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College Independence: Avoid These 6 Common Mistakes! - Leslie Pike

College Independence: Avoid These 6 Common Mistakes!


Leslie Pike, a rising junior at the WKU Honors College, says college success is not easy – but it can be made simple if you avoid these 6 common mistakes.

Getting through college isn’t easy.

I’ve witnessed several people drop out, fail out, and get kicked out of school.

There are several different sources of difficulty, though there seems to be a common root: people have just been given a large measure of independence and don’t know what to do with it, and they make mistakes that severely hamper their chances of success.

Having struggled (and succeeded) through three semesters, and having watched other people struggle (sometimes overcoming, sometimes not), I have found several important strategies for keeping your life under control, rescuing your sanity, and keeping your grades up:

1. Don’t put it off.

If there was only one tip I could give incoming freshmen, it would be this one, as the ramifications of procrastination are very grave. Professors have no compunction when it comes to assigning homework, and most aren’t too thrilled about accepting late work.

Additionally, you will be taking multiple classes, and your History professor isn’t going to care that you have 89 Math problems to do this weekend—that report on Seneca Falls is still due at 9:30 sharp Monday morning!

Homework piles up quickly, and you have to work continuously and thoroughly in order to stay on top of things. If you don’t keep up, you’ll be in over your head before you know it. One of my very good friends, who started college the same semester I did, brought with her the habit she’d developed in high school of putting things off.

When the last week of classes arrived, all of her assignments came due at once.

She worked day and night to catch up, started hallucinating from lack of sleep, had to go to the hospital, just barely finished on time (still missed a few things), and ended up with 88’s in two of her classes.

She and I later recalculated her grades; she would have had 90’s in both of those classes had it not been for the sloppy work/missed deadlines during that last week of class. I am pleased to report that she was a completely different person the next semester; she started working on her assignments immediately, usually finished them early, and made very good grades.

The bottom line is: don’t procrastinate on your homework.

2. Don’t quit practicing your faith.

Starting college is quite like being thrown out in the middle of the ocean; you don’t know where you are or what you’re doing, you’re tossed about by merciless waves, and you had better figure out how to swim pretty quickly. Your chances of survival are much greater if you have a divine Lifeline to cling to. It’s easy to quit practicing once you’re away from your family and the practice of saying grace before meals, nighttime family prayers, etc.

The practice of your religion is now dependent upon one person: YOU. You’re going to be very busy with friends and homework, and it’s easy to forget about God, especially without your parents being there to remind you. Take responsibility for your faith and squeeze prayer time into your day; pray in the lunch line, pray between classes, pray right before you go to bed.

Keep going to Sunday Mass. Keeping God in your life will keep you sane amid the craziness.

Those who don’t have God or who don’t make Him a priority have a tendency to substitute in other things, such as drugs or alcohol, which leads to other problems, but faithful Catholic students usually don’t have these issues.

3. Don’t try to do too many things at once.

Even after three semesters, I still find it hard to believe the number of activities some students are involved in! They will take 17, 18, or more credit hours, be involved in multiple clubs, work, volunteer, play two or three different sports or instruments, and do research under multiple professors.

While none of these activities are bad in themselves, too much of a good thing is NOT a good thing! You are not Superman. I repeat, you are not Superman. You are a human being who needs food, sleep, and a few spare seconds to breathe once in a while.

Just because it sounds fun and your friends are doing it does NOT mean that you are obliged to participate. I happen to room with a girl who is very intelligent and nice but can’t say “no” to any activity that sounds innocent and fun.

She was in a constant state of activity last semester, usually didn’t get in bed until 3 a.m. or later (she started cutting class in order to sleep in later), and struggled to meet deadlines. I will comment that my GPA is better than hers, I get about double the amount of sleep she does, and I even managed to bring in some money by working on the side. (She didn’t.)

The same is true for my other over-busy friends; I have better grades, get more sleep, and make more money than they do.

While there’s nothing wrong with extracurriculars, it is important to keep things in perspective; focus on activities from which you will benefit the most. I also don’t recommend taking more than 16 hours per semester; you will gain more from your classes if you have more time to devote to them.

