Study

Using Syllabi to Your Advantage

You walk into the classroom for the first day of Western Civilization, in your best ‘new semester, new opportunities’ wardrobe (i.e. your best pair of sweatpants). You find a seat in the auditorium-like room and sit down, making small talk with others around you. Suddenly, the professor walks in and before even taking roll, he immediately slaps a packet down on each student’s desk. It’s the syllabus, and the first of many syllabi you’ll get over the next few days.

It’s syllabus week. You go in for the first day of each class, getting an over-sized packet of information that takes your professor the rest of the week to explain. Some people hate it, thinking it’s a waste of time. Others love it, seeing it as an easy first week of the semester. It’s what you do with those packets, though, that make a difference in the way your semester goes. Are you one to throw them away? Do you put them in a folder, never to be opened again? If that’s you, it may be worth rethinking your strategy. Follow the tips below to learn how to make the most of your syllabi!

FILL OUT YOUR PLANNER

The best thing to use your syllabi for is planning your semester. The first step in doing this is to get a planner. There are plenty of options out there, both cheap and more expensive. Don’t be afraid to spend a few extra bucks on a nice planner. You’ll be more inclined to use it if you actually like the way it looks (and knowing you spend more money on it is a pretty good incentive itself).

Once you’ve got your planner, grab your first syllabi. What you’ll find is that almost every assignment you’ll have throughout the year is right in front of you. Go through the schedule portion of each syllabi and put those dates on your calendar. Do this during syllabus week while most professors aren’t assigning homework. Once you’ve put everything in your planner, the real key is to use the planner! Make sure to stay up-to-date with what’s due each week. Having everything in one place keeps you organized and on-track all semester.

HIGHLIGHT, HIGHLIGHT, HIGHLIGHT

If you’re anything like me, your syllabi will soon be looking more like the rainbow. I am a sucker for highlighters, and they’re a sure-fire way to make sure you stay organized. Planners aren’t for everyone, so the next best thing is to use the syllabus as its own planner. Toward the back of most packets, professors have already laid everything out into a neat calendar-like design for you.

While your professor is going over the syllabus (more like reading it to you, even though you, in fact, know how to read) whip out those highlighters and get to work. In order for highlighting to work, you have to color code. For instance, use a yellow highlighter for large projects, a blue highlighter for reading assignments, etc. This will make it a million times easier to find exactly what you’re looking for when due dates start coming up.

STAY AHEAD OF THE GAME

Sometimes you hear people say ‘You’re such an overachiever,” like it’s a bad thing, but let me tell you when you’re in college, overachieving can be your best friend. Luckily, your syllabi allow you the opportunity to get ahead in your classes when you have the time available, so that you don’t have to cram everything in at the last second.

Let’s say it’s Tuesday and you’re working through the required reading for that Western Civ class you were sitting in at the beginning of this post. Chapters one and two are to be read by tomorrow (Wednesday), the next two chapters by Friday. You finish reading chapters one and two and have no other homework to do for the night. The best thing to do is take a few extra minutes to read the next couple chapters while you have time so that by the time Friday rolls around, you aren’t forgetting, or hurrying, to read those chapters.

Perhaps my favorite thing about syllabi is they often tell you exactly what your final project or final exam will look like. In my case, my majors were both very project-oriented, so rather than taking a final exam, I turned in projects or large papers. I was always able to work on these throughout the semester, with help from my syllabi, so that I would have more time to do my best with them, and so that I wouldn’t be locked away in a study room at the library for the entire last part of the semester. For example, I took a literature class in which the final was a 25-page paper. I worked on this over the course of the semester, writing about three or four pages per week, if not more. I broke the assignment up so that writing 25 pages didn’t feel like as much. It wasn’t nearly as gruesome and I had more time to proofread (and more time to hang out with my friends) as the semester came to an end.

ATTENDANCE, GRADING SCALE, ETC.

Aside from the positive planning aspect of syllabi, they’re also good for keeping track of the way each professor handles a classroom because, as we all know, professors can all be very different.

If you take out the class schedule, perhaps the most popular thing in syllabi is the attendance policy. It’s inevitable. You’ll rarely find a student that hasn’t considered just not showing up to class one day. Maybe you’re cramming for a test or you’re simply tired and need some extra rest. No matter the reason, it’s always important to know how many classes you can skip before it impacts your grade. That number varies with some classes allowing as little as two unexcused absences, others six or seven. Having a syllabus for each class allows you to keep track of exactly how many days you have so that you don’t miss one too many days and cost yourself a grade.

