You and Your College Experience

You and Your College Experience
You and Your College
FI G U RE 1 . 1
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Where Are You Now?
Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.
Yes Unsure No
1. I understand all the benefits of a college education for my future life.
2. I have clear-cut career interests and have already planned my college program to
prepare me best for my future work.
3. I am aware of how my previous educational background has prepared me for college
4. I have all the personal traits of a successful college student.
5. I know how the learning process functions and make an effiort to maximize my
learning at each step in this process.
6. I know my personal learning style and use it to my advantage when learning new
7. I know how to pay attention to gain the most from my classes.
8. I am aware of my college’s policies for academic honesty and behavior on campus.
9. I know where to find all the resources of my college that can help me succeed both
academically and personally.
10. I am confident I can earn the grades I need to achieve success in my college courses.
11. I know the first year of college will be the most difflcult, but I am fully prepared and
take responsibility for my own success.
12. I am taking steps every day to ensure I am successful in every aspect of the college
Where Do You Want to Go?
Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself. On a scale of 1 to 10, how
would you rate your present skills for succeeding in college?
Not very strong
Very strong
In the following list, circle the three most important areas in which you think you can improve:
Relating my personal values to education
Choosing a program or degree major
Finding the best career for my interests and skills
Being prepared for college-level work
Developing a positive attitude for college
Successfully using each step of the learning process
Adapting and broadening my personal learning style
Getting the most out of classes large and small
Following all college policies
Taking advantage of all college resources
Getting the best grades I can get
Successfully transitioning to college and completing the first year
Doing everything I can every day to ensure I succeed in college
Are there other areas or skills that need more attention in order for you to succeed in college? Write down
other things you feel you need to work on.
How to Get There
Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:
Viewing college in terms of your personal values
Recognizing the importance of making a commitment to succeed in the first year of
Discovering what career and college major best match your interests and skills
Understanding the obstacles students like you may have to overcome when transitioning
into college
Figuring out how to learn best in each step of the learning process
Using your personal learning style effiectively while also expanding to include other forms
of learning
Staying motivated and succeeding in large lecture classes as well as small discussion
Working with your academic advisor to select courses and plan your program
Discovering what resources your college offiers students to succeed not only in classes but
also in their personal and social lives
Understanding why grades matter
Understanding why the first year of college is so critical and how to ensure you make it
Knowing what steps you can take starting today and every day to ensure your success in
Congratulations on your decision to attend college! For the great majority of college students, it really
was your decision—not just an automatic thing to do. If you happen to be one of the few who just sort
of ended up in college for want of anything better to do, the benefits of college will soon become
The reason for this book, and for almost all college courses, is that college does require commitment and effiort. Like everything else in life that leads to meaningful results, success in college is not
automatic. But when you apply yourself to your studies using the skills you’ll learn in this book, you’ll
find you can succeed.
When asked, most students say they’re in college primarily for the job or career they expect to follow after college. And they are correct that college pays offi enormously in terms of future earnings, job
security and stability, and job satisfaction. Every statistic shows that people with a college education
will make much more in their lifetime (much, much more than the cost of college itself) and be much
happier with the work they do.
But job and career issues are only a part of the big picture. A college education results in many
other personal benefits, and these also should be part of your motivation for doing well and continuing
with your college plans. Here are a few additional, less tangible benefits of a college education:
You will have a fuller life and a better understanding of the world around you.
< You will gain decision-making and problem-solving skills.
< You will meet many interesting and diverse people and have a richer social life.
< You will gain self-confidence.
< You will gain learning skills that can continue for a lifetime.
< You will make wiser decisions about lifestyle issues and live healthier.
< You will make wiser economic decisions the rest of your life.
< You will be better equipped to deal with other people, organizations, governmental agencies, and
all the hassles of daily life.
< You will feel more fully a part of your community, the larger culture, and history.
A college education is correlated with greater success in all those areas, even though most students are
usually more concerned with making it through the next class or test than the rest of their lives. But
sometimes it helps to recall what a truly great step forward you are taking!
Sadly, however, it’s important to recognize that some students do not succeed in college and drop
out within the first year. Sometimes it’s due to an unsolvable financial problem or a personal or family
crisis, but most of the time students drop out because they’re having problems passing their courses.
The two biggest causes of this problem are a lack of motivation and not having learned the skills
needed to succeed in college.
A book like this one can help you stay motivated when things get tough, but it can’t necessarily
give you motivation to start with. That’s part of what you yourself have to bring to college. What we
can promise you is that you can learn the skills for succeeding in college.
Special skills are needed because college isn’t the same as high school. Throughout this book, we’ll
be looking at the many ways college is diffierent from high school. To name just a few, college is diffierent in study skills needed, in personal skills related to being independent, in social skills for getting
along with instructors and others on campus, in financial realities, in matters of personal health, and
Remember, you can learn whatever you need in order to succeed. That’s what this book is all
about. You’ll learn how to get the most out of going to class. You’ll learn how to study in ways that use
your time efflciently and help you pass tests. You’ll even learn how to remember what you read in your
college textbooks. You’ll learn how to manage your time more effiectively than you might have in the
past, so that studying is less a burden and more a simple routine. You’ll even learn how things like eating well and getting enough sleep and exercise make it easier to do well in your classes.
One warning: you might not at first see an immediate payoffi for everything you read in this book.
When it comes to certain things, such as tips for how to take good notes in class to help you study later
on for a test, you will get specific, practical advice you can put to use immediately to get a better grade.
But not everything is as obvious or immediately beneficial. Some of the things you’ll read about here
involve ideas you’ll need to think about. Some things will help you get to know yourself better and understand more clearly what you really want from your education and how to go about attaining them.
But we promise you this: if you care enough to want to succeed in college and care enough to read
these chapters and try to use the information, suggestions, and tips presented here, you will succeed in
List your most important personal values and relate them to a college education.
Begin thinking about what kind of career will best match your interests, skills, and personality.
Understand how college is diffierent from high school in many ways.
Develop a positive attitude about yourself as a college student.
Accept responsibility for your college experience and your life.
Succeeding in college is rather like succeeding in life. It’s really much more about you than it is about
college. So the most important place to start is to consider why you’re here, what matters to you, and
what you expect to get out it. Even if you have already thought about these questions, it’s good to
reafflrm your commitment to your plan as we begin to consider what’s really involved in being a college student.
2.1 What’s Your Plan?
Take a few minutes and write down short answers to the questions in Activity 1. Be honest with yourself, and write down what you really feel. You are not writing for an instructor here—not what you
think someone expects to hear—and you are not being graded on your answers!
1 :
How long do you anticipate being in college?
How many courses will you need to take per term to finish college in your planned time period?
What do you anticipate will be the most difflcult part of completing college?
Are you confident you will be able to overcome any possible difflculties in completing college?
Were you able to easily answer the questions in Activity 1? How confident do you feel about your plan?
These are important questions to think about for the simple reason that students who have a clear
plan and who are prepared to overcome possible obstacles that may arise along the way are much more
likely to succeed in college. In other words, just thinking in a positive way about your future can help
that future come true!
2.2 What Matters to You?
An object or quality a person
believes is desirable as a
means or as an end in itself.
The word values refers to things that matter to a person. What makes you feel good? What things
would you be doing if you had all the time, money, and opportunities in the world? Questions like
these help us define our own values. Every individual has his or her own values.
Thinking about your own values can help you know what you want from life and from college.
Take a moment and consider the list of things in Activity 2 that are valued by some people. For each
value, rate how important that thing is to you.
2 :
Following is a list of things that diffierent people say they value. For each item on this list, indicate how important it is to you yourself by ranking it as very important (5), not important (0), or somewhere in between.
Not important Very important
Making a good income
Having good friends
Learning new things about your interests 0
Having a nice car
Having intelligent conversations
Staying current with the news
Playing sports
Hanging out with friends
Playing computer or video games
Online social networking
Reading a good book
Traveling to new places
Being liked by others
Studying and reading textbooks
Having nice clothing
Watching television
Enjoying time alone
Getting out in nature
Working your job
Looking good, personal hygiene
Meeting new people
Going to movies or entertainments
Eating nice meals out
Exercising, being physically active
Being your own boss
Having a positive romantic relationship 0
Engaging in your hobbies
Setting your own schedule
Volunteering your time for a good cause 0
Cleaning house
Attending classes
Going to religious services
Talking on the telephone, texting, e-mail 0
Going to parties
Participating in clubs, organized activities 0
Look back at the values you rated highly (4 or 5) in Activity 2, which probably give a good indication of
how you enjoy spending your time. But now look at these things you value in a diffierent way. Think
about how each relates to how you think you need to manage your time effiectively while in college.
Most college students feel they don’t have enough time for everything they like to do. Do some of the
activities you value most contribute to your college experience, or will they distract you from being a
good student?
Students who enter college with their eyes open and who think about their own values and motivations will be more successful. If you have a good idea of what you want from life, the rest of it can be
learned. We’ll start right away in Chapter 2 by helping you stay motivated and manage your time well.
The following chapters will then lead you through learning how to study well and everything else.
2.3 Thinking Ahead to a Major and Career
A subject or field of study
chosen by a college student
representing his or her
principal interest.
liberal arts education
A college program that
provides general knowledge
about the humanities, arts,
and natural and social
sciences, rather than
professional or technical
FI G U RE 1 . 2
Talk with your advisor or visit
the career counseling center
to learn more about what
future careers you may be
interested in.
If you’ve just begun college, should you already know what career you seek in the future and what
courses you should take or what you should major in? Good question!
Some students say they have known from a very early age what they want to do after college,
choose the college that is best for that plan, never waiver from the plan and choose each course with the
one goal in mind, and then enter their chosen career after college or graduate school. At the other extreme, some students have only a vague sense of direction before beginning college, take a wide variety
of courses, select a major only when they reach the point that they must major in something (or perhaps change majors multiple times), and then after college choose to work in an entirely diffierent field.
Some students choose to major in an academic subject simply because they enjoy that subject, never concerned with what kind of job they may get afterward. The traditional idea of the liberal arts
education is that you can go to college not to prepare for a specific career but to become a well-educated person who is then in a better position to work in any number of careers.
None of these diffierent approaches to choosing a major and a career is better than others. All students receive the many benefits of college, and all are likely to find a more fulfilling career.
So where are you in this great variety of attitudes about career and major choices?
Assuming you are still early in your college program, the take-home message here is that you don’t
need to make any decisions yet. Chances are, as you take courses in a variety of subjects and meet
people in many diffierent fields, you’ll naturally discover something about what you really enjoy doing
and what career options you may choose to pursue.
On the other hand, help is available for discovering your interests, strengths, and personality
factors related to careers. You can learn a lot about your options and what you would be good at by visiting your college’s advising or counseling department. Almost all colleges have tools to help you discover what careers you would most enjoy.
The Strong Interest Inventory is such an assessment tool used by many colleges and universities.
You answer a series of simple questions, and the computer-scored tabulation provides information
about your interests, strengths, and personality related to diffierent types of careers. This tool can also
suggest specific courses, jobs and internships, and extracurricular activities relevant to personal and career interests. Ask your college’s career counseling center if such a tool is available.
Another widely used tool is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The MBTI is a personality
inventory that identifies you as one of sixteen distinct personality types. Each personality type correlates with happiness in certain careers. Ask your college’s career counselor to see if the MBTI is available for you.
A free online assessment, like the CareerLink Inventory (
climain.htm), is a relatively simple tool that can teach you a lot about yourself. Follow the steps in the
“Outside the Book” section to maximize your results.
Although there’s nothing wrong with starting out without an intended major or career path, take
care not to accidentally take courses that end up not counting toward your program goal or degree.
You could end up in college longer than needed or have to pay for additional courses. Be sure to read
your college catalog carefully and to talk to your academic advisor.
2.4 Your Past Educational Experience
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It is important to understand how college is diffierent from high school and how well your own past
educational experiences have prepared you for what you will find in college. This is another way in
which entering college “with your eyes wide open” will prove beneficial.
College is a unique experience for all students—whether you just graduated from high school or
are returning to education after years of working. You are transitioning from one form of education to
another. Some students have difflculty because of the diffierences between college and high school.
Generally speaking, however, the college experience is usually diffierent from high school in these
Time management is more important in college because of varying class and work schedules and
other time commitments.
< College instructors seldom seek you out to offier extra help if you’re falling behind. You are on
your own and expected to do the work, meet deadlines, and so on, without someone looking over
your shoulder.
< There may be no attendance policy for classes. You are expected to be mature enough to come to
class without fear of penalties.
< Many classes are large, making it easy to feel lost in a crowd.
< Many instructors, especially in large classes, teach by lecture—which can be difflcult for those
whose high school teachers interacted a great deal with students.
< College courses require more study time and require you to work on your own.
< Your social and personal life in college may be less supervised. Younger students may experience
a sudden increase in freedom to do what they want.
< You will meet more people from more diverse backgrounds in college.
< All of these diffierences, along with a change in living situation for many students, can lead to
emotional changes—both positive and negative.
What does all this add up to? For some students, the sudden independence and freedom can lead in
negative directions: sleeping late, skipping classes, missing deadlines, failing to study adequately for
tests, and so on. Other students who are highly motivated and work hard in their classes may also have
difflculty transitioning to the higher academic standards of college. Suddenly, you’re responsible for
everything. That can be thrilling but also a challenge to get used to. All the chapters in this book will
help you make this transition successfully.
2.5 Liking Yourself as a Student and Why That Matters
Of all the factors that affiect how well one does in college, attitude is probably the single most important. A positive attitude leads to motivation, and someone who is strongly motivated to succeed can
overcome obstacles that may occur.
In Chapter 2, we’ll discuss things you can do to keep a positive attitude about college and stay motivated in your studies. But your attitude toward yourself as a student matters just as much. Now that
you are in college, you are a new person, not just the same person who happens now to be a college student. What do you think of this new person?
If you’re feeling excited, enthusiastic, capable, and confident in your new life—great! Skip ahead to
the next section. But if you’re less sure how well you’ll do in your new role, take comfort in knowing
that you’re not alone. A lot of new college students, once they begin experiencing the diffierences from
high school, start having doubts. Some may start to feel “I’m not a good enough student” or “I can’t
keep up with all this.” Some may become fearful or apathetic.
These feelings, while a perfectly natural response to a big change in one’s life, can hinder one’s motivation and ability to succeed. If you think you can’t make it, that might become true. If you’re sure
you’ll make it, you will.
Again, we’ll ask you to think honestly about this. If you have these thoughts sometimes, why is
that? Are you just reacting to a low grade on your first test? Are you just feeling this way because you
see other students who look like they know what they’re doing and you’re feeling out of place? Most
likely, if you have doubts about being able to do well, this is just a reaction to college being more difflcult than what you’re used to. It’s mostly a matter of having the right skills for succeeding in college.
This book will help you learn them—everything from how to study effiectively, how to do better on
tests, even how to read your textbooks more effiectively.
Why is it that some students need to work on strengthening their skills after beginning college
while others seem to waltz right in and do well from the start?
The answer sounds simple but is actually rather complex. There simply are many diffierences
among people. There are diffierences among high schools as well as one’s past teachers, one’s peer
group, one’s family, one’s cultural background, and many other factors. As a result of many diffierent
things, some students just need a little more help to succeed in college. No student is better or automatically more capable than another, however, and everyone can learn the skills to succeed.
2.6 Self-Management
To succeed in college, you need to take control of your life. Gone are the days when you could just
“cruise” through school, or life, or let others motivate you or establish schedules to manage your time.
This change presents an exciting opportunity. It’s your first step in your new life and the key to your
future. Here are a few thoughts to get you started in the right direction:
ethical code
A system of principles for
acceptable conduct.
Accept responsibility for your life. You are on equal footing with everyone else and have the
same opportunities to succeed.
< Decide what you want to do. Don’t let things just happen—make them happen by deciding that
they should happen.
< Realize you can change. You can change your habits to become a better student. You can change
your attitudes and become a more positive, motivated student.
Develop a personal ethical code. Do what is right for you and for others. The college world
demands ethical standards and rewards responsible, ethical behavior. Be proud of who you are
and your good decisions.
< Enjoy your life! Going to college might seem overwhelming at times, but no one is asking you to
“give up your life” to succeed in college. Enjoy meeting new people, learning new things, and
experiencing the diversity of the college experience. Most college graduates look back on their
college years as one of the best periods in their whole lives!
A college education provides many intangible benefits as well as much better prospects for a career you
will enjoy.
Thinking about your personal values and how they relate to your education can help you stay motivated
to succeed in college.
Personality and skill inventories can help you discover the right career for your future and the best major in
Because college is a new and diffierent life experience for most students, taking responsibility for new
freedoms and managing time well are critical.
1. Which of the following are benefits of a college education?
A better understanding of the world
Developing problem-solving skills
Meeting interesting people
Making wiser financial decisions in the future
All of the above
2. What do you value that will be richer in your future life because you will have a college education?
What do you value that will you likely have less time or money to spend on while in college?
3. Life in college usually diffiers in many ways from one’s previous life in high school or in the workforce.
What are the biggest changes you are experiencing now or anticipate experiencing this term?
4. For each of the following statements, circle T for true or F for false:
T F Attitude is one of the most important factors affiecting college success.
T F If you sit back, wait patiently, and stick it out long enough, success in college will inevitably come
to you.
T F To do well in college, you basically have to give up everything else in life for a while.
T F Most college graduates later look back on their college years as one of the best times in their lives.
1. Understand how you may be similar to, and diffierent from, other traditional students or returning students.
2. Describe the characteristics of successful students.
Not all college students are the same, and the world of college is therefore sometimes diffierent for
diffierent students. Students will answer the following questions in a variety of diffierent ways:
1. Are you attending college directly from high school or within a year of graduation?
2. Are you a full-time student?
3. Is English your first language?
4. Are you the first person in your family to attend college?
5. Have you spent most of your life in a country other than the United States?
6. Are you married or living with a partner? Do you have children?
7. Do you now or have you worked full time?
When thinking about diffierent “types” of students, be careful to avoid stereotyping. While there are
genuine diffierences among individual students, we must never assume an individual person has certain
characteristics simply because he or she is a certain “type” of student. For example, if you answered yes
to questions 1 through 3 and no to the other questions, you may be called a “traditional” student—young and attending college after high school. The word “traditional” is used simply because, in
the past, this group of students formed the majority of college students—even though, at many colleges, these students are now the minority. On the other hand, if you are older and have worked for
traditional student
A college student, typically
age seventeen to nineteen,
attending college directly or
soon after completing high
some years before returning to school, or if you are an international student or are working and attending classes part time, you might be considered a “nontraditional” student. Again, this term comes from
past statistics, even though very many colleges have more “nontraditional” students than “traditional”
What does that mean to you? First, realize that not everything discussed in this
FI G U RE 1 . 3
book will apply to you. If you’re eighteen and living away from your family for the first
time in a college dormitory, you will likely not face the same issues of finding time for
Colleges have students of all ages and with
studying as an older student working full time and having children at home. If you’re
diverse backgrounds.
thirty and returning to school after years of successfully managing a job, you may have
to reestablish your study skills but will not face the same issues as a younger student
who may be tempted by the sudden freedom of college and have difflculty setting
Every student brings certain advantages to college from their background experience. Every student may also face certain kinds of difflculties. Understanding how your
own background may impact your own preparedness for college can help you make a
good start in your college experience.
