How many of us have said at some point “I wish I knew then, what I know now?” There are any number of reasons, including, as I found out, not listening to someone older and wiser and not taking away the right lesson from a mistake. I’ve done some reflecting on my past through the lens of being a non-traditional student, and there are a few things I learned that I think might be helpful for new and returning students to know.
1. Find a mentor and ask for help
As a high schooler, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I always had at least one job during the school year and two during the summer. The feeling of being rewarded for my work and enjoying career success is something I fell in love with quickly. Yet, I needed some guidance to help direct my energies in school. I wish I had done more to find a mentor.
Making the connection between the classroom and my workplace was always a struggle for me. That is why I recommend that younger students find a teacher, supervisor, or any professional person whom you really connect with to go to regularly for guidance and support..
Mentorship creates a long-lasting relationship with someone whohas a wealth of experience in the academic and professional worlds. Mentors provide feedback based on an outside view of your work, thoughts, and actions. I am always working to improve myself in every aspect of life, but until I identify my weaknesses, how can I improve them? Mentors provide an honest view of our weak points and help us improve them.
2. Be Organized, Be Prepared
Part of being an adult is making the best use of time. My desk, briefcase, and laptop desktop are set up in such a way that I can accomplish all my tasks efficiently. I’ve found that keeping my work area clean, organized and well stocked helps me focus on tasks as they arrive. Keep a schedule with due dates of your school work, class times, work times, and appointments. Be realistic with the amount of time you give each project. Don’t try to cram too many tasks in one day or you’ll find yourself cutting corners to get them done. Organizing yourself and remaining focused on a few tasks helps you work more efficiently and, in the end, allows for a better work/life balance.
At the start of each semester every professor provides a syllabus with due dates and expectations. The first thing I do after class is input each due date in my calendar with reminders. This way, nothing is overlooked. My best practice is to try to finish my work early, so I can read ahead and prepare for the upcoming lecture. Reading ahead helps me comprehend a lecture on new material. I go into a lecture with questions in mind rather than trying to absorb everything the instructor is discussing.
3. Beware of the “Comparison Trap”
In high school, I used to envy the students who sat in the front of class, raising their hands for every question, and getting good grades on their work. The voice in my head asked, why am I not as good as them? This is called the comparison trap. I only saw their best moments, the fruits of their labor, without considering the sacrifices they made to achieve it.
What’s a student to do? This is where organization, prioritizing, and asking for help all comes together. I always set aside enough time to study, write down any questions I had while studying, and wait until the lecture to see if my instructor covers them. If any of my questions weren’t answered or remained unclear I knew I could ask my professor for clarification.
Instead of envying the star student and comparing myself to him/her, I found a way to compare my past behaviors to the student I am today. . Over the past two and a half years, I have refined this method and found that it has been the driving force in my success. It required me to do two things:
- Recognize my opportunity cost, that is: sacrifice some of my free time now in pursuit of a more successful future, and
- Find others around me (like professors, tutors, students, and colleagues) that I could approach and ask for help or clarification.
I understand how difficult some of my recommendations might be. Asking for help isn’t easy, especially if you feel like your question is dumb. If that is the case, write it down and ask someone in a one-on-one setting.
Getting help, being prepared, and evaluating your personal progress as a student can be a clear path to success.. I hope these tips will help guide you in pursuit of your academic goals. Feel free to share your own tips for success in the comments below.