Something else that often varies from class to class is the grading scale. A 90 percent in your Western Civ class could be an A while it’s a B in your Statistics class and vice versa. Luckily, you don’t have to memorize the scale for each of your classes because, guess what, it’s in the syllabus. Keeping your syllabi in a place where you can easily access them will help you keep track of your grades so that you always know what you’ve got and what you need to do to maintain or improve them based on the requirements of each class.

Professors spend countless hours creating syllabi for the classes they teach because they find them to be important. The syllabus is your lifeline for your class. Some people even go as far as treating it like a legal contract between the professor and students. Every bit of information on each page has meaning and is, most likely, something you need to know and have readily available throughout the semester. Hold onto syllabi. Use them. They’re worth it!

CELEBRATE!

At the end of a long, hard, hopefully successful semester, you’ll want to have some fun. Lucky for you, before you throw away your supplies from the semester, your syllabi have one more use. Head outside, start a campfire, throw them in and celebrate! Those syllabi are perfect to fuel your fire and will keep it burning bright. Plus, it’s pretty relieving to officially take those classes off your mind. Just make sure you’re burning that fire in a safe place. 😊

If you have other tips on how to use syllabi to your advantage, tell us in the comments!

How to Stay Sane During Finals

Finals week is coming faster than we could say “OMG, I need to get on top of things.” Even the most seasoned finals veteran struggles with managing time and energy while trying to get things done as effectively as possible. Unfortunately, finals are difficult and very stressful. There really isn’t an easy way out. However, there are some great tactics for relieving stress and staying sane during finals week. After almost 8 finals weeks, here’s what I’ve learned:

stay sane during finals

Be Healthy

It’s so easy to neglect our health while we’re cramming for exams and putting together assignments. Unfortunately, if our health is bad, it’s likely our performance is also going to be bad. Make sure to eat healthy meals with foods high in vitamins and minerals and low in processed ingredients. Not only will it keep your body running smoothly, but it’ll also help you feel more awake and focused. Some foods thought to boost energy include beans, citrus, and leafy greens. Additionally, make sure to fit in some cardio a few days each week. Exercise helps to increase endorphins, making you feel more positive and focused. On top of everything, hydration is key. Drinking adequate amounts of water not only helps the body function, but it also helps to regulate attention and energy.

stay sane during finals

Have Fun

College students often have the tendency to feel if they are doing something enjoyable, then they’re doing something wrong. This mindset is not only detrimental to mental health, but it can also negatively affect your work. Overworking yourself causes fatigue and lack of concentration, which can actually lead to lower grades. Therefore, one of the most important ways to stay sane during finals is to have fun. This doesn’t mean a wild night out with the pals, but taking an hour to get dinner with friends or to see a show can make a huge difference!

stay sane during finals

Change up the Space

Another great way to stay sane during finals is to make sure that you’re not in the same space for too long. Even if you have the best seat at the library, staying in the same spot for too long can make things even more boring than they already are. By changing up your environment ever so often, you’re also shifting the way your mind absorbs information because of changes in light, posture, etc.

stay sane during finals

Meditate

Mindful meditation is an excellent way to help deal with stress, increase attention, and boost cognition. If you’re beginning to feel stressed out, take some time alone to sit, or even walk, and relax your mind. Concentrate on your situation and sort out everything you need to do. Identify why you need to do it, and then how you’re going to do it. Remind yourself although finals are challenging, you’re capable of performing at your best and that studying will ultimately be rewarding. Finals aren’t fun, but attending college is a privilege.

stay sane during finals

Stay Organized

If you’re anything like me, you find it extremely difficult to stay organized. During stressful times, my lack of organization causes me even more stress in addition to what I’m already enduring. Before finals begin, it’s a great idea to get your life together. If you’re inclined to use your computer, start a spreadsheet with all of the assignments you need to finish and all of the exams you need to study for. Make columns for dates,  study intensity, and goals. If you prefer being able to physically write things down, use a planner. Winging finals is always a bad idea.

