Thoughts to New College Students From a Returning Student

When the pandemic first hit the US, it became clear to me that I would need to leave my job due to safety concerns. After a period of time trying to wait things out, I realized this was not going to be over as simply as we initially thought. After a lot of talking, consideration and a promise for financial support from family I decided to go back to school. I had been working as an administrative assistant since I graduated college. I had an academic background in psychology but had decided after graduation that, while I loved the topic of psychology, it was not a field I wanted to pursue directly. On top of that, my degree turned out to be not as lucrative as I imagined it would be.

So I made the decision to pursue a new field and delve into the world of computer science and data science. Now it’s been around six years since I had taken a college level course. Now that I am a year in, I’ve come to realize some things that I didn’t realize my first time around.

Make Your Learning Efficient

As I mentioned above, I love psychology. I love educational and learning psychology especially. And if you know about these areas, you’ve probably come to the conclusion that there are so many opinions and theories on how we as humans learn. I myself do not have a firm opinion on this matter in regards to people as a whole, but I myself know that I learn differently than those around me. 

Generally, my advice would be to quickly learn what is most efficient for you. Now, this is not always possible and may take a lot of experimentation. My own learning style didn’t become apparent until my junior year of college. Be cognisant of how you’re studying and what the result of that studying is. Take notes if this is helpful, because the faster you figure this out, the faster you can start learning efficiently.

For myself, I know to differentiate subjects and how I will need to learn them. For subjects that require me to remember hard facts, rote memorization and space repetition are the way to go. But if I need to understand a concept such as how DNA replicates itself, or how a computer’s memory works, I instead I work on my understanding of the topic. To do this I oftentimes will create flashcards or study notes that have questions and an explanation/answer to the question. My goal then when going through these questions is to make sure that I can explain in my own words what I believe the answer is. I try to combine this method with spaced repetition as well. 

Essentially, finding something that works for you and can be done efficiently is the best route to take. I recommend the book ‘How to Become a Straight A Student’ by Cal Newport. He writes about learning and efficiency which I recommend all students read.

Manage Your Time, Seriously

I probably won’t go on about this topic as much as the last as it is somewhat self-explanatory. Managing your time is so incredibly important and can make a world of difference in your experience. As someone who is doing all online classes, even after the pandemic ends, I am in full control of my own schedule (for the most part). This means that I have to be careful to make sure that I get everything done on time and manage deadlines efficiently. 

I know though that this is not inherent or easy for most people, especially those who have just graduated from high school. You are most likely going from having your days scheduled and planned out by your school, to having so much free time you might not know how to deal with it. It would be easy to spend most of your time hanging out, exploring, partaking in the wonders of the web, and just generally not doing school work. Let’s face it, the last minute college student stereotype is sometimes more common than we’d like to admit.  

Cultivating the self discipline to start projects, readings, and assignments days to weeks before they are due is something that will make your life so much easier as a college student. It’s been so vitally important for me to maintain my schedule and stay on top of assignments. This habit has even helped me get ahead of my work for times when I had other life events happening.

Check out my planners and time blocking sheets on my Etsy shop below to help keep you organized : here

Respect All Around

This one isn’t so much as a practical tip but more something for you the student to remember. Something I realized when I started school again a year ago was how much I didn’t know what to expect my first time around. I went through every class not questioning anything and being too afraid to speak up. Please know that as a student you still deserve quality education and respectful treatment. If something isn’t clear or a link is missing, whatever it may be, please respectfully speak up to your professor. If they aren’t clear in their instructions, ask them nicely to clarify. 

This might be obvious to some, but for me coming from a situation where I was taught to go along with whatever I got, I never thought to speak up or say anything. Now I make sure to communicate my needs to my professors. 

And I want to make it clear, I am not saying you should be confrontational with your professors. Instead, just remember that at this point in your education, you have a voice and that voice is valuable. But do remember that your professors are people as well, who also deserve respect. Know that they are sometimes juggling a lot, just like you, the student. Many professors are doing research, managing a lab, teaching 2-3 courses, grading for those courses, working on projects outside of those stated, all on top of having a life outside of their career. 

I guess what I am trying to convey is that respect should be valued on both sides, remember you have a say in parts of your education. Reach out, question things, and start a conversation.

