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College Classes: A Matter of Endurance, Not Skill

by Anthony Guzmán

Most can agree that high school was not too challenging. I know this because the standard procedure for me was to complete busy work, memorize stuff and regurgitate that information on test day, forgetting the material almost instantaneously. When I got to college, however, I abandoned that method...fast.

As you move through college, the memorization method fades away into REAL learning because college courses introduce you to the material and demand that you get familiar with the information through study and homework. You are then encouraged to make sense the material your own through personalized notes, diagrams, dialogues, etc. Higher-level courses will require application and synthesis, using what you know and applying it to a new situation or idea.

You will always get a million voices of advice but there isn’t always a set answer for it all. My response to your concerns about the academic part of college is simple: It all depends. There are plenty of factors that play into the difficulty of a college class including where you attend school, what your major is, who the professor is, what the grading is like and what the pre-requisites are. Here are my personal tips for a success in the classroom:

Before College

  • Take anything that can help you attain skills, work ethic and critical thinking (AP, honors, dual credit, etc.).
  • Experiment with new study methods to help you not only learn but retain information.

When You Get There

College is not just for smart people: It’s for people that want and try to learn. I’ve seen high school valedictorians fall and barely-admitted students rise, the latter of which proves that if you can get admitted, you have what it takes to undergo the academic rigor. Don’t let the saying “College is hard, impossible or not for you” prevent you from giving higher education the old college try!

Anthony Guzmán is currently a rising sophomore at Texas A&M University where he studies business management and Spanish. He hopes to use business to create positive change through non-profit organization. He devotes the majority of his time to Catholic ministry and he also enjoys dancing, being with friends and family, and traveling.


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Getting to Know Your Professors

by Veronica Gonzalez

In college, you will never be a stranger to professors. In fact, professors can be your greatest allies if you get to know them academically, professionally and socially. All professors are different so it’s best to get to know them as individuals and as educators.

The first step? Introduce yourself on the first day of class. Acknowledge them fully so that they’ll know that you’re willing to learn what they have to offer and always be courteous towards your teachers; if you respect them, they’ll give you respect in return – it’s a win-win.

All professors differ when it comes to academics because they have different grading techniques. Pay close attention to how your professor(s) grade assignments and exams; it’s very likely that they’ll explain their grading process to you early on in the semester so be sure to grab a pen and paper and take notes!

In a professional aspect, your professors will always provide the class with a syllabus. Reading and studying a syllabus will help you familiarize yourself with the rules and expectations for the class. If you forget a rule or expectation, then feel free to look back on the syllabus at any time.

Socially, professors will definitely expect communication and feedback from their students so don’t be afraid to talk to them, ask them questions if you’re struggling to understand something, attend office hours and keep in touch with them via email/phone in case of emergencies. And if you see them outside of class, be sure to say hello!

Veronica Gonzalez is a rising junior at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. Her current major is English and she plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in this field. She served as the vice president of the UIW chapter of Alpha Lambda Delta from 2012 to 2013 and she returns as a junior delegate in the fall of 2013. Her dreams are to publish novels and possibly go into teaching in the field of English.


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How to Make a Miniscule Dorm Room Feel Less Like a Broom Cupboard

by Abby Egan

On the way to college: "Okay, the car is packed. I can’t see out the back window but everything fit – barely. I wonder how I’ll fit it all in my dorm room..."
Unpacking at college: "What do you MEAN I only get one closet?!"
All unpacked: "I guess I’ll just send half of this stuff home with my parents because there’s no more room for it."

Dorm rooms are notorious for being the size of a closet – think Harry-Potter-Cupboard-Under-the-Stairs small – but you can do some magic of your own when it comes to organization. Most dorm rooms come with a closet/dresser, a few extra drawers and a desk for storage. The best trick to making space is by utilizing the space under your bed: Though it can be disconcerting to have your bed so high – I’d suggest getting a stepstool if the height is a problem for you – it’s the easiest way to free up space. Plastic drawers, bins or boxes can be used as under bed storage, plus most colleges have beds that can be adjusted high enough to slide at least one piece of furniture under. The more you fit under your bed, the more floor space you’re going to have.

Thank goodness we live in the 21st century where stores are stocked with aisles of nifty little storage contraptions for dorm rooms. There are amazing storage products out there for students like us – shoe holders that hang on the back of your door, accordion shelves that hang from your closet pole and bed risers to give you even more height than the school bed can reach – so take advantage of these opportunities to create more space. Freeing up even a few square feet can really make the difference between feeling claustrophobic and feeling comfortable in your own space.

