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Back to College: 5 Survival Tips

Back to College: 5 Survival TipsIt’s the start of a new semester and time to go back to university or college. Sometimes it’s hard to get back into the campus groove, into the routine of studying, going to the library, going to classes, paying attention for an hour or two at a time, etc. Who can blame you? You’re young, your life is full of nearly limitless opportunity and excitement, and going to class can be really trying to your attention span.

Yet attend classes you must (well, if you want to graduate some day), as well as the joy of studying for exams and turning in papers. You probably know the survival tips I’m about to cover, but they bear repeating anyways.

1. Take at least some classes seriously.

Look, it’s college. I understand that. But you’ll benefit by discovering your interests and spending more time pursuing those interests — some of which are hopefully academic. So while you don’t have to take every class with the same gravitas, you should pick 2 or 3 that you’re really going to study for and take seriously every semester.

Especially as you enter your third and fourth years, you need to really begin to focus on what you’d like to do with your life. People who spend little time thinking about these things shouldn’t be too surprised when they find themselves living with their parents for a few years after college when they’re 25 (which, I don’t care how you spin it, is a little embarrassing unless it’s a part of your master career plan).

2. College isn’t just about studying (but it mostly is).

Yes, you need to study. Yes, you need to do papers and pass exams, of course. But you also need to explore who you are, what you want out of life, what kind of people turn you on (or off), whether they be friends, relationships, whatever. Sometimes parents take for granted that school should be all about studying — there’s always time later to enjoy life, explore your passions, have a serious girlfriend or boyfriend. What parents fail to realize is that’s not always true. It’s harder to easily meet new people for a relationship after college, and with the demands of a full-time job weighing on most college grads, exploring your passions will definitely take a backseat to the 9-to-5 job. Explore your passions, have a serious relationship or two, and remember to leave time for studying.

3. Appreciate the gift that college is.

One of the things few college students appreciate when they go off to school each year is the enormous opportunity they’ve been given. Despite the popular belief that everyone goes to college, that’s simply not true. For many, it’s unaffordable. For others, their grades barely allowed them to graduate high school. For still others coming from poverty, they have to go to work to help support their families.

Don’t blow your 4 or 5 years at an undergraduate university partying and not taking much of anything seriously. You’ve been given a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pursue academic interests of your own choosing. You won’t have a chance like this again, trust me.

How does this help your survival this semester? People who are grateful tend to be more happy, and a happy person is a person that is less stressed and more able to focus on things that are important to them. Like studies.

4. Drop those toxic friends.

Sometimes we meet people in college who become our friends. And sometimes their lives take a turn off the course we’re following — they’re hooked up in drugs, bad people, or have little interest in ever graduating. We may feel badly or guilty for wanting to leave the friendship, but you shouldn’t. Too many people spend far too much of their time (and emotional energy) tied up in unhealthy or toxic friendships that no longer serve any beneficial purpose.

The friend that calls you up at any hour of the night or texts you incessantly throughout the day about meaningless trivia, interrupting your sleep and your train of thought. The friend that always seems to need you to listen, but is never around when you need to talk. The friend that discovered the joys of marijuana and has basically given up school to smoke weed all day. The friend that suddenly has little time for you because of a fraternity/sorority, new relationship, obsessive studying, etc. You get the point. Drop them like they’re no longer hot.

5. Begin organized, stay organized.

When I worked at a college counseling center back in graduate school, I saw a lot of students who basically complained of the same problem that was holding them back — procrastination. Procrastination most often can be linked back to poor planning and time management skills, and simply not putting them to good use on a daily basis. These skills are learned and they don’t necessarily come naturally or easily to most people. But just like any skill, the more you practice at it, the better you get at it. Here’s a great article about procrastination to help you get started.

The other problem is that when you start the new semester, you are in the mindset, “Wow, I’m not behind on anything — I have all the time in the world!” That’s true. Then the first chapter reading assignments start coming in, and unless you start them that week, you already start falling behind. You rationalize, “No worries, I’ll catch up right before the first exam.” And then you can see how the dominoes start to pile up.

* * *

Here’s a bonus tip — don’t get sucked too badly into video games. They can be as entertaining as crack cocaine, but they can also be just as attractive. At least at first, as you try to get better at them, and maybe even use it as a way to socialize with some of your friends. That’s cool — to an extent. Don’t become that South Park caricature of an overweight young adult who spends every free minute in their dorm room playing World of Warcraft (or whatever) and eating Cheesy Poofs. Really. Don’t be that person.

Treat video games like any other distraction you enjoy (like hanging with friends, going on a trip, whatever) — do it in moderation and to an extent that doesn’t significantly interfere with your other social activities (which you should have) or studies.

Enjoy the semester!

Back to College: 5 Survival Tips

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Back to College: 5 Survival Tips. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 10 Aug 2009)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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