3.1 “Traditional” Students
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We’re putting the quotation marks around the word “traditional,” again, because this
group of college students is no longer the majority at many colleges, although the term
is still sometimes used by educators. Coming directly or almost directly from high
school, “traditional” students are used to attending classes, reading textbooks, and studying and thus
may find the transition to college easier. Many are single and unattached and have fewer time commitments to others. Although a high percentage do work while in college, the work is typically part time or
during the summer and does not have a severe time impact on their studies. As first-year students, usually living on campus at a four-year college or university, they do not lose time to commuting and typically their housing plan includes meals and otherwise simplifies their living arrangements. In all, many
have few responsibilities other than their academic work.
On the other hand, “traditional” students living away from home for the first time may face more
psychological and social issues than other student groups. One is away from family and old friends,
perhaps forced to cope with an incompatible roommate or living arrangements, and facing all sorts of
new temptations. Experiencing this sudden new freedom, many students experiment with or develop
habits such as poor dietary and sleep habits, lack of exercise, and sometimes substance abuse or other
behaviors that disrupt their academic routine and study habits. Many young students are forced to
“grow up” quickly after arriving at college. Some students who do not adjust to the freedoms of college
end up dropping out in their first year.
3.2 Returning Students
returning student
A college student, typically
over age twenty, who has
worked or engaged in other
significant activities between
high school and college.
extracurricular activities
Activities at college, usually
organized and involving a
group, outside academic
activities related to one’s
Students returning to their education are often older, may have worked for a number of years, and may
be used to living on their own and being financially and psychologically independent. They are often
more mature and have a stronger sense of what they want from college; they may be more goal driven.
They may be paying their own way through college and want to get their money’s worth. They may be
full-time students but frequently are still working and can take only a part-time course load. They often
live offi campus and may own a home and have a mortgage. They may have children. Because they have
made a very deliberate decision to go to college, returning students are often serious students and are
motivated to do the work. Having spent time in the work world, they may also have developed good
problem-solving and decision-making skills as a result of their “real-world” experience.
On the other hand, returning students may have less time for studying because of work and family
commitments. They may feel more stress because of the time and financial requirements of college.
Spending less time on campus may contribute to not feeling completely at home in the academic
world. They may not have time for many extracurricular and campus activities. Although they may
be dedicated and hardworking students, they may also be less patient learning “theory” in courses and
want all their coursework to relate directly to the real world.
3.3 Other Student Groups
Beyond this diffierence of age, some other common diffierences also affiect one’s college experience. Students in the following groups may be either “traditional” students by age or returning students.
Commuter Students
Many returning students are commuter students, and it is increasingly common also for many young
people after high school to continue to live at home or in their own apartment, coming to campus only
for classes. Commuter students often face the same issues of limited time as returning students. They
may find it difflcult to find time to talk with an instructor outside of class.
First-Generation Students
The phrase “first-generation student” refers to students who are the first in their families to attend college. These students may be “traditional” students enrolled right after high school or may be returning
students. Students whose parents did not attend college may be less familiar with some or all aspects of
the college experience and thus may have to transition into their new life.
Recent Immigrant and International Students
Many colleges have a significant percentage of students who have recently immigrated to the United
States or who are attending college here. What both groups may have in common is coming from a
diffierent culture and possibly speaking English as a second language. They may have to make cultural
adjustments and accommodations. Language issues are often the most serious obstacle to overcome,
especially since so much of college education is based on reading and writing in English.
Students with Disabilities
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits colleges and universities from discriminating on the
basis of disabilities and forces them to ensure that both classes and extracurricular activities are accessible to students with disabilities. Accessibility includes both physical accessibility to campus buildings
and housing and accessibility to services and aids necessary for effiective communication. Students with
disabilities have the right to request any accommodations needed to allow them to succeed in college.
For more information or to receive answers to any specific questions, contact the Association on Higher Education And Disability (AHEAD) at
Students Who Are Working
The key issue for working students often is time—how to find enough time for studying enough to do
well in classes. Since it is very difflcult to maintain two full-time schedules—work and school—one or
the other may suffier. For those working long hours, Chapter 2 presents many tips for managing your
time when you have less of it; Chapter 11 also suggests ways to cut back on expenses while in college so
that you don’t have to work so many hours.
Students with a Family
Typically it is returning students who have families of their own, although younger students may also
have families to care for. Having children of your own means you have diffierent priorities from most
some students, but a family shouldn’t be viewed as an obstacle to college success. Time may be short,
and you’ll have to manage it carefully to avoid falling behind in your studies. Chapter 2 describes some
creative ways students can involve their families in the experience to prevent normal student stresses
from disrupting family happiness.
3.4 Profile of a Successful Student
While it’s important to consider your strengths, it’s also important to develop a plan for moving forward and ensuring you have the knowledge and skills needed to succeed. The following are some of the
characteristics of the successful student you can be:
Successful students have a good attitude and know how to stay motivated. You will learn about
this in Chapter 2.
< Successful students have developed good time management strategies, such as scheduling study
time and getting started early on assignments and projects. You will also learn about this in
Chapter 2.
< Successful students have developed their critical thinking skills and apply them in their studies.
Chapter 3 gets you started in this direction.
< Successful students have effiective strategies for taking good notes in class and using them.
Chapter 4 guides you through this learning process.
To move to a country of
which one is not a native,
usually for permanent
Successful students have learned how to gain the most from their assigned readings for classes.
Chapter 5 presents guidelines for effiective reading and taking notes to help you understand and
retain information.
< Successful students know how to prepare for and take tests successfully. Chapter 6 tells you what
you need to know and presents tips for effiective test taking.
< Successful students interact well with their instructors and fellow students in and outside of class.
Chapter 7 helps you gain these skills.
< Successful students have learned to write well for their classes, an essential aspect of college
education. Chapter 8 introduces key principles of effiective college writing to get you started.
< Successful students develop social relationships that contribute to, rather than detract from, their
educational experiences. Chapter 9 will show you how to manage your social life.
< Successful students take control of their health with good habits that help them be better students
and feel less stress. Chapter 10 can help you get started on good habits.
< Successful students have control over their finances. Because getting into debt is a very common
reason that students have to drop out of college, it’s important to control expenditures and
manage your finances well, as we’ll see in Chapter 11.
< Successful students are able to transition well from the world of college into their future careers.
You will learn these important principles in Chapter 12 to carry forward into your future.
College students vary widely in terms of age, work experience before college, cultural background, family,
and other factors that may affiect how they learn.
Traditional, young students just out of high school face a transition involving new freedoms and new
situations they may need to master in order to succeed academically.
Returning students who work and may also have family responsibilities often have time issues and may
feel out of place in the college environment.
Other student groups include commuters, first-generation students, immigrant and international students,
students with disabilities, and others, each of whom may need to face additional issues to be successful.
Regardless of individual diffierences, all successful students share a number of traits, including a good
attitude, effiective time management strategies, good studying and test-taking skills, and more.
1. Are you a “traditional” or “returning” student? List an important advantage you have as a result of being in
this classification:
2. Check offi which traits in this list are true of successful students:
They know how to stay motivated.
They don’t need to schedule study periods because they study at every available moment every day.
They know better than to try to think on their own.
They know how to speed-read so they don’t have to underline or highlight in their textbooks.
They avoid talking with their instructors, so they can remain anonymous.
They develop their writing skills.
They eat fast food so they have more time for studying.
They have few friends, because social relationships distract one from academics.
They use several credit cards so they don’t have to worry about finances until after graduation.
1. Understand and make effiective use of the four steps of the learning process.
2. Describe the diffierent learning styles of diffierent college students and recognize your own
learning preferences.
3. Know how to benefit from your own learning style and how to expand your learning skills with
the techniques of other styles.
4. Take action to learn effiectively when your learning style diffiers from your instructor’s teaching
One of the first steps for becoming a successful student is to understand the learning process itself. Certain characteristics of effiective learning, including the four-step learning cycle, are true of all people. At
the same time, people have diffierent learning styles. Understanding these processes is important for
maximizing your own learning while in college.
4.1 The Learning Cycle: Four Steps to Learning
Adult learning is diffierent from learning in primary and secondary school. In high school, teachers often take much of the responsibility for how students learn—encouraging learning with class discussions, repeating key material, creating study guides, and looking over students’ shoulders to make sure
no one falls behind. In college, most of the responsibility for learning falls on the student. You’re free to
fail—or succeed—as you choose. This applies as well to how well you learn.
Learning an academic subject means really understanding it, being able to think about it in meaningful ways and to apply that understanding in new situations. This is very diffierent from simply memorizing something and repeating it back on a test. Academic learning occurs most effiectively in a cycle
of four steps:
1. Preparing
2. Absorbing
3. Capturing
4. Reviewing
Think first about the diffierent situations in which you learn. Obviously you learn during class, whether
by listening to the instructor speak or in class discussions in which you participate. But you also learn
while reading your textbooks and other materials outside of class. You learn when you talk with an instructor during offlce hours. You learn by talking with other students informally in study groups. You
learn when you study your class notes before an exam. All of these diffierent learning situations involve
the same four-step process.
FI GU R E 1 .4 The Learning Cycle
One student rolls out of bed a few minutes before class and dashes across campus and grabs the last
seat in the hall just as the instructor begins a lecture; it takes him a few minutes to find the right notebook in his backpack, and then he can’t find a pencil. He’s thinking about how he should’ve set his
alarm a little earlier so he’d have had time to grab a cup of coffiee, since he’s having trouble waking up.
Finally he settles in his seat and starts listening, but now he can’t figure out what the instructor is talking about. He starts jotting down phrases in his notes anyway, thinking he’ll figure it out later.
Another student looks over his notes from the previous class and quickly glances back at passages
he’d highlighted in the textbook reading. He arrives at class a few minutes early, sits up front where he
can hear well, and has his notebook open and pencil out. While waiting for the instructor to arrive, he
talks to another student about her ideas for the paper due next week in this class.
It’s obvious which of these students will learn more during today’s class lecture. One has prepared
and the other has not, and they will experience a huge diffierence in their understanding of today’s topic. Preparing to learn is the first step for learning. The same is true when you sit down to read your
textbook, to study for an exam, or to work on an out-of-class project. Partly you are putting yourself in
the right mind-set to learn. But when you review yesterday’s notes to prepare for today’s class, you are
also solidifying yesterday’s learning.
“Absorbing” refers to the actual taking in of new ideas, information, or experience. This is what happens at the moment a student listens to a class lecture or reads a textbook. In high school, this is sometimes the only learning step taken by some students. They listened to what the instructor said and
“regurgitated” it back on the test. But this won’t work in college because learning now requires understanding the topic, not just repeating facts or information. In coming chapters you’ll get tips for improving in this step.
“Capturing” refers to taking notes. No matter how good your memory, you need to take good notes in
college simply because there is so much to learn. Just hearing something once is seldom enough. You
have to go back over the material again, sometimes several times again, thinking about it and seeing
how it all fits together.
The more effiective your note-taking skills, the better your learning abilities. Take notes also when
reading your textbooks. You’ll learn methods for taking good notes in later chapters.
The step of reviewing—your class notes, your textbook reading and notes, and any other course materials possibly including recordings, online media, podcasts, and so on—is the next step for solidifying
your learning and reaching a real understanding of the topic. Reviewing is also a way to prepare for
new information and ideas. That’s why this is a learning cycle: the end of the process loops back to the
beginning as you prepare for additional learning.
Reviewing is also the step in which you discover whether you really understand the material. If you
do not understand something fully, you may need to reread a section of the book, talk it over with a
friend in the class, or go see your instructor.
An audio or video recording,
such as of a class lecture,
made available online; so
named because podcasts
were originally developed to
be downloaded and played
on iPods.
4.2 What’s Your Learning Style?
Diffierent people have diffierent learning styles. Style refers to a student’s specific learning preferences
and actions. One student may learn more effiectively from listening to the instructor. Another learns
more effiectively from reading the textbook, while another student benefits most from charts, graphs,
and images the instructor presents during a lecture.
Learning style is important in college. Each diffierent style, described later in more detail, has certain advantages and disadvantages compared with other styles. None is “right” or “wrong.” You can
learn to use your own style more effiectively.
College instructors also have diffierent teaching styles, which may or may not match up well with
your learning style. Although you may personally learn best from a certain style of teaching, you cannot expect that your instructors will use exactly the style that is best for you. Therefore it is important
to know how to adapt to teaching styles used in college.
Diffierent systems have been used to describe the diffierent ways in which people learn. Some describe the diffierences between how extroverts (outgoing, gregarious, social people) and introverts
(quiet, private, contemplative people) learn. Some divide people into “thinkers” and “feelers.” A popular theory of diffierent learning styles is Howard Gardner’s “multiple intelligences,” based on eight
diffierent types of intelligence:
1. Verbal (prefers words)
2. Logical (prefers math and logical problem solving)
3. Visual (prefers images and spatial relationships)
4. Kinesthetic (prefers body movements and doing)
5. Rhythmic (prefers music, rhymes)
6. Interpersonal (prefers group work)
7. Intrapersonal (prefers introspection and independence)
8. Naturalist (prefers nature, natural categories)
The multiple intelligences approach recognizes that diffierent people have diffierent ways, or combinations of ways, of relating to the world.
Another approach to learning styles is called the VARK approach, which focuses on learning
through diffierent senses (Visual, Aural, Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic):
Visual learners prefer images, charts, and the like.
< Aural learners learn better by listening.
< Reading/writing learners learn better through written language.
< Kinesthetic learners learn through doing, practicing, and acting.
You can take a free, self-scored online assessment of your VARK learning style at
There are still more systems used by educators to describe the various ways in which people learn.
All of these systems can help you learn more about how you as an individual person and college student learn best. You can use the online assessment in the “Outside the Book” section at the end of this
chapter to learn more about your style.
Just knowing your style, however, doesn’t automatically provide a solution for how to do your best
in your college courses. For example, although you may be a kinesthetic learner, you’ll likely still have
textbook reading assignments (verbal learning) as well as lecture classes (listening). All students need
to adapt to other ways of learning.
The following sections look at the key ways in which learning occurs in college classes and offier
some suggestions about how to adapt your strengths for success.
learning style
A person’s preferred
approach to or way of
learning most effiectively.
teaching style
The preferred methods or
techniques an instructor uses
to teach students, often
based on personal
preferences, individual skills,
and the norms of the
academic discipline.
Referring to the sensation of
body movement or position.
Reading skills are critically important in college. Most classes involve reading assignments. Although
many instructors may cover some of the textbook’s content in lectures or class discussions, students
cannot skip the reading assignments and expect to do well.
If your personal learning style is verbal and independent—that is, if you learn well by sitting alone
and reading—then you will likely not have difflculty with your college reading. Here are some tips to
help maximize your learning:
Underline and highlight key ideas when reading.
< Take good notes on your reading, using your own words.
< Write descriptions that summarize information presented in nonverbal modes, such as through
charts and graphs.
< Do all optional and supplemental readings.
< Take good notes in class, as you may remember more from your written words than from the
instructor’s spoken words.
< If a class involves significant nonreading learning, such as learning hands-on physical processes,
study with other students who are kinesthetic or “doing” learners.
The name of a specific
software presentation
program (within Microsoft
Offlce) used in many
educational and business
settings to produce and
deliver “slides” containing
text and graphics to a group
via a projected computer
If you have a diffierent learning style, then you may need to give more attention to your reading skills.
Always allow plenty of time for reading assignments—rushing makes it harder to understand what you
are reading. Do your reading at times of the day when you are most alert. Find a quiet, comfortable
place conducive to reading.
Try also to maximize your learning through your personal style. If you learn better by listening, for
example, sit up front in lecture classes where you can see and hear the instructor better. If needed, ask if
you can tape-record an instructor’s lectures and then listen again at a convenient time, such as when
commuting to class or work. If you are more of a visual learner, sit in class where you can see PowerPoint slides and other visual presentations most clearly. Use a visual approach in your class notes, as
described in Chapter 4. Check out whether video podcasts may be available for reviewing lectures. Try
to relate all of these visual images to the textbook’s content when you’re reading an assignment. In addition, pay special attention to illustrations and diagrams in the book, which will further help you understand the written ideas and information. If you are more of an interpersonal learner, form a study
group with other students and talk with others about the course topics. Take advantage of your instructors’ offlce hours to help clarify your understanding after reading assignments.
Listening skills are as important in college as reading skills. College students are expected to listen to
their instructors in class and remember and understand what is said. In discussion classes, listening is
important also for participating well in discussions.
If your personal learning style favors listening, then you may already be good at
FI G U RE 1 . 5
understanding class lectures. Chapter 4 provides tips to help you pay close attention,
take good notes, and recall the information and ideas you have heard. Here are some
Many college classes involve lectures.
more tips:
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Sit where you can best hear the instructor, away from other distractions.
< Study with other students and listen to what they say about the course material. Hearing them
talk from their class notes may be more helpful than reviewing your own written notes.
< Record lectures and listen to them again later when reviewing material before a test.
< When studying, read your notes aloud. Review previous tests by reading the questions aloud and
speaking your answers. If a section in your textbook seems confusing, read it aloud.
< Talk with your instructor if you feel you are not understanding course readings.
< Use rhymes or acronyms to recall verbal information. For more information, see Chapter 4.
< Explore supplemental learning aids, such as audio and video podcasts (even from other colleges
and universities) on the course’s subject matter.
FI G U RE 1 . 6
Instructors often use visual
aids to help explain
concepts and ideas. This
helps students with visual
learning styles.
