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Back to School Week: Academic Advice from the Other Side of the Desk

So here we are at our last Back to School Week (that turned into two weeks because I’m still not quite back in the blogging groove) Post for this year! Some academic advice direct from your resident student-turned-professor. Being relatively young for a prof certainly has it’s benefits in being able to give this kind of advice because I am both familiar with professor expectations (having them myself!) and remember keenly what it’s like to be a student.

So here are Magpie’s top 9 pieces of academic advice for the college student!

Go to office hours.

Seriously. Your professors have that time specifically set aside to meet with and help students, and it’s a waste if you don’t use it! Most of us LOVE when students drop by, and office hours are your opportunity to get help with whatever you need. This is not high school – you get a bad grade on a test, your professors won’t chase you down and force you to get help. That onus is on you now. So do it!

Bonus to utilizing office hours: they will help you develop a personal relationship with your professors, which can be EXTRA handy down the road when in need of references for grad school, internships, jobs, you name it.

Plan ahead when you can.

Many professors will include a detailed schedule of lecture topics and assignments in the syllabus, and I can vouch for the fact that they do that for your benefit – not their own. Planning ahead will help you mitigate the worst symptoms of “hell week” around midterms and 2/3 of the way to finals by keeping you on top of all the little stuff. If you stay on top of reading and everyday assignments, you won’t have to panic when you get to that big paper or exam, because you’ll have the time built in already!

Take responsibility for your own screw-ups.

Admitting when you’ve balled something up and asking, “how can I fix this?” instead of making excuses and trying to act like it wasn’t your fault will earn you the respect of your superiors. Nobody likes excuses, and in general? We can tell when you’re making them to try to avoid consequences. We may not always call you on it, but in general – we know.

If there’s something going on in your life that is messing you up – talk to someone about it.

Schools have counseling centers for a reason. Going to talk to a councilor is NOT a sign of weakness, or just for people with “real problems*” or some other such bullshit. They’re there to help you figure out how to handle the things you can’t.

And as a side note to this one, when emergencies happen that interfere with coursework – let your professors know. I can’t speak for everyone out there, but if a student comes to me with an issue immediately after it comes up and before it starts actually having in impact, I’m generally a thousand times more capable of working with the student to figure something out than if they say nothing and then come to me at the end of the semester with a failing grade and excuses – however valid they might be. At that point, my hands are sort of tied.

*PS – if it’s impacting you enough to take a toll on your emotional health or your academics, it’s a REAL problem, even if you think it’s small beans compared to what other people in your life might be going through. Problems are not a competition, and there is no hierarchy… if it’s messing you up, it warrants fixing.

Utilize the resources your school provides you, particularly the academic ones.

Writing Centers, Tutoring Centers, you name it. You’re helping to fund them with your tuition dollars… might as well benefit from it. And in general, they will help you. Additionally, needing or wanting a tutor is not a sign of stupidity. I see so many kids avoiding using a tutor because they think if they need one that means they’ve somehow failed. Stop that line of thinking RIGHT. NOW. Tutors are there to help you. They’re resources put in place specifically to help you SUCCEED – just like the library or any other academic resource – not as evidence of your failure. Use them!

Your librarians are simultaneously the most valuable and least utilized resources on campus.

Seriously. They’re awesome. Get to know them, and get to know them well. You won’t regret it.

Take your composition/basic writing class seriously.

If you don’t have to take one, take the time on your own to learn how to write a solid academic paper. Know how to construct a thesis and support an argument. And take writing seriously – you may not think you need to write well for your field, but trust me: you do. Clear, efficient, and professional communication has its foundation in writing.

Don’t get your textbooks from the bookstore unless you have to.

Shop around – odds are you can find your books WAY WAY cheaper on amazon – even if you’re like me and prefer to buy new as opposed to used. On a similar note – usually the previous edition of textbooks are just fine in terms of material (although check with your professor on this if you can – occasionally there are exceptions to this rule) and are about 1000x cheaper.

And then finally…

Remember that college is first and foremost about receiving an education.

There’ll be plenty of time for fun, and absolutely you should be making time for it, but if your pursuit of leisure starts getting in the way of your academics, you need to do some priority re-shifting. What you’re paying for is the privilege of an education, and to waste that opportunity would be a shame.

Academic Advice from a Student-Turned-Professor

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