Dear First Gen,
People often talk about their organization skills when they're on job interviews. But this becomes important well before that pivotal first opportunity for income. Because of that, we’ll be discussing organization in two parts. Part 1 will detail the reasons and methods for staying organized, and Part 2 will detail some of the tools and products you can use to do so.
The motto at my college was “Educating Women to Transform the World.” Really?! Me?! Tall order for someone starting out at a new place, and I certainly wanted to meet that challenge and move mountains.
My First Mountain
I pursued a bachelor’s degree in biology because I loved science and was captivated by the unknown. But when my first exam came back, my grade was unacceptable in my book.
My parents had always taught me to go to the source and ask what happened, so I did. I made an appointment to meet with the professor and we discussed what the problems were, and how I should be interpreting the information.
During our conversation, I was most surprised when she asked me if I had a learning disability. She was curious as to why I had misunderstood the information. This was my first college biology course, and I was here to learn. How I responded to that conversation could make or break me. I decided that I had to get organized and make a plan for how to take notes in her class, reinforce the information, study for tests and quizzes, and do well on exams.
In my case, it was a subject that I was intrigued by and that I was passionate about that turned out to be my first mountain. I knew I had to—and would—overcome it and went on to receive a passing grade when many others did not. Many changed their majors at the end of the semester, and others were disappointed with their final grade. I just found a way to move that mountain.
Are you ready to move mountains?
Five areas where you'll need to prioritize organization
Depending on your major, you will probably register for 12-15 credits, which may include a lab portion. As First Gens, we tend to be overly ambitious and are tempted to register for 17-18 credits; please refrain from doing so. You will need time to both attend class and study for them.
Since upperclassmen generally get to register first and get the best pick of class times, your classes may begin as early as 8 a.m. If you have three in a day and take into account meals, extracurriculars, and study time, that doesn't leave a lot of time for another class or two.
You may consider using a calendar app on your phone, or purchasing a small planner or a wall calendar to write in your class schedule. Check with volunteers or the orientation organizers to see if they are handing out planners, which would give you all the dates for school-sponsored events, school closings, and deadlines.
Failing to stay organized with your courseload could result in missed class deadlines. Since there are usually fewer exams and assignments in college, every point matters, so a late or missed assignment could put a dent in your grade. Learning how much time is sufficient and necessary for each class will develop over time, but it is imperative to start early. Full-time college students’ courseloads can be overwhelming, so keeping track of dates is important to increase your chances of getting good grades.
2. Your Professors
First Gens are notorious for thinking, “As long as I do my best, I should get good grades.” This is true to an extent, but you also need to reach out to others to find out what else is needed to yield the results of good grades, which may vary from professor to professor.
The professors you have as a freshman may teach you again down the road in your more advanced classes. Taking note of their teaching style will help you decide if you want to take them in the future—or ask them for a reference for an internship or job. There may be one or two professors whose instruction matches your learning style really well now. However, this is not a guarantee for the future, as they may adjust how they teach depending on the class. Regardless, having a good reputation with a professor can be beneficial in the future because they will be more willing to help you continue to succeed in their class when they see you having a difficult time.
My suggestion to you is to find an upperclassmen who has taken that course or maybe visit a website like Rate My Professors that could tell you the teaching and grading style of your professor. When you have the option, I suggest finding out who the best professors are before you register for a course. There are several professors that can negatively impact your grade and that kind of stress is unnecessary.
3. Your Syllabus Deadlines
First Gens should push back on the feeling of anxiety or nerves about tests and assignments. Once you know your schedule and your professor, you can then see if they have published the course syllabus. From there, you can take a look at how many tests or projects there will be for the semester.
College is interesting because the testing and project deadlines are dependent upon the professor. You could be registered for a class that only has projects or class that is heavy on tests, scheduled quizzes, and even the dreaded pop quiz. I certainly did not enjoy the pop quizzes. However, I did appreciate that quizzes gave me a chance to find out the information I was clear on and what I needed to dig deeper into before an exam.
Staying organized and immediately writing down the dates will allow you to create a study plan before the tests/projects to ensure greater success. Interestingly, some professors do not factor in snow days in college so even if school is closed, the professor most likely will stay on schedule and expect you to follow the syllabus to know which deadlines are approaching.
4. Your Extracurricular Activities
A lot of First Gens are dropped off by their parents with huge smiles, endearment, and high hopes. You may have told yourself (and your parents) that you will only focus on your studies and not get involved in any extracurricular activities. Not so fast.
The interests you had in high school most likely will continue in college so you should be prepared for being introduced to various clubs, sports, and organizations that would give you free reign to develop or deepen those interests. I recommend limiting your initial involvement to two; when you have acclimated to your schedule, you can add more. Remember that although you may not be a member of an organization, there is nothing wrong with attending an event from time to time.
I was a member of the Biology Honor Society, a Greek sorority, Executive Leadership, and several others. To keep track of the meetings, put them in your calendar or planner so you can decide which ones you can make and others you cannot because you are studying. By including this information in your calendar, you can align it to your class schedule to determine if it is a good idea to participate. Your ultimate goal in attending college is to learn the classroom material, perform well, and graduate with good grades. You may need that visual to determine whether your priorities are balanced between schoolwork and extracurriculars to have the well-rounded experience you're seeking.
5. Health and Fitness Maintenance
I may have put this last, but it really is a priority. I'm sure you've heard of the "Freshman 15," and I was definitely a victim of this condition. I fought as much as I could but there was food everywhere! The way I limited the pounds coming on was by working out at the Fitness Center, and it helped.
Growing up, my mom made my meals many mornings and they were some hearty Caribbean dishes that I still eat. I was ready for school and I did not have to think about lunch while I was learning.
However, when in college I grabbed whatever I could bring—most times a pastry—with me on my walk to class and did not think about the calories. Students growing up in immigrant households are commonly forced to eat breakfast because there is a belief that their mind will not wander while they are being taught.
I hope you will think about your meals and try to schedule some time for physical activity because it does contribute to your alertness in all matters in and out of the classroom. If you are unhealthy and not staying active, it could decrease your energy or drive to study and stay involved. There are times when freshmen are so engaged in their schoolwork that they neglect to take care of themselves, which could then make them fatigued and fall back on their schoolwork. This balance of health and work is something you will be managing every year in college and beyond, so learn the skill now!
I hope these tips give you a glimpse on what is waiting for you when you start college, but there are other things connected to this new life of yours. The things we've discussed here are just a springboard for what you'll encounter. I wish you much success on this new adventure!
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