Student Success and Advising
Read our Blog! By Elaine Mondy, Graduate Assistant
Seriously, guys. Sleep. I don’t know why y’all are awake at 3 am on a Tuesday. Like, what are you doing? If it’s homework, it’s time to make yourself a better schedule. If it’s socializing, say goodbye and grab coffee the next morning instead. And if it’s watching cat videos on YouTube…maybe just buy a cat instead.
- Sleep regular hours. I know. That’s hard. But in order to take on your day, make sure you’re getting a consistent 7-8 hours per night. If you’re a social butterfly and out until 2 every evening and it makes it difficult for you to wake up for class, you need to recognize that you’re at Tufts for your education. Definitely keep having a great time, but know what your priorities are.
- Wake up earlier. Consider waking up 30 minutes earlier every day (and go to bed a little earlier). By having that extra bit of time, you can easily mark off small tasks on your to-do list that will make it easier for you to focus on school during the day. This can include packing your lunch so you’re not starving during a lecture, outlining a short essay due this week, or finishing a reading for one of your classes. It makes you feel immediately productive, which puts you on the right track for the rest of the day!
- Nap only if you have to. Ideally, 30 minutes is all the time you should spend asleep in the middle of the day. Set alarms on your phone so you don’t end up sleeping for 3 hours and not being able to fall asleep that night. Daytime sleep should not replace nighttime sleep.
- Turn off the screens. My nighttime ritual used to be staring at my phone, switching between Buzzfeed, Facebook, and Instagram until eventually I was so miserable that I passed out. This is a horrible, horrible routine. In order to get the best night’s sleep, keep the last 30 minutes before bed screen-free. Or at the very least get an app for your phone and computer that turns the blue light into yellow light so it’s not as harsh and stimulating. Try f.lux. It’s great and it saves your eyes.
Does it feel like you’re working all day and never getting anything done? Undergrad is filled with homework, classes, clubs, social time, and errands. It can feel like it never ends. Here are some quick tips to feel more productive and use your time more wisely!
- Make a To Do List. Honestly, To Do Lists are the best thing to ever be invented. And don’t just put big things on there. Write everything – big or small – so that when you can cross it off the list, it gives a bit of satisfaction. Whether that’s walking 10,000 steps in a day, packing a healthy lunch, or finishing a writing assignment, you know that you’re being productive.
- Keep Track of What’s Coming Up. Every week (or day, or month), go through your syllabi and write down all of the assignments that are due. Color code them if you want, just make it neat and easy to pay attention to. If you know a busy week is coming up you can plan out your work and not feel blindsided or too overwhelmed.
- Break it Down. For big assignments, consider breaking them down into smaller due dates for yourself – have an outline due at the end of the week, your thesis and intro done the next week, and work on the meat of the essay the week after that. Even if you don’t always meet these goals, it gives you that extra little boost when you do!
- Use the gaps in your schedule. You have 30 minutes in between classes? Instead of just mindlessly going through Instagram, take that time to get something small done. You can do a reading, eat a quick meal, or use that time to make your to do list!
- Spread the Work Out. Instead of piling 12 hours of work on Sunday, you could sprinkle a few extra hours of work throughout the week. Try committing 3 hours before lunch to do homework on Saturday. Or use that weird two-hour gap between class and clubs to start a paper.
- Make the Most of Your Time. If you only have two hours to work, make sure you’re actually working. Go to a quiet part of the library, turn off your phone, block YouTube, and COMMIT. And if you get easily distracted or fall asleep when working from your dorm room, try to always do your homework elsewhere.
- Take Breaks. Our bodies and minds can only take so much. Take strategic breaks (10-15 minutes every two hours) to re-energize. If you’re bored out of your mind with Chemistry homework, then switch to an English assignment. You don’t have to do your homework in order, so it’s okay to quit something and move onto the next thing. It’ll keep you on task without getting you too stuck.
It’s easy to set a schedule and create expectations for yourself. But how do you keep with it?
- Hold yourself accountable. To do lists, calendars, and deadlines are your best friends. Plan out your week and actually follow it. It’ll hurt so bad the first two weeks, but once you feel comfortable with the routine, you’ll realize that it’s efficient and reasonable. Set alarms on your phone that both remind and shame you into doing assignments. This strategy helps you remember what your schedule should look like.
- Treat Yo-Self. Reward yourself for good work. If you’re actively working hard to improve your grades and habits, then you deserve it! Grab a friend and head to JP Licks. Go see a movie at Somerville Theater (and also take a look at the Museum of Bad Art). Choose something that makes you feel good. Too often, we get into the habit of go-go-go without giving ourselves a chance to feel proud of ourselves.