Abby Egan is currently a junior at MCLA in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, where she is an English Communications major with a concentration in writing and a minor in philosophy. Abby hopes to find work at a publishing company after college and someday publish some of her own work. In her spare time, Abby likes to drink copious amounts of coffee, spend all her money on adorable shoes and blog into the wee hours of the night.


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Making Time Your Friend Instead of Your Enemy in College

by Mary Steffenhagen

Some days in college feel like a battle against the clock: We students are constantly at the beck and call of our class schedule, homework and the professors who assign it. Add a job on top of that or perhaps an internship, sprinkle a few friends in here and there, squeeze in a few meals and the day is already gone! Believe it or not, it doesn’t have to be that way no matter how busy you may find yourself: It all depends on the way you organize and prioritize, and you’ll often find that it’s the little things that count most.

I’ve found that doing things the night before (and I don’t mean homework!) can save loads of time and worry. Try setting out your clothes, packing your meals (if you commute) or putting together your necessary class materials before you go to bed rather than in the morning before class. If you end up running late, you’ll still shave off crucial minutes; plus, it’s easier to make sure you won’t forget anything if you check it over twice.

Draw out your general weekly schedule and stick it somewhere obvious. I have found that being able to actually see where your time is being spent is incredibly helpful as opposed to just going day by day in a planner. Block off the times you know you’ll be in class, take advantage of the empty spaces and you’ll soon get into a groove that allows you control over your time.

I multitask...a lot. Say you’ve got a lot of reading to do – try finding it in an audio format and listen to it while you work out, do laundry or drive. All those obnoxious little activities that must be done can do double-duty if you need them to.

If you still feel overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to make time for yourself. Skip a class if you must, put aside the obligations and homework and just take some time to relax. All the planning in the world is no use if you’re simply too overworked. It’s OK to throw the schedule out the window every once in a while and do what makes you happy. Time is a precious thing – even more so in college, it can seem – so make the clock your friend rather than your enemy!

Mary Steffenhagen is a junior at Concordia University of Wisconsin who is majoring in English with a minor in business. She hopes to break into the publishing field after graduation, writing and editing to promote the spread of reliable information and quality literature; she is driven to use her skills to make a positive impact wherever she is placed. Mary spends much of her time making and drinking coffee, biking and reading dusty old books. In an alternate universe, she would be a glassblower.


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Pre-Semester Planning and Preparation

by Chelsea Slaughter

It’s almost time to start a new semester and getting a good head start on planning will make for a great and successful one. The more you prepare yourself, the smoother the transition will be so here are a few tips on how to prep before the fall semester begins:

  • Buying Your Books: Look up what books you will need for your classes and find out the most cost-effective way to acquire them. There's always the option to rent books or you can borrow them from someone who already took the class. (The books at your on-campus bookstore are most likely the most expensive so let that be your last option.) Also, books listed are sometimes not even used by your professor; in order to avoid wasting money, email your professors and ask if all books are necessary.
  • Choosing the Right Professors: If you are having difficulty making your fall schedule, remember the importance of choosing the right professors. I always recommend that my freshman residents look up prospective instructors on RateMyProfessors.com to decide which ones are best for them. Students leave real ratings and comments and inform others how the professors teach and grade their classes. Taking this extra step in your research can help you chose the professor that's best for your learning style.
  • Knowing the Needed Supplies: Most college supplies aren’t like the ones we needed in high school but you know the basics like paper, pens, binders and Scantron sheets will be on the list. Stock up just prior to the start of the academic year while the sales are hot – this way, you will be able to keep up with necessary tasks throughout the semester.

Always remember that failing to plan is planning to fail. If you start off on the right foot, a good semester will follow!

Chelsea Slaughter is currently a junior at Jacksonville State University majoring in communications major (public relations concentration) and minoring in art. She serves as a resident assistant on campus, serves as treasurer in the Public Relations Organization and is an active member in W.I.S.E., NAACP and Omicron Delta Kappa Honors Leadership Society. She aims to work in the entertainment industry post-graduation and is well on her way thanks to an internship with a digital marketer to several music artists. Chelsea strives to achieve all of her goals and motivate others along the way.


