Katy Barnard/ Mustang News

I will confess that as a freshman, I was a bad student. And as a senior, I can look back on my experiences and recognize that it was not due to a lack of intelligence or capability, but the fact that I needed an attitude adjustment. High school came more naturally, and I didn’t have to put in much effort to be successful. So, getting bad grades on a regular basis felt  demoralizing at first. But, learning to improve upon yourself is part of the process. Once I learned to readjust my views on my education, being a successful student became much easier. In light of a new year and a new quarter, here are 11 mantras I would share with my freshman self.

  1. Being present is important

You, your parents, a scholarship donor or someone is paying thousands of dollars a year so that you can sit in that classroom. Fewer than seven percent of people worldwide get that privilege, so recognize that your education is a privilege. Every minute you are in class is an opportunity to learn relevant information. And every time you miss class, you’re missing an opportunity you don’t get back. So, show up early — not barely on time, at 9:09, rushing in the door. Arrive early, and mentally prepare to focus for two hours. You may not think you’re missing out on much by coming in two minutes late, but running in the door out of breath, versus being the first face the professor gets to say “goodmorning” to, are two actions that communicate wildly different messages.

And don’t just be physically present, be mentally present as well. Put away the cell phone, pay a little less attention to the social atmosphere of the classroom and get the most out of what your professor has taken time to prepare.

2. Take everything as a learning opportunity

The main reason you came to college is to learn. And this goes much further than the course curriculum. Say you failed a test, consider what you could have done differently, and don’t do it again. Maybe you have a teacher you aren’t particularly fond of, or your group project members are difficult, but working with difficult people is a part of life. You may have to learn to balance a part-time job while in school, or figure out how to study effectively with distracting roommates. Learning to deal with interpersonal conflicts and juggling all of your time commitments will help you grow. Recognize you are being prepared for the workplace, and being taught to grow into a well-rounded adult in general.  

3. Your professors are reasonable people

You may feel swamped with work, but most teachers won’t assign more than what is reasonable for a person to get done. Before you begin blaming your professor, be self-evaluative and recognize how you could have managed your time better. Go on to practice effective time management on a regular basis. If you really are having a hard time with an assignment, communicate. People go into teaching because they want to mentor others, and most of your professors would love to get to know you. If you genuinely think your teacher’s expectations are unreasonable, have a mature conversation with them. Keep in mind that if you’ve made the effort to establish a rapport with them, and if you make it a habit to be on top of your work, they are more likely to be flexible with you. And remember that they are not only reasonable, they are your allies. Your success is important to them.

4. You are just as capable as anyone else

No one started out great at anything. It takes practice and hard work. You learn more from making mistakes than from being right initially. So don’t get discouraged if it seems like everyone around you is doing better than you are. Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” Focus on improving upon yourself and everything else will fall into place.

5. Give yourself every opportunity to succeed

It is unlikely to assume that if you do not regularly get enough sleep, you will have a long attention span in class. If you don’t set aside time to write an essay, the last minute research paper you throw together will probably be garbage. So give yourself every opportunity possible to succeed. Get enough sleep, schedule time in your day to study, make going to office hours a priority. You aren’t going to get good grades because you’re naturally smart, so work hard and do what you need to do to accomplish all of your tasks efficiently.

6. Come prepared

This goes hand-in-hand with the preceding statement. I would recommend getting a planner, and at the beginning of the quarter take stock of all of your syllabi. Write down every due date, including the reading schedule, for the entire quarter. Color code each class. This way you have no reason to miss a due date, and everything is in one convenient place. Be prepared to be on campus as well. Have a way to transport yourself to and from campus, bring all of the books and materials you will need, have food or money if necessary, bring a charger or headphones if you think that’s important. And read everything your professor assigns you. It may seem tedious and at times useless, but they didn’t assign it to torture you. Exposure to information is always going to give you a leg up on an exam, and who knows, maybe you’ll need the information sometime in the future.

7. Your education is a means in which you can help others

It’s easy to focus on your future earning potential, or obsess over how your resume looks, but remember that your education gives you the power to facilitate a role in helping humanity. Don’t take this for granted.

8. Quality is better than quantity

Sometimes it is better to focus your attention of doing a few things exceptionally, rather than spreading it thin over too many obligations. It might be wise, in some circumstances, to take fewer units, work less hours or focus your free time on a few friends who are worth investing in.

9. Take advantage of your resources

Very few times in your life will you have access to mentors, academic and mental health counselors, a gym, an extensive library, career providers, medical care, classes on countless topics, the ability to use advanced technology, connections to learn hands on experience and the opportunity to meet leaders in your field, all in one place. You’re paying for everything Cal Poly has to offer, so take advantage of it all. These services exist to enrich your educational experience, and you won’t want to miss out on that.

10. Ask for help

You probably aren’t a mental health expert, you don’t hold a PhD in physics and you don’t have well-established relationships with every major employer in your field. The good news is that Cal Poly hired someone who does. So be willing to ask for help. Acknowledging that you can’t do everything on your own is a strength, not a weakness.

11. Be persistent

College is really hard. And you can do it, as long as you don’t give up. A degree will get you far in life, and that’s because it isn’t an easy thing to attain. There will always be some reason you can justify to yourself why you can’t. But finding one reason to motivate yourself, and pushing through your desire to give up, is what sets you ahead in society as a college graduate. If nothing else, college will teach you to be resilient.

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