Special Guest Writer–Ellie Cahill: Wear Your Letters, Earn Your Grades: Balancing Greek Life and Academics

So you’ve made it. You moved in, said goodbye to your parents, joined an incredible Greek organization, and now you’ve survived your first few weeks of classes. While these first few weeks of school were new and exciting, reality will set in. You’re going to have homework, exams, chapter meetings, philanthropy events, social events, and not to mention meetings for other student organizations you want to be involved in. The number one fear we always hear from new freshman is that they are not sure if they can balance the obligations of Greek Life and their academics. What you don’t always realize, is that the number one priority of Greek Organizations is academics. We are all here to be college students first and members of our organizations second. These organizations exist to not only provide a sense of belonging here on campus, but to help you thrive in all aspects of your life. While managing all your obligations is difficult, here is some advice to help you learn important time management skills:

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1) Buy a planner! You can literally get one anywhere such as Target and Staples. I recommend finding one that has monthly calendars at the beginning and then breaks down into weekly agendas. In the monthly calendars, I like to write down major events like exams, important assignments, class projects, social functions, athletic games, philanthropy events, etc. This way I can see when all of my main events are happening in relation to one another. It is so important to know when you might have exams and important Greek events during the same week so you can plan your study time in advance. I then use the weekly agenda to write down all of my homework, such as notes or worksheets, and all of my minor weekly meetings. This allows me to understand what all I need to get done each day while also keeping in mind what I need done by the end of each week. Understanding what you need to get done and the time frame you have to do it, is essential to being successful. While it’s important to write all of this down, it is even more important that you actually use your planner every single day. Do not let it become just another notebook that takes up space in your backpack!

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2) Decide what is mandatory and what is optional. To quote my mom, “you have to do your have to dos, before you do your want to dos.” Look at all of your obligations each month and determine which are absolutely mandatory and what are things that you simply just want to do for fun. For example, weekly chapter meeting is mandatory, class is mandatory, your chapter’s philanthropy event is mandatory. Those are all of your “have to dos.” Going to a social event, grabbing lunch with a friend, or going to an athletic game are all of your “want to dos.” Realize that sometimes you are not going to be able to do it all. If there’s a social on a Thursday, but you have an exam on Friday morning, then you are going to have to miss out on the social. Saying no to the “want to dos” that conflict with those “have to dos” is totally ok. For every event you miss, there will always be another one.

3) Ask for help. One of the best parts of being in a Greek organization is that you are bound to have class with members of your chapter. Make study groups with them! It is a great way to meet and get to know other members in your chapter while still studying for your classes. Plus, you’ll never have to pull an all-nighter alone! Another great benefit with being in such a large organization is that there are older members who have been there and done that before you. There is bound to be at least one member (if not more) who has the same major or has taken the same classes as you. Use them! They are always willing to show you which classes and professors to take or how to take notes and study for the class.

4) Most importantly, use your chapter’s Academics Chair. This is usually a member who has high academic achievement and wants to help guide others to reach their own academic achievement. Their entire position is to help you be a better student! If you are struggling in a class, they will help you seek help whether that’s from someone in the chapter or from an on-campus tutoring place. If you are nervous to get help on campus, they will probably go with you! You are surrounded by opportunity to be academically successful, take advantage of it!

Your chapter wants you to be successful in all areas of your life, but especially in your academics. Chapters love to brag and boast about all of the incredible achievements in your life. Whether that’s getting an A on the exam you thought you failed or getting into the program you dreamed of, they love seeing you accomplish your goals and will help with anything in order to get you there. Yes, it will be hard, but college is hard for everyone. It isn’t supposed to be easy. Luckily in your chapter, you will be surrounded by people who will be there to help you through the hard times in order to make them easier and to celebrate with you during the good times to acknowledge how hard you worked.

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

Don’t Delay! Set Up A Study Schedule

The start of the semester means that exams are on the horizon. I would not expect you to be happy about these exams, but at the same time I would hope that you don’t have an “end-of-the-world” attitude about exams—exams are simply a part of college. In my opinion, the best thing you can do right now about your exams is to make sure you are going to be prepared to study for each exam by setting up a study schedule ASAP.

glasses-studyBefore I get to the specifics of how to do this, I must step back and say that there are always going to be some students who will read about setting up a study schedule and will shrug it off. Some will argue that they never had to be very organized with their studying in the past and have still done well. To these students I say “Lucky you”–you are either that smart or your classes so easy that you were not challenged on your exams. However, it is typically the case that these students will run into a class or classes where the lack of a study schedule will lead to a very low grade. I know this, because every year when I teach Introduction to Psychology—not the hardest class but a class that definitely has a lot of content—I get students who did poorly on exams because they had no plan for studying.

There are also other students who tell me that they do not have the time to study until a day or so before an exam because of a busy work schedule or their other classes. With regard to the former, I can empathize with you because I worked two and sometimes three jobs during college and had a lot of classes, but I always understood that school was my highest priority. Hopefully, some of the tips I will provide can get you on a study schedule where you can manage your time effectively. With regard to the latter, juggling classes can sometimes be very difficult. However, again I feel that having a plan for your studying can help you deal with all of your classes.

Most of these students who do not set up a study schedule can be labeled “crammers”–they wait until the last minute and then work very hard to learn a lot of material. Although cramming may lead to some short-term success, cramming typically perpetuates poor study habits, does not lead to successful long-term learning and may even lead to health problems as a result of stress.

To avoid cramming and thus lead to better learning and exam success, here are some tips to help you set up a study schedule. The key to these tips is to improve your time management—organization and planning—so that you have enough time to study, even when you have exams close together in time.

1) Create an academic calendar with all exam dates marked. If you are going to have quizzes that will require studying these should be marked too.