Finals are going to be stressful. However, it’s always important to put your mental and physical health first. Keep a good head on your shoulders. Take care of yourself. Make efforts to stay organized and confident, then the rest will come along smoothly. Good luck getting ready for finals, everyone!

To Survive or to Thrive: College Edition

Children are unapologetic about what they love; they are passionate and even obsessive. My childhood obsession was with archaeology; I read about the sarcophagi in Egypt thrive - childhood dreamsand the ruins in Pompeii. I dreamt that ancient bones and artifacts were still buried under my feet, just waiting for me to uncover them. Unfortunately, the dreams we have as children often fall away and are replaced with the pessimistic, “adult” mindset deemed necessary for the “real world.”

My dream of becoming an archaeologist was set aside, and I spent my high school trying to live up to an arbitrary definition of success. Adults stress the importance of “success;” they do not explain–and may not even understand– that this term is relative. I was told I needed to get into a good college in order to get a good job, and thus I set aside my “silly” childhood dreams.

By the time I entered college, I was used to the system; I understood that if I wanted to be successful, I had to manage my busy schedule and dedicate myself to my studies. Although I was a hard-working student, I felt like I was losing something; I was slowly forgetting the passion that I once felt for learning. By the time students enter college, they resemble machines; they are programmed to manage their classwork, jobs, and social lives. Time for rest and reflection are rare. We are always busy, and thus we grow distanced from our thoughts and ourselves. Like many of my fellow students, I grew detached from my true passions; I lost sight of what I really wanted.

Many students handle their academic and social stresses by simply going through the motions; attending classes and social events because we think we are “supposed to.” I tried to follow the example set by my peers, but, by sophomore year, I could see it was not working for me. I learned that it was better to let something go than to pretend. Instead of taking a class I was  not interested in simply because it looked impressive, I began taking classes that my childhood self calls out for– the class that reminds me of forgotten dreams.  If you simply pretend and go through the motions during college, it is likely that you will continue this habit after graduation. If you decide not to major in what you love because you are told it won’t make you “successful,” you will grow distanced from yourself. One day, you may forget who you are and what you truly love.

If we drop some of the tasks we feel we are “supposed to” complete, we become closer to ourselves and learn to understand who we are. When we are faced with a stressor, it is the way we respond to it that brings us closer to our true selves. In turn, we learn to love ourselves rather obsess over what is temporary. What is temporary includes both academic and social stresses, as well as our bodies. If we maintain perspective, we see that many of our worries are not worth dwelling on.thrive - college routine

If we want to truly love ourselves and become happy, successful adults, we must practice moderation. In school, we are forced to navigate two extremes. We are told to stay committed and work hard in order to succeed and make money. A nagging voice is often in the back of our minds, telling us we have no time to lose. The other extreme is a voice that tells us we are powerless and inadequate; it tempts us to give up. Our childhood fantasies are looked back at as silly dreams. We must navigate these extremes if we want to nurture our souls and stay grounded. Conflict forces us to either go through the motions or to reflect. We must reflect and force ourselves into consciousness. This creates an intimacy and honesty within ourselves. If we want to find the career that makes us happy, we must both love and learn with our whole hearts. 

thrive - meditation

If we do not practice moderation, we often end up neglecting our mental and physical health. I use the app “Headspace” in order to check in with myself and stay focused on what truly matters. The app is described as “a gym membership for the mind.” Just like you train your body, you can train your mind. The app allows you ten days of free meditation. Using this app, I have slowly been learning how to clear my mind. By taking ten minutes each day to focus on my mental health, I have become more in touch with myself and what I really want. I have cut out activities that I was simply doing because I saw other students participating. I have learned that sometimes, the most productive thing I can do is to spend time alone and to not stretch myself too thin. My favorite meditation sessions focus on self-love. It is so easy to forget to congratulate yourself on what you have done, especially when you always have a new assignment or exam coming up. Being mindful of the present moment has allowed me to put things in perspective. During every meditation, I remind myself of all that I have to be grateful for and all that I have accomplished thus far.