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Getting to Know Your College Library

by Veronica Gonzalez

College libraries are often misunderstood and get very little spotlight in the student world. Many students miss the fact that the college library isn't just a place to study – it's also a place to learn. Here’s how to get to know your school’s library.

You’ll never be a stranger to computers, copiers and printers in college but it’s important to know how to use the technology in public spaces like the library accordingly. For instance, if you have homework to print out, do so to your discretion because it’s likely other students will be waiting to complete the same task on the same equipment.

Next, there are the reference areas. They normally house dictionaries, encyclopedias and academic journals that require special consideration and care because of their age and value. Depending on your school’s library policies, it’s likely that reference books can NEVER leave the building so if you know you are going to need one for an essay or project, plan accordingly.

Knowing where different books are at can speed up the research process when completing homework and writing papers. Most libraries have maps that highlight certain sections but if yours doesn’t, there should be a chart containing call numbers for different subjects. Still unsure where something is? Ask a librarian – they’re there to help!

Finally, the most important thing to do at your school library is to pick up a book and read. Fiction, non-fiction or whatever interests you...just read, Read, READ! Though you may regularly read in your dorm room, doing so in a comfy chair in the library is a nice change of pace. Take the opportunity to visit your school library and check it out for yourself!

Veronica Gonzalez is a rising junior at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. Her current major is English and she plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in this field. She served as the vice president of the UIW chapter of Alpha Lambda Delta from 2012 to 2013 and she returns as a junior delegate in the fall of 2013. Her dreams are to publish novels and possibly go into teaching in the field of English.


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Making the Most of Your Spare Time

by Mary Steffenhagen

It’s agonizing to suddenly relinquish a free and easy summer schedule to the clutches of the college schedule...but what happens when your weeks in school are just as free they are over break?

You may end up with a situation a lot of college students dream of: a surplus of free time. This happened to me during my freshman year, as I had a pretty open class schedule, a weekends-only job and didn’t join any clubs. I ended up bored to death nearly every day! But I didn’t realize that the extra time was an advantage that not only gave me a chance for homework but time to focus on personal goals. If you find yourself in this situation, here are a few tips as to how to best spend your time:

However you choose to spend your extra time, make sure you enjoy yourself. Having time to yourself while in college is a rarity and you may not have such an opportunity in later semesters. College is about exploring and learning...not being bored because there’s nothing to do. So get out there and make use of your time – you won’t regret it!

Mary Steffenhagen is a junior at Concordia University of Wisconsin who is majoring in English with a minor in business. She hopes to break into the publishing field after graduation, writing and editing to promote the spread of reliable information and quality literature; she is driven to use her skills to make a positive impact wherever she is placed. Mary spends much of her time making and drinking coffee, biking and reading dusty old books. In an alternate universe, she would be a glassblower.


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When Choosing a College, Research Early and Often

by Abby Egan

I started looking for colleges in my junior year of high school because I was so unsure about what I wanted. Deciding on a college was a scary thought to me because I was under the impression that I was going to be stuck at whichever school I chose for four whole years. So to ease my ever-increasing stress levels, I visited my dream school (MCLA) almost seven times before accepting to attend for the fall of 2011.

I jumped at every opportunity to get to know my top choice better and better: I visited on long weekends with my parents, signed up for multicultural nights and participated in overnight programs bussed from Boston. I took the drive to MCLA whenever I needed to talk to the Bursar about bills or the financial aid office about student loans. Though it was a long ride, I got on a first-name basis with the librarian and a handful of school officials, putting faces to names and breaking down that wall between being strangers and being acquaintances.

I took the time to really determine whether I wanted to spend the next four years at MCLA. Though my parents researched facts online and talked on the phone with MCLA officials, I made sure to do my own research as well. The bottom line was that I was attending MCLA, not my parents, so I made sure everyone I encountered at the school I spoke to knew me and not just the me my parents spoke about.

I knew I wanted to attend MCLA after my first visit but I’m glad I took the time to get to know the institution a little bit better. It made me feel more prepared for my first semester of freshman year but even if you visit 100 times, you might not know if your school is the one for you until you immerse yourself in the community. If for whatever reason you don’t feel it’s right, don’t panic: You can always transfer. Deciding on a college isn’t the end all be all – there’s always room for change – but you just have to find what’s right for you.