A “seeing” learner learns more effiectively through seeing than through reading or listening. Some college courses include demonstrations and physical processes that can be observed. If you are a visual
learner, work on developing your reading and listening skills, too, because you will need to learn in
these ways as well. Here are some tips to improve learning related to seeing:
Pay special attention in class to visual presentations, such as charts, diagrams, and images.
< Take lecture notes using a visual approach. Do the same when taking notes on class readings. Use
diagrams, diffierent colors, lists, and sketches to help you remember. For more information, see
Chapter 4.
< Use video podcasts or other visual aids for reviewing lectures.
< Pay special attention to your textbooks’ illustrations and diagrams.
< If your instructor or textbook uses few visuals to help you understand and recall information and
ideas, try to imagine how you would present this information visually to others if you were giving
a class presentation. In your notes, create sketches for a PowerPoint slideshow capturing the
highlights of the material.
< Study with other students who may learn better by reading or listening, and watch how they
explain the material.
People who learn best by doing are often attracted to careers with a strong physical or hands-on component, which can vary from athletics to engineering. But these students may need to use other learning skills as well. Here are some tips to help maximize your learning related to doing:
Try to engage all your senses when learning. Even when reading about something, try to imagine
what it would feel like if you touched it, how it might smell, how you could physically manipulate
it, and so forth.
< Think about how you yourself would teach the topic you are presently learning. What visuals
could you make to demonstrate the idea or information? Imagine a class lecture as a train of
boxcars and think about what things you would put in those cars to represent the lecture topics.
< When it becomes difflcult to concentrate when reading while sitting in a quiet place, get up and
move around while studying; make gestures as you read aloud.
< Use your hands to create a range of study aids rather than just taking notes: make charts, posters,
flash cards, and so on.
< When taking notes, sketch familiar shapes around words and phrases to help you remember
them. Try to associate abstract ideas with concrete examples.
< The act of writing—handwriting more than typing at a keyboard—may increase retention; write
key things several times.
< Study with other students who may learn better by reading or listening.
© Thinkstock
A word formed from the
initial letters of words in a
phrase or series of words,
such as “USA” for “United
States of America.”
Feeling learners focus on the emotional side of information and learn through personal connections.
Too often they may feel that a college textbook or a class is “dry” or “boring” if it focuses exclusively on
written information. In addition to improving their reading and listening skills, students with this style
can enrich their learning by focusing on what they and others feel about the information and ideas being learned. Here are some tips to help maximize your learning related to feeling:
Try to establish an emotional connection with the topic you are learning. In a history class, for
example, imagine yourself as someone living in the period you are studying: what would you feel
about the forces at work in your life? In a science class, think about what the implications of a
particular scientific principle or discovery might mean for you as a person or how you yourself
might have felt if you had been the scientist making that discovery.
< Talk with your instructor during offlce hours. Express your enthusiasm and share your feelings
about the subject. Even instructors who may seem “dry” in a lecture class often share their
feelings toward their subject in conversation.
< Do supplemental reading about the people involved in a subject you’re studying. For example,
reading an online biographical sketch of a historical figure, scientist, or theorist may open your
eyes to a side of the subject you hadn’t seen before and increase your learning.
< Study with other students who may learn better by reading or listening. Talk with them in a
personal way about what the material means to them. Try teaching them about the topic while
explaining your feelings about it.
< Also try the strategies listed for the “doing” learning style.
Your Style, Your Instructor’s Style
Many college classes tend to focus on certain learning styles. Instructors in large lecture classes, for example, generally emphasize listening carefully and reading well. Don’t worry, however, if these are not
your particular strengths, for much of this book focuses on learning study skills and other college skills
related to these activities. Take responsibility for your own learning, rather than expecting the instructor to help you through the subject in your own personal way. For example, if you are a visual learner
but your instructor simply stands at a podium and lectures, then provide your own visual stimulation
by sketching concept maps in your notes or by visualizing how information being presented might look
in a pie chart or graph. For more information, see Chapter 4.
As you move further into your college curriculum, you will likely have more small classes with
class discussions, demonstrations, group presentations, and other learning activities. Once you are in
classes closely related to a career path that interests you, you will find your personal style more relevant
to the kinds of material you will be learning.
Much learning in college also comes from interactions with others, who often have diffierent learning styles. Be open to interacting with other students and instructors who are diffierent from you, and
you will find yourself learning in ways that may be new to you.
Finally, if a genuine mismatch is occurring between your learning style and your instructor’s
teaching style to the extent that you may not succeed in a course, talk to your instructor privately during offlce hours. You can explain how you best learn and ask for suggestions about other resources that
may help you.
People learn through a four-step process, and you can maximize your learning by conscientiously applying
all steps throughout college.
The first step of the learning cycle is to prepare in advance for classes, reading, tests, and other learning.
The second step is to absorb information and ideas effiectively during classes, reading, and other learning
The third step, capturing, typically involves taking notes on the learning experience to increase
understanding and retention.
The fourth step is to review your notes, to help solidify the learning and to prepare for repeating the cycle
in the next class or reading assignment.
People have natural learning preferences, affiecting how they learn best, such as learning by reading, by
listening, by seeing, by doing, and by feeling.
Students should learn how to use their own learning style to their best advantage while also becoming
flexible and working to develop other learning styles.
Because your learning style may not match your instructor’s teaching style, you need to be flexible and
work to develop new learning strategies essential for college success.
1. Number each the following actions to put them in the correct order of the four steps of the learning cycle:
Review your class notes to make sure you understand.
Listen carefully to what your instructor says.
Prepare for today’s class by looking over your notes on the reading you did for today.
Take effiective notes.
2. How would you describe your personal learning style?
Name an activity from which you generally learn very well.
Name a type of learning experience you may have difflculty with.
For the activity above, list at least two strategies you can use to improve your learning effiectiveness
when in that situation next time.
3. If you experience a situation in which your personal learning style seems to clash hopelessly with an
instructor’s teaching style, what is your best course of action?
Ask the instructor to teach in a diffierent way.
Drop the class.
Adapt your style or study with other students.
Complain to the dean.
1. Describe diffierences between large and small college classes and discuss the implications for
2. Understand courses within your own college program: core courses, electives, and major
3. Describe diffierent skills needed for online courses.
4. Know how to learn your college’s policies and understand their importance.
5. Know what resources your college makes available to students and how to access them.
5.1 Big Classes, Small Classes
While most high school classes are fairly small, many college classes are large—up to several hundred
students in a large lecture class. Other classes you may take will be as small as high school classes. In
large lecture classes you may feel totally anonymous—even invisible—in a very large class. This feeling
can get some students in trouble, however. Here are some common mistaken assumptions and attitudes about large classes:
The instructor won’t notice me sitting there, so I can check e-mail or read for a diffierent class if I
get bored.
< The instructor doesn’t know my name or recognize me, so I don’t even need to go to class as long
as I can borrow someone’s notes to find out what happens.
< I hate listening to lectures, so I might as well think about something else because I’m not going to
learn anything this way anyway.
These comments all share the same flawed attitude about college: it’s up to the instructor to teach in an
entertaining way if I am to learn at all—and it’s actually the college’s or instructor’s fault that I’m stuck
in this large class, so they’re to blame if I think about or do other things. But remember, in college, you
take responsibility for your own learning. Sure, a student is free to try to sleep in a lecture class, or not
attend the class at all—the same way a student is “free” to fail any class he or she chooses!
If you dislike large lecture classes but can’t avoid them, the best solution is to learn
FI G U RE 1 . 7
how to learn in such a situation. Later chapters will give you tips for improving this experience. Just remember that it’s up to you to stay actively engaged in your own learnIn a lecture class, avoid the temptation to
ing while in college—it’s not the instructor’s job to entertain you enough to “make” you
cruise the Web or engage in other activities
that will distract you from paying attention.
There is one thing you need to know right away. Even in a lecture hall holding
three hundred students, your instructors do know who you are. They may not know
your name right away or even by the end of the term, but they see you sitting there, doing whatever you are doing, looking wherever you are looking—and will form a distinct
impression of you. Instructors do have academic integrity and won’t lower your
grade on an exam because you slept once in class, but the impression you make just
might affiect how far instructors go out of their way to offier a helping hand. Interacting
with instructors is a crucial part of education—and the primary way students learn.
Successful interaction begins with good communication and mutual respect. If you
want your instructors to respect you, then you need to show respect for them and their
classes as well.
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5.2 Core Courses, Electives, Majors, and Credits
academic integrity
An instructor’s or student’s
honesty and responsibility
related to scholarship and
academic interpersonal
Every college has its own course requirements for diffierent programs and degrees. This information is
available in a printed course catalog or online. While academic advisors are generally assigned to students to help them plot their path through college and take the most appropriate courses, you should
also take this responsibility yourself to ensure you are registering for courses that fit well into your plan
for a program completion or degree. In general there are three types of courses:
1. Core courses, sometimes called “general education requirements,” involve a range of courses
from which you can choose to meet this general requirement. You may need to take one or more
English classes and possibly math or foreign language requirements. You will need a certain
number of credits or course hours in certain types of core courses, but you can often choose
among various specific courses for how you meet these requirements.
2. Required courses in your major are determined by individual academic departments. Whether
you choose to major in English, math, engineering, history, a health field, chemistry, business, or
any other field, your individual department sets specific required courses you must take and gives
you options for a required additional number of credits in the department. You may not need to
declare a major for a while, but this is something you can start thinking about now.
3. Electives are courses you choose freely to complete the total number of college credits needed for
your program or degree. How many electives you may take, how they “count” toward your total,
and what kinds of courses are acceptable as electives all vary considerably among diffierent
schools and programs.
Most important is that you understand what courses you need and how each counts. Study the college
catalog carefully and be sure to talk things over fully with your advisor. Don’t just sign up for courses
that sound interesting—you might end up taking courses that don’t count toward your degree at all.
In addition, each term you may have to choose how many courses or hours to take. Colleges have
rules about the maximum number of hours allowed for full-time students, but this maximum may in
fact be more than you are prepared to manage—especially if you work or have other responsibilities.
Taking a light course load, while allowing more time for studying and other activities, could add up
over time and result in an extra full year of college (or more!)—at significant additional expense. Parttime students often face decisions based more on time issues. Everyone’s situation is unique, however,
and all students should talk this issue over with their advisor each year or term.
5.3 Online Courses
Most colleges now offier some online courses or regular courses with an online component. You experience an online course via a computer rather than a classroom. Many diffierent variations exist, but all
online courses share certain characteristics, such as working independently and communicating with
the instructor (and sometimes other students) primarily through written computer messages. If you
have never taken an online course, carefully consider what’s involved to ensure you will succeed in the
You need to own or have frequent access to a recent model of computer with a high-speed
Internet connection.
< Without the set hours of a class, you need to be self-motivating to schedule your time to
participate regularly.
< Without an instructor or other students in the room, you need to be able to pay attention
effiectively to the computer screen. Learning on a computer is not as simple as passively watching
television! Take notes.
< Without reminders in class and peer pressure from other students, you’ll need to take
responsibility to complete all assignments and papers on time.
< Since your instructor will evaluate you primarily through your writing, you need good writing
skills for an online course. If you believe you need to improve your writing skills, put offi taking
an online course until you feel better prepared.
< You must take the initiative to ask questions if you don’t understand something.
< You may need to be creative to find other ways to interact with other students in the course. You
could form a study group and get together regularly in person with other students in the same
Referring to a computer
connected to other
computers, typically through
the Internet; online
education, for example, may
occur entirely through the
FI G U RE 1 . 8
Online courses are increasingly common at
colleges and require independent learning.
If you feel you are ready to take on these responsibilities and are attracted to the flexibility of an online course and the freedom to schedule your time in it, see what your college has available.
5.4 Class Attendance and Promptness
In some classes at some colleges, attendance is required and absences can affiect one’s
grade in the course. But even when attendance is not required, missing classes will inevitably affiect your grade as well. You’re not learning if you’re not there. Reading another student’s notes is not the same.
Arriving to class promptly is also important. Walking into a class that has already
begun is rude to the instructor (remember what we said earlier about the impression
you may be making) and to other students. A mature student respects the instructor
and other students and in turn receives respect back.
5.5 College Policies
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academic honesty
Fundamental principle that a
student does his or her own
work and does not interfere
with the honest work of
others; violations of academic
honesty include cheating,
plagiarism, fabrication of false
inappropriate assistance from
others, acting to prevent
others from accomplishing
their own work, and so on.
A college campus is almost like a small town—or country—unto itself. The campus has
its own police force, its own government, its own stores, its own ID cards, its own parking rules, and so on. Colleges also have their own policies regarding many types of
activities and behaviors. Students who do not understand the rules can sometimes find
themselves in trouble.
The most important academic policy is academic honesty. Cheating is taken very
seriously. Some high school students may have only received a slap on the wrist if
caught looking at another student’s paper during a test or turning in a paper containing
sentences or paragraphs found online or purchased from a “term-paper mill.” In many
colleges, academic dishonesty like this may result in automatic failure of the course—or
even expulsion from college. The principle of academic honesty is simple: every student
must do his or her own work. If you have any doubt of what this means for a paper you
are writing, a project you are doing with other students, or anything else, check the college Web site for
its policy statements or talk with your instructor.
Colleges also have policies about alcohol and drug use, sexual harassment, hazing, hate crimes, and
other potential problems. Residence halls have policies about noise limits, visitors, hours, structural
and cosmetic alterations of university property, and so on. The college registrar has policies about
course add and drop dates, payment schedules and refunds, and the like. Such policies are designed to
ensure that all students have the same right to a quality education—one not unfairly interrupted by the
actions of others. You can find these policies on the college Web site or in the catalog.
5.6 College Resources
To be successful in college, you need to be fully informed and make wise decisions about the courses
you register for, college policies, and additional resources. Always remember that your college wants
you to succeed. That means that if you are having any difflculties or have any questions whose answers
you are unsure about, there are college resources available to help you get assistance or find answers.
This is true of both academic and personal issues that could potentially disrupt your college experience.
Never hesitate to go looking for help or information—but realize that usually you have to take the first
The college catalog has already been mentioned as a great source of many kinds of information.
You should have an updated catalog every year or know where to find it online.
The college’s Web site is the second place to look for help. Students are often surprised to see how
much information is available online, including information about college programs, offlces, special assistance programs, and so on, as well as helpful information such as studying tips, personal health, financial help, and other resources. Take some time to explore your college’s Web site and learn what is
available—this could save you a lot of time in the future if you experience any difflculty.
In addition, many colleges have offlces or individuals that can help in a variety of ways. Following
are some of the resources your college may have. Learn more about your college’s resources online or
by visiting the offlce of student services or the dean of students.
Academic advising offlce. This offlce helps you choose courses and plan your program or degree.
You should have a personal meeting at least once every term.
< Counseling offlce. This offlce helps with personal problems, including health, stress
management, interpersonal issues, and so on.
Financial aid offlce. If you are presently receiving financial aid or may qualify for assistance, you
should know this offlce well.
< Tutoring or skill centers. The title of this resource varies among colleges, but most have special
places where students can go for additional help for their courses. There may be a separate math
center, writing center, or general study skills center.
< Computer lab. Before almost all students became skilled in computer use and had their own
computers, colleges built labs where students could use campus computers and receive training
or help resolving technical problems. Many campuses still maintain computer centers to assist
students with technical issues.
< Student health clinic. In addition to providing some basic medical care and making referrals,
most college student health centers also help with issues such as diet and exercise counseling,
birth control services, and preventive health care.
< Career guidance or placement offlce. This center can help you find a student job or internship,
plan for your career after graduation, and receive career counseling.
Offlce for students with disabilities. This offlce may provide various services to help students
with disabilities adapt within the college environment.
< Housing offlce. This offlce not only controls campus residential housing but often assists
students to find offi-campus private accommodations.
< Diversity offlce. This offlce promotes cultural awareness on campus, runs special programs, and
assists diverse students with adjusting to campus culture.
< Offlce of student affiairs or student organizations. Participating in a group of like-minded
students often supports academic success.
< Athletic center. Most colleges have exercise equipment, pools, courts and tracks, and other
resources open to all students. Take advantage of this to improve or maintain your personal
health, which promotes academic success.
< Other specialized offlces for student populations. These may include an offlce supporting
students who speak English as a second language, adult students returning to college,
international students, religious students, students with children (possibly a child-care center),
veterans of the armed services, students preparing for certain types of careers, and so on.
< Your instructors. It never hurts to ask a friendly instructor if he or she knows of any additional
college resources you haven’t yet discovered. There may be a brand new program on campus, or a
certain department may offier a service not widely promoted through the college Web site.
FI G U RE 1 . 9
Your college has many
resources and many
professionals available to
help you with any issue that
may affiect your success as a
Everyone needs help at some time—you should never feel embarrassed or ashamed to seek help. Remember that a part of your tuition and fees are going to these offlces, and you have every right to take
advantage of them.
© Thinkstock
Even in large lecture classes, attendance is important, along with forming a good impression and paying
Study the college catalog and talk with your advisor to ensure you understand the role of core classes,
electives, and major courses in your program or degree requirements.
Online courses offier another option in many colleges but require a certain preparedness and a heightened
sense of responsibility.
To avoid inadvertently finding yourself in trouble, know your college’s policies for academic issues and
campus behavior.
Taking advantage of the many resources your college offiers to help you with a wide range of academic
and personal matters is essential for success in college.
1. For each of the following statements, circle T for true or F for false:
T F If your instructor in a large lecture class is boring, there’s nothing you can do except to try to stay
awake and hope you never have him or her for another class.
T F In a large lecture hall, if you sit near the back and pretend to listen, you can write e-mails or send
text messages without your instructor noticing.
2. List three things a college student should be good at in order to succeed in an online course.
3. Use your imagination and describe three diffierent actions that would violate of your college’s academic
honesty policy.
4. Where on campus would you first go for help choosing your courses for next term?
For help with your math class?
For a problem coping with a lot of stress?
To learn about your options for student loans?
To find a better apartment?
1. Understand that success in college means much more in the long term than simply passing or
getting good grades.
2. Describe situations in which grades do matter—and why it’s important to do as well as you
3. Describe why it is so important to be successful in your first year of college.
4. List steps you can begin taking immediately to ensure your success.
Success in college is the theme of this book—and you’ll be learning more about everything involved in
success in the following chapters. Let’s first define what success really means so that you can get started,
right now, on the right foot.
Understand first that no book can “make” you be successful—it can only offier the tools for you to
use if you want. What are you thinking right now as you read these words? Are you reading this right
now only because you have to, because it is assigned reading in a course you have to take—and your
mind keeps drifting to other things because you’re feeling bored? Or are you interested because you’ve
decided you want to succeed in college?
