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10 Ways to Maximize the College Experience

As I enter my 30th year of college teaching (mostly at Santa Clara University) I hope that college students are mindful of a few critical rules that...

As I enter my 30th year of college teaching (mostly at Santa Clara University), I hope that college students are mindful of a few critical rules that will help them succeed in school. For whatever it is worth, here’s my list of top 10 things I wish that all college students would do to get the very most of their higher education experience.

  1. Don’t skip class. Divide the total cost of your college quarter/semester (i.e., tuition, books, room, and board) by the total number of class sessions you’ll attend during the term to determine the actual cost per class session. It will likely shock you. Now, when you think about skipping class visualize the cash that it takes to attend that session being thrown in the trash or burned in a fire. The message? Don’t skip class...ever!

  2. Do sit front and center in classes. Avoid sitting in the back or sides of large classrooms if at all possible. You’ll be more easily distracted than if you are in the front.

  3. Do get to know your professors (even a little bit). Go to office hours, talk with them before or after class, say hello to them on campus. You’ll be more engaged with your college experience and classes if you get to know faculty, and they’ll likely be more engaged with you too if they know you better. Plus, while I may be a bit biased, faculty are pretty interesting people to know!

  4. Do avoid sleep deprivation. I know it is very hard to get adequate sleep in college, but quality research tells us that students in their late teens and early 20s tend to need about nine hours of sleep each night. If they don’t get it they enter into sleep debt and unintended consequences occur that may compromise their mental and physical health as well as their ability to stay awake and alert in class and while studying.

  5. Do follow government guidelines for alcohol consumption. Males should drink no more than two drinks in a day while women should drink no more than one, with a drink being defined as a 12 oz. beer, a 5 oz. glass of wine, and 1.5 oz. shot of the hard stuff. Don’t binge drink! Research tells us that 20 percent of college students do in fact binge (i.e., five drinks or more at a time) ... please don't be one of them!

  6. Do be careful who you hang out with. Social contagion theory makes clear that we tend to gravitate toward the behaviors and attitudes that we are around. If you live with roommates or have friends who engage in health-damaging behaviors, poor attitudes, bad study habits, and so forth you’ll develop these bad habits and attitudes over time too.

  7. Don’t get too grade focused. College is for learning and it is hard to do that when you only focus on grades. Sure, if you want to attend medical school or highly selective graduate or professional schools you need to get top grades, but if that is not your plan, take a deep breath and try hard to focus on learning and not on grades.

  8. Don’t cram and don’t try to multitask. Research clearly shows that cramming and multitasking are not effective study strategies. Plan ahead so that you don’t force yourself to do things at the last minute.

  9. Don’t neglect health behaviors like regular exercise and a healthy diet. The campus gyms are always busy at the beginning of the semester and get empty as the term goes on. Keep your exercise program up. Research tells us to aim for about 30 minutes a day if you can do so.

  10. Do remind yourself every day that college is a great privilege. The majority of people in the world and even in the U.S. don’t get to go to college. It is an opportunity and experience that you’ll likely never have again. Make the most of it and be grateful that you can have an opportunity to engage in higher education that hopefully will provide you with lifelong benefits, some of which you likely can't even imagine now.

So, what do you think? How can you make the most of the college experience?


*A version of this article was originally published by Psychology Today on Sept. 23, 2013.

Illuminate, psychology, relationships, personal growth, Santa Clara, success

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