that more times than not, students don’t know about the resources until it’s too late and they are extremely behind in their courses. My best advice here is to research those resources ahead of time. Most of the information can be found on the university’s website. Common (FREE) resources, that students often don’t know about, are:
Student Success Centers – these centers provide everything from tutoring, to advising, to career services.
Writing Centers – this is a professor’s dream. Writing centers will often check papers for style and grammar errors, content, and structure. I often encourage my students to go there at least once a semester to get advice on how to write more effectively. This could potentially make a difference in a student’s overall grade in a course.
Health and Nutrition Services – Many campuses offer free health and nutrition consultations with professionals on campus. Students can meet with them to talk about goals, barriers, and challenges. Staying healthy is critical to performance in the classroom.
Counseling Services – this is huge. The stress of college can be overwhelming for many students and, if left unaddressed, could cause catastrophic outcomes for students and families. Most campuses employ phycologists to help students work through various stresses and challenges they face while in college. Services are confidential.
There are so many more services that are likely offered at institutions across the country. The important take-away is that they exist and could make a difference in the success, and livelihood, of your student.
TIP # 3: TALK TO YOUR PROFESSORS
It never fails: there are three weeks remaining in the semester and a student, who has never spoken a word in class, is frequently absent, and habitually turns assignments in late – or not at all – comes up to me to profess that he is failing and wants to know if there is anything that he can do. At that point, no. There is nothing he can do. Aside from making sure to come to class, participate, and do the work, he should have made sure to come meet me at the beginning of the semester so I could get to know him.
A common misconception of professors is that we are cold-hearted, empty-souled capsules of humans who thrive off the failure and embarrassment of students. To the contrary, most of us care very deeply for our students and we want them to succeed. As a mother, I strive to treat students with respect and encouragement that I hope my children one day receive. Nonetheless, students seem to be very intimidated by us and avoid outside interaction at all costs. If a student comes to me with concerns, or they need clarification, I will go above and beyond to help them understand…as will most of my colleagues.
Professors are required to hold office hours and this is an excellent opportunity for students to speak to his or her professor about material they might not understand, a project they’re having trouble with, or a deadline they are struggling to meet. We can’t help fix things if we don’t know what needs fixing. I encourage my students to meet with their professors sooner – rather than later – to talk about barriers to success they may be facing.
These tips aren’t full-proof but they are the three most common themes that seem to impact my students the most. Getting organized before the semester is key in staying organized throughout the semester. Knowing where to find critical resources that could help your student succeed in the classroom is as simple as a search on the institution’s website. Encouraging your student to get to know his or her professors is important; we are more likely to give grace to students who show initiative in their own success.