We hope it’s the latter, that you’re feeling motivated—and excited, too—to do a great job in college. But even if you aren’t much concerned at present about these issues, we hope you’ll keep reading
and do some thinking about why you’re in college and how to get motivated to do well.
6.1 “Success” and “Failure”
So what does “success” actually mean in college? Good grades? That’s what many students would
say—at least toward the beginning of their time in college.
When you ask people about their college experience a few years later, grades are seldom one of the
first things mentioned. College graduates reflecting back typically emphasize the following:
The complete college experience (often described as “the best years of my life”)
Exploring many diffierent subjects and discovering one’s own interests
< Meeting a lot of interesting people, learning about diffierent ways to live
< Learning how to make decisions and solve problems that are now related to a career
< Gaining the skills needed to get the job—and life—one desires
When you are achieving what you want in life and when you are happy and challenged and feel you are
living life to its fullest and contributing to the world, then you likely feel successful. When you reach
this point, your grades in college are about the last thing you’ll think of.
This is not to say that grades don’t matter—just that getting good grades is not the ultimate goal of
college or the best way to define personal success while in college. Five or ten years from now, no one is
going to care much about what grade you got in freshman English or Biology 101. A successful college
experience does include acceptable grades, of course, but in the end—in your long-range goals—grades
are only one component of a larger picture.
6.2 How Much Do Grades Matter?
As you begin your college experience, it’s good to think about your attitude toward grades, since grades
often motivate students to study and do well on assignments.
Valuing grades too highly, or not highly enough, can cause problems. A student who is determined
to get only the highest grades can easily be frustrated by difflcult college classes. Expectations that are
too high may lead to disappointment—possibly depression or anxiety—and may become counterproductive. At the other extreme, a student who is too relaxed about grades, who is content simply with
passing courses, may not be motivated to study enough even to pass—and may be at risk for failing
What is a good attitude to have toward grades? The answer to that depends in part on how grades
do matter generally—and specifically in your own situation. Here are some ways grades clearly do
At most colleges, all students must maintain a certain grade point average (GPA) to be
allowed to continue taking courses and to graduate.
< Financial aid and scholarship recipients must maintain a certain grade in all courses, or a
minimum GPA overall, to continue receiving their financial award.
< In some programs, the grade in certain courses must be higher than simply passing in order to
count toward the program or major.
After graduation, it may be enough in some careers just to have completed the program or degree. But
in most situations, how well one did in college may still affiect one’s life. Employers often ask how well
you did in college (new graduates at least—this becomes less important after one has gained more job
experience). Students who are proud of their grades usually include their GPA on their résumés. Students with a low GPA may avoid including it on their resume, but employers may ask on the company’s application form or in an interview (and being caught in a lie can lead to being fired). An employer who asks for a college transcript will see all your grades, not just the overall GPA.
In addition to the importance for jobs, grades matter if you plan to continue to graduate school,
professional school, or other educational programs—all of which require your transcript.
Certainly grades are not the only way people are judged, but along with all forms of experience
(work, volunteer, internship, hobbies) and personal qualities and the recommendations of others, they
are an important consideration. After all, an employer may think, if this person goofed offi so much in
college that he got low grades, how can I expect him not to goof offi on the job?
grade point average (GPA)
A numerical score
representing the average of a
student’s grades in all courses
during a term and
cumulatively through the
student’s duration at the
particular high school or
graduate school
A division of a university with
masters or doctorate degree
programs, typically first
requiring completion of a
bachelor’s degree.
professional school
How to Calculate Your GPA
Because of various requirements for maintaining a GPA at a certain level, you may need to know how to calculate your GPA before grades come out at the end of the term. The math is not difflcult, but you need to consider both the grade in every course and the number of credit hours for that course in order to calculate the
overall GPA. Here is how you would do the calculation in the traditional four-point scale. First, translate each
letter grade to a numerical score:
An academic program to
prepare for certain
professions after completion
of a bachelor’s degree, such
as medical school, law school,
business school, and others.
A= 4
B= 3
C= 2
D= 1
Then multiply each grade’s numerical score by the number of units or hours for that course:
B in Math 101 × 5 hours = 3 × 5 = 15
B in English 4 × 3 hours = 3 × 3 = 9
C in Humanities 1 × 5 hours = 2 × 5 = 10
A in College Success × 3 hours = 4 × 3 = 12
Then add together those numbers for each course:
15 + 9 + 10 + 12 = 46.
Then divide that total by the total number of credit hours:
46 / 16 = 2.87 = GPA of 2.87.
Consult your college’s policies regarding the numeric weighting of + and − grades.
The best attitude to take toward grades in college is simply to do the best you can do. You don’t need to
kill yourself, but if you’re not going to make an effiort then there’s not much reason to be there in the
first place. Almost everything in this book—from time management to study skills to social skills and
staying healthy—will contribute to your overall success and, yes, to getting better grades.
If you have special concerns about grades, such as feeling unprepared in certain classes and at risk
of failing, talk with your academic advisor. If a class requires more preparation than you have from past
courses and experience, you might be urged to drop that class and take another—or to seek extra help.
Your advisor can help you work through any individual issues related to doing well and getting the best
grade you can.
Can You Challenge a Grade?
Yes and no. College instructors are very careful about how they assign grades, which are based on clear-cut
standards often stated in the course syllabus. The likelihood of an instructor changing your grade if you challenge it is very low. On the other hand, we’re all human—mistakes can occur, and if you truly feel a test or other score was miscalculated, you can ask your instructor to review the grade. Just be sure to be polite and
Most situations in which students want to challenge a grade, however, result from a misunderstanding regarding the expectations of the grading scale or standards used. Students may simply feel they deserve a higher
grade because they think they understand the material well or spent a lot of time studying or doing the assignment. The instructor’s grade, however, is based on your actual responses on a test, a paper or other assignment. The instructor is grading not what he or she thinks is in your head, but what you actually wrote down.
If you are concerned that your grade does not accurately reflect your understanding or effiort, you should still
talk with your instructor—but your goal should be not to argue for a grade change but to gain a better understanding of the course’s expectations so that you’ll do better next time. Instructors do respect students who
want to improve. Visit the instructor during offlce hours or ask for an appointment and prepare questions
ahead of time to help you better understand how your performance can improve and better indicate how
well you understand the material.
A major aspect of college for some students is learning how to accept criticism. Your college instructors hold
you to high standards and expect you to have the maturity to understand that a lower grade is not a personal
attack on you and not a statement that you’re not smart enough to do the work. Since none of us is perfect,
we all can improve in almost everything we do—and the first step in that direction is accepting evaluation of
our work. If you receive a grade lower than you think you have earned, take the responsibility to learn what
you need to do to earn a higher grade next time.
6.3 Succeeding in Your First Year
The first year of college is almost every student’s most crucial time. Statistics show a much higher dropout rate in the first year than thereafter. Why? Because for many students, adjusting to college is not
easy. Students wrestle with managing their time, their freedom, and their other commitments to family,
friends, and work. It’s important to recognize that it may not be easy for you.
On the other hand, when you do succeed in your first year, the odds are very good that you’ll continue to succeed and will complete your program or degree.
Are you ready? Remember that everything in this book will help you succeed in your first year.
Motivation and a positive attitude are the keys to getting offi to a running start. The next section lists
some things you can do to start right now, today, to ensure your success.
6.4 Getting Started on the Right Foot Right Now
Make an appointment to talk with your academic advisor if you have any doubt about the courses
you have already enrolled in or about the direction you’re taking. Start examining how you spend
your time and ensure you make enough time to keep up with your courses.
< Check for tutoring assistance if you feel you may need it and make an appointment or schedule
time to visit tutoring centers on your college campus to see what help you can get if needed.
< Like yourself. You’ve come a long way to reach this point, you have succeeded in taking this first
step toward meeting your college goal, and you are fully capable of succeeding the rest of the way.
Avoid the trap of feeling down on yourself if you’re struggling with any classes.
< Pay attention to your learning style and your instructors’ teaching styles. Begin immediately
applying the guidelines discussed earlier for situations in which you do not feel you are learning
< Plan ahead. Check your syllabus for each class and highlight the dates of major assignments and
tests. Write on your calendar the important dates coming up.
< Look around your classroom and plan to introduce yourself right away to one or two other
students. Talking with other students is the first step in forming study groups that will help you
Introduce yourself to your instructors, if you haven’t already. In a large lecture, go
up to the instructor after class and ask a question about anything in the lecture or
about an upcoming assignment.
< Participate in your classes. If you’re normally a quiet person who prefers to
observe others asking questions or joining class discussions, you need to take the
first step toward becoming a participating student—another characteristic of the
successful student. Find something of particular interest to you and write down a
question for the instructor. Then raise your hand at the right time and ask. You’ll
find it a lot easier than you may think!
< Vow to pay more attention to how you spend your money. Some students have to
drop out because they get into debt.
< Take good care of your body. Good health makes you a better student. Vow to
avoid junk food, to get enough sleep, and to move around more. When you’re
done reading this chapter, take a walk!
Excellent! Start doing these few things, and already you’ll be a step or two ahead—and
on your way to a successful first year!
FI G U RE 1 . 1 0
Start getting to know other students right
away by talking before or after class. This is
often a good way to start a study group.
© Thinkstock
While success in college involves many benefits and experiences, grades remain one important measure
of success.
Acceptable grades are important for continuing your college program and financial aid, for graduate
school or other future educational opportunities, and for obtaining a good job in most careers.
Succeeding is especially important in one’s first year of college because this is the most critical period to
avoid the factors that lead to many students dropping out.
You can launch yourself on a path of success immediately by taking the first steps for help with studies,
developing a positive attitude, taking advantage of your personal learning style, starting to practice time
management, meeting your instructors and other students, participating actively in your classes, and
taking control of your personal health and finances.
1. In your college or your specific program, do you need to maintain a minimum GPA in order to continue in
the program? (If you don’t know, check your college catalog or Web site.) What is that minimum GPA?
What was your cumulative GPA in high school?
Because college classes are usually more difflcult than high school classes, figure—purely as a starting
point—that with the same effiort, your college GPA could be a full point (or more) lower than your high
school GPA. Does that give you any cause for concern? If so, what do you think you should work on most to
ensure you succeed in college?
2. For each of the following statements about success in college, circle T for true or F for false:
T F See your academic advisor only when it’s time to register for courses or when the college requires
you to.
T F The best way to get help with a class is to pick whoever looks like the smartest student in class and
offier to pay that person for tutoring.
T F A positive attitude about yourself as a college student helps you stay motivated to work on
succeeding in your classes.
T F Understanding one’s own learning style makes it easier to understand how to apply one’s
strengths when studying and to overcome obstacles to learning by adapting in other ways.
T F Meeting other students in your classes is important early on because you can skip classes once you
arrange to borrow other people’s notes.
T F Participating in class is a key to being successful in that class.
Chapter Takeaways
The first year of college is the most critical. Make the commitment to overcome any obstacles to a
successful transition and stay committed and motivated to succeed.
Although college students diffier in many ways, all successful students share certain common traits,
including a positive attitude, effiective critical thinking skills, good time management skills, effiective
study skills, interactions with instructors and other students, and good habits for personal health and
financial stability.
You can learn to maximize your learning by attending to each step of the learning process: preparing,
absorbing, capturing, and reviewing.
It is important to understand your personal learning style and use it well in classes, while also making
the effiort to learn in new ways and work with other students for a more effiective overall learning
Working with your academic advisor and taking advantage of the many resources available at your
college are key actions to ensure success.
Understanding the larger characteristics of college success leads to a richer college experience,
supplementing the value of good grades.
While it may take a few weeks to develop all the skills needed for success in college, there are many
steps you can begin taking today to get moving in the right direction.
Check offi every action on the following list that you plan to use in your first year of college to help you be as
successful as you can be.
Approach classes and homework exactly as I did in high school
View college as a vital experience preparing me for the rest of my life
Decide immediately what I want to major in and never change my mind as I move forward through my
Manage my time well so that I have enough time to study and start on assignments well ahead of the
due dates
Attend classes when I think something important will be said and I can’t find someone to borrow class
notes from
Adopt a positive attitude and work on staying motivated to succeed
Give up everything else in life while in college
Talk to my advisor so that I take only those classes where the teacher’s style matches my own learning
Form study groups with other students diffierent from me so I can take advantage of how they learn as
Be sure to tell all my instructors what I think they want to hear, not what I might really think
Sit in the back row where I won’t be noticed or get asked a question I might not be able to answer
Make good friendships and interact with a wide range of people on campus
Pay very close attention in class so that I don’t have to be concerned with reviewing the course material
Prepare for each class every day
If I read too slowly, look for a CliffisNotes summary of the reading so I don’t lose time reading whole
textbook chapters
Talk to other students to find out what classes and instructors are easiest to keep my GPA up
Take as many online courses as I can so that I can sleep late and get help from friends doing online
To save time, go first to a friendly instructor to learn about any resources the college may have to help
Take it easy my first year in college, not worrying about grades, to avoid burnout
Check out tutoring services only as a last resort at the end of the term if I’m in danger of failing
Check the class syllabus for important assignments and exam dates and begin scheduling study periods
well ahead of time
Get to know my instructors and other students in the class right away
1. Go online to the free CareerLink Inventory Web site at and spend a
few minutes taking this free assessment of your interests and personality. Completion of the questionnaire
leads to a statement of Career Inventory Results, with diffierent career clusters matched to your
Click on the “cluster title” for several of your best-matched career areas to view specific career
possibilities. Clicking on specific career titles will then provide a wealth of career information from the
United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, including data about the following:
The nature of the work
Education and training required
Employment possibilities and future job outlook
Related occupations
This information will get you started thinking about possible careers that may match your interests. For a
more complete survey of your interests, personality, and strengths, visit your college’s career counseling
2. Go to
20intelligences%20tests and scroll down to the link for “free Multiple Intelligences test (based on Howard
Gardner’s model)—in Microsoft Excel self-calculating format, and other versions.” You need Microsoft
Excel on your computer to take this free online assessment of your learning style.
Clicking the link will download an Excel spreadsheet with 74 questions. Answer each as directed on
the 1 to 4 scale. Your score totals are then shown for each of the “multiple intelligences” learning styles
presented earlier in this chapter.
What are your two strongest “intelligence types”?
What are your two weakest “intelligence types”?
Based on this evaluation, what aspects of college learning might you want to give more attention to?
(Refer to Chapter 1, Section 4 for ideas to think about.)
3. Visit your college’s Web site and spend at least thirty minutes exploring available resources. Usually there
is a section called “Students” or “Present Students” or “Student Resources” or something similar—apart
from all the other information for prospective future students, parents, faculty, courses, and so on. Jot
down some of the topics here that you might want to consult again in the future if you were to
experience a problem involving money, personal health, academic success, emotional health, social
problems, discrimination, or other issues.
My most negative attitude toward college is
Here’s what I’ll do to be more positive:
My personal values most closely related to a college education are
I may have to put these values on hold while in college:
Transitioning to College
The most likely problems I’ll have (as a traditional or returning student) transitioning to college are
Here’s what I’ll do to stay focused in my first year:
Learning Process
In the past, I have paid too little attention to these steps of the learning process:
Here’s what I will begin doing now in my classes to fully use all steps of the process:
Learning Style
This is my preferred learning style:
I will begin working to strengthen my learning through these other styles:
Lecture Classes
When I’m bored in a large lecture hall, I frequently do this:
To pay closer attention, I will try the following:
College Resources
I have not paid much attention to these available resources on my campus:
In the coming weeks, I will check online or in person for information about these offlces that may be able to
help me succeed:
College Grades
My grades generally suffier when I
To ensure I do well in all my classes, I will now begin to focus on
Immediate Steps to Success
I have not used my time as well as I might because I’ve been doing the following:
I will immediately start taking these steps to ensure I succeed in my classes:
Staying Motivated,
Organized, and On Track
FI G U RE 2 . 1
© Thinkstock
Where Are You Now?
Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.
Yes Unsure No
1. I have clear, realistic, attainable goals for the short and long term, including for my
educational success.
2. I have a good sense of priorities that helps ensure I always get the important things
done, including my studies, while balancing my time among school, work, and social life.
3. I have a positive attitude toward being successful in college.
4. I know how to stay focused and motivated so I can reach my goals.
5. When setbacks occur, I work to solve the problems effiectively and then move on.
6. I have a good space for studying and use my space to avoid distractions.
7. I do not attempt to multitask when studying.
8. I schedule my study periods at times when I am at my best.
9. I use a weekly or daily planner to schedule study periods and other tasks in advance
and to manage my time well.
10. I am successful at not putting offi my studying and other important activities or being
distracted by other things.
Where Do You Want to Go?
Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself. On a scale of 1 to 10, how
would you rate how well you stay focused on your goals and use your time?
Need to improve
Very successful
In the following list, circle the three most important areas in which you think you need to improve:
Setting goals
Staying focused on goals
Keeping strong priorities
Maintaining a positive attitude
Staying motivated for academic work
Solving and preventing problems
Having an organized space for studies
Avoiding the distractions of technology
Preventing distractions caused by other people
Managing time well when studying
Overcoming a tendency to put things offi
Using a planner to schedule study periods
Using a to-do list to ensure all tasks are done
Finding enough time to do everything
Are there other areas in which you can improve your time management skills so that you can study effiectively
in the time you have, while still managing other aspects of your life? Write down other things you feel you
need to work on.
How to Get There
Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:
Setting and focusing on goals that are specific, realistic, and attainable
Setting priorities for managing your time
Adapting a positive attitude for college success and overcoming fear of failure or negativity
Developing and practicing strategies for staying focused
Preventing or solving problems that might threaten your success in college
Choosing a study space and using it to your advantage for most efflcient studying and
avoiding distractions
Understanding why multitasking, such as using your computer or cell phone while
studying, is inefflcient and actually wastes time
Using your “time personality” to perform at your best and to plan ahead
Using an academic planner to schedule study periods, get started on projects well in
advance, and manage your time well
Developing and practicing strategies for overcoming any tendency to procrastinate
Since you’re reading this now, chances are very good you’re already in college or about to start. That
means you’ve already set at least one goal for yourself—to get a college education—and that you’ve
been motivated to come this far. You should feel good about that, because lots of people don’t make it
this far. You’re offi to a great first step!
