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College Academic Survival Guide

By Sean Morris And Alissa Gomoka
The leap from high school to college academics is not an insignificant one. You may have taken an AP or two (or five) in high school, but you probably have not been subject to the double-edged autonomy that comes with the college environment. Disciplining yourself for the first time, coupled with more challenging material and a more rigorous workload, puts the newly turned undergrad in a precarious position. However, with a rudimentary understanding of the inner-workings of a college course, and what it takes to succeed, you could be poised to take your first semester by storm.

To quote filmmaker Woody Allen, '90 percent of life is just showing up'. There is no setting on Earth that validates this statement more than college. The quick and easy primer of college success can essentially be boiled down to just one thing: show up to class. While in theory this sounds simple - after all, a 12-credit workload should equate to a very manageable 12 hours of class a week - there are a staggering number of students that routinely opt to blow off class. Since most professors have rigid attendance policies in place, missing even a handful of classes can have potentially crippling effects on your grade. With that in mind, become acquainted with your professor's policy (usually outlined in the syllabus) early and often, and never underestimate how strictly a professor will adhere to it.

Even the rogue absence or two can be very detrimental to your GPA. Since the total amount of time you spend in class is generally a measly sum, the need to cover vast amounts of material in a short window arises. Missing a single class might seem benign, but it could be the difference between being on top of the material and falling hopelessly behind. Your grade is a precious commodity; it would be foolish to squander it on an all-day Call of Duty session, no matter how much slay you're laying down.

The importance of going to class is undeniable. It keeps you on top of assignments, in the loop, and in the professor's favor. However, it would be unreasonable to expect that - over the course of a college career - the need (or desire) to miss a class will not present itself. Sickness, other academic commitments, and extreme bouts of lethargy are all common culprits of an absence, and no one is immune to them. To combat these problems, making a friend in your class can go a long way. Unfortunately, the vast majority of underclassmen have not emerged from the cocoon phase of their social butterfly metamorphosis, making networking a chore. Don't fret, though. With a little tactful prodding, you should be able to acquire a phone number or two from an introverted colleague. For more habitual class-cutters, having access to a reliable student in the class will be absolutely paramount to your success.

Unlike high school, in which teachers and students naturally become acquainted throughout the year, the structure of the college course is not nearly as conducive to forming an organic teacher-student relationship. While high school classes are usually capped at 35 students, college classes - especially those at the introductory, freshman level - can contain hundreds of students. This sheer number makes it nearly impossible for professors and students to gradually form an intimate relationship without one party making a significant and deliberate effort; an onus which inevitably falls on the student. It may seem daunting, even futile, to go out of your way to get to know your professor (especially if you're doing well in their class in relative anonymity), but don't discredit the power of this connection. Professors can help answer questions about material and give personalized instruction during their office hours - a weekly time when they are available in their office for walk-in visits.

As a first semester freshman, it is unlikely you'll be thinking about job prospects, and understandably so, being that you're just acclimating to a completely new environment. However, the ultimate purpose of the college curriculum is to prepare students for their careers, and professors are excellent resources for finding job, internship, and volunteer opportunities. Moreover, nearly every job that you'll apply for, either during the school year, summer or post-graduation, will require references. Luckily, professors are fantastic, well-respected people to ask to serve in this capacity. Remember, though, at the point where you are looking for a great opportunity within your prospective field or need a reference, it is too late to go back and form a relationship with a professor. You must continuously cultivate these relationships throughout your college tenure by waiting to talk to your professor after class and going to see them during their office hours. Even if you don't have a question about their class' material, just introduce yourself to them; this is great jumping off point for forming a relationship and professors love students who take this initiative. The rule of thumb is to form one relationship with a professor each semester. This will not only link you to opportunities and assure that you have people who can attest to your intellectual ability and work-ethic, but will also assure that you have a contact that you're comfortable going to if you start struggling with the material.

To outline the basic tenets of college academic survival: go to class, make a friend, and get to know your professor (it is important to note that what is conspicuously absent from that list is doing your work, which should go without saying). While it may seem simple at face value, the allure of living the slacker college lifestyle overpowers countless wayward freshmen each year. That being said, there's no reason you can't put it in the requisite effort to get good grades and have your dream college experience. Most of what it takes to succeed is common sense, it just takes a very modest time commitment on your end. Besides, once you get there, you'll find that shouldering the responsibility of being on your own is easier than you thought, and far more rewarding.

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