College Survival Tactics
Do you ever get a song stuck in your head for no reason at all? Sometimes I wonder whether it is a sign of insanity or if it’s saving me from insanity. In 1978, Gloria Gaynor released the top-selling disco song “I Will Survive”, and it gets stuck in my head when I’m knee-deep in a pile of overwhelming homework. Disco? Don’t judge me.
Before you write me off as a crazy person, I assure you I have some more practical tips and tricks too. Listening to old music is just one of my methods for surviving college, but you can take it or leave it. Here are a few other survival tactics I’ve picked up over the years:
- Your Advisor: Lean into the knowledge and wisdom your advisor has to offer (just double check their work- they make mistakes too). If you are paying for college, recognize that part of your tuition is going towards paying your advisor’s salary. So, make good use of meetings and office hours. Freshman year I had a great advisor, but his office hours did not work well with my schedule. It felt weird, but I switched to a different advisor who had more hours, and that relationship has benefitted me over and over. He has given me career advice, life advice, helped figure out scheduling conflicts, and been my professor for many classes.
- Find a Mentor: College is a defining time in life. You are in a season of big decisions and life choices, so pull from the wisdom of smarter, wiser people around you. Your advisor can be a mentor, but also find other professors, faculty, church leaders, and family members who have more life experience and more objective perspective then your peers. One of my mentors since high school has helped me navigate break ups, taught me about mental health, encouraged me to say no when I have too much on my plate, and say yes when God is calling me into new chapters. We all need these people in our corner.
- A Planner AND a Calendar: Some of you are rolling your eyes, but across the board people struggle with keeping track of everything; and that’s ok! In every major from Freshman year to the graduate level of study, I hear people say their grades dropped because they forgot to turn something in or forgot to go to class. Personally, I have a terrible memory and would forget about every responsibility in life without my calendar yelling at me from my phone. I use the Google calendar, but I also recommend using the Microsoft calendar built into Office 365. Every semester, I put my whole class schedule into that calendar with the room number and/or Zoom link all right there in one place. Then, when I have to schedule an advising appointment, I can easily see where I have time between class, work, practice, chapel, and all the other random things. When you are sent a calendar invite on your email, it automatically gets added to your calendar with all the pertinent information. I also use a small paper planner for all my homework assignments. Sometimes there is more space than I need, but it gives me room to see exactly when things are due and any notes I add about specifications for the assignment. Do not try to just remember when every assignment for your five classes have to be done. You could write your class schedule into your planner, but a planner cannot give you a notification to get your rear into class. Plus, I find that it clutters things up and makes it easier to miss seeing an assignment.
- PurdueOwl.com: This is a lifesaver. When you’re cramming in a paper at the last minute and can’t remember how to cite a journal article differently than a book, or if the title page should be centered or bolded, it always has the answers. Click on the “Sample Paper” page. Again, it will change your life. There is no way to remember all the nuance of MLA vs APA vs Chicago vs any other random formatting style.
- Coffee: We all know this is true. Even with the best sleep habits, coffee is so needed some (or all) mornings. Pro tip: if you have a mini fridge in your dorm room, you can make cold brew overnight. Walmart has single-cup cold brew bags kind of like tea bags. Or you can get bigger, reusable filter bags from Amazon to put your own grounds in.
- Journaling and Quiet Time: I hope and pray that if you are reading this you have a personal relationship with Jesus. Even if you do not, taking intentional time to slow, to think, and to journal is so valuable. I know college life is crazy busy and I never spend as much time with Jesus as I want to, but I have slowly formed a few habits that help me carve out time to refocus my life. Every morning I journal 5 things I’m grateful for, all the people I’m praying for, and 10 dreams/big life goals. I adapted this practice from Rachel Hollis’ Start Today Journal, so check out her community if you are interested. The gratitude is for things that have happened or that I noticed the day before since I do this in the morning. If nothing else, knowing I HAVE to write 5 things the next morning helps me notice the little things in life more. I wish that I spent a long time in the prayer section, but I just write the same things out every day about my family, my priorities, and my friends. Just saying their names helps me pray for a second about each person but reminds me to take extra time to pray for some people if I need to. I pray that Jesus would make me more like Him every day which reminds me to intentionally try to live that way. Finally, my 10 big dreams are the same every day until I achieve one. They can be whatever you want, but some of mine are that I have my MBA, I’m married and have kids, and I show radical Jesus kind of hospitality. I write them in the present tense as if they are already achieved, not some future dream that will never happen. This is just one way to journal and spend time with God, not THE right way. Find what works for you, but actually find it and stick to it. It can change your life. It has changed mine.
There are so many things I could talk about, but these are some of my favorites. I pray that these will be helpful for you as you go through college or whatever season God is calling you to next.
Ellie is a senior at NU pursuing a degree in Digital Marketing. She is highly involved on campus as the captain of NU’s cross country and track teams, the NU Development Student Ambassador, and the Entrepreneur Club President.