But did you know that in many colleges in the United States, almost half of first-year college students will not make it to graduation? This varies widely among diffierent colleges. Ask your instructor if
he or she knows the graduation rate at your college, or you research this topic on your own. Knowing
this can be important, because peer pressure (whether to succeed or to be lax and possibly drop out
later) can be an important factor in your success.
If you want to be among the students who do succeed, it’s important to accept that college is not
easy for most students. But we’re not trying to scare or depress you! The evidence shows that the huge
majority of those who really want to finish college can do so successfully, if they stay motivated and
learn how to succeed. That’s what this book is all about. But it may take some effiort. Succeeding in college involves paying attention to your studies in ways you may not have had to in your former life.
The two most common reasons why students drop out are financial difflculties and falling behind
in studying. While no one is guaranteed to easily find the money needed for college, there are many
ways you can cut costs and make it easier to get through. Chapter 11 has lots of tips for how to make it
This chapter looks at the other big issue: how to make sure that you succeed in your courses. The
first step is to be committed to your education. You’ve been motivated to start college—now you need
to keep that motivation going as you target specific goals for success in your classes. Much of this has to
do with attitude. Success also requires managing your time effiectively.
In fact, time management skills can make the diffierence between those who graduate from college
and those who drop out. Time management is actually all about managing yourself: knowing what you
want, deciding how to get what you want, and then efflciently and effiectively getting it. That applies to
fun things, too. In fact, you may want to think of the goal of this chapter as not just managing your
time for studying but ensuring that even as you do well in your studies, you’re still enjoying your life
while in college!
Make short-, mid-, and long-term goals that are realistic and specific and commit to them.
Set priorities for reaching your goals as a basis for time management.
Develop an attitude for success.
Learn to use strategies for staying focused and motivated.
Network with other students to help ensure academic success.
Solve problems and overcome setbacks that threaten your goals.
Some people are goal oriented and seem to easily make decisions that lead to achieving their goals,
while others seem just to “go with the flow” and accept what life gives them. While the latter may
sound pleasantly relaxed, moving through life without goals may not lead anywhere at all. The fact that
you’re in college now shows you already have the major goal to complete your college program.
A goal is a result we intend to reach mostly through our own actions. Things we do may move us
closer to or farther away from that result. Studying moves us closer to success in a difflcult course,
while sleeping through the final examination may completely prevent reaching that goal. That’s fairly
obvious in an extreme case, yet still a lot of college students don’t reach their goal of graduating. The
problem may be a lack of commitment to the goal, but often students have conflicting goals. One way
to prevent problems is to think about all your goals and priorities and to learn ways to manage your
time, your studies, and your social life to best reach your goals. Consider these four students:
A result or achievement
toward which one directs
one’s effiorts.
Something that is more
important than other things
or given special attention.
To help his widowed mother, Juan went to work full time after high school but now, a few years
later, he’s dissatisfied with the kinds of jobs he has been able to get and has begun taking
computer programming courses in the evening. He’s often tired after work, however, and his
mother would like him to spend more time at home. Sometimes he cuts class to stay home and
spend time with her.
In her senior year of college, Becky has just been elected president of her sorority and is excited
about planning a major community service project. She knows she should be spending more time
on her senior thesis, but she feels her community project may gain her contacts that can help her
find a better job after graduation. Besides, the sorority project is a lot more fun, and she’s enjoying
the esteem of her position. Even if she doesn’t do well on her thesis, she’s sure she’ll pass.
After an easy time in high school, James is surprised his college classes are so hard. He’s got enough
time to study for his first-year courses, but he also has a lot of friends and fun things to do.
Sometimes he’s surprised to look up from his computer to see it’s midnight already, and he hasn’t
started reading that chapter yet. Where does the time go? When he’s stressed, however, he can’t
study well, so he tells himself he’ll get up early and read the chapter before class, and then he turns
back to his computer to see who’s online.
Sachito was successful in cutting back her hours at work to give her more time for her engineering
classes, but it’s difflcult for her to get much studying done at home. Her husband has been
wonderful about taking care of their young daughter, but he can’t do everything, and lately he’s
been hinting more about asking her sister to babysit so that the two of them can go out in the
evening the way they used to. Lately, when she’s had to study on a weekend, he leaves with his
friends, and Sachito ends up spending the day with her daughter—and not getting much studying
What do these very diffierent students have in common? Each has goals that conflict in one or more
ways. Each needs to develop strategies to meet their other goals without threatening their academic
success. And all of them have time management issues to work through: three because they feel they
don’t have enough time to do everything they want or need to do and one because even though he has
enough time, he needs to learn how to manage it more effiectively. For all four of them, motivation and
attitude will be important as they develop strategies to achieve their goals.
It all begins with setting goals and thinking about priorities.
As you think about your own goals, think about more than just being a student. You’re also a person with individual needs and desires, hopes and dreams, plans and schemes. Your long-term goals
likely include graduation and a career but may also involve social relationships with others, a romantic
relationship, family, hobbies or other activities, where and how you live, and so on. While you are a
student you may not be actively pursuing all your goals with the same fervor, but they remain goals and
are still important in your life.
Goals also vary in terms of time. Short-term goals focus on today and the next few days and perhaps weeks. Midterm goals involve plans for this school year and the time you plan to remain in
college. Long-term goals may begin with graduating college and everything you want to happen thereafter. Often your long-term goals (e.g., the kind of career you want) guide your midterm goals (getting
the right education for that career), and your short-term goals (such as doing well on an exam) become
steps for reaching those larger goals. Thinking about your goals in this way helps you realize how even
the little things you do every day can keep you moving toward your most important long-term goals.
Write out your goals in Activity 1. You should literally write them down, because the act of finding
the best words to describe your goals helps you think more clearly about them. Follow these guidelines:
Goals should be realistic. It’s good to dream and to challenge yourself, but your goals should
relate to your personal strengths and abilities.
< Goals should be specific. Don’t write, “I will become a great musician”; instead, write, “I will
finish my music degree and be employed in a symphony orchestra.”
Goals should have a time frame. You won’t feel very motivated if your goal is vaguely “to finish
college someday.” If you’re realistic and specific in your goals, you should also be able to project a
time frame for reaching the goal.
< You should really want to reach the goal. We’re willing to work hard to reach goals we really
care about, but we’re likely to give up when we encounter obstacles if we don’t feel strongly about
a goal. If you’re doing something only because your parents or someone else wants you to, then
it’s not your own personal goal—and you may have some more thinking to do about your life.
1 :
Write your goals in the following blanks. Be sure to consider all areas of your life—consider everything important that you want to do between this moment and old age. (While you might aim for three to eight goals in
each section, remember that everyone is unique, and you may be just as passionate about just one or two
goals or more than eight.)
Short-term goals (today, this week, and this month):
Midterm goals (this year and while in college):
Long-term goals (from college on):
2.1 Priorities
Thinking about your goals gets you started, but it’s also important to think about priorities. We often
use the word “priorities” to refer to how important something is to us. We might think, This is a really
important goal, and that is less important. Try this experiment: go back to the goals you wrote in Activity 1 and see if you can rank each goal as a 1 (top priority), 2 (middle priority), or 3 (lowest priority).
It sounds easy, but do you actually feel comfortable doing that? Maybe you gave a priority 1 to
passing your courses and a priority 3 to playing your guitar. So what does that mean—that you never
play guitar again, or at least not while in college? Whenever you have an hour free between class and
work, you have to study because that’s the higher priority? What about all your other goals—do you
have to ignore everything that’s not a priority 1? And what happens when you have to choose among
diffierent goals that are both number 1 priorities?
In reality, priorities don’t work quite that way. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to try to rank goals as
always more or less important. The question of priority is really a question of what is more important
at a specific time. It is important to do well in your classes, but it’s also important to have a social life
and enjoy your time offi from studying. You shouldn’t have to choose between the two—except at any
given time. Priorities always involve time: what is most important to do right now. As we’ll see later,
time management is mostly a way to juggle priorities so you can meet all your goals.
When you manage your time well, you don’t have to ignore some goals completely in order to
meet other goals. In other words, you don’t have to give up your life when you register for college—but
you may need to work on managing your life more effiectively.
But time management works only when you’re committed to your goals. Attitude and motivation
are very important. If you haven’t yet developed an attitude for success, all the time management skills
in the world won’t keep you focused and motivated to succeed.
2.2 An Attitude for Success
What’s your attitude right now—what started running through your mind as you saw the “An Attitude
for Success” heading? Were you groaning to yourself, thinking, “No, not the attitude thing again!” Or,
at the other extreme, maybe you were thinking, “This is great! Now I’m about to learn everything I
need to get through college without a problem!” Those are two attitude extremes, one negative and
skeptical, the other positive and hopeful. Most students are somewhere in between—but everyone has
an attitude of one sort or another.
Everything people do and how they do it starts with attitude. One student gets up with the alarm
clock and cheerfully prepares for the day, planning to study for a couple hours between classes, go jogging later, and see a friend at dinner. Another student oversleeps after partying too late last night, decides to skip his first class, somehow gets through later classes fueled by fast food and energy drinks
while dreading tomorrow’s exam, and immediately accepts a friend’s suggestion to go out tonight instead of studying. Both students could have identical situations, classes, finances, and academic preparation. There could be just one significant diffierence—but it’s the one that matters.
Here are some characteristics associated with a positive attitude:
Enthusiasm for and enjoyment of daily activities
< Acceptance of responsibility for one’s actions and feeling good about success
< Generally upbeat mood and positive emotions, cheerfulness with others, and satisfaction with
< Motivation to get the job done
< Flexibility to make changes when needed
< Ability to make productive, effiective use of time
And here are some characteristics associated with a negative attitude:
Frequent complaining
Blaming others for anything that goes wrong
< Often experiencing negative emotions: anger, depression, resentment
< Lack of motivation for work or studies
< Hesitant to change or seek improvement
< Unproductive use of time, procrastination
We started this chapter talking about goals, because people’s goals and priorities have a huge effiect on
their attitude. Someone who really wants to succeed in college is better motivated and can develop a
more positive attitude to succeed. But what if you are committed to succeeding in college but still feel
kind of doubtful or worried or even down on yourself—what can you do then? Can people really
change their attitude? Aren’t people just “naturally” positive or negative or whatever?
While attitude is influenced by one’s personality, upbringing, and past experiences, there is no
“attitude gene” that makes you one way or another. It’s not as simple as taking a pill, but attitude can be
changed. If you’re committed to your goals, you can learn to adjust your attitude. The following are
some things you can start doing.
Be More Upbeat with Yourself
We all have conversations with ourselves. I might do badly on a test, and I start thinking things like,
“I’m just not smart enough” or “That teacher is so hard no one could pass that test.” The problem when
we talk to ourselves this way is that we listen—and we start believing what we’re hearing. Think about
what you’ve been saying to yourself since your first day at college. Have you been negative or making
excuses, maybe because you’re afraid of not succeeding? You are smart enough or you wouldn’t be
here. Even if you did poorly on a test, you can turn that around into a more positive attitude by taking
responsibility. “OK, I goofed offi too much when I should have been studying. I learned my lesson—now it’s time to buckle down and study for the next test. I’m going to ace this one!” Hear yourself
saying that enough and guess what—you soon find out you can succeed even in your hardest classes.
Choose Whom You Spend Time With
We all know negative and positive people. Sometimes it’s fun to hang out with someone with a negative
attitude, especially if their sarcasm is funny. And if we’ve just failed a test, we might enjoy being with
someone else who also blames the instructor or “the system” for whatever goes wrong. As they say,
misery loves company. But often being with negative people is one of the surest ways to stay negative
yourself. You not only hear your own self-talk making excuses and blaming others and putting yourself
down, but you hear other people saying it, too. After a while you’re convinced it’s true. You’ve developed a negative attitude that sets you up for failure.
College offiers a great opportunity to make new friends. Friendships and other social relationships
are important to all humans—and maybe to college students most of all, because of the stresses of college and the changes you’re likely experiencing. Later chapters in this book have some tips for making
new friends and getting actively involved in campus life, if you’re not already there. Most important,
try to choose friends with a positive attitude. It’s simply more fun to be with people who are upbeat and
enjoying life, people whom you respect—and who, like you, are committed to their studies and are motivated. A positive attitude can really be contagious.
Overcome Resistance to Change
While it’s true that most people are more comfortable when their situation is not always changing,
many kinds of change are good and should be welcomed. College is a big change from high school or
working. Accepting that reality helps you be more positive about the diffierences. Sure, you have to
study more, and the classes are harder. You may be working more and have less time for your personal
life. But dwelling on those diffierences only reinforces a negative attitude. Look instead at the positive
changes: the exciting and interesting people you’re meeting, the education you’re getting that will lead
to a bright future, and the mental challenges and stimulation you’re feeling every day.
The first step may be simply to see yourself succeeding in your new life. Visualize yourself as a student taking control, enjoying classes, studying effiectively, getting good grades. This book will help you
do that in many ways. It all begins with the right attitude.
Overcome Fears
One of the most common fears of college students is a fear of failure—of not being able to make the
grade. We all know that life is not all roses and that we’re not going to succeed at everything we try.
Everyone experiences some sort of failure at some time—and everyone has fears. The question is what
you do about it.
Again, think about your goals. You’ve enrolled in college for good reasons, and you’ve already
shown your commitment by coming this far. If you still have any fear of failure, turn it around and use
it in a positive way. If you’re afraid you may not do well on an upcoming exam, don’t mope
around—sit down and schedule times to start studying well ahead of time. It’s mostly a matter of attitude adjustment.
2.3 Stay Focused and Motivated
Okay, you’ve got a positive attitude. But you’ve got a lot of reading for classes to do tonight, a test tomorrow, and a paper due the next day. Maybe you’re a little bored with one of your reading assignments. Maybe you’d rather play a computer game. Uh oh—now what? Attitude can change at almost
any moment. One minute you’re enthusiastically starting a class project, and then maybe a friend drops
by and suddenly all you want to do is close the books and relax a while, hang out with friends.
One of the characteristics of successful people is accepting that life is full of interruptions and
change—and planning for it. Staying focused does not mean you become a boring person who does
nothing but go to class and study all the time. You just need to make a plan.
Planning ahead is the single best way to stay focused and motivated to reach your goals. Don’t wait
until the night before an exam. If you know you have a major exam in five days, start by reviewing the
material and deciding how many hours of study you need. Then schedule those hours spread out over
the next few days—at times when you are most alert and least likely to be distracted. Allow time for
other activities, too, to reward yourself for successful studying. Then when the exam comes, you’re relaxed, you know the material, you’re in a good mood and confident, and you do well.
Planning is mostly a matter of managing your time well, as we’ll see later. Here are some other tips
for staying focused and motivated:
If you’re not feeling motivated, think about the results of your goals, not just the goals
themselves. If just thinking about finishing college doesn’t sound all that exciting, then think
instead about the great, high-paying career that comes afterward and the things you can do with
that income.
< Say it aloud—to yourself or a friend with a positive attitude: “I’m going to study now for another
hour before I take a break—and I’m getting an A on that test tomorrow!” It’s amazing how saying
something aloud puts commitment in it and afflrms that it can be true.
< Remember your successes, even small successes. As you begin a project or approach studying for
a test, think about your past success on a diffierent project or test. Remember how good it feels to
succeed. Know you can succeed again.
< Focus on the here and now. For some people, looking ahead to goals, or to anything else, may lead
to daydreaming that keeps them from focusing on what they need to do right now. Don’t worry
about what you’re doing tomorrow or next week or month. If your mind keeps drifting offi,
however, you may need to reward or even trick yourself to focus on the here and now. For
example, if you can’t stop thinking about the snack you’re going to have when you finish studying
in a couple hours, change the plan. Tell yourself you’ll take a break in twenty minutes if you really
need it—but only if you really work well first.
< If you just can’t focus in on what you should be doing because the task seems too big and
daunting, break the task into smaller, manageable pieces. Don’t start out thinking, “I need to
study the next four hours,” but think, “I’ll spend the next thirty minutes going through my class
notes from the last three weeks and figure out what topics I need to spend more time on.” It’s a
lot easier to stay focused when you’re sitting down for thirty minutes at a time.
< Never, ever multitask while studying! You may think that you can monitor e-mail and send text
messages while studying, but in reality, these other activities lower the quality of your studying.
< Imitate successful people. Does a friend always seem better able to stick with studying or work
until they get it done? What are they doing that you’re not? We all learn from observing others,
and we can speed up that process by deliberately using the same strategies we see working with
others. Visualize yourself studying in the same way and getting that same high grade on the test or
< Separate yourself from unsuccessful people. This is the flip side of imitating successful people. If a
roommate or a friend is always putting offi things until the last minute or is distracted with other
interests and activities, tell yourself how diffierent you are. When you hear other students
complaining about how hard a class is or bragging about not studying or attending class, visualize
yourself as not being like them at all.
< Reward yourself when you complete a significant task—but only when you are done. Some
people seem able to stay focused only when there’s a reward waiting.
< While some people work harder for the reward, others are motivated more by the price of failing.
While some people are almost paralyzed by anxiety, others are moved by their fear to achieve
their best.
< Get the important things done first. We’ll talk about managing your academic planner and to-do
lists later in the chapter, but for now, to stay focused and motivated, concentrate on the things
that matter most. You’re about to sit down to read a chapter in a book you’re not much enjoying,
and you suddenly notice some clothing piled up on a chair. “I really should clean up this place,”
you think. “And I’d better get my laundry done before I run out of things to wear.” Don’t try to
fool yourself into feeling you’re accomplishing something by doing laundry rather than studying.
Stay focused!
2.4 Network for Success
Making friends with people with positive attitudes not only helps you maintain a positive attitude
yourself, but it gets you started networking with other students in ways that will help you succeed.
Did you study alone or with friends in high school? Because college classes are typically much
more challenging, many college students discover they do better, and find it much more enjoyable, if
they study with other students taking same course. This might mean organizing a study group or just
getting together with a friend to review material before a test. It’s good to start thinking right away
about networking with other students in your classes.
If you consider yourself an independent person and prefer studying and doing projects on your
own rather than with others, think for a minute about how most people function in their careers and
professions, what the business world is like. Most work today is done by teams or individuals working
together in a collaborative way. Very few jobs involve a person always being and working alone. The
more you learn to study and work with other students now, the more skills you are mastering for a successful career.
Studying with other students has immediate benefits. You can quiz each other to help ensure that
everyone understands the course material; if you’re not clear about something, someone else can help
teach it to you. You can read and respond to each other’s writing and other work. You can divide up
the work in group projects. And through it all, you can often have more fun than if you were doing it
on your own.