- Use your Social Circle. If you just can’t figure out how to get it together this semester, ask for help! Your roommates or friends can help you out if you give them a list of things to ask you about every week. Some gentle ribbing on their part might be enough to get you into gear. You can also make a friendly competition with others in your classes. Who can finish writing their paper the earliest? Who can make the most elaborate code for engineering class? Winner gets bragging rights and maybe a cup of coffee!
- Ask for Help. If you’re overwhelmed in other ways, think about talking to your advisor to see if you need to rearrange your workload. If it turns out that you’re having a hard time motivating yourself for health or social reasons, take advantage of the resources on campus that can help you adjust, such as the Counseling and Mental Health Service Center.
- Find Support. Maybe joining a club will help you feel included and get you into a group of friends who share similar identities or goals as you. This university has a plethora of communities, including the Group of Six that you can join in order to feel happy, capable, connected, and motivated to succeed at Tufts.
I know it sounds ridiculous that I’m even saying it, but it’s true. Eat well and eat often. Your body will thank you.
- Don’t Skip Meals. I know that sometimes you’re so busy that you can’t even THINK about eating, but you have to. You can’t get through a 6-hour cram session if you have no energy. Do you wake up too late to grab breakfast before class? Keep granola bars, yogurt, and fruit in your room so you can take something and go.
- Consider Meal Prepping. I know this isn’t always an option in the dorms, but if you’re off campus, put together some healthy and hearty meals for the week so you don’t feel rushed into fast food. You can even make this an opportunity for roommate bonding, where you take a Saturday afternoon and shop together, cook together, and hang out! If you are in the dorms, go buy some healthy snacks and breakfasts to keep in your room. Having fruit around is a great option for quick energy and healthy eating.
- Eat Something Different Every Day. You cannot survive on chicken tenders. Please don’t try. Instead, pick something new at the dining hall each day of the week. Even if you repeat it next week, you won’t get burned out on the food and it’ll get you to try meals that are new and maybe even healthy.
- Eat Vegetables. I know, you’ve been told this since you were five. But students ignore me every day, so I’m going to repeat it. EAT YOUR VEGETABLES. Put everything you eat on a bed of salad. Get the vegetarian option. Think of strategic replacements to add more veggies. You can add cauliflower to a million recipes. Spinach cooks well into most things. It’s also a great idea to make colorful meals – this is a sign that you’ll be getting diverse vitamins and nutrients. Here’s a list of recipes that can serve as examples for inspiration!
We’re a month into the semester now and it feels like things are piling up. You’re not into it anymore or you might be underperforming. So what’s the problem and how do you fix it? Take a look at these descriptions and see if any ring true for you.
- You could be: A Self-Handicapper. If you’re a self-handicapper, you really put a lot of self-esteem in your schoolwork. If you fail an exam, it really hurts. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, you create circumstances for yourself that hinder your achievement. For example, if you think a paper topic in your European History class is difficult, you wait to start the paper until midnight the night before. This way, you can blame the procrastination, not your lack of understanding.
- You could be: A Defensive Pessimist. You’re in your freshman year and suddenly everything is HARD. You feel like high school didn’t prepare you, you feel like it’s so different here, and now you’re scared you’re going to fail. So instead of setting up a healthy work-life balance, you use that anxiety to go all in on your schoolwork and end up not taking care of yourself.
- You could be: A Distractor. You just bombed an exam you didn’t prepare for. Instead of seeing this as a sign to study more, you distract yourself to feel better. You go to a party, you snuggle your significant other, and you make a nice dinner for yourself. Although you know these things won’t help you resolve the issue, it makes you feel better for a moment, so you’d rather just do that.
- You could be: A Non-Attributer. When you make a mistake or have a bad habit, it’s easy to see the results of it as being a consequence of something else. You might ignore the comments that the TA left on your assignment. For example, if you received a C on a paper, you might find it easier to say you did poorly because you were uninterested or the professor was too hard of a grader, when really it could be a reflection of how your writing process needs to change.
The Solution: How to improve your learning, motivation, and self-esteem
- Growth Mindset. It’s okay to put your heart and soul into everything you do. If you are actively trying and utilizing the resources around you, I promise you’ll succeed. And if you don’t get great grades the first time around, seek help so you can get better for the next time. Go to professors’ office hours, check out a tutor or time management specialist at ARC, or talk to an advisor. College is about growing and learning – keep working and you’ll get the hang of it.
- Work smarter. Pay attention to cause and effect. If you didn’t take enough notes to during class and as a result, you couldn’t study well, change the habit. If you refuse to start papers before the day it’s due, make a calendar for the next one so you can stay on task. Use study skills that make you actively use your brain instead of just trying to memorize dates and names.
