College classes are full of learning opportunities. But not necessarily in the way you think. Sure, there are lectures, interesting assignments, essays, new ideas and conversations courtesy of your peers. But there’s also the lesson within the lesson. And, yes, I know that sounds incredibly meta and Matrix-y, but allow me to explain: a college class can teach you not just the subject of the class, but also what to do, and what not to do, when learning and educating yourself for the rest of your life.
There are mistakes, traps really, that we all fall into, and are especially common in a college course. So let’s go through a few of them, figure out what they are, and how to avoid them. But, as I said, this doesn’t just apply to college students; anyone working in any industry or any job could easily fall into one of these traps, potentially setting off a pattern of mistake, catch-up, recovery, mistake, catch-up, recovery, and so on and so forth. Read on to identify whether the signs of these mistakes are lurking in your employment or educational future.
It’s fairly simple, but, especially in these pandemic times, it’s incredibly easy to wake up late, not log in to Zoom, or whatever service your class is being held on, and then make that a pattern. Attending class is important because your professor is conveying information that may not show up in syllabi or be uploaded online (I can’t tell you how many times that happened to me in college). It also sets the tone for the work you’re prepared to do and keeps you focused and engaged.
I’ve covered mental health in this blog before and written about the academic pressures that have previously paralyzed me. That’s why it’s imperative that students don’t take all of the world’s pressure (there’s a lot to feel anxious about right now) and stack it on top of more anxiety. Associate Professor Danny Pittaway, Coastline's Student Success Coordinator as well as its tutoring programs, concurs: "You're going to compound the difficulties for yourself and psyche yourself out more if you focus too much on the totalities of what lies ahead of you."
Talk to your professors when you need help; tap friends or peers in your classes for feedback, advice, or just to chat about the course; reach out to academic counselors to explore courses that will best suit your needs; finally, schedule time to meet with a mental health professional if you think it will help.
This goes hand in hand with the previous section. We all need help (I know I need it all the time) and there’s no shame or harm in asking your professors, friends, or classmates for a bit of it now and then. As this article in Forbes explains, asking for help is actually a way of putting your trust in someone else; by asking, you “show people that you trust their ideas, feel competent in their skills, and cherish their advice.”
Professor Pittaway talked about students "suffering in silence" with their assignments. "A lot of students keep their work in their head," Pittaway explained. "They don't share it with anyone," which makes turning out polished essays and assignments extra difficult, especially because activities like writing and reading are more of a "process," or "rhythm," that can be done conversationally or as a back-and-forth between peers or colleagues.
I can’t overstate this: sleep is extremely important and probably the most undervalued way for a college student to improve their grades, handle their assignments better, and just feel more, you know, ‘with it.’
The virtues of a good night’s rest have been expounded before, but I’ll mention these articles in Healthline, WebMD, the Sleep Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and Harvard Health. A lot of college students skimp on sleep because they’re young; I get it, I’ve been there. But creating a sleep routine will help in the long run and make your post-college life that much easier.
The biggie. Saved the best (worst?) for last. The ultimate college mistake, not because it’s actually the most damaging, but because it’s the most prolific. We’re all guilty of it. Procrastination, as defined by MindTools, means putting off work or school by actively choosing to engage in other, likely less important activities, which ultimately leads to disillusionment and distraction.
As the New York Times reported in 2019, people procrastinate to cope “with challenging emotions and negative moods induced by certain tasks,” like taking out the trash or sending an email. It’s not about time management, again per the Times; rather we don’t like to be bored, anxious, self-doubtful, frustrated, etc. Professor Pittaway mentioned that "fear is at the root" of a lot of procrastination and distraction: "we're filling our minds with negative self-talk," and "the key is to not let that thinking manifest in actual reality."
So how do we fix it? One strategy is indeed to work on time management (via Forbes): create to-do lists, actionable steps that need to be taken, and keep yourself accountable. Another strategy, backed up in the Times article, is to forgive and be kind to yourself; but here’s the trick: you’re not being self-compassionate for the procrastination itself, but for the feelings that cause you to procrastinate in the first place, aka boredom, anxiety, doubt, etc. This requires a bit of introspection and understanding, and proceeding from there.
The solutions to procrastination—analysis, self-forgiveness, and self-compassion—are really the solutions to all of these mistakes. By recognizing the roots behind why you make these choices you can better prepare yourself to handle situations in the future and better handle your classes in college. "The biggest enemy we face is actually ourselves," said Professor Pittaway, and I couldn't agree more.
The point about self-compassion is especially needed. Despite what almost every high school football coach ever said, you end up doing more harm than good when you berate and demean yourself. Be more like Coach Taylor: “I said you need to strive to be better than everyone else. I didn’t say you needed to be better than everyone else. But you gotta try. That’s what character is: it’s in the try.” Well said, Coach. Now, “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose,” both on and off the gridiron.