Things to Know Before Going to College (Part 4)

There’s a lot to know before going to college. Here are a few more things.

16. Be ready to do presentations.

People dread presentations. There’s an element of public speaking, and knowing that you’re going to be judged by your peers right in front of you. It’s difficult, and most of us would rather not do it.

But if you’re going to college, you’re probably going to have to.

In fact, nearly all of my non-math, non major-specific courses had me do presentations (and some of those had me do them, too). It got to the point that I kind of suspected that it was some kind of crutch to pad out the curriculum. But still, nothing quite demonstrates that you grasp the material quite like your ability to explain it.

Sometimes, you might have one due, but that doesn’t mean that you’re going to be ready for it. I actually had a presentation to deliver in a programming class, of all things. And yes, it is possible to give a presentation on programming microcontrollers and it can somehow be interesting. It may as well be, considering that we’re the ones giving it, and if we find it boring, it’s our own fault.

As the presentation was coming up, my program wasn’t working, and I went over my program numerous times without finding out what was up. It got to the point that I almost accepted the fact that my program didn’t work, even if I was able to explain the idea in theory and could explain each line of code step-by-step. But right before the presentation, it occurred to me that there might have been a register that needed to be reset. So I gave it a try on the simulator. That did it. And my presentation was a success.

If you have to do presentations, you might have moments like that, especially if you get into something really technical. It’s sure frustrating when something doesn’t work and you have no idea why, but it sure does feel great when you find out what the problem is, and the result is something that works. When you have to do a presentation about it, there’s more at stake, but it also becomes more rewarding.

When you do enough presentations, you might learn something about yourself, which is that presentations aren’t as hard on you as they’re made out to be.

17. Many of your peers will be unsupervised for the first time.

This isn’t an invitation to throw an entire age group into a category to be labeled as problematic. After all, most of the people that go to college do so with similar goals. But there will be some among your fellow students whose college experience will be their first away from home, and there will be those among them that will allow that to go directly to their heads.

For the first time, they’ll be sharing a living space with people who aren’t their family members, and they might not immediately understand how to deal with something like that. Not only that, the lack of parental supervision or anyone enforcing certain boundaries may result in them making some choices that their peers would more readily recognize as unwise.

From my observations, it seems like the more successful students are those who understand the value of the opportunities presented to them. I suspect that this comes from having worked in low-paying jobs for a while, and in having done so, developing a desire to take their careers beyond. As far as this goes, I do have experience. I’ve worked in grocery and retail for years before going to school, and have attempted to get by on what little I’ve made. At some point while I was doing that, I came to believe that a college education would go a long way in making my situation better. So I went for it.

A person is less likely to arrive at this conclusion if they’re only at college because their parents signed them up for it just to get them out of the house. I’ve seen a student for whom that was the case, and he didn’t last very long. In fact, he was once thrown out of class for falling asleep during a lecture. Yikes.

If you’re a younger student, it doesn’t have to be the same way for you. You might be glad to be out of high school and in no hurry to return to a scholastic environment. But take a little time and consider just how valuable an opportunity to earn a college degree really is. One thing to think about is that not everyone who applied was accepted. Another thing to think about is what kind of job you can do with your degree, and how much harder it would be to get a similar job without one. Considering such things can lead to developing a valuable perspective.

18. Become a good test taker!

It’s not a bad idea to pay attention to the syllabus and how you’ll be graded. In many (if not most) college courses, tests count for more than half of your grade!

This doesn’t mean “ignore your homework,” after all, every bit helps. But there’s a lot at stake for tests, because how successful you’ll be will largely hinge on how well you do on these.

This is great news if you’re a good test-taker. But if you’re not, you can become one. There are numerous tips out there that can make you better at scoring high on those tests, and rocking that GPA! Here’s a few that worked for me:

  • Before answering any questions, go over the test once and pay attention to how many questions there are, and how long some questions may take to answer. This will give you a good idea of how to budget your time.
  • You don’t have to answer the questions in order. If one question stumps you, just leave it and come back to it later. A different approach to the problem may come to you after having answered other questions.
  • Impressed by those people who finished first? Don’t be. They probably bombed, or don’t even care. In fact, you’d probably be better off using up nearly all the allotted time, since you could use that time to go over your answers. You might even catch a mistake, and earn yourself some points you’d have otherwise missed.
  • On math tests, it’s not a bad idea to show your work. Some professors award partial credit if they can locate where you goofed, and suspect that you have a good idea what you’re doing.
  • If, during a lecture, the professor says something will be on the test, it’s a good idea to write it in your notes and come back to it. They’ll say that if they really want you to remember it!
  • Remember to put your name on the test. Oldie, but goodie.

