By Lisa Gavitt
Being a college student isn’t a walk in the park. It is stressful, exhausting, challenging and really pushes you to use your mind in ways you never have before. It’s even harder to return to college once you’ve taken a break because it’s easy to get out of the study habit.
Many of the youth in our Youth Moving On (YMO) Program for those transitioning from foster care to adulthood have experienced a disrupted education because of circumstances beyond their control. When they jump back into student life, not only are they dealing with the challenges of being a student, many are facing homelessness and lacking financial or emotional support from caring adults.
Although my situation is very different from the youth at YMO, I experienced my own struggles after graduating high school that forced me to take some time away from school. I ended up returning at the age of 22 and finally, five years later, graduated with a bachelor’s degree from California State University, Fullerton this past May.
Here are some tricks I used to get back into the routine of being a student that can help anyone else in the same situation:
- Show up! A lot of college professors don’t take attendance and leave it up to you to hold yourself accountable. Missing class means that you will fall behind in lectures and notes, and you could even miss something more important like a quiz or a test. In addition, if you’re not in class, you can’t learn anything. So while you’re a college student, put your class attendance at the top of your priority list.
- Do Exactly What the Syllabus Says. It really is that simple. Think of the syllabus as your instruction manual to getting an A in the class. If you follow the directions completely, you will get the desired result (a good grade). But if you leave things out, or try to do things a different way, you may end up with something you weren’t hoping for (a not-so-good grade).
- Make Friends With Your Classmates. You don’t have to be BFFs or anything (although you can be). You just have to build a small network of people you can rely on if you need help with something, which you inevitably will. Get at least three phone numbers or email addresses of people in your class. This will come in super handy if you are ever confused on an assignment or miss class and need to be brought up to speed. (Which you would never do because being in class is so important, right?)
- Use the Library. Most literature nowadays can be found online at your school’s website, so I don’t mean use the library for checking out books (although you certainly can). What I mean is, use the library as a quiet place to study. I found studying at home came with 1,568,382 distractions. I would sit down with my study materials and soon be distracted with Netflix, making food, checking Instagram, cleaning my room –anything but studying. Eventually I discovered that the library provided a quiet place for me to get some serious studying done with minimal distractions. What a revelation!
- Make Sure Your Professors Know Who You Are. Many of my college classes were held in huge lecture halls with 100 plus students, so it was easy to get lost in the crowd. My theory is that if your professor knows your name and your face, they are more likely to give you a higher grade because you have distinguished yourself from the crowd. To make sure they can get to know you, sit in the front of the classroom and ask questions. As an added bonus, grabbing a seat up front helps you to stay engaged in the class. It’s also a good idea to take full advantage of a professor’s office hours. You can have unanswered questions cleared up plus it’s a chance to bond with your professors.
Despite the long nights, tears shed, and stress-filled days, I reflect on my college experience as some of my fondest times. It helped to build my identity, enhance my self-esteem, and teach me about life. As Warren Buffet once said, “The greatest investment a young person can make is in their own education, in their own mind. Money comes and goes. Relationships come and go. But what you learn once stays with you forever.”
Lisa Gavitt is the development coordinator for Hillsides’ Advancement Department. She recently graduated with a major in communications from California State University, Fullerton and studied abroad for one semester in Sydney, Australia. She has worked with children as a nanny, a tutor, and an English teach in Vietnam, but always dreamed of becoming an event coordinator. Her position at Hillsides has allowed her to fulfill her goals while staying in touch with her passion for helping children.