When you first get to college, your entire world changes. You’re no longer beholden to curfews, your parents aren’t living in the same building, and you can skip the occasional class without major repercussions. For many students, the feeling of total freedom is overwhelming.
Unfortunately, it’s also fairly dangerous. In a recent Reddit thread, users shared their best tips for surviving college—ideally, while working their way toward graduating in the process. We cleaned up a few of the best responses for grammar and readability, then provided some context to explain why these life hacks are so valuable.
When you move on campus, don’t neglect the basics.
“Find time to get some exercise in,” wrote Zenkikid.
“All of that grab-and-go [and] fast food catches up to you fast. I got fat in college and have since lost all that weight. I wish I made time to at least squeeze in a 30-minute workout every other day.”
When students start college, they often gain weight—you’ve probably heard this phenomenon referred to as the “Freshman 15.” The implication is that most freshman gain 15 pounds in their first year, but scientifically speaking, that’s not exactly true; one study found an average weight gain of 2.7 pounds among new students, with men being more susceptible to weight gain than women.
— mich (@michh_j) October 11, 2018
That might not sound so alarming, but the authors note that “freshman weight gain was 5.5 times greater than that experienced by the general population.” You can avoid that effect by eating responsibly, of course, and by finding time for exercise every day. As one Reddit user pointed out, that doesn’t mean heading to the gym and paying big bucks for a personal trainer.
“It can be enough just to walk around the campus, city, or town for 30 minutes,” Sequential-River wrote. “Bonus points if you bring a podcast or audiobook with you.”
Time management is crucial for a successful academic career.
“My classmate took up a strict 9 to 5 school schedule, right from the first semester,” wrote edcRachel. “Every day, he’d work 9 to 5. He was either in class, working on homework, or studying if he got everything done. At 5 p.m., he’d pack up his stuff and was done for the day.”
“He had all his homework done way ahead of schedule and never had to pull all-nighters or waste weekends on homework. He was never stressed out or anything like that because he’d spent time studying when he wasn’t slammed with homework.”
“I could never manage it because I’d rather procrastinate and start three hours before it was due, but it seemed like the best way to do it.”
edcRachel later clarified that the roommate was in a computer programming course.
“We did get projects estimated at like 60 hours a week later in the course, but by then, he was so far ahead of everyone else that he could start working on them as soon as they were assigned,” they wrote. “He knew the content so well that he still didn’t have to work outside his core hours, while I was pulling multiple all-nighters in the lab trying to catch up. Yes, you might need more time based on your program, the point is to get into a routine and use your time effectively.”
There’s good news: If you’re in college, you probably know what you need to do. Per one study published in the Journal of Education and Practice, about 73.5 percent of college students have excellent study habits, while only 6 percent had unsatisfactory or very unsatisfactory study habits.
“To study is to buy out the time and dedicate self to the application and the task of study is to become engrossed in a process of learning, practice, enlightenment education of one’s self,” the study’s authors wrote. “Therefore the study habits can be derived from the above as buying out a dedicated scheduled and uninterrupted time to apply one’s self to the task of learning.”
In other words: Schedule time for studying and stick to it. It’s really that simple.
“I did something similar and can attest to its effectiveness,” wrote HumungusFungus. “Wasn’t necessarily a strict 9 to 5, but I had a list of things I needed to get done for each day and then did them. If I had a few extra hours or did everything in less time than I had planned, I either got a jump on some other work or studied. On rare occasions, I’d use those few hours to do something enjoyable so that life wasn’t a total drag.”
“I can’t say it made for a very fun college experience, but it definitely worked. In eight years of college (bachelor’s and then grad school), I never had to pull any all-nighters or cram for exams the night before.”
“The biggest skill to learn in college is time management. There’s no reason it needs to be a stressful s*** show of last-minute papers or stressing about exams.”
You don’t necessarily need to pay big bucks for your textbooks.
The average college student spends about $153 per course on textbooks alone—and, in some cases, they’re getting off easy.
“I had a class where the book was like $1,200,” wrote croyalbird13. “Not even kidding. I looked around and managed to buy a $50 PDF that was one version before the one needed. Ends up, the updated version literally just had different pictures.”