Abby Egan is currently a junior at MCLA in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, where she is an English Communications major with a concentration in writing and a minor in philosophy. Abby hopes to find work at a publishing company after college and someday publish some of her own work. In her spare time, Abby likes to drink copious amounts of coffee, spend all her money on adorable shoes and blog into the wee hours of the night.


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Popping the Bubble: How to Keep Up on Current Events in College

by Mary Steffenhagen

The crisis in Syria! The Bradley Manning sentencing! The fracking debate! Yet another random act of violence!

The media bombards us with information and news every second of every day – a sensory overload of grim stories and political biases. It's overwhelming but college can become a sort of bubble, a relaxing retreat from the cares of the outside world. You don’t see the news unless you turn on your own TV or radio or follow a news site or newspaper. With all the other fun things to do, who’s got time to be depressed and bored by other people’s problems?

It’s incredibly easy to feel that what you see on CNN doesn’t affect you – a college student in America – but it does. You may not live in a small village in the Middle East but actions cause ripples and what happens across the globe may, in any small way, touch your life. Some events will affect you directly. For example, President Obama recently signed a bill to restore lower interest rates on student loans: This directly affects you and me, who will now be paying a 3.4 percent interest rate on our loans as opposed to the previous 6.8 percent.

Current events are nearly always incendiary topics as well. You will encounter a diverse range of people in college with a diverse range of ideologies...and a shrug and a “Whatever, I don’t really care about that” won’t get you off the hook in discussions anymore. It’s important to know where you stand and even more important to do your research, so as not to form a hasty assumption. First off, it will help you not to look like a buffoon or needlessly offend others and secondly, being able to form and articulate a well-thought argument is an invaluable skill!

Lastly, being cognizant of “the outside world” is an important development in the whole messy process of becoming an adult. Forming opinions, arguments and worldviews – and having them challenged – is a necessary part of life...especially in an environment such as college, where it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them. So don’t let college become a bubble and cut you off from the vital circulation of ideas and news. Get (and stay) informed!

Mary Steffenhagen is a junior at Concordia University of Wisconsin who is majoring in English with a minor in business. She hopes to break into the publishing field after graduation, writing and editing to promote the spread of reliable information and quality literature; she is driven to use her skills to make a positive impact wherever she is placed. Mary spends much of her time making and drinking coffee, biking and reading dusty old books. In an alternate universe, she would be a glassblower.


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Research Papers? You Got This! Part 1

by Mary Steffenhagen

Leaves are changing hues, the nights are arriving sooner and the library is crowded into the wee hours. That’s right: We’ve officially entered paper writing season. Almost every college student finds himself or herself pulling an all-nighter at one point or another to chip away at the writer’s block a research paper inevitably brings. As an English major, I’ve probably written a few more papers than other students but nearly everyone encounters some such assignment in the common core no matter his or her major. If you’ve been staring at a mental brick wall for hours, never fear: There are plenty of resources and tricks to get around that writer’s block and make that research paper a reality.

First, know your databases. Your university most likely has access to too many scholarly journals to count but databases make them easy to find. I’ve made quite good friends with EBSCOhost, a database which encompasses more databases on topics from Mark Twain’s mystical view of the soul to current technological developments in the military. (ProQuest is equally useful.) Searching within such a broad database gives so many options that research is quite easy, even if you’re unsure of your topic. Most will give you online access to the source you need and your college library may have archived physical copies of a journal...or even ebooks. They may not be as easy to procure but don’t limit yourself to online only sources: Talk to a librarian and see what they'd suggest - you never know what's out there unless you ask!

Now that the database or librarian has given you a paper to use as a source, start picking it apart...from the ending. If you check the bibliography or works cited, you’ll avail yourself of even more sources by basically following the author’s bread crumb trail. Find the thesis – aka the driving point of the paper – within the first few paragraphs and build off of it. Whether you agree or disagree with the author, their sources and citations will lead you to more evidence supporting or debunking the viewpoint. I tend to start with my own idea and look for research related to it but if you’re short on time, picking apart your source’s sources will save a lot.

Next week, I’ll talk about some writing techniques that have aided me in my paper writing. In the meantime, good luck researching!

Mary Steffenhagen is a junior at Concordia University of Wisconsin who is majoring in English with a minor in business. She hopes to break into the publishing field after graduation, writing and editing to promote the spread of reliable information and quality literature; she is driven to use her skills to make a positive impact wherever she is placed. Mary spends much of her time making and drinking coffee, biking and reading dusty old books. In an alternate universe, she would be a glassblower.


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