Advice for college

I am an undergraduate student at Brigham Young University-Idaho. I am currently working on my degree in English – Creative Writing with a minor in Psychology. I am the youngest of children from Idaho Falls, Idaho. Currently, I work as a Teacher’s Assistant in the English department, helping students in English 101. I have developed interests in writing, reading, music, and people. My love for writing and my love for music have crossed paths as choral composers have used my lyric for their works. I have participated in the mixed choir on campus as well as the sketch comedy group. I am currently and reluctantly single. If you ever want to see my feminine side, show me a picture of a cute puppy.

The first step onto the campus of an unfamiliar university is often the first step toward living an independent lifestyle. You may feel like you couldn’t be more ready to make a name for yourself, or you may feel like a child expected to move mountains. Either way, part of this journey toward independence is marked with your quest for control. You’ve been given more control and now you must learn how to take it. This process is part of becoming an adult, and for the most part, you will learn how to gain control in your own way – specifically in your education. You are learning how to gain control of your learning. There is, however, one thing you cannot directly control: the way your professors teach.

Learning is a language – there are just as many styles of learning as there are languages in the world. There will come a time where you have a professor who teaches in a way that your natural learning style may not initially understand. You may be someone who can memorize any date, equation, or principle, and be able to call it up at a moment’s notice; however, your professor might be a hands-on, do it yourself, application based, workshop type of teacher. On the other side of the coin, you may be a creative, process minded, and “get-your-hands-dirty” type of learner, and your professor may run an extremely lecture based class. Often times, students struggle in their classes not because they are incapable or under-qualified. Rather, we don’t know as many different learning languages.

To solve this problem, apply these five basic tips of learning the languages of learning:

1. Do not blame the teacher

Trust me, I know how hard this principle is to apply. But, if for no other reason, this is why placing blame on your professor is the wrong way to handle things: IT DOESN’T SOLVE ANYTHING. This foundational mindset to learning success is crucial to learning how to learn. If you blame the professor, you are choosing to place blame on him in order to justify the lack of success. But there is still one problem with that: the lack of success. Rather, choose to place responsibility on yourself to justify the reason for your success. Blaming the professor gives the control to someone else; taking responsibility for your learning gives you all the control.

2. Discover your own natural language

If you are finding extreme discord between you and a professor, discover why that discord exists. Several times, I’ve had professors in literature that ran their class in a very lecture-based sort of way. This disconnected to my extreme inclination toward participation – I retain information better if I can verbalize it and receive feedback on my responses. Discovering the reason for the disconnect was my first step in learning how to succeed in a dissonant classroom.

3. Communicate with the Professor

This is perhaps the most uncomfortable part of this process, but I would argue that it is the most important part. I will make this very clear: Every time I talked with a professor about my struggles, the class became exponentially easier, clearer, and much more interesting. Power exists when a student goes to a professor and explicitly says “I don’t understand what is going on in your class, and this is why…” Generally, I’ve experienced two outcomes: 1. The professor would realize that they were doing something unintentional and they would fix it, and 2. The professor would explain in different ways why they do what they do, and how I as the student can gain a better experience from the class. In other words, communication with the professor brings the language of the teacher and the language of the student into harmony. How can two vocalists harmonize if they don’t communicate with each other? This step has literally boosted my grade, instilled my enthusiasm in learning, and gained me a friend and academic ally in the professor (networking anyone?).

4. Join a study group

You may not be a natural speaker of your professor’s teaching language, but I can guarantee you that someone in your class is. Join forces with other students to learn how to learn in this difficult class. Peer support builds your self-esteem and associates education with social interaction. This instills greater abilities to grow and adapt into your learning and it makes education much less lonely. In other words, studying with other students helps to create a sense of interdependence – the coming together of many individuals whose different and unique strengths contribute to the overall goal of the group. No one is good at everything, but everyone is good at something. Build a team!

5. Practice different learning languages

Just because you aren’t naturally inclined toward something doesn’t mean you are doomed to fail at it forever. On the contrary, weaknesses are an invitation to be something greater than you currently are. It’s sort of life’s “I dare you.” The moment you climb an impossible mountain, you become the master of that mountain. So don’t settle for stumbling through a class and JUST making it through. Make this learning language a permanent part of who you are. Then, you can call it up at a moment’s notice. Practice these languages in your education, your social life, and the workforce. You will become a much more marketable and adaptable person. You’re not losing who you are – you are unlocking who you can become.

One thing in college will never change: your natural inclinations will not always be catered to. Professors will expect work that you think you simply cannot do. But that is the point of an education. If you cannot learn in different languages, you cannot grow. Without pressure, you cannot be refined. Take these dissonant classes not as a battle to be endured, but an opportunity to be amazing in more languages than one.


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