Practical survival tips for college students:


1) Attend class. It's the single easiest thing you can do to be a successful college student, and not doing it is the single most efficient way to sabotage your grades. If you know in advance about classes you must miss, notify your professor well in advance, preferably in writing, and then follow up with a verbal reminder. Always act independently to find out what you missed if you must miss class: professors tend to be miffed by students who expect them to provide the information they missed. If you must ever miss an exam or the like due to unforeseen circumstances, notify your professor in advance or at the first possible opportunity—the more time passes, the fewer options there may be for dealing with the situation, and professors tend to be suspicious about "emergencies" that they don't hear about until after several days have passed.


Be respectful in class. Many professors won't shush talkers or confront latecomers, under the assumption that students are adults who are expected to be responsible for their own behavior. But rest assured that they notice and are annoyed, whether they say so or not. Most professors prefer for students to be active and even to challenge what they say in class, but do it respectfully.


2) Have informed expectations about the amount of time you will need to devote to your studies. Carrying a full-time (15 semester hours or so) college load has traditionally been considered a full-time pursuit. A traditional formula advises students to expect to spend two to three hours outside of class per week per semester hour. Adding up class time and outside-class time, this means that you should expect to spend 45-60 hours per week on a 15 semester-hour classload. Does that leave time for your job? That’s a question you should definitely be asking yourself. Those who are employed significantly during the academic year (as opposed to a “pizza money” job) may need to carefully consider what kind of academic load they will be able to manage successfully. If you try to carry loads that you cannot manage, you not only risk your grades, but you simply limit your ability to fully experience and learn from your studies. College has traditionally been a unique time in a person’s life when there are few competing responsibilities and one can devote a large amount of their attention to pursuing their passion. For most of us, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do so.


3) Recognize that each of your professors is passionate about their subject (even if they don't show it the way you would expect them to.) Even if you couldn't care less about the subject matter (you probably should care, anyway), never show it. There is perhaps no greater personal affront for any person than to be told (verbally or non-verbally) that what you care a great deal about is trivial. This will be good practice for dealing with bosses, mothers-in-law, etc., in the future. Besides, if you remain open to the possibility of being engaged by a subject, there's a much higher chance that you actually will become engaged by it.


4) When you are struggling, try to do the work anyway. If you can't do it, go see your professor, and show him/her where in the process you became lost. Do this before the work is due whenever possible. Outside-of-class work is assigned and evaluated with the expectation that you have opportunities to ask for help if you need it. Specific issues can always be addressed, whereas it's hard to do much for a student when all they can say is "I'm lost."


5) Use office hours, or ask to make an appointment if you are unavailable during office hours. Professors are often very protective of their time, but are generally happy to see students taking the initiative to come for help. Follow his/her lead on chattiness: be businesslike and try to keep it to 10–15 minutes, unless s/he wants to be more chatty. College students used to be advised to visit each of their professors during office hours early in the semester and simply introduce themselves. This is now considered a cute, trite practice from days gone by, but is still pretty good advice.


6) If you get behind: first, stop the bleeding. If poor attendance and/or work habits are part of your problem (they usually are), fix those things immediately. Second: make an appointment with the professor immediately. Ask him/her to help you make a plan to get back on track. Ask for a follow-up appointment in the near future to assess how it is going. Never ask for extra-credit work to make up for regular course work that you have blown off: that sends the message that the work s/he had a good reason for assigning wasn't important, but your grade is. Remember that, while the grade is very important to you, it is only a means to an end for your professor. Ask what you need to do to improve your grade and get a better mastery of the material. If extra work is an option, s/he will offer.


7) If you do poorly on an exam or important assignment, make an appointment to discuss what went wrong and how to prevent it in the future. Remember, your professor will not necessarily know that you are disappointed with that outcome unless you say so.


8) During the home stretch of the semester, expect to be under extra stress for a few weeks. Some coping suggestions:


A. If you are considering giving up sleep, don't go overboard, and consider getting up earlier rather than staying up later: you're much more likely to use that time efficiently.


B. Stress is physical as well as mental: don't put extra stress on your body with sleep deprivation, by increasing your intake of alcohol, caffeine, etc. or by eating a junkier diet. Try to increase your water consumption and eat reasonably well. This is not a good time to begin or end a relationship, come out to your parents, become pregnant, or for any other life-altering action.


C. Downtime is important: don't eliminate leisure activities altogether, but schedule them in very small doses: e.g. ten minutes of internet surfing instead of two hours. Consider doing something more physical for downtime.


D. Finish work early whenever possible. This gives you time for proofreading, getting feedback from your professors before turning things in, and a cushion if things take longer than you expected.


E. Just resign yourself to a limited social life during this period. It's only a few weeks out of your life.