College…Piece of Cake? Think again!

So your weighted GPA in high school was a 4.3. You scored a 2100 on the SAT. You even took five AP classes and passed all of the exams with flying colors. And at a prestigious private school no less? That is pretty impressive.

Now you are set to attend your dream university that you have worked and studied ferociously to get into. To that, I relay my congratulations. But your hard work does not end here.

Freshman year college courses are coming, and with a vengeance. I invite you to join me in this brief journey to a bracing reality check. While I do not wish to frighten you entirely with this information (after all, college life brings the best times of your life), I want to provide your first warning for the amount of studying, cramming, and essay writing headed your way.

It is not a threat, but an inevitable challenge that all first-year undergraduates face. I am sharing this with you because I was never told such words of precaution, but I know they will help prepare you for this next chapter in your life. If you take even a slice of this information with you to your first calculus class, college will be an even more enjoyable and life-changing experience.

First, let me begin by sharing my freshman year experience with the two most dreadful courses I have ever taken: Calculus 16A and Chemistry 2A.

It was my first quarter at UC Davis. I was looking forward to starting our training on the Women’s Tennis Team and meeting my fellow first-year students. I declared my major as Communication, but I was seriously considering changing it to Environmental Science the next quarter, so I wanted to get a head start in the science and math courses.

I decided to enroll in the first series of calculus and chemistry, along with an African American Studies course that was supposed to be relatively easy. I had taken Honors Chemistry and Pre-calculus in high school, so this would basically be a review right?

My orientation leaders told me that the first classes in these series were “super easy”, and I would have no trouble passing. So I believed them. First mistake.

I walked out of my first chemistry lecture feeling exceedingly confident. It was the same with calculus. I already knew how to do linear equations and mole conversions-oh my gosh, college is cake. Second mistake.

My pride allowed me to sleep right through the next two lectures. I was too tired from tennis practice and morning workouts and besides, I could just look up the lecture slides online. Third mistake.

I ended up receiving a flat F on my first Chemistry midterm, and a C on the first Calculus exam. Okay, now I really need to start studying more. But at that point, it was already too late.

Even though I did slightly better on the next couple exams, I ended up with a D in Chemistry 2A (my first D EVER), and a C in Calculus 16A (a grade that required crying in front of my professor to receive). Luckily, I received a B+ in African American Studies, leaving me with an overall GPA of 2.1, just making me academically eligible to compete for the tennis team in winter and spring.

I was embarrassed, to say the least. How could my organizational skills and work ethic that I used to succeed in high school not be enough for college coursework? I had no idea balancing difficult classes and team commitments would be so challenging, and it almost ruined my freshman athletic career.

I quickly learned from my mistakes and studied multiple hours per day winter quarter, but I still wish I could go back and alter my thinking process during my first quarter.

I want to advise incoming freshman to study more than you think you should, get a tutor, and go to office hours to get help from the professor first-hand. Basically, go above and beyond what is expected of you. That is how you will succeed in your first year at a university.

Here are a few important tips to ensure your triumph as a freshman:

1) Go to every lecture and discussion section. The professor creates the exams. He or she will definitely give the answers to the class during lectures, but that information may not be found anywhere else. If it is an early morning lecture, just get to class. You can complete your beauty sleep afterwards.

2) Go over your course material every day. Whether you think you know it or not, the more you repeat and memorize information, the easier it is for your brain to spit it back out during your exams. Take your notebook to the gym or even the dining commons and just skim over it.

3) Sign up for a tutor. Most, if not all college campuses have a student advising center where you can sign up to meet with a tutor every week to review practically any class material (there will be a tutor for all major courses such as chemistry, math, English, etc.).

4) Get a study buddy. Find someone in class you can go over the material with. It is never fun to struggle alone. This is also an opportunity to make new friends in a different environment.

5) Take practice tests-lots of them. Going over similar material to what you will see on the real exam is always beneficial. It will also get you used to how the professor designs his or her tests.

6) Go to the professor’s office hours. Learn where and when your professor holds office hours on the first day of class and go frequently to get help on any confusing or difficult material. Even if you don’t have questions, it is always valuable for the professor to know your name and face.

7) Study, study, study for those exams. They will be hard, and they will require knowledge of nearly everything you learned in class. These exams make up your overall grade. There is no homework or participation grade to fall back on.

There you have it. It may sound simple, but with all of the social events, sports, extracurricular activities and other distractions that college brings, classes can be overshadowed on your list of priorities.

Of course you will still have time for friends during the day and on weekends, but coursework is of the utmost importance (it is where your parents’ money goes).

Follow these guidelines, and I guarantee you are on your way to straight A’s, which is, in my opinion, the most impressive thing a freshman can accomplish in the first quarter/semester.

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Megan Heneghan

Megan Heneghan

Megan Heneghan is a junior at the University of California, Davis pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Communication, as well as a Spanish minor. She is originally from Orange County, where she grew up playing tennis. She is currently a member of the UC Davis Women’s Tennis Team. When she is not studying, she enjoys singing, reading, and cooking all different kinds of food. She also loves spending time with friends and family.
Megan Heneghan

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