- Study Skills
- Use elaborative strategies: Don’t just jot down everything you read, word for word. Paraphrase or summarize the material, compare it to another topic that’s relevant. Ask yourself “what else fits this theme?” . Enlist someone else in your class to study with you so that you’re discussing the material and explaining it to each other as a way to really understand it. Instead of just re-reading your textbook, make it an active process. Situate every detail into context. For example, instead of memorizing a term, think about its cause and effect.
- Use organizational strategies: Think about what the main ideas of a text are before you even read it – skim chapter headings and read quick summaries. As you go through and actually read, fill out an outline of the information. As a study strategy, create a new outline that narrows down what you felt was important. If you have a paper coming up and the professor already gave you the prompt, pull out specific quotes or main ideas from the texts you read so that you are situating your knowledge into a specific goal.
Check out this study for more information.
- What is Imposter Syndrome and how do I combat it? Imposter Syndrome is the idea that you don’t belong here. Universities in general, including Tufts, create insulated cultures that might not seem inclusive to you and your identity. I felt this when I first arrived on campus, and it comes and goes even now. But here are some ways for you to cope with these transitions and affirm your commitment to Tufts and your hard earned education.
- Remember that you are here BECAUSE YOU DESERVE IT. Your test scores were off the charts. Your personal story fits with Tufts’ identity and goals. You worked hard and you earned it. You are here because the administration knew you could do it. They want you here. And you want to be here. Even though you may be scared of the work and the changes, remember that you are here because those really important people in the big offices think you can do it. Revel in your own success and meet those expectations – be as great as everyone thinks you are.
- You’re not the only one feeling this way. As the Graduate Assistant for Student Success, I work with undergrads who are having a hard time finding their places here at Tufts. It’s funny how people echo each other by saying “I don’t belong here”, “I’m not like people here”, “I don’t know what I’m doing”. Unless you come into college with all of your high school friends, there’s going to be adjustment. Some might feel it more than others, but everyone does feel it at one point or another.
- Find your niche. Fanatically join a million clubs to see if any of their social situations or interests stick with you. You don’t have any obligation to keep showing up (You don’t even have any obligation to stay the whole meeting if it’s not for you). All I ask is that you look – really look – for opportunities at fun social activities or clubs that would help you feel at home here. Definitely hit up the Group of Six to find comfort in people who have similar backgrounds as you. Find an intramurals club to try out that sport you never did in high school. Go to work out classes, language clubs, or maybe a political group. It doesn’t matter what it is. Chances are, you’ll find people you’ll be interested in, too!
- Find your people. Support is crucial when you feel isolated, so definitely use your resources here at Tufts. The Group of Six – Africana Center, Women’s Center, LGBTQ Center, Asian American Center, Latino Center, and the International Center – are great spots to find people who are going through the same things as you. There are many communities on campus whose sole purpose to make students feel comfortable and enjoy their experience here.
- Reach out to staff. Feelings of inadequacy can lead to poor grades, so maybe seek extra help from professionals. We have a great mix of staff that includes Counseling and Health Services, who can really help you cope if the transition still isn’t working out. We also have religious figures of many different faiths in Goddard Chapel if you feel that spiritual support is what you need.
No matter what, don’t give up on yourself. Nobody immediately feels like they have life handled. Going to college is a difficult transition, where you question your goals, life path, and your identity. Remember that you’re not alone and to seek help and support when you need it. We’re all Jumbos, after all.
College is an exciting time of transition – new people, new clubs, new classes. But with all this new stuff comes a lot of responsibility. Here are a few tips to keep yourself on track!
- Treat school like a 9-5 job. Have gaps in between classes? Instead of using it for an episode of Netflix, try to get a few readings done. This makes sure that you don’t end up starting your homework at 11 and stay up until 3 every morning.
- That said, make sure to schedule in some breaks while you’re studying. Staying focused can be hard when you lock yourself away in the library for 6 hours. Instead, study for 2 hours, go eat lunch or socialize for half an hour, then get back into working. When you start to drag, switch up your assignments – if you’re reading, switch to writing a paper or doing math problems.
- SLEEP. For the love of God, please sleep. I don’t know how many people have come to student success appointments and tell me that they go to bed at a different time every night and sometimes only get 3 hours of sleep. Get your 7-8 hours of sleep – they’re important! You’ll have more energy to focus on school and you won’t need to chug gallons of coffee.
- Use an agenda. Check upcoming deadlines in your syllabi (there’s a reason professors give it to you, after all). Write out all of your assignment dates in your planner and then plan your study time accordingly. You have a 10-page paper due in 2 weeks? Write out mini-deadlines for yourself to break it up so it doesn’t seem so scary. Have an outline and thesis written by Tuesday, an intro by Wednesday, 2 pages by Thursday, etc. and have it finished with time to spare!