“The final was online and no books allowed, so while everyone else struggled, I kept the book open on my laptop while I tested. Got an 83 percent on the final due to in-class stuff tested, but still much better than a lot of people who paid a fortune for their books.”
Okay, that second part is definitely cheating, but the point stands: If you’re about to spend hundreds on textbooks, make sure you’ve exhausted all of your other options first.
Make sure that you’ve got the practical stuff covered.
Some Reddit users shared practical tips, and while they might not be useful at every college or university, they’re worth your consideration.
“Your goal is to find the bathroom on campus that’s used infrequently and find out when they clean it,” wrote Martina_Rivera. “When you find the perfect time and location, don’t tell anyone until you graduate.”
“Also for parking spots,” added bryoco. “Give yourself a $100 budget for parking tickets, and you can usually find a parking zone that’s never enforced. Park there for the rest of your years at college without paying for parking saves you a ton of money. They ticket you maybe twice a term. Never. Disclose. Your. Spot.”
When you’re living on your own, you have to be resourceful. Sometimes that means thinking…well, let’s call it “differently.”
“This is an unethical and specific one, but it worked wonders,” wrote Chronos323. “One of the vending machines at school accepted Yu-Gi-Oh cards as dollar bills.”
After you hit the books, be sure to hit the pillow.
“Get enough sleep,” wrote Astramancer_. “Seriously. I know it’s hard. I know there’s not enough hours in the day. But if you’re gonna cut anything, it shouldn’t be sleep.”
Reddit user f1del1us has an awesome rule stressing that concept.
“Sleep more than you study, study more than you party, and party as much as you can,” they wrote.
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Sleep well, and you’ll likely enjoy a higher grade point average. One study found that “long sleepers reported significantly higher GPAs that short sleepers,” while average sleepers weren’t significantly different from either group.
“These results support the overall higher functioning of long sleepers as compared to short sleepers,” the authors wrote. “The lower GPAs of the short sleepers may have been the result of a decreased ability to focus on education-related activities.”
That study, by the way, was published in the renowned academic journal Well, Duh (alright, it actually comes from College Student Journal, but in our opinion, the conclusions are pretty obvious).
If you’re a frequent procrastinator, this is a crucial tip.
“If you don’t know how to study, or have a hard time getting yourself to do homework: Get a friend to buddy with,” wrote daitoshi. “My ADHD [self] can’t study to save my life, but if my friend is in the room concentrating on that [stuff], I feel like I don’t want to be left out, and I’ll buckle down so we’re on the same page.”
“If you can’t manufacture executive function, peer pressure is fine, too.”
“For all y’all saying you don’t have friends—that isn’t the point,” they continued. “Grabbing a study partner is the point. It could be a classmate, it could be a sibling, it could be a guy off the internet that you pay $4 an hour to check in regularly and demand scholastic updates during ‘study time.’ I’ve actually used that last one to crank out half a novel.”
— Marquette Res Life (@MUResLife) October 11, 2018
If you do find yourself falling behind, make sure that you’re studying the right stuff.
“You’ve got to play the meta-game,” wrote hog167. “If you’re lazy and unorganized like me, you won’t have time to properly study for everything and complete every assignment. That’s when you look at the grade distribution and start with the items that are worth the most.”
“Also, judge how much effort the rest of the class seems to put into studying,” added estryshak. “I had a difficult class junior year that would have required a lot of studying to learn everything. Well, the rest of the class felt the same way, so doing enough studying to get a 70 to 80 would curve up, and I’d have more time for other classes.”
This hack isn’t great advice for learning, but it’s great for passing.
“Get your hands on the test bank,” 5panda wrote. “Publishers release the textbook along with study guides and test banks to universities. 9.9 out of 10 times, professors use the multiple choice and even long answers directly from the test bank.”
“It’s probably not ethical, but it’s definitely not illegal. My professors made six figures by copying and pasting their exams. If they can’t take the time to write their own exams and test banks are easily accessible, then I don’t feel very bad for getting 95 percent on my exam.”
This should go without saying, but don’t rely completely on test banks. After all, some professors go through the effort to create unique tests, and if you’ve spent all of your time mindlessly memorizing multiple-choice answers, you might find yourself in a bad position.
