Rune's College Survival Guide!
From one who has recently graduated, 20 tips to surviving your college experience! Follow them or DIE! ^_^
1. Always Take Notes.
2. ALWAYS Take Notes! Prof's name is on the syllabus... write it down on the front of the class notebook anyway! Lecture's about stuff you already know? Write it down because you can never already know it enough! Name of the cute girl/boi/herm sitting next to you? You'll forget it in a week so write it down!
3. Go Local And Save. I was turned down by Big Name University and State University treated me like shit at orientation so I went to Local College. From home, still living with my parents. (The horror!) In hindsight, I paid half the tuition at Local College and saved $5000 a year by not going to dorms, so I'd be $40,000+ in debt if I'd gone to Big Name University. So maybe I didn't get the whole "college experience" of living with crazy roomies in the dorms, but I came away with zero debt, no student loans! Don't necessarily pass up the big names, but find the biggest university or two within daily commute distance and give them a chance.
4. It's All About The Grade. Start by dividing up the magic 100% for each class by the grade weighting at the beginning of the semester. Focus on what counts. Like if the homework is only 5% of the class's total grade points, you can skip it. Do the same in each exam, putting the most effort in the problems with the most grade points. Though, some sadistic profs will make low point items things you MUST pass to pass the class just to ruin your ability to work efficiently.
5. College Is A Mind Game. For the purposes of each class, everything the professor says is true and you believe it. Reports are not about what YOU think but what the prof is teaching and wants to hear and will give you 10/10 for. The Professor's approach is always the Correct Approach, even if you really know a better way! Act as if that you actually find your classes interesting, and they will become interesting. Let yourself believe what the professor wants you to regurgitate even if you know it's wrong. You can return to reality later.
6. Triage. Keep a close eye on which assignments are due and do the ones due earliest. Often this will mean doing whatever homework that's due tomorrow. But sometimes you'll be overloaded and like a doctor in wartime in a field of casualties, have to let some things slip by and die. Do the most critical or grade point-rich assignments first in case you run out of time. (It's all about the grade,)
7. Be Prepared. Especially for test time. Have spare batteries for your calculator when walking into math class... 4 years is a long time, and you'll probably run out of battery at least once in a final exam. Big erasers (for big mistakes)... it wasn't uncommon for me to scribble up the whole page with possible solutions and then erase everything that wasn't the Correct Approach. Portable staplers are nice for taking a test apart to solve it easier and then putting it back together afterwards.
8. Cheat Without Cheating. Always make a "cheat sheet" of the formulas or information you'll need going into a test, even if you won't be allowed a formula sheet and don't use it, it's a good way to review and memorize the information. There's nothing against memorizing the formulas just before test time and writing them down again on the back of the test. *winks*
9. Spare No Expense. Don't worry about the cost of textbooks, supplies, food... if you're paying $5000 or more on tuition a semester (and thousands more on living in the dorms), what's another $200 on books? Don't sell back anything you think you'll really need as a reference (having my old math and physics books saved me countless times in my later Engineering Masochism classes). Similarly, buy good notebooks and whatever pens and pencils don't cramp up your hand after 4 hours of writing homework. Remember, It's All About The Grade.
10. The Professor Is NOT Your Friend. Most will seem very helpful, answer questions, talk casually in and out of class... and give you a failing grade with a smile. Don't hesitate to use office hours to get help, but never get on their bad side if you can help it. And for god's sake keep up appearances: showing up late for class every week, frantically scribbling homework to turn in by the end, and/or arguing over grading WILL cost you. Act like you care at all times, even if you couldn't really give a shit, or the prof won't give a shit about you come grading time.
11. Manage Error. After each exam is returned, see which specific errors cost you the most points. Then study the right way to do those things. (It's all about the grade.) If you're not sure go over it with the professor, not to argue the grade (90% of the time the prof will "find" an error they didn't the first time and LOWER the grade!) but to find out exactly what you did wrong so you won't make the same mistake twice.
12. Nobody Is Going To Help You. Except for some rare 100-level or gen-ed classes, any tutoring provided by the university is fail. Or in the case of higher-level courses, nonexistent. Don't expect professional societies or honors societies to provide class assistance, even if they promise to and/or your buddy had someone help them with their Masochism 666 homework. They won't be there for you come time for your turn to take Masochism 666. Friends in the same classes you are will let you down more often than they'll study with you. You just have to knuckle down and work through the material yourself.