2) Determine when you have free time to study. This can get tough considering that you have to account for time to eat, sleep, attend club meetings, go to the gym, work, etc., but it should be the case that you have enough open times in your schedule to mange all of your studying.

3) Determine how much time you will need to study for each exam. For example, some will argue that they need a week before each exam to prepare. However, others (including myself) feel that studying for any class should occur as soon as you get new material for that class. This “new material” approach is especially important if you plan to use flashcards to help prepare for exams.

4) Determine how much time per study session you will need for a particular class. For example, if you are good in Math you might need less time to study for this class compared to another class for which the subject matter drives you crazy. One thing I will add here is that if you choose a long study session (e.g., 60 minutes) it is best to break this time into parts (e.g., 20 or 30 minutes pieces). Breaking things up can help keep you focused on the material.

5) Set up study times and days (including weekends) using a calendar. You can organize your calendar to indicate each class you have by using different colored markers.

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6) Be strong and stick to your schedule! It’s easy to blow off a study session, and there will definitely be times that you would rather do anything else but study. However, it is critical to stick to your schedule and try not to miss any session. Of course, something may come up and you have to skip, but the more you can be true to your study schedule the greater the probability of a good grade. One way to help you stick to your schedule is to see if (for specific classes) you can find a study partner. However, only choose a study partner if you are actually going to study and not talk more than you study.

If you can follow these tips I think you will find that you will have greater control over your studying, learn more, and be more prepared for all of your exams. Good luck!

Are Some Grades More Important Than Others?

As finals approach for many students, I keep hearing students talk about how certain grades are more important than others. They talk about this level of importance in terms of how much time and effort they plan to put into their preparation for final projects/papers and exams. For example, I had a student talk to me about how it was much more important for her to get an A in her Chemistry class because she was pre-med than for her to get an A in my Psychology course. Because of her ranking, she told me it was doubtful that she would be able to spend much time studying for her Psychology final. Her hope was that she would end up with a B in my class.

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I gave what she had to say a lot of thought, and have tried to determine what might be the advantages and disadvantages of taking this ranking approach to classes. A clear advantage to ranking courses is that you can focus your resources on courses in your major or program of study (e.g., pre-med). If you are trying for high grades in these courses then making them the highest priority will insure that you spend the greatest amount of time possible studying for these courses.

Sadly, however, the ranking approach only goes so far and there is a major cost associated with it. Of course, when you prioritize some courses over others you will not be spending a lot of time studying for these lower ranked courses. The end result of this strategy is likely to be a decrease in grades in these lower ranked courses. In high school this might seem like a reasonable plan because certain courses, such as AP courses, are typically weighted more than other classes and thus impact your GPA and class rank. However, in college, courses are not weighted. Thus, getting a low grade in any college course is going to impact your GPA.

Related to the above I should add that I have also heard students who rank courses rationalize this strategy by saying that the only courses that really matter for getting into graduate school or professional school are those in your major or program of study. My opinion (and that of colleagues I have talked to about this) is that thinking like this is very risky. When you apply to graduate or professional school, faculty will review your entire record. Yes, they will want to see if you did well in specific courses, but faculty are generally not willing to dismiss poor performance (in my thinking anything less than B) in general studies courses (which often seem to get a low rank).

Let me give a final example that students may want to think about. As I have said in other posts I have been teaching a long time—now in my 28th year—and each year I teach Introduction to Psychology. Almost every year I have at least one pre-med student who has used the ranking strategy and does poorly in my course. I believe that students like this would have done well if they had put just a little more time into my course. Instead, they keep thinking that my course will be a “bunny” course, and they end up with a poor grade. Regrettably, these students do not realize that this low (but avoidable) grade will potentially haunt them when they apply for medical school.

In the end, my advice is to consider all of the consequences of ranking some college grades as more important than others. As I said, there may be some value to earning high grades in only courses in your major. However, you may end up taking a big risk–in my opinion a risk not worth taking.

Time for a Break: Use it Wisely

It’s that time of the semester when everyone needs a break. Luckily, Thanksgiving is only a few days away. How you are going to use your break?
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You’ve spent months working hard. You’ve had classwork, homework, papers, exams, extracurricular activities, and maybe even a job. Now you need some time to calm down and recharge.
All that hard work can take a toll on your body. You’re likely feeling very tired from the hard work and the resulting lack of sleep. If you’re attending school in a climate where it’s starting to get colder, there’s a higher chance of getting sick, because students are indoors more and therefore around more people, increasing the chances of getting exposed to germs, including the flu. If you’re already weak from lack of sleep, your immune system is also weakened, which makes you get sick even more easily.
All the hard work also can take a toll on your mind and make you stressed. Instructors typically give exams just before Thanksgiving, adding to the potential for stress. Besides the extra sleep you can get during break, you’ll hopefully be able to get rid of stress by spending time relaxing, which helps decrease your risk of depression, obesity, and heart disease. It also boosts your immune system.
Even while you sleep and relax during break, don’t forget to do some schoolwork, so you don’t come back to school completely unprepared for the end of the semester. You’ll have only 2-3 weeks left, and those weeks can get extremely frantic if you don’t prepare for them correctly. You don’t want final exams and final papers to catch you off guard, and if you’re dealing with applications to graduate school or other programs like study abroad, you don’t want to find that you don’t have any time to handle them.
The key to Thanksgiving break, or any break, is to strike a balance. You definitely need to recharge and get your body and mind ready to finish the semester. At the same time, you don’t want to slide too far behind in your studies when you have (depending on your school) 5-7 open days to move forward and better prepare for the return to school after Thanksgiving Break is over. Treat the days of a break like you might treat a long weekend. If all you do during a break is work, then you miss the point of having one. If you don’t work at all, you miss an opportunity to stay on track.