Studying together is also a great way to start networking—a topic we’ll discuss more in coming
chapters. Networking has many potential benefits for your future. College students who feel they are
part of a network on campus are more motivated and more successful in college.
Tips for Success: Staying Motivated
Keep your eye on your long-term goals while working toward immediate goals.
Keep your priorities straight—but also save some time for fun.
Work on keeping your attitude positive.
Keep the company of positive people; imitate successful people.
Don’t let past habits drag you down.
Plan ahead to avoid last-minute pressures.
Focus on your successes.
Break large projects down into smaller tasks or stages.
Reward yourself for completing significant tasks.
Avoid multitasking.
Network with other students; form a study group.
2.5 Problem Solving: When Setbacks Happen
Even when you have clear goals and are motivated and focused to achieve them, problems sometimes
happen. Accept that they will happen, since inevitably they do for everyone. The diffierence between
those who succeed by solving the problem and moving on and those who get frustrated and give up is
partly attitude and partly experience—and knowing how to cope when a problem occurs.
Lots of diffierent kinds of setbacks may happen while you’re in college—just as to everyone in life.
Here are a few examples:
A financial crisis
An illness or injury
< A crisis involving family members or loved ones
< Stress related to frequently feeling you don’t have enough time
< Stress related to relationship problems
Some things happen that we cannot prevent—such as some kinds of illness, losing one’s job because of
a business slowdown, or crises involving family members. But many other kinds of problems can be
prevented or made less likely to occur. You can take steps to stay healthy, as you’ll learn in Chapter 10.
You can take control of your finances and avoid most financial problems common among college students, as you’ll learn in Chapter 11. You can learn how to build successful social relationships and get
along better with your instructors, with other students, and in personal relationships. You can learn
time management techniques to ensure you use your time effiectively for studying. Most of the chapters
in this book also provide study tips and guidelines to help you do well in your classes with effiective
reading, note-taking, test-taking, and writing skills for classes. Preventing the problems that typically
keep college students from succeeding is much of what this book is all about.
Not all problems can be avoided. Illness or a financial problem can significantly set one
back—especially when you’re on a tight schedule and budget. Other problems, such as a social or relationship issue or an academic problem in a certain class, may be more complex and not easily prevented. What then?
First, work to resolve the immediate problem:
1. Stay motivated and focused. Don’t let frustration, anxiety, or other negative emotions make the
problem worse than it already is.
2. Analyze the problem to consider all possible solutions. An unexpected financial setback doesn’t
automatically mean you have to drop out of school—not when alternatives such as student loans,
less expensive living arrangements, or other possible solutions may be available. Failing a midterm
exam doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to fail the course—not when you make the effiort
to determine what went wrong, work with your instructor and others on an improved study
plan, and use better strategies to prepare for the next test.
3. Seek help when you need to. None of us gets through life alone, and it’s not a sign of weakness to
see your academic advisor or a college counselor if you have a problem.
4. When you’ve developed a plan for resolving the problem, work to follow through. If it will take a
while before the problem is completely solved, track your progress in smaller steps so that you
can see you really are succeeding. Every day will move you one step closer to putting it behind
After you’ve solved a problem, be sure to avoid it again in the future:
1. Be honest with yourself: how did you contribute to the problem? Sometimes it’s obvious: a student
who drank heavily at a party the night before a big test failed the exam because he was so hung
over he couldn’t think straight. Sometimes the source of the problem is not as obvious but may
become clearer the more you think about it. Another student did a lot of partying during the term
but studied all day before the big test and was well rested and clearheaded at test time but still did
poorly; he may not yet have learned good study skills. Another student has frequent colds and
other mild illnesses that keep him from doing his best: how much better would he feel if he ate
well, got plenty of exercise, and slept enough every night? If you don’t honestly explore the factors
that led to the problem, it’s more likely to happen again.
2. Take responsibility for your life and your role in what happens to you. Earlier we talked about
people with negative attitudes, who are always blaming others, fate, or “the system” for their
problems. It’s no coincidence that they keep on having problems. Unless you want to keep having
problems, don’t keep blaming others.
3. Taking responsibility doesn’t mean being down on yourself. Failing at something doesn’t mean
you are a failure. We all fail at something, sometime. Adjust your attitude so you’re ready to get
back on track and feel happy that you’ll never make that mistake again!
4. Make a plan. You might still have a problem on that next big test if you don’t make an effiective
study plan and stick to it. You may need to change your behavior in some way, such as learning
time management strategies. (Read on!)
Goals should be realistic, specific, and time oriented, and you must be committed to them.
Setting priorities helps keep you focused on your goals but doesn’t determine how you use your time at all
Attitude is often the major reason students succeed or fail in college. Everyone can work on developing a
more positive, motivating attitude.
Planning, the essence of time management, is necessary to stay focused and continue moving toward
your goals.
Networking with other students helps you stay motivated as well as making studying more effiective.
Since problems and setbacks are inevitable, knowing how to solve problems is important for reaching
goals. With a good attitude, most common student problems can be prevented.
1. Which of the following goal statements is written in a way that shows the person has carefully considered
what he or she wants to achieve?
a. I will do better in my math course.
b. I will earn at least a B on my next English paper.
c. I will study more this term.
2. List ways in which a negative attitude can prevent students from being successful in college.
3. Think about your friends in college or other students you have observed in one of your classes. Choose one
who usually seems positive and upbeat and one who sometimes or frequently shows a negative attitude
about college. Visualize both their faces—side by side—as if you are talking to both of them. Now imagine
yourself sitting down to study with one of them for a final exam. Describe how you would
imagine that study session going.
4. Look back at the four students described at the beginning of the chapter. Each of them is experiencing
some sort of problem that could interrupt their progress toward their goals. Think about each student and
write down a solution for each problem that you would try to work out, if you were that person.
For Juan:
For Becky:
For James:
For Sachito:
5. List a few things you can do if you’re having trouble getting motivated to sit down to study.
1. Recognize the importance of organizing your space to your best advantage for studying.
2. Avoid distractions in the space where you are studying.
3. Understand the myth of multitasking and prevent distractions from your personal technology.
Now that you’ve worked up an attitude for success and are feeling motivated, it’s time to get organized.
You need to organize both your space and your time.
Space is important for many reasons—some obvious, some less so. People’s moods, attitudes, and
levels of work productivity change in diffierent spaces. Learning to use space to your own advantage
helps get you offi to a good start in your studies. Here are a few of the ways space matters:
Everyone needs his or her own space. This may seem simple, but everyone needs some physical
area, regardless of size, that is really his or her own—even if it’s only a small part of a shared
space. Within your own space, you generally feel more secure and in control.
< Physical space reinforces habits. For example, using your bed primarily for sleeping makes it
easier to fall asleep there than elsewhere and also makes it not a good place to try to stay awake
and alert for studying.
< Diffierent places create diffierent moods. While this may seem obvious, students don’t always use
places to their best advantage. One place may be bright and full of energy, with happy students
passing through and enjoying themselves—a place that puts you in a good mood. But that may
actually make it more difflcult to concentrate on your studying. Yet the opposite—a totally quiet,
austere place devoid of color and sound and pleasant decorations—can be just as unproductive if
it makes you associate studying with something unpleasant. Everyone needs to discover what
space works best for himself or herself—and then let that space reinforce good study habits.
3.1 Use Space to Your Advantage and to Avoid Distractions
Begin by analyzing your needs, preferences, and past problems with places for studying. Where do you
usually study? What are the best things about that place for studying? What distractions are most likely
to occur there?
The goal is to find, or create, the best place for studying, and then to use it regularly so that studying there becomes a good habit.
Choose a place you can associate with studying. Make sure it’s not a place already associated
with other activities (eating, watching television, sleeping, etc.). Over time, the more often you
study in this space, the stronger will be its association with studying, so that eventually you’ll be
completely focused as soon as you reach that place and begin.
< Your study area should be available whenever you need it. If you want to use your home,
apartment, or dorm room but you never know if another person may be there and possibly
distract you, then it’s probably better to look for another place, such as a study lounge or an area
in the library. Look for locations open at the hours when you may be studying. You may also
need two study spaces—one in or near where you live, another on campus. Maybe you study best
at home but have an hour free between two classes, and the library is too far away to use for only
an hour? Look for a convenient empty classroom.
FI G U RE 2 . 2
Your study space should meet your study needs. An open desk or table surface usually
works best for writing, and you’ll tire quickly if you try to write notes sitting in an easy
Choose a pleasant, quiet place for studying,
chair (which might also make you sleepy). You need good light for reading, to avoid
such as the college library.
tiring from eyestrain. If you use a laptop for writing notes or reading and researching,
you need a power outlet so you don’t have to stop when your battery runs out.
< Your study space should meet your psychological needs. Some students may need
total silence with absolutely no visual distractions; they may find a perfect study carrel
hidden away on the fifth floor in the library. Other students may be unable to
concentrate for long without looking up from reading and momentarily letting their
eyes move over a pleasant scene. Some students may find it easier to stay motivated
when surrounded by other students also studying; they may find an open space in the
library or a study lounge with many tables spread out over an area. Experiment to find
the setting that works best for you—and remember that the more often you use this
same space, the more comfortable and effiective your studying will become.
< You may need the support of others to maintain your study space. Students living at
home, whether with a spouse and children or with their parents, often need the support
of family members to maintain an effiective study space. The kitchen table probably
© Thinkstock
isn’t best if others pass by frequently. Be creative, if necessary, and set up a card table in
a quiet corner of your bedroom or elsewhere to avoid interruptions. Put a “do not
disturb” sign on your door.
< Keep your space organized and free of distractions. You want to prevent sudden impulses to
neaten up the area (when you should be studying), do laundry, wash dishes, and so on. Unplug a
nearby telephone, turn offi your cell phone, and use your computer only as needed for studying. If
your e-mail or message program pops up a notice every time an e-mail or message arrives, turn
offi your Wi-Fi or detach the network cable to prevent those intrusions.
Plan for breaks. Everyone needs to take a break occasionally when studying. Think about the
space you’re in and how to use it when you need a break. If in your home, stop and do a few
exercises to get your blood flowing. If in the library, take a walk up a couple flights of stairs and
around the stacks before returning to your study area.
< Prepare for human interruptions. Even if you hide in the library to study, there’s a chance a
friend may happen by. At home with family members or in a dorm room or common space, the
odds increase greatly. Have a plan ready in case someone pops in and asks you to join them in
some fun activity. Know when you plan to finish your studying so that you can make a plan for
later—or for tomorrow at a set time.
3.2 The Distractions of Technology
Multitasking is the term commonly used for being engaged in two or more diffierent activities at the
same time, usually referring to activities using devices such as cell phones, smartphones, computers,
and so on. Many people claim to be able to do as many as four or five things simultaneously, such as
writing an e-mail while responding to an instant message (IM) and reading a tweet, all while watching
a video on their computer monitor or talking on the phone. Many people who have grown up with
computers consider this kind of multitasking a normal way to get things done, including studying.
Even people in business sometimes speak of multitasking as an essential component of today’s fastpaced world.
It is true that some things can be attended to while you’re doing something else, such as checking
e-mail while you watch television news—but only when none of those things demands your full attention. You can concentrate 80 percent on the e-mail, for example, while 20 percent of your attention is
listening for something on the news that catches your attention. Then you turn to the television for a
minute, watch that segment, and go back to the e-mail. But you’re not actually watching the television
at the same time you’re composing the e-mail—you’re rapidly going back and forth. In reality, the
mind can focus only on one thing at any given moment. Even things that don’t require much thinking
are severely impacted by multitasking, such as driving while talking on a cell phone or texting. An astonishing number of people end up in the emergency room from just trying to walk down the sidewalk
while texting, so common is it now to walk into a pole or parked car while multitasking!
“Okay,” you might be thinking, “why should it matter if I write my paper first and then answer emails or do them back and forth at the same time?” It actually takes you longer to do two or more
things at the same time than if you do them separately—at least with anything that you actually have
to focus on, such as studying. That’s true because each time you go back to studying after looking away
to a message or tweet, it takes time for your mind to shift gears to get back to where you were. Every
time your attention shifts, add up some more “downtime”—and pretty soon it’s evident that multitasking is costing you a lot more time than you think. And that’s assuming that your mind does fully shift
back to where you were every time, without losing your train of thought or forgetting an important detail. It doesn’t always.
The other problem with multitasking is the effiect it can have on the attention span—and even on
how the brain works. Scientists have shown that in people who constantly shift their attention from
one thing to another in short bursts, the brain forms patterns that make it more difflcult to keep sustained attention on any one thing. So when you really do need to concentrate for a while on one thing,
such as when studying for a big test, it becomes more difflcult to do even if you’re not multitasking at
that time. It’s as if your mind makes a habit of wandering from one thing to another and then can’t
The performing of multiple
tasks at the same time, often
involving technology and
communications. The term
originates in computer
science, referring to how a
computer’s CPU can be
programmed to function.
(Importantly, the human
brain does not function the
same as a computer!)
FI G U RE 2 . 3
Multitasking makes studying much less
So stay away from multitasking whenever you have something important to do,
like studying. If it’s already a habit for you, don’t let it become worse. Manipulate your
study space to prevent the temptations altogether. Turn your computer offi—or shut
down e-mail and messaging programs if you need the computer for studying. Turn
your cell phone offi—if you just tell yourself not to answer it but still glance at it each
time to see who sent or left a message, you’re still losing your studying momentum and
have to start over again. For those who are really addicted to technology (you know
who you are!), go to the library and don’t take your laptop or cell phone.
In the later section in this chapter on scheduling your study periods, we recommend scheduling breaks as well, usually for a few minutes every hour. If you’re really
hooked on checking for messages, plan to do that at scheduled times.
What about listening to music while studying? Some don’t consider that multitasking, and many students say they can listen to music without it affiecting their studying.
Studies are inconclusive about the positive or negative effiects of music on people’s ability to concentrate, probably because so many diffierent factors are involved. But there’s
a huge diffierence between listening to your favorite CD and spontaneously singing
along with some of the songs and enjoying soft background music that enhances your
study space the same way as good lighting and pleasant décor. Some people can study
better with low-volume instrumental music that relaxes them and does not intrude on
their thinking, while others can concentrate only in silence. And some are so used to
being immersed in music and the sounds of life that they find total silence more distracting—such people can often study well in places where people are moving around.
The key thing is to be honest with yourself: if you’re actively listening to music while
you’re studying, then you’re likely not studying as well as you could be. It will take you
longer and lead to less successful results.
3.3 Family and Roommate Issues
© Thinkstock
Sometimes going to the library or elsewhere is not practical for studying, and you have
to find a way to cope in a shared space.
Part of the solution is time management. Agree with others on certain times that
will be reserved for studying; agree to keep the place quiet, not to have guests visiting, and to prevent
other distractions. These arrangements can be made with a roommate, spouse, and older children. If
there are younger children in your household and you have child-care responsibility, it’s usually more
complicated. You may have to schedule your studying during their nap time or find quiet activities for
them to enjoy while you study. Try to spend some time with your kids before you study, so they don’t
feel like you’re ignoring them. (More tips are offiered later in this chapter.)
The key is to plan ahead. You don’t want to find yourself, the night before an exam, in a place that
offiers no space for studying.
Finally, accept that sometimes you’ll just have to say no. If your roommate or a friend often tries to
engage you in conversation or suggests doing something else when you need to study, just say no.
Learn to be firm but polite as you explain that you just really have to get your work done first. Students
who live at home may also have to learn how to say no to parents or family members—just be sure to
explain the importance of the studying you need to do! Remember, you can’t be everything to everyone
all the time.
Where you study can have a huge impact on the effiectiveness of your study effiorts. Choose and organize
your space to your advantage.
How you control your study space can help you prevent distractions, especially those caused by other
people or your personal technology.
Attempting to multitask while studying diminishes the quality of your study time and results in a loss of
Control your study space to prevent or manage potential interruptions from family members or
1. For each of the following statements, circle T for true or F for false:
T F Your bed is usually a good place to study if you can keep the room quiet.
T F To study well, use the most drab, boring place you can find.
T F An empty classroom can be a good place to get some studying done if you happen to have an
hour free between classes.
T F To maintain a clear focus while studying, limit the time you spend checking for e-mail and text
messages to every ten minutes or so. Put your cell phone on vibrate mode and keep it in your
pocket where you can more easily ignore it.
T F It’s OK to have the television or radio on while you study as long as you don’t give it your full
T F The key to avoiding interruptions and distractions from family members or roommates is to plan
ahead for when and where you’ll study.
2. Class discussion exercise: Share stories about distractions caused by roommates and others that you and
other students have experienced. Brainstorm together how to handle similar situations next time they
Discover your time personality and know where your time goes.
Understand the basic principles of time management and planning.
Learn and practice time management strategies to help ensure your academic success.
Know how to combat procrastination when it threatens to prevent getting your academic work
5. Use a calendar planner and daily to-do list to plan ahead for study tasks and manage your time
6. Learn effiective time management techniques for students who work, students with family, and
student athletes.
This is the most important part of this chapter. When you know what you want to do, why not just sit
down and get it done? The millions of people who complain frequently about “not having enough
time” would love it if it were that simple!
Time management isn’t actually difflcult, but you do need to learn how to do it well.
4.1 Time and Your Personality
People’s attitudes toward time vary widely. One person seems to be always rushing around but actually
gets less done than another person who seems unconcerned about time and calmly goes about the day.
Since there are so many diffierent “time personalities,” it’s important to realize how you approach time.
Start by trying to figure out how you spend your time during a typical week, using Activity 2.
2 :
G O ?
See if you can account for a week’s worth of time. For each of the activity categories listed, make your best estimate of how many hours you spend in a week. (For categories that are about the same every day, just estimate for one day and multiply by seven for that line.)
Category of activity
Number of hours per week
Eating (including preparing food)
Personal hygiene (i.e., bathing, etc.)
Working (employment)
Volunteer service or internship
Chores, cleaning, errands, shopping, etc.
Attending class
Studying, reading, and researching (outside of class)
Transportation to work or school
Getting to classes (walking, biking, etc.)
Organized group activities (clubs, church services, etc.)
Time with friends (include television, video games, etc.)
Attending events (movies, parties, etc.)
Time alone (include television, video games, surfing the Web, etc.)
Exercise or sports activities
Reading for fun or other interests done alone
Talking on phone, e-mail, Facebook, etc.