Overall, your educational career through college will be an evolving experience. For some, it can be easy to let the ‘learning’ part of your college experience just sort of happen. But instead, try and take stock, learn about yourself. Depending on your future goals, be it graduate school or a career, figuring out these things about yourself will be so important in your success. Take control of this process, don’t let this be something that happens to you and instead use it to your advantage.

Skills to Build While in Quarantine

During quarantine, many of us are going through a whirlwind of emotions, including boredom and the loss of purpose. For those that are laid off, feeling stagnant due to current work from home conditions, and those that were forced to leave their jobs due to unsafe work environments, now is the best time to take advantage of and up your game for when the job market opens back up. It’s also a time to develop skills that are not only useful but will help you out for a lifetime. This list isn’t comprehensive, but the way I see it, these are some of the most important in my opinion. A long list is fun to read, but not always easy to execute. Here are my picks for skills to learn while quarantined.

-Coding

This is the hottest skill for new and old hires right now. So many jobs are starting to need some skill in coding. If your field does not require it, it still looks great on a resume, showing your resourcefulness, that you work to continue learning and it can make you look accomplished. There are so many free or low-cost options to learning to code out there. I myself have dabbled in coding and would love to expand on my base during this time. Some of you out there might think, “I’m not smart enough to learn how to code”. But that’s far from the truth! Learning code is a skill like learning how to juggle. It may be tougher for us non-analytic types, but it’s still possible. Find materials that suite you and be easy on yourself. I highly recommend you give this a shot.

-Graphic Design

Maybe coding just doesn’t interest you but you’d still love to break into tech. Graphic design is a good place to start then. Like coding, there are tons of classes, books and tutorials out there to learn the basics of graphic design. You can also play and experiment in order to learn. There are many different avenues for you to go down such as user interface design, 3D modeling, online illustration, video graphics. Even if you don’t feel like you are artistically inclined, go for it! Like coding, it is a skill that must be built up. Most people can’t do a handstand right away, you need the muscle, balance, and coordination to do one. But you can work on these and eventually you will be able to do a handstand. The same is with tech.

-Baking and Cooking

Everyone should learn to cook to some degree at some point in their lives. I’m not saying you have to learn to make some complicated French dish or bake some intricate desert. Learning the basics is the first thing. From there, a whole world of possibilities opens up. You can cook dishes as complicated or simple as you like. Maybe you enjoy bread baking over all other types of baking and cooking, or you take a liking to recreating Japanese dishes you see online. The best cooking skill to learn right now, is to learn how to make delicious dishes with whatever you have lying around. It’ll give you the confidence you need to continue growing and learning to cook and bake. Whatever you find most interesting, try and build up your cooking skills while cooped up.

-Writing and Reading

Writing and reading aren’t for everyone, but they are important skills to every aspect of life in my opinion. Being able to write a grammatically correct and concise email is invaluable. Being able to put your words down on paper so they make sense when you read them back later is an amazing feeling. Something as simple as writing in a journal every day, whether you write out your feelings, take notes on your day, or use writing prompts, are great ways to start. I believe it’s a great skill to start working on and developing. There are so many parts of life that call for an ability to write. Reading, which I believe goes hand in hand with writing, is also invaluable. You can learn so much about yourself, others and the world, just by reading a couple books a year.  Look for books online, try everything if you just can’t seem to decide on something. Take five to ten minutes out of your day to read something and write something. Starting off with five to ten minutes allows you to not feel bogged down by the task, and permits you to continue on if you please.

-Investing and Budgeting

Learning to budget your money or keep track of your accounts will give you a great picture of your spending habits and your future that you may not have already thought about. There are free courses, books, and videos on the topic and are usually pretty accessible. Finding a budgeting system that works for you is part of the whole learning process. There are apps as well that track money, goals and teach you about spending all at the same time. But maybe you want to learn a bit more than just basic budgeting. For some, delving into the world of investing could not only help them in their life but also in their future. Finding courses on investing may be the best next step if you’re looking to go beyond budgeting. There are also apps and courses that are available online for you to take part in, all about investing for beginners.

-Foreign Language

This is another skill that looks great on a resume, adding a huge boost to your hireability depending on the language. And again, there are so many resources out there for you to use! Off and on since high school, I’ve tried learning German. I still remember a few words here and there, but I’ve always wanted to make it a true skill of mine. Finding music and tv shows to watch has been so much easier than it was when I was sixteen. Finding books, courses or apps online and jumping into a new language is great during this time. Immerse yourself if you can and put yourself through a language bootcamp. Or if you are living with someone, make it a group activity. Either way, take this time to start developing this new skill that you can easily take into the future.