Tests count for a lot in college. So if you become good at test taking, you’ll have an edge. Just don’t neglect your homework. And speaking of…

19. Prepare for tons and tons of homework.

I’ve heard of a student that aced all his tests, but turned in no homework. Tests counted for 70% of the grade, while homework counted for 30%. As stated earlier in this series, 70% is usually not a passing grade in college.

If you, for some reason, refuse to do homework, you’ll almost invariably fail. That’s how it goes when your final grade for a course falls by three letter grades.

So, it counts for a lot. Just do it, and you’ll be set. Right?

That’s much easier to say than to do. Some courses give a lot of homework. I’m not even kidding. It wasn’t unusual for a math course to give me two or three dozen problems to solve, and on top of that, a dozen or so from the textbook or a worksheet. I remember that it was a lot of work, but I went for it. And I went to bed tired.

Not only that, the way your classes are scheduled will lead to you budgeting your time in interesting ways. Some courses might be scheduled Monday through Friday, but some are scheduled Monday/Wednesday/Friday or Tuesday/Thursday. You’ll see times in which you’ll have just a little homework and have five days to do it, and you’ll have days in which you’ll have a mountain of homework and just a couple days before it’s due.

You’ll have days in which you’ll be tempted to put that homework off until just before it’s due, but that’s generally not a good idea unless you have assignments from a different class that are due in the meantime. You’ll also have days in which you’ll have to make time for powering through your homework, taking it on based on priority.

In the workforce, once you leave for the day, there’s usually no need to even think about work until you clock back in again. College is different, and it’s something that you’ll have to endure while you’re a college student.

20. Maintain a positive attitude. It does count!

While it’s true that earning a degree is a challenge, college is a great place to be, and that’s a great thing to keep in mind. In fact, many people look back on their college experience as the best years of their life. There’s no reason for you not to enjoy it, too.

A sour, cynical outlook can go a long way in holding someone back. One student I went to school with seemed to randomly decide that he was going to be bitter about things. I don’t know what was going on with him, but whatever it was, it wasn’t good. After that point, he was grumpy and allowed little things to bother him. It seemed like he wanted to stew over whatever it was that was getting to him.

It came to be that on graduation day, I was seated next to the guy. He was grumpy as usual, sitting there with his arms crossed, even though it was his graduation day, and was supposed to be one of the most meaningful accomplishments in his life. Did he drag me down? No. At one point in which most students stood up to clap, I did too, but he just sat there without making a sound. He shot me a look, and detecting that, I shot him one right back, to which he quickly looked away. Of course. Cynical doesn’t mean “strong-willed”.

How cranky would he have been from that point forward, going into his new career? I don’t know, but he didn’t really do anything to bring down the atmosphere for the rest of us. It was a great day for us, even if it didn’t seem to mean as much for him.

People go to college with the expectation that, after having done so, a better life awaits them with a college degree. That kind of expectation is called, “hope”. While many imagine hope to be some kind of passive wishful thinking, that doesn’t really do the word justice. Hope is the expectation that, after a series of events, there will be a positive outcome, an outcome worth the waiting and effort it takes to bring a person to seeing that outcome.

When you have hope, it’s easy to have a positive attitude. It follows, as a matter of cause and effect.

I might have even more installments to this series at a later date. In case you missed them, here are the other installments:

Part 1 of this series
Part 2 of this series
Part 3 of this series

3 thoughts on “Things to Know Before Going to College (Part 4)

  1. Pingback: Things to Know Before Going to College (Part 1) | Magnetricity

  2. Pingback: Things to Know Before Going to College (Part 2) | Magnetricity

  3. Pingback: Things to Know Before Going to College (Part 3) | Magnetricity

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