13. Lab Partners Are Lab Morons. Virtually everyone you will be paired or grouped with will be a moron. Nobody Is Going To Help You. They will either just not pull their fair share, fail at "speling" and "grammer", outvote you to do the lab the wrong way, or just try to spruce up last year's report that got 10/10 and pass it off as their own. (The most dangerous thing of all!) Just remember, you're graded on the quality of the final report, and not how close you came to the Correct Approach but how well you explain what went wrong. Be imaginative with listing possible sources of error and what your group (probably) screwed up. And for gods' sake, don't let the Lab Morons use a file from someone else and/or someone else's data and change it "enough"... the Prof didn't get to be a Professor by being dumb.
14. Scientific Writing Is Just an Dialect. Like a Southern Accent or a British Accent. Writing scientific or technical lab reports isn't as hard as you might think. You can write almost exactly as you would talk, and say the most obvious things, if you say it in a Scientific Accent. "Dude, they have this big atom smasher and it like smashes protons together, at the speed of light, cause they're like trying to create the Big Bang and find this thing called 'The God Particle". Trippy, man." translates roughly "The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) magnetically acellerates a stream of protons, which is then divided into two particle streams in opposing directions: one clockwise, one counter-clockwise, which are subsequently collided. The proton streams are travelling at 0.9999c at the time of collision, resulting in collision energy levels approaching that of the Big Bang. One experiment currently being conducted at the LHC is an attempt to observe if the collision energies produce the Higgs Boson, or "God Particle"." (Always make the scientific writing as long as possible to pad your reports out.)
15. Sleep Is For The Weak! Work into the night. You can always take an extra hour or two if you need it to get an assignment done. In the morning, class time rolls around fast and then you'll be praying to the gods to warp time (they won't.) And an all-nighter once in a while (like, once a week) never killed anyone.
16. You Are What You Eat. I used to get sick rather frequently. I tried to prevent cold and flu by many methods until I found one that worked. You can do without sleep or showers or clean clothes if you eat good food. Pass up pizza and ramen and candy from the vending machine. Instead have sandwiches, fruit, and if you have access to a stove or cooktop, meat and potatoes. Daily multivitamins will fill in the gaps in your nutrition. Don't skip meals to get to class in a hurry, and don't hesitate to pack and eat food in class if you have back-to-back classes (I didn't run into a single prof who objected to me eating while sitting in classrooms or computer labs clearly marked "no food or drink") I haven't been sick for over 2 years since I started eating right... sleep, cleanliness and exercise be damned.
17. Night Classes Are For Losers. Midway through college, I took a look at my transcript. Being over-analytical, I noticed most of my failed, repeated classes were at 8pm or later. Never took a night class again. Point is, find your discomfort zone (early morning or late night or whenever) and never take a class at that time.
18. Have Fun! Counter-intuitively, the best thing you can do for your productivity is blow one or two weekends a semester on the one thing you REALLY want. Dangle it in front of yourself mentally like a carrot on a stick as the Reward, the Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow. For me, it was the Furcon in my state. Whatever restores your sanity and energy.
19. It's Never Too Late To Get Help. Being naturally shy and knowing The Professor is Not Your Friend, I was reluctant to show my profs assignments I was failing so badly I had nothing at all to show them. Swallow your pride and just do it. You should still chose your words carefully, of course, but it saved my hide. Once, having blown off a term paper all semester, ("underestmated the assignment" I said) I walked into the prof's office a week before it was due sure I was going to fail the class, and walked out with The Subject my report was to be on.
20. Take the Path Of Least Resistance. This is what I wish I'd done! Do a lot of different classes in the first couple years, such as your gen-ed classes, to find out what you're good at, then focus on something you got a perfect or near-perfect grade in easily. I got that part down, but not the "easily" part. I thought I'd be good at Engineering after I aced physics and ended up taking YEARS longer than a 4-year degree, stubbornly toughing out my Masochism classes. In retrospect, I wish I'd made my gen-ed language my major, because learning a language was SO little work for me, I made it a minor just to relax from my "real" classes in engineering. And the prof was actually fun to talk to and hang out with (of course, The Professor is Not Your Friend, but in hindsight, she was the best prof I ever dealt with). Don't make the mistake I did! Don't settle on a major early on and don't fall into the trap of thinking your career or profession has to be hard work to be real work! Have Fun!