Friday, January 06, 2012

Guest Post: Get Organized for College

A new year means a new semester for college students. If last semester did not go well, the culprit was probably poor organization and time management habits. This guest post by Maria Salsbury is aimed at helping college students with habits which lead to collegiate success.

College students have a great deal of time on their hands and usually little structure from professors about how to accomplish assignments and complete readings. For most students, it's a very different experience from being in high school, where teachers gave very specific instructions about how to finish classwork in order to receive an acceptable grade. As a result, students must find ways to manage their own time wisely and develop study skills in order to be successful in their college careers.

Know What's Required 
When you begin each class, you should receive a course syllabus that outlines all the assignments and reading material. Professors will tell you when certain readings should be done generally, but may not set a specific reading schedule for you to follow. It's up to you to know what reading you have to complete and when papers and other assignments are due. Carefully read all the syllabi for all your courses and make up a schedule outlining when assignments are due and what preparation (research, gathering materials, working with team members, etc.) you need to complete ahead of time in order to complete your assignments.

Set Up Specific Goals 
The University of Chicago recommends using the SMART TIPS method of goal-setting for time management and study skills:

S – Be specific with tasks (read first chapter in biomechanics, not study biomechanics).
M – Use measurable targets (read for 45 minutes and complete first short essay, not study for 8 hours).
A – Attainable (study biomechanics for 30 minutes each day, not complete biomechanics thesis in one day). R – Realistic (go to class each day, not get only A’s for grades for the quarter).
T – Timely (choose first essay topic two weeks before due date, not begin working on first essay the day before it is due).

T – Take a break. Our attention span is generally about 20 minutes long, so take breaks and engage in other activities to keep your mind active and fresh.
I – Invigorate. Interact with others and socialize. Get regular exercise.
P – Plan study space. Set up a study space that is conducive to studying and working on your assignments. If this means turning off the television, phone, or other distractions, then do it.
S – Set priorities. Evaluate daily and weekly priorities and make adjustments as needed.

Use Study Groups
One way students can manage their time effectively is to have a joint study schedule with other people. Study groups will lead you to stay on a study schedule in order to participate in the group and be supported by other group members. Study groups are also a great way to add socialization to your academic activities and keep some balance in your student life.

Keep a Regular Schedule
Far too often it's easy to be tempted to pull all-nighters or party over the weekends and blow off study time. The problem is it then becomes easy to drift away from your academic priorities and goals and getting back on track can be even more difficult. By keeping a regular daily schedule it becomes much easier to manage your time wisely and keep your priorities on track.

Get Organized 
Part of time management as a student (or in any role) is simply being organized. Organization helps you tell at a glance what tasks need to be completed and when they need to be completed. Use a calendar to note milestones for each assignment and when assignments are due. For example, you can track your reading pace throughout the semester or quarter, so that you can stay ahead of your reading. Most cell phones now have calendar functions that can be synched with project management calendars, which can make it very easy to mark finished assignments and add projects.

Effectively managing your time as a student can be critical to your success in school and beyond. Unlike high school, in college it's up to you to stay on top of your course work and complete your assignments on time. Most professors and instructors at the college level don't look favorably on students who can't manage their own time wisely. Time management is a skill you'll need no matter what you do, so developing it early in your college career will serve you well the rest of your life.

Marina Salsbury planned on becoming a teacher since high school, but found her way instead into online writing after college. She writes on the Web about everything from education to exercise.
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