A Professor’s Pointers for College Success: 3 Powerful Tips

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: A Professor’s Pointers for College Success: 3 Powerful Tips

Witten By: Jennifer Gershberg

The transition from high school to college isn’t one that comes easy for a lot of students. Trying to navigate life on campus, a demanding academic schedule, and the heavy load of college homework and studying can be downright intimidating and overwhelming for some students.

The good news is, with a few targeted pointers students can focus their energy on things that hold the power to make a big impact on their college success. If you have a teen who recently ventured off to college, don’t let them fumble their first semester. Pass along these powerful and practical tips for college success from a former college professor who knows!

A Professor’s Pointers for College Success: 3 Powerful Tips

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1. Practice Time Management Techniques

This is a big one! Students often find themselves lost when they have so much free unstructured time in college after having spent all of high school so programmed and managed. The ability to effectively manage your time is absolutely crucial to success in college (and life). Here are a few tips:

Put Your Phone Away While Studying

Studying takes about 10x longer when you’re constantly interrupted by group chats, social media breaks, and other electronic distractions. Your best bet is to have your phone turned off and completely out of sight. If you must check your phone, do so during scheduled breaks from studying.

Do Intervals of High Intensive Focus Followed By Short Breaks

A good rule of thumb is to focus intensively on work for 25-45 minute stretches followed by 5-10 minute breaks. This type of timed study/break interval strategy has proven to be far more effective than 6-8 hour study cram sessions or pulling all-nighters. Plus, research shows your ability to comprehend and retain information is far greater when you break down your study sessions into strategic blocks of time.

Keep Detailed Track of Your Schedule Along with a To-Do List

The first order of business is to get a great college planner that works for you. (Check out this one available on Amazon HERE.) Rather than download an app, take the time to write down your schedule and your homework assignments, projects, labs, etc. in your planner – writing things down will help you commit them to memory!

Don’t simply write, “Study for Chemistry.” Write “Read Ch. 3 and copy class notes.” Or, “Make flashcards and study class notes for 1 hour.” Break everything down into small, actionable tasks that will help you avoid procrastinating (it is a lot less overwhelming to start when you know exactly what you need to do)!

2. Study Smarter, Not Harder

Studying is an active process. Here are 3 ways to study actively and optimally.

Take Good Notes and Then Copy Them Over

During class, your goal should be to get a grasp on what the professor is saying. Don’t worry about making your notes pretty or super organized; that comes later. Simply write down all the important information (including examples, because examples from class often end up on exams). 

After class, sit down in a quiet place away from distractions and copy over your notes by hand. Handwriting your notes is far better for retention than typing! When you’re copying your notes, make sure you’re thinking about what you’re writing and make note of any questions you have so you can ask your professor later. Review your copied-over notes several times a week.

Make Notecards 

Making notecards (or flashcards) is one of the best ways to memorize a large volume of information. Once your notecards are made, pre-test yourself and put the cards into two piles: those you know and those you don’t know. Then learn two cards from the “don’t know” pile, put them in the “know” pile, and go through the entire “know” pile to make sure you really know them all. Repeat this procedure until you know all the cards.  

Teach a Friend

Teaching is a great way to master information. It’s actually called The Protégé Effect. When you teach a classmate material, for instance, it improves your learning process by increasing your metacognitive processing and increasing your use of effective learning strategies. It’s also a great tool to increase your feelings of competence. Plus, working together with someone can be more fun than studying alone.

3. Foster Professor Relationships

Chances are when you were in high school you avoided your teachers like the plague (except perhaps for a choice few). In college, getting to know your professors isn’t just recommended, it’s smart!

Here are 3 ways to develop good relationships with your professors and set yourself apart from other students in your professors’ eyes.

Communicate Professionally

Students are used to communicating via text and social media, which doesn’t fly with professors. Think of every one-on-one interaction and email with your professor as professional and treat it accordingly. This means extending a hand to your professor, treating him respectfully, and observing basic manners and politeness. When emailing use proper capitalization, punctuation, and grammar. (Oh, and skip the emojis, please!)

Be Respectful in Class

For starters, put your phone away – it’s rude and disrespectful to text while your professor is talking. Also, come to class well prepared, ready to ask insightful questions, and (at least try to) play an active role in class.  

Take Advantage of Your Professor’s Office Hours

Don’t just use your professor’s office hours as a chance to complain about a grade. Use the time wisely – to connect with your professor, to tap into their mounds of wisdom and insight, and to have them dive further into concepts or material you may be struggling with. Professors also love to talk about themselves, so ask them questions! How did they become interested in their area of study? What drew them to academia? What advice do they have for students? 

Doing this will help them get to know you and allow you to have a deeper connection with them – which can translate to excellent letters of recommendation, networking help, and so much more!


About Jennifer Gershberg:

Jennifer has been a professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business for eight years.  She has taught thousands of undergraduate students and has observed, unfortunately, a significant post-pandemic decline in student performance and a spike in their anxiety.  Determined to have a positive and widespread impact, Jennifer created JG Talks, through which she speaks with high school and college student groups on topics related to their academic and professional success.  She believes that competence breeds confidence and that students can reduce much of their academic anxiety and perform better by developing the skills they need for success.  Jennifer has received numerous teaching awards, most notably the Allen J. Krowe Award for Teaching Excellence (the most coveted recognition at UMD’s Smith School).  She lives in Bethesda, MD, with her husband, three teenagers, and their pandemic puppy. Jennifer obtained her B.A. in English from Cornell University and her law degree from the George Washington University Law School.  Her website is www.jgtalks.org  For more tips, follow Jennifer @jgtalksorg

If you enjoyed reading, “A Professor’s Pointers for College Success: 3 Powerful Tips,” here are a few other posts you might like to read!

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