-Crafty Skills

This is more a set of skills. Learning what I would call “crafty skills”, can be useful through out your life, much like cooking and baking. Repairing a rip in your favorite pair of pants, making some cheap durable dishcloths, canning your own salsa, theses are just a few of the things you could learn right now. How to install a light fixture, make candles or sew up a last-minute outfit are skills our parents and grandparents learned and now is a great time for you to learn as well. Search the internet for tutorials (again, lots out there), or call up those that have done these things for years and get your own personal lesson from family and friends.

I hope this list was helpful and got you thinking about developing some practical skills during this time. It’s also a great reminder of all the resources we have available at our fingertips. Utilize them to the best of your ability right now and learn as much as you can!

Stay healthy and stay safe.

Four Big Tips for Students During Quarantine

Many students were recently thrust into online classes due to the pandemic. And as someone who lives with a professor, I can you tell it’s not only disorienting for students, but also for your professors. Everyone’s trying to get their balance during these uncertain times. For some, at the time of this post, your semester is almost over. But for some, summer semester is right around the corner, which for many, will also be online. Here are a few tips I’ve gathered that will be huge for helping you stay centered and focused on your studies during this time.

-Schedule Your time

This is really important. Many of us don’t realize how much our daily routine rules our lives. For myself, without a routine, time slips away from me and I can spend hours on things that I shouldn’t be focused on. Without the regular schedule of getting up and going to work or class, we start to lose that internal clock and external pressure to get things done. Think of setting a schedule as setting meetings or dates with yourself. Obviously, some of you will have live video classes still, but some will have recorded lectures. Make a scheduled time to listen to these, like you would if you were attending an in-person class. Keeping a regular schedule will help you keep on top of all the things you have to do, especially when there isn’t the external pressure pushing you forward anymore. Remember to not be too hard on yourself, but try and keep yourself accountable for your classes and duties.

-Stay In Contact with Your Professors

This is more helpful now than ever. There are fewer opportunities to see your professor and ask questions. Sometimes online classes don’t offer the opportunity to get an immediate answer to your question. Email or schedule a time to video chat with your professor. This can help keep you oriented to the material, even if you can’t see the professor or visit them during regular class/office hours. Often times, the style of a video lecture or recorded lecture doesn’t provide the same context and information as an in-person lecture would, so it’s only going to help for you to shoot off an email to your professor asking any questions you may have. It also shows your interest in the course and materials. Showing interest is especially important for courses that are within your area of study. Taking this time to build a rapport with your professor could lead to a teaching assistant position, research position or letter of recommendation in the future.

-Seek Out Additional Info

Like I said in the previous tip, sometimes online lectures have less context than an in-person lecture. To make up for possible knowledge gaps during this transition process, seek out additional information. Ask your professor for more materials on the current topic, look for literature on the topic, or just do some general googling. Exploring on your own will enhance the material for you, making it easier for you to not only understand but remember. You could also stumble across information or a new topic area that you fall in love with and decide to pursue. There’re all sorts of media out there for whatever topic you are studying right now. Some are more esoteric than others, but with a bit of searching, you’ll be on your way to a better understanding of your study areas.

– To-Do List

Keep a big master list of all the things you need to do. Get your syllabi out or print out your new schedules from your professors and make some lists organized by class or date. Or put them on a calendar where you will see it every day. Put it in your google calendar with alerts. It’s most important now to keep on top of your course work and tests since professors aren’t reminding you in person every other day. By keeping a sorted list that you can visually see and cross off items as they are completed, you’ll be able to keep on top of everything you need to get done. Get creative and organize it by color if that helps you better visualize. Or post it next to your bed so you see it every morning and night. The main thing to remember about this tip, is being able to visualize or visually see what needs to be done and what has been done, as well as their due dates.

I hope you found these tips helpful and inspire you to think of more ways to stay on top of your studies. You can also transfer these tips to any online gigs you might have at the moment as well. Let me know below if you have any other tips or tricks that have been helping you stay productive and sane during this time.

Stay healthy and stay safe.