12
Apr
10

college.

Reader L.B. writes:

As someone who has already graduated college, what advice could you give us college students on how to make it till the end of the semester?

Dear L.B.:

You’ve got spring fever, don’t you. I do, too, and I’m not even in school. Getting to the end of the spring semester is like dragging a bus up a hill when it’s tied to your waist. Let’s make it a bus full of bowling balls.

But the end does come more quickly than you expect it to. I think, for the most part, I always finished semesters like the person who trips just a few steps from the finish line — it wasn’t pretty, and I may have had a bloody nose, but I did finish. I was party to several terrible term papers, a break down or two, and my very last semesters at both my undergraduate institution and my graduate institution involved computer meltdowns that left me in tears. But hey, I’ve got the framed pieces of paper to say I made it!

old school

Image: Carlos Porto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Probably what you meant to ask me was: “If you could do your undergrad years over, and make them pretty and nice, how would you have handled finishing a semester?”

Here’s what I should have done:

Make lists. Write down everything you need to do, in order of importance and/or due date. If you have a calendar you can write on, even better. Make sure it’s visible. A white board is the ideal place to do this. When you finish something, cross it off, or erase it.

Make outlines of final papers/projects/exams now, even if you’re not going to use the notes or outlines. These  could just be musings on what you feel like you should write about eventually, or a quick run down on your notes from class, or the research you’ve done. It’ll help you at 3 in the morning when the paper’s due at 8, or when you’re panicking because you’re not sure what you need to know for the test in four hours. Just get it all out of your head now and put it somewhere safe.

Skip that 3 am paper writing thing. Forget I even mentioned that the outline would help that, ’cause you should have all your papers in draft form at least four days before they’re due. I know that sounds ridiculous, and unattainable, but really, do it. Save yourself the trouble. Just get off your butt and go write your paper, an hour a day for five days, and bing, it’ll be done.

Sleep. Seriously. The night before an exam, go over your notes for a while, sure, but go to bed at a reasonable hour. Sleep is better for tests than cramming. This is science.

Find a place you enjoy working and stay there. Maybe it’s the library. Maybe it’s the coffee shop. Maybe it’s the coffee shop in the library (that was my favorite). Make it your home base during finals time. Bring your music, bring your snacks, bring your books. Make sure you’re comfortable. Make sure you won’t be overly distracted. Make sure it’s open late enough that you won’t have to pack up and leave in the middle of a “EUREKA!” moment.

Eat well. Stock up on granola bars and things that will keep you going. Don’t live off margaritas and pretzels. That’s just bad. Fruit, veggies, green tea, and a tuna fish sandwich will make you feel better than cheese fries and a Coke in the long run. (This is true of real life, but is especially true in times of stress.)

Reward yourself. When you finish something important, treat yourself to something fun. Play a video game you love (but only for an hour or two), or watch a TV show. Or go out and have a margarita. Just make sure you’ve got everything done before you go on the inevitable end-of-semester bender. (Yes, they’re supposed to be at the END of the semester.)

Enjoy yourself. School is an awesome experience. You’re discovering yourself and the world around you, and your number one job is to learn. You’re not supposed to be an expert yet. Your responsibilities involve 5-paragraph essays, reading poems, and learning about the universe. Bask in the glow of how cool this is.

Hopefully these little tips will help you make it to the end of semester (or even your undergraduate career) without freaking out, stressing out, or dropping out.

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