- Make sure you’re scheduling in some “me time”! There’s always so much going on, so make sure you give yourself time to recharge. This can be working out, watching one (JUST ONE) episode of Penny Dreadful, or it can be as little as indulging in a sweet treat and coffee at Café Deia. Whatever floats your boat, my friends, just take care of yourself!
Nothing is more frustrating than getting a low grade on your first assignment in class. You immediately begin to question yourself and think that you can’t cut it at this school. But you need to remember that these things take time! You have to cut yourself a little bit of slack and understand that college is about growth, not grades. I know it feels untrue and even counterintuitive, but this outlook will make you more productive and happier in school.
- What is Growth Mindset? Growth Mindset is realizing that you’re at this university in order to better yourself and that you are not defined by your GPA. You are just as valuable of a human being if you fail a class. You are growing and learning and that doesn’t end with a grade.
- Education is difficult. No one said college was going to be easy. So you need to start thinking of it as a work in progress that everyone is working through. You have to cut yourself some slack as you figure out how to study, write papers, and balance your time. Success lies in your ability to adapt, gain the skills, and apply yourself to academia.
- Success is not an end-goal. It is not a grade or graduation or even a monetary value. You are successful because you are changing in a positive way. People label businesses as successful based on how much they are growing and changing in a certain amount of time. We value transformation, not stagnant perfectionism.
- Make goals for yourself. In order to make sure that you’re focusing on your growth, make goals that are based on your character and your learning. SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely) are a great way to work toward something you find valuable and help you improve.
Do you feel like you’re spending 10 hours a day reading for class, but still not understanding it? Here are some strategies to make sure you’re not only getting through the readings, but retaining the information, too.
- Don’t Read Everything. I know, blasphemy. Professors shake their head at this advice, but let’s be real. You don’t need to read every single line of every single page in order to understand concepts. You just need to learn how to focus your time and effort on the readings that matter.
- Preview the Text. Is your textbook split up by chapters? Go through and look at the chapter titles and the subheadings within each. If there are summaries at the beginning or end, go ahead and read those too. This will give you context on what you’re going to be reading, and will let you know if you can skip a section that you’re already comfortable with. For example, unless it’s for a statistics class, I almost always skim through the procedures and results sections of academic journals. If I know that my professor doesn’t care if I know the number of participants, I don’t want to know either.
- Get that Vocabulary. Bolded words are your best friend. This is your baseline and these terms will help you understand the concepts more clearly for the rest of the reading. If you only have time to look at the text for 10 minutes, checking out the buzzwords will be really useful for class. Chances are that your professor will be using this terminology in class, so you should try to be familiar with them before you walk in. And if you don’t understand it when you’re walking into class – ask!
- Skim, Skim, Skim. Best tip I’ve ever gotten – skim diagonally down the page. Now, this takes some practice, but if you learn to pick up the main phrases of each line, you can quickly and efficiently move through paragraphs while still gleaning all of the main ideas, definitions, and intents.
- Analysis Heavy Reading. Now this is a place where reading has to be deep and therefore won’t necessarily be quick. When it comes to reading for English classes, how it’s written can be just as important as what is written. So go ahead and ask yourself quick questions while you read to make sure you’re covering all your bases. What style is it written in? What symbolism is important? Why are the characters important? Jot down notes in the margins so you can look back and remember what’s going on and why it’s important. Once you get into this habit, writing papers will be easier, speaking in class will feel better, and you’ll be able to push through books and analyze them more efficiently.
We all suffer from them. Whether it’s looking at Facebook before and after every reading or constantly checking your email, these are all tasks that don’t benefit you.
- Delete it ALL. Recommendation: DELETE FACEBOOK OFF YOUR PHONE (and tumblr, and Twitter, and Instagram…) You can load them on the internet occasionally, but making it slightly more inconvenient means you’ll be tempted to do it less often. Then you can fill in those extra 10 minutes here and there with productive tasks, such as organizing your calendar for the week.
- Put Down the Phone. Consider putting your phone on Do Not Disturb, where only urgent things get through. There is no reason for you to check Snapchat 4 times when you’re supposed to be studying for the Bio 3 midterm. If you’re still too tempted to play with it, throw it in the next room, in your backpack, or out of sight. Then you can hear the notifications, but it’s not in arm’s reach.
- Block Websites. Did you just watch 2 hours of cat videos when you should have been focusing on that essay? Well, good ole technology has a solution for that. You can temporarily turn off distracting websites with extensions like Cold Turkey or StayFocusd, an add on for Google Chrome.
- Find the Appropriate Study Spot. Don’t lock yourself in your dorm room every day and expect to study without falling asleep. Scope out some new spots on campus that might keep your head in the game. Would you feel guilty being in a really quiet space where people might judge you for messing around? That might be the perfect for when you need to focus.