October 17, 2014

Hope is NOT an Action Plan

Since your first college visit, many well-meaning but annoying adults in your life have nodded sagely and said, “You know, college is going to be different from high school.” Even if your reaction was a dismissive “Whatevs,” you still might have wondered HOW college is going to be different from high school.

Dean Frosh finds that October and first exams bring much more clarity to those differences. For advisers, this is the time of the semester when we think you’re beginning to believe us. And really, the issue isn’t recognizing that college is different than high school, the issue is figuring how to manage that change.


You’re a good student. Even good students earn a 32 on the Chem exam and multiple NPs in Expos. It’s just that HOW you’re a good student may need some tweaking. Consider the structure of your studying. How do you structure your study time? Are you reading material PRIOR to when it’s introduced in class? Are you reading again AFTER class to review the concepts?

Everything is studying. Reading before lecture. Sitting in lecture taking notes. Talking with your friends about your class. So, don’t block out two hours and label it “study.” You need to see studying as the overarching plan to master your courses. And that two hour block needs details to really be useful; label it with more specificity: read Expos essay, re-read Expos essay, do Chem problems, review Monday’s Bio lecture notes.

Your classes require A LOT of reading and rereading and rereading. If you’re only reading something once, you’re not going to fully grasp the concepts in a way that enables you to apply them. You produce homework when you can figure out how to plug in problems, but strong work on exams requires real knowledge and application of concepts.

Cramming for exams is not enough. Your short term memory may be able to get youthrough one exam, but your advanced classes are going to require a real foundation of concepts.

You don’t need to take the class, you need to PASS the class. It’s easy to look at your education as a series of check boxes – Gen Chem 1 (check), Gen Chem 2 (check), then Organic 1… But, the reality is that each of those courses lays a foundation for the concepts of the next one. And if your foundation is shaky, the building is ultimately not going to support Biochemistry or a strong MCAT.  Merely crossing it off a to-do list doesn’t serve the purpose you think it’s serving.

As with everything you may struggle with at Rutgers, we have resources to help you!

Academic Coaching : You may be just learning that it is possible to fail a test or paper spectacularly. Some of the numbers you may be seeing next to your name in the electronic gradebook look more like your age than your test performance. They’re a good marker that something in the way you have prepared is not working. If you’re lucky enough to have never had to study in high school, you may find that your luck has run out. That may mean going back to basics and looking at HOW you study, how you take notes, how you organize yourself. Some of these are tasks you may never have even given any thought to in the past. One of the on-campus resources to help with this scrutiny is Academic Coaching – consider making an appointment with an Academic Coach today.

Academic Advising: If you have a critical issue or question about your academics, stop in to any SAS Advising office and talk with the Reference dean on duty. That dean can triage your concerns, help with immediate issues and make an appointment for you to sit down with an adviser for long-term planning.  An academic adviser can help you find resources on campus, connect to faculty and upperclass students, and see your current performance in terms of the big picture decisions of your college career. He/she is often a good sounding board about the issues you’re weighing, particularly how to realistically balance all of your responsibilities toward a strong finish to the semester.
Hoping for the best is an understandable response to a stressful situation, but it is NOT an action plan. Don’t delay these important conversations!