Now use your calculator to total your estimated hours. Is your number larger or smaller than 168, the total
number of hours in a week? If your estimate is higher, go back through your list and adjust numbers to be
more realistic. But if your estimated hours total fewer than 168, don’t just go back and add more time in certain categories. Instead, ponder this question: Where does the time go? We’ll come back to this question.
Think about your time analysis in Activity 2. People who estimate too high often feel they don’t have
enough time. They may have time anxiety and often feel frustrated. People at the other extreme, who
often can’t account for how they use all their time, may have a more relaxed attitude. They may not actually have any more free time, but they may be wasting more time than they want to admit with less
important things. Yet they still may complain about how much time they spend studying, as if there’s a
shortage of time.
People also diffier in how they respond to schedule changes. Some go with the flow and accept
changes easily, while others function well only when following a planned schedule and may become
upset if that schedule changes. If you do not react well to an unexpected disruption in your schedule,
plan extra time for catching up if something throws you offi. This is all part of understanding your time
Another aspect of your time personality involves time of day. If you need to concentrate, such as
when writing a class paper, are you more alert and focused in the morning, afternoon, or evening? Do
you concentrate best when you look forward to a relaxing activity later on, or do you study better when
you’ve finished all other activities? Do you function well if you get up early—or stay up late—to accomplish a task? How does that affiect the rest of your day or the next day? Understanding this will help you
better plan your study periods.
While you may not be able to change your “time personality,” you can learn to manage your time
more successfully. The key is to be realistic. How accurate is the number of hours you wrote down in
Activity 2? The best way to know how you spend your time is to record what you do all day in a time
log, every day for a week, and then add that up. Make copies of the time log in Figure 2.4 and carry it
with you. Every so often, fill in what you have been doing. Do this for a week before adding up the
times; then enter the total hours in the categories in Activity 2. You might be surprised that you spend
a lot more time than you thought just hanging out with friends—or surfing the Web or playing around
with Facebook or any of the many other things people do. You might find that you study well early in
the morning even though you thought you are a night person, or vice versa. You might learn how long
you can continue at a specific task before needing a break.
FIGURE 2.4 Daily Time Log
11 :00
11 :15
11 :30
11 :45
1 0:30
11 :00
11 :15
11 :30
11 :45
If you have work and family responsibilities, you may already know where many of your hours go. Although we all wish we had “more time,” the important thing is what we do with the time we have. Time
management strategies can help us better use the time we do have by creating a schedule that works for
our own time personality.
4.2 Time Management
Time management for successful college studying involves these factors:
Determining how much time you need to spend studying
< Knowing how much time you actually have for studying and increasing that time if needed
< Being aware of the times of day you are at your best and most focused
< Using effiective long- and short-term study strategies
< Scheduling study activities in realistic segments
< Using a system to plan ahead and set priorities
< Staying motivated to follow your plan and avoid procrastination
For every hour in the classroom, college students should spend, on average, about two hours on that
class, counting reading, studying, writing papers, and so on. If you’re a full-time student with fifteen
hours a week in class, then you need another thirty hours for rest of your academic work. That fortyfive hours is about the same as a typical full-time job. If you work part time, time management skills are
even more essential. These skills are still more important for part-time college students who work full
time and commute or have a family. To succeed in college, virtually everyone has to develop effiective
strategies for dealing with time.
Look back at the number of hours you wrote in Activity 2 for a week of studying. Do you have two
hours of study time for every hour in class? Many students begin college not knowing this much time is
needed, so don’t be surprised if you underestimated this number of hours. Remember this is just an average amount of study time—you may need more or less for your own courses. To be safe, and to help
ensure your success, add another five to ten hours a week for studying.
To reserve this study time, you may need to adjust how much time you spend in other activities.
Activity 3 will help you figure out what your typical week should look like.
3 :
G O ?
Plan for the ideal use of a week’s worth of time. Fill in your hours in this order:
Hours attending class
Study hours (2 times the number of class hours plus 5 or more hours extra)
Work, internships, and fixed volunteer time
Fixed life activities (sleeping, eating, hygiene, chores, transportation, etc.)
Now subtotal your hours so far and subtract that number from 168. How many hours are left?
Then portion out the remaining hours for “discretionary activities” (things you don’t have
to do for school, work, or a healthy life).
5. Discretionary activities
Category of activity
Number of hours per week
Attending class
Studying, reading, and researching (outside of class)
Working (employment)
Volunteer service or internship
Eating (including preparing food)
Personal hygiene (i.e., bathing, etc.)
Chores, cleaning, errands, shopping, etc.
Transportation to work or school
Getting to classes (walking, biking, etc.)
Subtotal: Discretionary
Organized group activities (clubs, church services, etc.)
Time with friends (include television, video games, etc.)
Attending events (movies, parties, etc.)
Time alone (include television, video games, surfing the Web, etc.)
Exercise or sports activities
Reading for fun or other interests done alone
Talking on phone, e-mail, Facebook, etc.
Note: If you find you have almost no time left for discretionary activities, you may be overestimating how
much time you need for eating, errands, and the like. Use the time log in Figure 2.4 to determine if you really
have to spend that much time on those things.
Activity 3 shows most college students that they do actually have plenty of time for their studies
without losing sleep or giving up their social life. But you may have less time for discretionary activities
than in the past. Something, somewhere has to give. That’s part of time management—and why it’s important to keep your goals and priorities in mind. The other part is to learn how to use the hours you
do have as effiectively as possible, especially the study hours. For example, if you’re a typical college
freshman who plans to study for three hours in an evening but then procrastinates, gets caught up in a
conversation, loses time to checking e-mail and text messages, and listens to loud music while reading a
textbook, then maybe you actually spent four hours “studying” but got only two hours of actual work
done. So you end up behind and feeling like you’re still studying way too much. The goal of time management is to actually get three hours of studying done in three hours and have time for your life as
Special note for students who work. You may have almost no discretionary time at all left in
Activity 3 after all your “must-do” activities. If so, you may have overextended yourself—a situation
that inevitably will lead to problems. You can’t sleep two hours less every night for the whole school
year, for example, without becoming ill or unable to concentrate well on work and school. It is better to
To intentionally (often
habitually) put something offi
until another day or time.
recognize this situation now rather than set yourself up for a very difflcult term and possible failure. If
you cannot cut the number of hours for work or other obligations, see your academic advisor right
away. It is better to take fewer classes and succeed than to take more classes than you have time for and
risk failure.
Time Management Strategies for Success
Following are some strategies you can begin using immediately to make the most of your time:
Prepare to be successful. When planning ahead for studying, think yourself into the right mood.
Focus on the positive. “When I get these chapters read tonight, I’ll be ahead in studying for the
next test, and I’ll also have plenty of time tomorrow to do X.” Visualize yourself studying well!
< Use your best—and most appropriate—time of day. Diffierent tasks require diffierent mental
skills. Some kinds of studying you may be able to start first thing in the morning as you wake,
while others need your most alert moments at another time.
< Break up large projects into small pieces. Whether it’s writing a paper for class, studying for a
final exam, or reading a long assignment or full book, students often feel daunted at the
beginning of a large project. It’s easier to get going if you break it up into stages that you schedule
at separate times—and then begin with the first section that requires only an hour or two.
< Do the most important studying first. When two or more things require your attention, do the
more crucial one first. If something happens and you can’t complete everything, you’ll suffier less
if the most crucial work is done.
< If you have trouble getting started, do an easier task first. Like large tasks, complex or difflcult
ones can be daunting. If you can’t get going, switch to an easier task you can accomplish quickly.
That will give you momentum, and often you feel more confident tackling the difflcult task after
being successful in the first one.
< If you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed because you have too much to do, revisit your time
planner. Sometimes it’s hard to get started if you keep thinking about other things you need to
get done. Review your schedule for the next few days and make sure everything important is
scheduled, then relax and concentrate on the task at hand.
< If you’re really floundering, talk to someone. Maybe you just don’t understand what you should
be doing. Talk with your instructor or another student in the class to get back on track.
< Take a break. We all need breaks to help us concentrate without becoming fatigued and burned
out. As a general rule, a short break every hour or so is effiective in helping recharge your study
energy. Get up and move around to get your blood flowing, clear your thoughts, and work offi
< Use unscheduled times to work ahead. You’ve scheduled that hundred pages of reading for later
today, but you have the textbook with you as you’re waiting for the bus. Start reading now, or flip
through the chapter to get a sense of what you’ll be reading later. Either way, you’ll save time
later. You may be amazed how much studying you can get done during downtimes throughout
the day.
< Keep your momentum. Prevent distractions, such as multitasking, that will only slow you down.
Check for messages, for example, only at scheduled break times.
< Reward yourself. It’s not easy to sit still for hours of studying. When you successfully complete
the task, you should feel good and deserve a small reward. A healthy snack, a quick video game
session, or social activity can help you feel even better about your successful use of time.
< Just say no. Always tell others nearby when you’re studying, to reduce the chances of being
interrupted. Still, interruptions happen, and if you are in a situation where you are frequently
interrupted by a family member, spouse, roommate, or friend, it helps to have your “no”
prepared in advance: “No, I really have to be ready for this test” or “That’s a great idea, but let’s
do it tomorrow—I just can’t today.” You shouldn’t feel bad about saying no—especially if you
told that person in advance that you needed to study.
< Have a life. Never schedule your day or week so full of work and study that you have no time at
all for yourself, your family and friends, and your larger life.
< Use a calendar planner and daily to-do list. We’ll look at these time management tools in the
next section.
4.3 Battling Procrastination
Procrastination is a way of thinking that lets one put offi doing something that should be done now.
This can happen to anyone at any time. It’s like a voice inside your head keeps coming up with these
brilliant ideas for things to do right now other than studying: “I really ought to get this room cleaned
up before I study” or “I can study anytime, but tonight’s the only chance I have to do X.” That voice is
also very good at rationalizing: “I really don’t need to read that chapter now; I’ll have plenty of time tomorrow at lunch.<”
Procrastination is very powerful. Some people battle it daily, others only occasionally. Most college
students procrastinate often, and about half say they need help avoiding procrastination. Procrastination can threaten one’s ability to do well on an assignment or test.
People procrastinate for diffierent reasons. Some people are too relaxed in their priorities, seldom
worry, and easily put offi responsibilities. Others worry constantly, and that stress keeps them from focusing on the task at hand. Some procrastinate because they fear failure; others procrastinate because
they fear success or are so perfectionistic that they don’t want to let themselves down. Some are dreamers. Many diffierent factors are involved, and there are diffierent styles of procrastinating.
Just as there are diffierent causes, there are diffierent possible solutions for procrastination. Diffierent strategies work for diffierent people. The time management strategies described earlier can help you
avoid procrastination. Because this is a psychological issue, some additional psychological strategies
can also help:
Since procrastination is usually a habit, accept that and work on breaking it as you would any
other bad habit: one day at a time. Know that every time you overcome feelings of
procrastination, the habit becomes weaker—and eventually you’ll have a new habit of being able
to start studying right away.
< Schedule times for studying using a daily or weekly planner. Carry it with you and look at it
often. Just being aware of the time and what you need to do today can help you get organized and
stay on track.
< If you keep thinking of something else you might forget to do later (making you feel like you
“must” do it now), write yourself a note about it for later and get it out of your mind.
< Counter a negative with a positive. If you’re procrastinating because you’re not looking forward
to a certain task, try to think of the positive future results of doing the work.
< Counter a negative with a worse negative. If thinking about the positive results of completing the
task doesn’t motivate you to get started, think about what could happen if you keep
procrastinating. You’ll have to study tomorrow instead of doing something fun you had planned.
Or you could fail the test. Some people can jolt themselves right out of procrastination.
< On the other hand, fear causes procrastination in some people—so don’t dwell on the thought of
failing. If you’re studying for a test, and you’re so afraid of failing it that you can’t focus on
studying and you start procrastinating, try to put things in perspective. Even if it’s your most
difflcult class and you don’t understand everything about the topic, that doesn’t mean you’ll fail,
even if you may not receive an A or a B.
< Study with a motivated friend. Form a study group with other students who are motivated and
won’t procrastinate along with you. You’ll learn good habits from them while getting the work
done now.
< Keep a study journal. At least once a day write an entry about how you have used your time and
whether you succeeded with your schedule for the day. If not, identify what factors kept you from
doing your work. (Use the form at the end of this chapter.) This journal will help you see your
own habits and distractions so that you can avoid things that lead to procrastination.
< Get help. If you really can’t stay on track with your study schedule, or if you’re always putting
things offi until the last minute, see a college counselor. They have lots of experience with this
common student problem and can help you find ways to overcome this habit.
4.4 Calendar Planners and To-Do Lists
Calendar planners and to-do lists are effiective ways to organize your time. Many types of academic
planners are commercially available (check your college bookstore), or you can make your own. Some
people like a page for each day, and some like a week at a time. Some use computer calendars and planners. Almost any system will work well if you use it consistently.
Some college students think they don’t need to actually write down their schedule and daily to-do
lists. They’ve always kept it in their head before, so why write it down in a planner now? Some firstyear students were talking about this one day in a study group, and one bragged that she had never had
to write down her calendar because she never forgot dates. Another student reminded her how she’d
forgotten a preregistration date and missed taking a course she really wanted because the class was full
by the time she went online to register. “Well,” she said, “except for that time, I never forget anything!”
Of course, none of us ever forgets anything—until we do.
Calendars and planners help you look ahead and write in important dates and deadlines so you
don’t forget. But it’s just as important to use the planner to schedule your own time, not just deadlines.
For example, you’ll learn later that the most effiective way to study for an exam is to study in several
short periods over several days. You can easily do this by choosing time slots in your weekly planner
over several days that you will commit to studying for this test. You don’t need to fill every time slot, or
to schedule every single thing that you do, but the more carefully and consistently you use your planner, the more successfully will you manage your time.
But a planner cannot contain every single thing that may occur in a day. We’d go crazy if we tried
to schedule every telephone call, every e-mail, every bill to pay, every trip to the grocery store. For these
items, we use a to-do list, which may be kept on a separate page in the planner.
Check the example of a weekly planner form in Figure 2.5. (You can copy this page and use it to
begin your schedule planning. By using this first, you will find out whether these time slots are big
enough for you or whether you’d prefer a separate planner page for each day.) Fill in this planner form
for next week. First write in all your class meeting times; your work or volunteer schedule; and your
usual hours for sleep, family activities, and any other activities at fixed times. Don’t forget time needed
for transportation, meals, and so on. Your first goal is to find all the blocks of “free time” that are left
Remember that this is an academic planner. Don’t try to schedule in everything in your life—this
is to plan ahead to use your study time most effiectively.
Next, check the syllabus for each of your courses and write important dates in the planner. If your
planner has pages for the whole term, write in all exams and deadlines. Use red ink or a highlighter for
these key dates. Write them in the hour slot for the class when the test occurs or when the paper is due,
for example. (If you don’t yet have a planner large enough for the whole term, use Figure 2.5 and write
any deadlines for your second week in the margin to the right. You need to know what’s coming next
week to help schedule how you’re studying this week.)
FIGURE 2.5 Weekly Planner
6-7 AM
11-12 PM
11-12 AM
Remember that for every hour spent in class, plan an average of two hours studying outside of class.
These are the time periods you now want to schedule in your planner. These times change from week
to week, with one course requiring more time in one week because of a paper due at the end of the
week and a different course requiring more the next week because of a major exam. Make sure you
block out enough hours in the week to accomplish what you need to do. As you choose your study
times, consider what times of day you are at your best and what times you prefer to use for social or
other activities.
Don’t try to micromanage your schedule. Don’t try to estimate exactly how many minutes you’ll
need two weeks from today to read a given chapter in a given textbook. Instead, just choose the blocks
of time you will use for your studies. Don’t yet write in the exact study activity—just reserve the block.
Next, look at the major deadlines for projects and exams that you wrote in earlier. Estimate how much
time you may need for each and work backward on the schedule from the due date. For example,
You have a short paper due on Friday. You determine that you’ll spend ten hours total on it, from
initial brainstorming and planning through to drafting and revising. Since you have other things
also going on that week, you want to get an early start; you might choose to block an hour a week
ahead on Saturday morning, to brainstorm your topic, and jot some preliminary notes. Monday
evening is a good time to spend two hours on the next step or prewriting activities. Since you have
a lot of time open Tuesday afternoon, you decide that’s the best time to reserve to write the first
draft; you block out three or four hours. You make a note on the schedule to leave time open that
afternoon to see your instructor during offlce hours in case you have any questions on the paper; if
not, you’ll finish the draft or start revising. Thursday, you schedule a last block of time to revise and
polish the final draft due tomorrow.
If you’re surprised by this amount of planning, you may be the kind of student who used to think,
“The paper’s due Friday—I have enough time Thursday afternoon, so I’ll write it then.” What’s wrong
with that? First, college work is more demanding than many first-year students realize, and the instructor expects higher-quality work than you can churn out quickly without revising. Second, if you
are tired on Thursday because you didn’t sleep well Wednesday night, you may be much less productive than you hoped—and without a time buffier, you’re forced to turn in a paper that is not your best
Figure 2.6 shows what one student’s schedule looks like for a week. This is intended only to show
you one way to block out time—you’ll quickly find a way that works best for you.
FI GU R E 2 .6 Example of a Student’s Weekly Planner Page with Class Times and Important Study
Here are some more tips for successful schedule planning:
Studying is often most effiective immediately after a class meeting. If your schedule allows, block
out appropriate study time after class periods.
< Be realistic about time when you make your schedule. If your class runs to four o’clock and it
takes you twenty minutes to wrap things up and reach your study location, don’t figure you’ll
have a full hour of study between four o’clock and five o’clock.
< Don’t overdo it. Few people can study four or five hours nonstop, and scheduling extended time
periods like that may just set you up for failure.
< Schedule social events that occur at set times, but just leave holes in the schedule for other
activities. Enjoy those open times and recharge your energies!
< Try to schedule some time for exercise at least three days a week.
< Plan to use your time between classes wisely. If three days a week you have the same hour free
between two classes, what should you do with those three hours? Maybe you need to eat, walk
across campus, or run an errand. But say you have an average forty minutes free at that time on
each day. Instead of just frittering the time away, use it to review your notes from the previous
class or for the coming class or to read a short assignment. Over the whole term, that forty
minutes three times a week adds up to a lot of study time.
< If a study activity is taking longer than you had scheduled, look ahead and adjust your weekly
planner to prevent the stress of feeling behind.
< If you maintain your schedule on your computer or smartphone, it’s still a good idea to print and
carry it with you. Don’t risk losing valuable study time if you’re away from the device.
