Economizing on Your College Academics
Economizing on Your College Academics
You might consider that an odd concept, especially if you are new to college and finding the academics unexpectedly demanding, as college students typically do find college to be at first. For those who are serious students, you might scoff at the idea thinking along the lines that “economizing” and “quality” or high-grade-level performance are incompatible. You might have heard in an campus orientation or other early on-campus presentation recommendations such as regular review of your academics is the way to build towards success in terms of your grade point average overall. While in a way reviewing regularly is a form of economizing on your academics, in another way it seems like adding in another segment of time to your already full study schedule.
There are, however, ways that you can economize your academics that, if anything, are likely to lead to higher grades in at least some of your courses. What’s involved? Essentially, what’s involved is the application of good planning skills. While you’re in college, you’re likely to be planning at a variety of different levels ranging from a day-to-day set of plans for covering necessary material to the long-range planning of entering either the work force or a graduate level academic program once you get your Bachelor’s level degree. Economizing on some of your academics is in the intermediate range. What, specifically, you will be economizing on is your “term” projects. I will make one caveat, here, which is that this approach may not work as well with more technical disciplines such as life sciences and engineering. I grant that I’m less familiar with those disciplines and the kind of assignments used in grading them. This approach, however, works for any discipline in which most of the “term” projects are researched, written assignments.
For freshmen and sophomores who have yet to declare a specific Major and-or Minor, this approach also may not apply until you do decide to settle on a Major course of study. However, you can begin to implement it as soon as you make the decision about your Major and Minor areas even if you have yet to formally declare.
Beyond those exceptions, however, you can economize on your academics in terms of your term projects by using one simple approach. Indeed, I’m told by people who’ve gone on to Master’s level programs that for graduate school work it’s effectively a survival skill to do this. To implement this economizing strategy as effectively as possible, you need to look ahead both in your short term academics such as the current or upcoming semester and also to look ahead in terms of the entire duration of your Major and Minor programs and any other electives you may take that could relate in some way to your primary areas of study. What you want to do to economize, and thus maximize your academic efforts, is to find ways so that several of your term projects throughout the duration of your undergraduate career to greater or lesser degree use at least some of the same research.
This is a strategy that savvy students learn to apply early and often throughout their college careers. You actually start out doing this by carefully considering your choice of courses within your Major and Minor areas. Then, when you submit your term paper topic in various classes, try to suggest projects to different professors and for different classes that in some way share the same theme. Semester by semester, try to work on two or more projects that have associated themes and also keep in mind future courses likely to have related content. What this allows you to do is to use research on background information in multiple different projects. A key element to this approach involves retaining all your notes from semester to semester. In my day, we wrote out notes on paper index cards with plastic carrying cases, and I still think that’s an excellent way of taking college level notes. But you can do this regardless of your note-taking process.
As an example, let’s say you are an English Major with a Sociology Minor. You have an interest in topics related to the American Frontier . . . which, by the way, includes the earliest settlements on the Eastern seaboard such as Virginia and Massachusetts Bay Colony. You know that much classic literature uses a frontier theme in some way. You can plan courses and term paper research so that you can get at least three projects out of that general theme. For example, you can get a term paper project for Sociology of the Frontier, one for a general American literature survey course, and an Independent Study on the frontier theme in any particular author’s work. You might upon reading this think of “frontier” in terms of authors like James Fenimore Cooper, but you will also find frontier themes in the work of authors such as Washington Irving and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
That’s a real-life example, by the way. I used exactly that sequence in my own undergraduate days. The Independent study was an Honors program study on the frontier theme in three of Hawthorne’s novels. I had an “A” – Highest Honors on that project.
Another example you could use would be tie-ins between women’s suffrage, emancipation activism, and the labor movement for something like women’s or interdisciplinary studies. Many of the female authors of Louisa May Alcott’s era were active in both movements because they shared common themes. Typically, college courses won’t cover Alcott’s books but there were many other female authors of that era active in both and it was also often the case that men active in the emancipation efforts such as the underground railway or in the labor movement had a much higher level of sympathy towards suffrage.
This is one way you can economize that will make your academics run a little smoother. Interestingly enough, it’s actually one of the few skills that college life teaches you that will also serve you well in “real world” workplace environments as well.
Give this approach a try and see how well it works for you.
Photo: (Typical college student study desk), http://www.flickr.com/photos/xesc/4061512652/