If you use the test banks as a study aid, however, you’ll likely end up well prepared for your exams. If those exams happen to be identical to the test banks—well, all the better.
Some of the best school tips are remarkably simple.
“Teacher here, but I work with hundreds of students every day,” wrote TheUnknownStitcher. “Here’s the 100 percent best school hack ever: Ask questions! If you’re confused about something, ask. If you forgot something, ask. If you need something explained again or in a different way, ask. Ask, ask, ask.”
“Teachers choose the job they are in because they want to educate. We aren’t doing it for the hours, the pay, the prestige, the summers off, or the joy of working with apathetic children and their angry parents. We stay in the career because we want to make the future generations better than those that came before.”
“Most of the time, we can’t help you if you don’t let us know you need help. Ask, ask, ask, and ask some more. If the teacher doesn’t want to help you, keep asking around until you find someone who will.”
“Also, learn to ask good questions. Don’t just say ‘I don’t get it,’ because that’s not a question and the teacher (or whomever you are asking) has nothing specific to go on. Instead, say, ‘What do you mean by these directions?’ or ‘What am I supposed to do here?’ That helps narrow down where your struggles are and lets the teacher zero in on how best to help you.”
Don’t rely solely on your notes (unless there’s no other option).
“Record lectures on your phone and listen to them while studying for tests,” wrote JohnyUtah_. “So many times in lectures, you get so caught up in taking notes that you completely miss things the professor says. I’ve picked up on so many things that I totally missed in the notes but heard the professor say it in the recording. It also takes pressure off you to take crazy fast notes.”
“Double check with your professors before you do this though,” noted ohmytosh. “Depending on the class, they may not want you to copy their intellectual property (their own notes for teaching), and may be able to help you find another option rather than recording.”
If you’re able to record classes, you can use free utilities like oTranscribe to flesh out your notes. Designed for professional transcription, oTranscribe lets you slow down audio for easier (and more accurate) note taking.
If you can’t record, you’re not totally out of luck; consider making a shared online folder with your classmates to combine your notes. This is a great way to get clarification if you’re confused by the material—just make sure that everyone in your group is contributing and participating.
Use the first few days of class to your advantage.
“Find a study group in every class and make regular appointments to meet,” wrote Laimbrane. “I’m terrible at doing homework if left to my own devices, but in a group, I’m far more productive. Additionally, they can help you understand the material you might have missed or didn’t get the first time around.”
“A corollary to this: Make a friend in every class (possibly with an invitation to a study group). This will help encourage you to go to that class, even if it’s boring. You can still pass notes or texts to each other in class, and two people will get more total information (for sharing) than one person.”
During the first few days of classes, you’ll also realize when you’re most alert. Don’t take that information for granted.
“Know your peak smartness times and avoid classes at those times as much as you can (which is sometimes not possible),” Laimbrane wrote. “If you get sleepy in the early afternoon or find it harder to pay attention at those times, do not schedule a class at those times, because you will skip them.”
“If you have a rather long break between classes, don’t go back to your dorm room. Go sit in the back of a large lecture hall for an hour. I learned a lot of random [stuff] doing that in college, and I was much better about getting to that second class if I sat in a lecture hall in between.”
And if you’re going to go to college, actually…go.
“Go to class,” wrote ImALittleCrackpot. “Do the work. Learn the stuff.”
That might sound like simple advice, but once you’re in college, the temptation to skip classes can be overwhelming. According to a survey from Class120, college students miss an average of one semester’s worth of classes over four years. That’s probably one of the reasons that 45 percent of college students don’t graduate within six years.
Class120, by the way, is an app that informs parents when their children miss classes, which, to us, seems like overkill. One of the great things about college is that it teaches students personal responsibility—but to get that benefit, you’ve actually got to commit.
The financial cost of skipping class is difficult to estimate, but it’s not hard to see that it’s substantial: According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2017-2018 school year was $34,740 at private colleges, $9,970 for state residents at public colleges, and $25,620 for out-of-state residents attending public universities.
Reddit user kaygeehigs summed that up nicely.
“You’re paying for it,” they wrote. “Don’t waste your money.”