Professor of journalism at Lehigh University
1. Go with a lightweight laptop. Littau says that mobility is a lot more important than computing power for most students. Get something you’ll be willing to take with you everywhere. “In college of arts and sciences here, I mostly get students with laptops for paper writing but they only use a few programs. At the very least, I’d go with something that is on the lighter side that you can put in your backpack [AND?] that you won’t be afraid to take out with you.”
2. Take notes by hand. “Be careful. You’re not as good as [AT?] multitasking as you think you are. You’ll take worse notes if you use a laptop. I noticed that students who used laptops and people who sat around them scored lower on tests. When I banned laptops for a year, I had better scores than I ever had.”
3. But then digitize your notes. Just because you take notes by hand that doesn’t mean you can’t make them digital. If you don’t want to type them up, you can use PDF apps on your phone that let you take photos of your notes. “It’s more about the note taking process than studying off of paper.”
4. Block out distractions on your computer. Even if you take notes by hand in class, a lot of schoolwork involves computers. The internet and apps offer many very good ways to waste time. Littau recommends an app called Self Control and similar apps to block out the internet, e-mail, and other distractions on your computer when you’re trying to get work done. “I’d recommend something like that because students who use that report having better focus.”
5. Make use of office hours (and not just to complain about grades). “It’s also there for mentoring. The students who stop by are my best students. They get the most out of the program.”
6. Don’t stay logged in at public computing sites. “For the love of god, don’t leave yourself logged in at public computing sites.”
7. Relax a little. Littau recommends getting a video console or some other way to unwind in between class and studying. “I’m pretty sure I got through college because of Techmo Super Bowl. Those are important things to have.”
8. Own your own education. You need to figure out what you need out of it. No one is going to push you to do more. You can’t expect professors with their magic syllabi. You need to take time outside of class to figure out what supplemental stuff you need to do.”
Dr. Sharon Caraballo
Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs in the Volgenau School of Engineering, George Mason University
9. Be ready to develop new habits. “Nobody’s going to call your parents if you miss class,” says Caraballo. Making more adult decisions and commitments—not skipping classes, making time for studying, balancing social and educational obligations—is something freshmen can struggle with, so Caraballo says it’s helpful to start developing those more responsible habits ahead of time.
10. Meet new people and network. College is the perfect time to broaden friend groups and social circles. Make friends with people you might not normally hang out with and spend time making professional connections with professors who can help you with your career.
11. Do things outside of your major. “We find that the more involved students are, the better they’ll do academically,” says Caraballo. Join clubs and student organizations, try a new sport, and look around your campus community for new ways to learn, be creative, and round out your college experience.
12. Take advantage of campus resources. “Students who found high school to be easy and did not have to learn study techniques and time management skills get to college and can actually do worse than the kids who struggled a bit more in high school,” says Caraballo. Don’t let this be you, and don’t let free campus resources go to waste. If you need help balancing part-time work, school, internships, and social obligations, talk to an adviser. If you’re struggling to keep up with your studies, go to a tutor or go to your professor’s office hours.
13. Avoid “senioritis” with an internship. If you’re approaching your third or fourth year of college, you’re probably ready to peace out. However, your last few semesters are the perfect time to get real-world career experience. Depending on your field, many places—especially in the Washington area—offer paid internships. Most universities also offer internship courses for credit your final semesters of school. “A lot of students also choose to do research with professors their senior year,” says Caraballo. “It’s a great way for students to make connections that will last them throughout their careers.”
Note: Thornton and Littau do a podcast together about the interesction of technology and liberal arts.