Last weekend, I finally saw the ruins at Pompeii. During this experience, my heart was aching; I kept thinking about my childhood dreams and the love I had for archaeology. I let these dreams go because I believed they were unrealistic;  no one understood why I wanted to be an archeologist. I felt defeated. Through practicing both moderation and meditation, I have learned how to let things go; I have learned to focus on what I love and to disregard what others expect of me. Though I regret that I was defeated so easily by the pressures of adulthood, my experience in Pompeii reminded me that it is often the ideas and subjects you obsess over as a child that are the most true; the dreams we have as children never really die. The clean, “perfect” plan college students feel forced to follow is nothing but an act. If we keep on acting rather than living, we risk never truly understanding ourselves or what we want out of life. We must decide whether we will simply try to survive, or whether we will choose to thrive.

Differences When Living Abroad

living-abroad-france

Whether it be for study abroad, for work experience, or for any other reason at all, moving abroad can be both an extremely stressful and exciting opportunity in life. Once abroad you will find that many things are different and that some things that to you seem small and insignificant could be a big deal in another country. Here are five things you learn when moving abroad.

What Things Are Worth Can Be Different

living-abroad-currency

Things cost different amounts in different countries but the changes can be a lot more drastic than expected, especially if you are moving from a country with high costs like the U.S.A to a country such as Greece where the economy is struggling and prices are relatively low. It is a good idea to check conversion rates and the cost of living in the country that you are moving to in order to figure out how much you will need to spend.

People May Judge You

living-abroad-swan

Although everyone likes to think that they don’t have any predispositions towards other races, everyone has their own stereotypes and views of different cultures and races. It will be different being in a foreign country where people are not the same as you, and you are likely to be seen as different and judged based on where you are from. The liability of foreignness is a concept that says that being foreign is a liability in another country based on cultural views of what it means to be a native.

Other Cultures Aren’t Always as They Seem

living-abroad-culture

As mentioned in the previous point, you may have predispositions towards other races when going abroad. However, it is often nice to see that some of these can be completely wrong and may catch you by surprise. Although some cultural tendencies and stereotypes may come from a true place, it is important to keep an open mind as you never know how people may behave.

Actions that Seem Trivial May Not Be So

living-abroad-kissing

Things that may seem small in one country, may have a much greater level of importance in others. In Europe and many other countries, check kissing upon greeting is very normalized. The amount of kisses varies from country to country and even within countries. However, this action within the United States would often be seen as an unwarranted familiarity that is inappropriate.

Things Can Mean Something Completely Different

living-abroad-conf

Signs, phrases, and actions in one country that are deemed appropriate may be completely inappropriate in others. One example of this is gift giving in India. In the United States there are not many real rules to gift giving, but if you hand somebody a gift in India, it can be seen as dirty as that is said to be the hand you use when utilizing the bathroom. The backwards peace sign in the US also means relatively nothing but is a extremely rude gesture in the United Kingdom.

There are a lot of things that might surprise you when living abroad, so do some research on the country and culture to be prepared!

HOW TO: Study Groups

studygroups1Utilizing the “study group” can make or break your semester grades. Although generally college students aren’t a fan of “group” stuff (such as work, projects or presentations), the “study group” is the unique situation in which students, like yourself, may actually find more helpful than harmful.

Step 1: Find a Study Group – if you can’t find one, make one. Email the people in your class (who you can find on a class website or in class). Find people who can work with a similar schedule to your own and then schedule.

Step 2: Meet up – Find a place to meet that is central or well known. Also, if you are expecting a lot of people, make sure you meet in a place that has the capacity for that amount of people (don’t meet up in the library if you are expecting 20 people to show up)!

Step 3: Get people’s names and emails – Make a list, with people’s names, emails and numbers so that they can be contacted. A good way to do this is to use Google forms and send it out asking for this information.

Step 4: Get Studying! – Once you have a list of people’s names and numbers, rather than complaining about the class, or discussing how much you hated what the dining hall served for dinner you should get down to business. People have lots of work to do and other classes so try to be as productive and efficient as you can.

Step 5: Get Notes – If you’ve missed class or don’t understand something a study group is the PERFECT time to get this information. Your classmates might understand better than you did and you will be able to discuss information until you do understand it.

Step 6: Wrap Up – Don’t spend longer than 2 hours (unless studying for a test or midterm, in which case take a break after 2 hours) in a study group. 2 hours is a good block of time that you can get through information, but with reasonable amount of other time so that people can hope to get to there other homework as well.

Study groups are a good place to discuss, understand, and organize information from class and lecture. If you bounce information off other students in the class, you’ll likely do better in the class yourself!