Tips to Begin Your Semester Right (for the students)

David Parry bio photo By David Parry

Beginning the semester so not much time to blog lately, especially with the move to Dallas and all. But I thought I would repost something I wrote last year at this time, an article to help the college bound. You can read it below, but click the link as there are user comments I did not repost.

When I initially started posting to this blog I envisioned it as mostly helping academic professionals; tools for those in graduate programs and professors, not necessarily undergrads. But it seems that there is also a lot of interest in tools and tips for students. (I am not complaining mind you, just letting you know my perspective.) So as a back to school offering I thought I would write up my list of tech tips and tools for those just starting college. (Low Tech and High Tech) As a note this list is going to be focused on the “academic” stuff, not everything you need for college (no dustbusters or refrigrators here). (There is also a post on the way about a few programs that help you keep track of homework…but that in a few days…for now…)

  • The most important thing you need for studying sucessfully at college: an alarm clock. I am serious about this. I have worked both as a teacher and as a residence director for many years with college students and I would say the number one indicator of a students ability to succeed is not SAT scores or GPA, but an ability to manage time. To this end getting on a regular sleep schedule is hugely important. Monday-Friday get up at the same time everyday. Find an alarm clock that allows you to set two alarms, have one for Monday-Friday and don’t change it (even if your classes start at different times throughout the week always get up at the same time). The other can be for the weekends or naps, this way you don’t accidently set your alarm wrong sleep in and miss class. And put it on the other side of the room, you don’t want to be able to reach your alarm clock from your bed; too easy to fall back asleep.
  • Same theme as above, different item: A calendar, dayplanner, or task manager. There are lots of ways to go about getting this done, paper and pen vs. digital. It doesn’t really matter at this point, but find a system and start using it. College will quickly get overwhelming with all the assignments, social activities etc. You need a way to stay on top of this and manage your time long term not just day to day.
  • A brightly colored folder, one that is a different color than all of your others. Put your syllabi in here, only your syllabi, and always put them in this folder. That way you know where to find them and can keep track of them easily. Even better is to collect digital copies (most professors will email them to you if you ask) and put them all toghether in a folder on your computer. The student who keeps track of the syllabus usually stays on top of the class. (I know a prof. who has as an assignment the first week for students to bring to class the following week their syllabus-the one he just gave out. That’s it just bring the syllabus to class. You wouldn’t believe how many people fail this assignment.)
  • A flash drive. Double the need for this if you are going to college without your own computer. If you are going to be required to use public computers you can carry around your own browser with bookmarks, your own word processor, and save all of your work on here. Even if you have your own computer this makes it easy to carry around your work, print it out, transfer it to a friend. These have gotten really inexpensive, 256mb should be fine unless you plan on majoring in something that will require image files.
  • A Powells or Amazon account. Seriously unless your school offers a small local alternative for textbooks (most campus bookstores are now major chains) order your books online, you will save sooo much money, and you can get them used easier. Now you can’t return them, and you can’t get them the next day (unless you pay extra for shipping) but order books that you don’t need until the 3rd or 4th week of class this way.
  • RSS Reader: Probably the most important development in the technology of information, RSS has so many uses. Get yourself a reader. If you have a computer there are several free verisions depending on what type of computer you have (RSSowl, Blogbridge, NetNewsWireLite, Flock), if you don’t have your own computer google and yahoo both offer versions of this. Than sign up for a few websites/blogs that have to do with your class. If you are taking a class on British Politics, sign up for the BBC, and The Guardian. Now everyday you can learn a bit more, and when it comes to class you prof. will think your the smartest one. You can also sign up to get the feed from bloggers who are in the “discipline” you are studying, as they tend to “talk shop” on their blogs, and this would be a quick and easy way to gain knowledge and perspective in the field. RSS simply one of the fastest ways to gather information.
  • Note Taking System: Here again you can go high tech with programs such as (in no particular order) Mori, Voodoo Pad, FreeMind Zulupad or you could get an outling program, or the all powerful Devon Think or the other end—low tech with paper and pen. They key is to stay on top of this and keep organized about it. As I tell my students the issue is not that I expect you to save your notes so eight years from now when you are working as a civil engineer you say to yourself, “What was it that Dave said about Imperalism and Pride and Prejudcie, I think I’ll go look it up. Instead these notes will be helpful when you work on your papers or study for exams, but more importantly when you take notes you remember what you heard, think of it as active listening.
  • Post-it Notes:No not the big ones so you can leave notes everywhere. But the tiny ones that can be used as tabs to mark places in books. When you are studying, particularly a book you can’t mark up this is a great way to mark a passage. When I go somewhere to read I take these with, and mark the quotes that I later want to write into Devon, that way I don’t have to take my computer reading with me. Use them to mark key passages in textbooks for quick reference, to create tabs in paper notes . . .or whatever they are cheap an insanely useful.