4. Take care of yourself.

You’ll have more energy and produce higher-quality work if you’re healthy. Get enough sleep (this takes discipline, as Mom and Dad won’t be there to send you to bed), eat healthy (this also takes discipline, as cookies abound), and get exercise (yes, this takes discipline too, because your parents are not monitoring how many cute YouTube videos you have watched in a row).

5. Don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it.

You are not Superman. (It bears repeating.) You are human. You are not perfect and nobody expects you to be. If they do, shame on them, because they should know better.

There will be times you need a hand; don’t be afraid or ashamed to reach out.

From asking a friend about a homework problem to asking a counselor how to navigate a road bump in your life, it’s perfectly OK to get help. Students who drop out, fail out, or are kicked out usually needed help but didn’t seek it.

If you’re struggling in class, see a tutor. (Been there, done that, got an A instead of an F.) If you’re struggling with the emotional demands of college, don’t turn to drugs or alcohol—see a counselor or a priest! I promise you, it’s helpful; they will not judge, lecture, criticize, or punish you. They will listen, understand, and offer advice.

6. Don’t get discouraged and give up.

Sometimes, setbacks just happen. I’ve had some pretty rough days myself—every college student has. You wind up taking the worst professor in the department by accident (happened to me); you fail an exam despite studying for it (happened to me twice, and that isn’t counting C’s); your friend does something that hurts you (happened to me); you spend an hour on the phone trying to figure out why you haven’t received your paycheck, only to find out that it is because of a software peculiarity that you weren’t told about during job training (totally happened to me).

However, I’ve consistently noticed that bad things seem very big when they happen, but if you pick yourself back up and keep walking, you’ll be surprised at how insignificant they really become.

My cumulative GPA from my three semesters is a 3.93 out of 4.0, I earned enough money to buy a very good laptop, and I still have all of my emotional marbles together—well, most of them, at least. The key to success is to persevere, persevere, and persevere. (Did I mention to persevere?)

If you get a bad exam grade, go to the professor and ask him or her to explain to you what you missed. You’ll learn how to do better on the next exam, and occasionally it turns out that the professor made a mistake grading and you’ll get the points back!

Also, a single exam or homework assignment rarely counts for a very large portion of your final grade—I failed my first Calculus exam but still made an A in the class because I did so well on everything else.

You will have problems, but don’t complain about them and try to cover them up—try to fix them! Mistakes are a natural part of any human endeavor. If you’ve never had a short-term failure, you probably are a long-term failure.

College is challenging—at times, overwhelming—but I’ve learned from experience that the word “hard” and the word “impossible” have two completely different meanings.

Always remember, God IS watching over you—there are several instances in my life where a divine Hand reached down and pulled me through. Just this past semester, I was scheduled to register for next semester’s classes at 5 a.m. on a Friday morning.

One of the classes I needed was expected to fill up within the first few minutes of registration; therefore, I had set my alarm for 4:45 to ensure that I would get to the registration page in time to reserve my seat. I went to bed early, tired and knowing that I probably wouldn’t be getting much sleep. I woke up in the night and rolled over to check my alarm clock.

To my horror, the display was blinking—there had been a power outage in the night and the clock had reset itself, meaning that my alarm had not gone off and I had no idea what time it was. I pulled up my laptop, fearing the worst. The clock on my computer read 4:45 a.m. I had woken up in time to register, despite the fact that my alarm had not gone off!

I got to the page and registered for my classes, getting every one of them. (The one I was worried about DID fill up quickly—all 24 seats had disappeared by 5:15 a.m., just 15 minutes after registration opened.)

When I called my parents to tell them I got all of my classes, Dad answered the phone. He said that Mom was still asleep—she had been up all night praying for me because she was afraid something would go wrong. Were it not for God’s intervention, I would have lost my class!

To sum up, the secret to success in college is to use your newfound freedom wisely—keep up with your homework and your religion, don’t bite off more than you can chew, take care of yourself, ask for help when you need it, and never give up. You’ll have bad days—those are a natural part of human existence—but anything can be overcome with God’s help. Good luck and God bless.

About Leslie Pike

Leslie Pike
I am the oldest of three children. I am a rising sophomore at Western Kentucky University, where I am working towards a bachelor's degree in Chemistry by completing my remaining high school requirements as dual credit classes.

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