< If you’re not paying close attention to everything in your planner, use a colored highlighter to
mark the times blocked out for really important things.
< When following your schedule, pay attention to starting and stopping times. If you planned to
start your test review at four o’clock after an hour of reading for a diffierent class, don’t let the
reading run long and take time away from studying for the test.
Your Daily To-Do List
People use to-do lists in diffierent ways, and you should find what works best for you. As with your
planner, consistent use of your to-do list will make it an effiective habit.
Some people prefer not to carry their planner everywhere but instead copy the key information for
the day onto a to-do list. Using this approach, your daily to-do list starts out with your key scheduled
activities and then adds other things you hope to do today.
Some people use their to-do list only for things not on their planner, such as short errands, phone
calls or e-mail, and the like. This still includes important things—but they’re not scheduled out for specific times.
Although we call it a daily list, the to-do list can also include things you may not get to today but
don’t want to forget about. Keeping these things on the list, even if they’re a low priority, helps ensure
that eventually you’ll get to it.
Start every day with a fresh to-do list written in a special small notebook or on a clean page in your
planner. Check your planner for key activities for the day and check yesterday’s list for items
Some items won’t require much time, but other activities such as assignments will. Include a time
estimate for these so that later you can do them when you have enough free time. If you finish lunch
and have twenty-five minutes left before your next class, what things on the list can you do now and
check offi?
Finally, use some system to prioritize things on your list. Some students use a 1, 2, 3 or A, B, C rating system for importance. Others simply highlight or circle items that are critical to get done today.
Figure 2.7 shows two diffierent to-do lists—each very diffierent but each effiective for the student using it.
FI GU R E 2 .7 Examples of Two Different Students’ To-Do Lists
Use whatever format works best for you to prioritize or highlight the most important activities.
Here are some more tips for effiectively using your daily to-do list:
Be specific: “Read history chapter 2 (30 pages)”—not “History homework.”
Put important things high on your list where you’ll see them every time you check the list.
< Make your list at the same time every day so that it becomes a habit.
< Don’t make your list overwhelming. If you added everything you eventually need to do, you could
end up with so many things on the list that you’d never read through them all. If you worry you
might forget something, write it in the margin of your planner’s page a week or two away.
< Use your list. Lists often include little things that may take only a few minutes to do, so check
your list any time during the day you have a moment free.
< Cross out or check offi things after you’ve done them—doing this becomes rewarding.
< Don’t use your to-do list to procrastinate. Don’t pull it out to find something else you just “have”
to do instead of studying!
4.5 Time Management Tips for Students Who Work
If you’re both working and taking classes, you seldom have large blocks of free time. Avoid temptations
to stay up very late studying, for losing sleep can lead to a downward spiral in performance at both
work and school. Instead, try to follow these guidelines:
If possible, adjust your work or sleep hours so that you don’t spend your most productive times
at work. If your job offiers flex time, arrange your schedule to be free to study at times when you
perform best.
< Try to arrange your class and work schedules to minimize commuting time. If you are a part- time
student taking two classes, taking classes back-to-back two or three days a week uses less time
than spreading them out over four or five days. Working four ten-hour days rather than five
eight-hour days reduces time lost to travel, getting ready for work, and so on.
If you can’t arrange an effiective schedule for classes and work, consider online courses that allow
you to do most of the work on your own time.
< Use your daily and weekly planner conscientiously. Any time you have thirty minutes or more
free, schedule a study activity.
< Consider your “body clock” when you schedule activities. Plan easier tasks for those times when
you’re often fatigued and reserve alert times for more demanding tasks.
< Look for any “hidden” time potentials. Maybe you prefer the thirty-minute drive to work over a
forty-five-minute train ride. But if you can read on the train, that’s a gain of ninety minutes every
day at the cost of thirty minutes longer travel time. An hour a day can make a huge diffierence in
your studies.
< Can you do quick study tasks during slow times at work? Take your class notes with you and use
even five minutes of free time wisely.
< Remember your long-term goals. You need to work, but you also want to finish your college
program. If you have the opportunity to volunteer for some overtime, consider whether it’s really
worth it. Sure, the extra money would help, but could the extra time put you at risk for not doing
well in your classes?
< Be as organized on the job as you are academically. Use your planner and to-do list for work
matters, too. The better organized you are at work, the less stress you’ll feel—and the more
successful you’ll be as a student also.
< If you have a family as well as a job, your time is even more limited. In addition to the previous
tips, try some of the strategies that follow.
4.6 Time Management Tips for Students with Family
Living with family members often introduces additional time stresses. You may have family obligations
that require careful time management. Use all the strategies described earlier, including family time in
your daily plans the same as you would hours spent at work. Don’t assume that you’ll be “free” every
hour you’re home, because family events or a family member’s need for your assistance may occur at
unexpected times. Schedule your important academic work well ahead and in blocks of time you control. See also the earlier suggestions for controlling your space: you may need to use the library or another space to ensure you are not interrupted or distracted during important study times.
Students with their own families are likely to feel time pressures. After all, you can’t just tell your
partner or kids that you’ll see them in a couple years when you’re not so busy with job and college! In
addition to all the planning and study strategies discussed so far, you also need to manage your family
relationships and time spent with family. While there’s no magical solution for making more hours in
the day, even with this added time pressure there are ways to balance your life well:
Talk everything over with your family. If you’re going back to school, your family members may
not have realized changes will occur. Don’t let them be shocked by sudden household changes.
Keep communication lines open so that your partner and children feel they’re together with you
in this new adventure. Eventually you will need their support.
< Work to enjoy your time together, whatever you’re doing. You may not have as much time
together as previously, but cherish the time you do have—even if it’s washing dishes together or
cleaning house. If you’ve been studying for two hours and need a break, spend the next ten
minutes with family instead of checking e-mail or watching television. Ultimately, the important
thing is being together, not going out to movies or dinners or the special things you used to do
when you had more time. Look forward to being with family and appreciate every moment you
are together, and they will share your attitude.
FI G U RE 2 . 8
Combine activities to get the most out of time. Don’t let your children watch
television or play video games offi by themselves while you’re cooking dinner, or
Make the most of your time with family, since
you may find you have only twenty minutes family time together while eating.
you’ll also need time alone for studying.
Instead, bring the family together in the kitchen and give everyone something to
do. You can have a lot of fun together and share the day’s experiences, and you
won’t feel so bad then if you have to go offi and study by yourself.
< Share the load. Even children who are very young can help with household chores
to give you more time. Attitude is everything: try to make it fun, the whole family
pulling together—not something they “have” to do and may resent, just because
Mom or Dad went back to school. (Remember, your kids will reach college age
someday, and you want them to have a good attitude about college.) As they get
older, they can do their own laundry, cook meals, and get themselves offi to
school, and older teens can run errands and do the grocery shopping. They will
gain in the process by becoming more responsible and independent.
< Schedule your study time based on family activities. If you face interruptions
© Thinkstock
from young children in the early evening, use that time for something simple like
reviewing class notes. When you need more quiet time for concentrated reading,
wait until they’ve gone to bed.
< Be creative with child care. Usually options are available, possibly involving extended family
members, sitters, older siblings, cooperative child care with other adult students, as well as childcare centers. After a certain age, you can take your child along to campus when you attend an
evening course, if there is somewhere the child can quietly read. At home, let your child have a
friend over to play with. Network with other older students and learn what has worked for them.
Explore all possibilities to ensure you have time to meet your college goals. And don’t feel guilty:
“day care babies” grow up just as healthy psychologically as those raised in the home full time.
4.7 Time Management Tips for Student Athletes
Student athletes often face unique time pressures because of the amount of time required for training,
practice, and competition. During some parts of the year, athletics may involve as many hours as a fulltime job. The athletic schedule can be grueling, involving weekend travel and intensive blocks of time.
You can be exhausted after workouts or competitions, affiecting how well you can concentrate on studies thereafter. Students on athletic scholarships often feel their sport is their most important reason for
being in college, and this priority can affiect their attitudes toward studying. For all of these reasons,
student athletes face special time management challenges. Here are some tips for succeeding in both
your sport and academics:
Realize that even if your sport is more important to you, you risk everything if you don’t also
succeed in your academics. Failing one class in your first year won’t get you kicked out, but you’ll
have to make up that class—and you’ll end up spending more time on the subject than if you’d
studied more to pass it the first time.
< It’s critical to plan ahead. If you have a big test or a paper due the Monday after a big weekend
game, start early. Use your weekly planner to plan well in advance, making it a goal, for example,
to have the paper done by Friday—instead of thinking you can magically get it done Sunday night
after victory celebrations. Working ahead will also free your mind to focus better on your sport.
< Accept that you have two priorities—your sport and your classes—and that both come before
your social life. That’s just how it is—what you have accepted in your choice to be a college
athlete. If it helps, think of your classes as your job; you have to “go to study” the same as others
“go to work.”
< Use your planner to take advantage of any downtime you have during the day between classes
and at lunch. Other students may seem to have the luxury of studying during much of the
afternoon when you’re at practice, and maybe they can get away with hanging out between
classes, but you don’t have that time available, at least not during the season. You need to use all
the time you can find to keep up with your studying.
< Stay on top of your courses. If you allow yourself to start slipping behind, maybe telling yourself
you’ll have more time later on to catch up, just the opposite will happen. Once you get behind,
you’ll lose momentum and find it more difflcult to understand what’s going on the class.
Eventually the stress will affiect your athletic performance also.
< Get help when you need it. Many athletic departments offier tutoring services or referrals for extra
help. But don’t wait until you’re at risk for failing a class before seeking help. A tutor won’t take
your test or write your paper for you—they can only help you focus in to use your time
productively in your studies. You still have to want to succeed.
People “use” time very diffierently. To develop strategies for managing your time, discover your time
personality and observe how much time you spend in diffierent activities in the course of a week.
Plan your schedule with two hours of study time for each hour in class. Use your most alert times of day,
break up large tasks into smaller pieces and stages, take breaks to help you stay focused, avoid distractions,
and reward yourself for successful accomplishments.
Procrastination has many diffierent causes for diffierent people but is a problem for most students. Diffierent
techniques can help you battle procrastination so you can get the job done.
Use a weekly calendar planner to block out study times and plan well ahead for examinations and key
assignments to achieve success in school.
Use a daily to-do list along with your weekly planner to avoid overlooking even smaller tasks and to make
the most of your time throughout the day.
Students who work, live with family, or are athletes often face significant time pressures and must make a
special effiort to stay organized and plan ahead for efflcient studying.
1. What time(s) of day are you at your most alert?
What time(s) of day are you at your least alert?
2. What category of discretionary activity (not sleeping, working, studying, etc.) represents your largest use of
Can you reduce the time you spend in that activity if you need more time for your coursework?
3. For each of the following statements about time management, circle T for true or F for false:
T F Think yourself into a positive mood before starting to study.
T F Always study just before going to sleep so that you’ll dream about the topic.
T F Break up larger projects into smaller parts and stages.
T F Get everything done on your to-do list before studying so that you’re not distracted.
T F When feeling stressed by a project, put it offi until tomorrow.
T F Talk with your instructor or another student if you’re having difflculty.
T F Try to study at least three hours at a time before taking a break.
T F Reward yourself for successfully completing a task.
T F Avoid studying at times not written in on your weekly planner; these are all free times just for fun.
T F Whenever interrupted by a friend, use that opportunity to take a break for up to thirty minutes.
T F Turn offi all electronic devices when reading an assignment except for your laptop if you use it to
take notes.
T F Since people procrastinate when they’re distracted by other things that need doing, it’s best to
delay studying until you’ve done everything else first.
T F Studying with a friend is a sure way to waste time and develop poor study habits.
T F Use a study journal to observe how you use your time and determine what things are keeping you
from getting your work done.
T F There’s no reason to keep a weekly calendar if all your instructors have provided you with a syllabus
that gives the dates for all assignments and tests.
T F Studying for a particular class is most effiective immediately after that class meets.
4. Without looking at your planner, to-do list, or anything else in writing, quickly write a list of everything you
need to do in the next few days. Then look through your planner, to-do list, and any other class notes for
anything you missed. What might you have forgotten or delayed if you weren’t keeping a planner and todo list?
5. Without looking at your weekly or daily schedule, think about your typical week and the times you have
free when not in class, working, studying, eating, socializing, and so on. List at least three “downtimes”
when you don’t usually study that you can use for coursework when necessary.
Chapter Takeaways
It’s important to have short-, mid-, and long-term goals that are specific, realistic, time oriented, and
attainable. Goals help you set priorities and remain motivated and committed to your college
Attitude is the largest factor determining success in college. Work to stay positive and surround
yourself with positive people, and you’ll find you are motivated to carry out the activities that will
help you succeed in your courses.
Planning ahead, and then following your plan, is the essence of time management. Organize both
your space and your time to develop the best study habits. Learning strategies to stay on track, avoid
distractions of people and technology, and to prevent procrastination will pay offi not only in college
but also in your career thereafter.
Plan your use of time based on your “time personality” after assessing how you typically use your free
time. Then use an academic weekly and daily planner to schedule blocks of time most efflciently.
Start well ahead of deadlines to prevent last-minute stresses and problems completing your work.
Because many college students have significant time commitments with work, family, athletics, or
other activities, time management techniques are among the most important skills you can learn to
help ensure your success.
1. Describe the characteristics of well-written goals.
2. List at least four or five things you can do to develop a positive attitude.
3. What have you personally found helps motivate you to sit down and start studying?
4. Describe the most important characteristics of an effiective study space.
5. How can you prepare for unplanned interruptions while studying?
6. After you have analyzed how you typically spend time and have blocked out study periods for the week,
you may still have difflculty using that study time well. List additional time management strategies that
can help you make the most of the time that you do have.
7. If you find yourself procrastinating, what can you do to get back on track?
8. What can go wrong if you try to micromanage every minute of the day?
What should you do, instead?
9. Realizing that any action repeated consistently and frequently will soon become a habit, what should you
do with your academic planner every day and every week to establish a strong habit that will help ensure
your success in all your college courses to come?
Make seven copies of the “Study Journal” page following. Near the end of the day, every day for the next week,
spend a few minutes reviewing your day and writing answers to those questions. At the end of the week, review what you have written and summarize what you observe about your study tendencies by answering
these questions:
1. Did you usually get as much, more, or less schoolwork done as you had scheduled for the day?
If you got less done, was the problem due to scheduling more time than you actually had, or not
making effiective use of the scheduled blocks of time?
2. List the steps you will follow to make your scheduling process work better next week.
3. What other things did you do repeatedly during the week when you should have been studying?
4. What were the most common distractions (people or other interruptions) during the week when you
were studying?
5. List ways you can control your study space to avoid these activities and prevent these distractions next
6. Do you see a pattern in the activities you least enjoyed and had difflculty getting started on?
7. Review Chapter 2, Section 3 and Chapter 2, Section 4 for specific strategies to use to stay focused and
motivated. Make a list here of five or more things you will do diffierently next week if studying becomes
difflcult or less enjoyable.
Study Journal for Date:
a. My daily planner had scheduled
hours of academic time today (not counting time in class). It
turned out that I actually spent about
hours on my studies.
At some times I was scheduled to study or do academic work, I was doing this instead:
b. The academic time I most enjoyed today was doing
I enjoyed this most because
c. The academic time I least most enjoyed today was doing
I enjoyed this least because
d. I had the most difflculty getting started on this study activity:
e. I did my studying and other academic work in these places:
f. During the time I was studying, I was interrupted by these people:
Other interruptions included the following (phone calls, e-mail, etc.):
I have not yet set realistic, specific, and time-oriented goals for the following:
In the coming weeks and months, I will think about and clarify these goals:
Planning Ahead
Too often in the past, I have not started early enough on these kinds of school assignments and studying:
To ensure I successfully plan ahead to complete all work on time in the future, I will do the following:
I have most difflculty maintaining a positive attitude at the following times:
I can do the following things to “adjust” my attitude at these times to help ensure my success:
Focus and Motivation
When I’m not feeling motivated to work on my studies, I often do these things instead:
I will try to use these strategies to keep motivated and focused on my studies in the future:
Study Space
I have the following problems with the places where I usually study now:
I will make the following changes in my study space (or I will try these new places) to help prevent
Time Management
I often feel I don’t have enough time for my college work for the following reasons:
I will start using these techniques to make sure I use my available time well:
Thinking about Thought
FI G U RE 3 . 1
© Thinkstock
Where Are You Now?
Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.
Yes Unsure No
1. I am a good problem solver.
2. I am considered creative by my friends.
3. I have good judgment.
4. I find it easy to make decisions quickly.
5. My decisions usually turn out to be good decisions.
6. I like to think things through before speaking.
7. I am not shy about asking questions when I don’t understand something.
8. I enjoy good discussions and arguments.
9. I regularly practice an art form (music, acting, painting, etc.)
10. I enjoy hearing other people’s points of view, even when I disagree with them.
11. I usually question information presented as fact on the Internet or television.
Where Do You Want to Go?
Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself. On a scale of 1 to 10, how
would you rate your level of thinking skills at this time?
Poor thinking skills
Excellent thinking skills
In the following list, circle the three most important areas in which you think you can improve:
Applying information
Analyzing information
Thinking critically
Asking questions about information
Evaluating information
Coming up with new ideas
Solving problems
Making decisions
Identifying weaknesses in ideas
Choosing sources for research
Are there other areas in which you can improve your thinking skills? Write down other things you feel you
need to work on.
How to Get There
Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:
Understanding what makes thinking in college diffierent from thinking in high school
Learning how to think
Knowing the types of thinking
Recognizing why all types of thinking are important
Understanding what critical thinking is
Recognizing and avoiding logical fallacies and faulty assumptions
Establishing critical thinking habits
Researching and thinking critically
Understanding what creative thinking is
Developing creative thinking habits
Solving problems
Making decisions
Throughout this book, we make the case that college is really quite diffierent from high school. Sure, the
social life is diffierent, and there are diffierent pressures in college, perhaps a family to support or a job
schedule to coordinate with studies. But the two most fundamental diffierences involve expectations—the expectation that you will be independent and take responsibility for your actions and the expectation that you will think for yourself.
Remember the heavy “thinking” you did in high school? Most of it was recalling facts or information you had previously committed to memory. Perhaps in some courses you were asked to support a
statement or hypothesis using content from your textbook or class. Your thinking in high school was
very structured and tied closely to reflecting what was taught in class.
In college, you are expected to think for yourself; to access and evaluate new approaches and ideas;
to contribute to your knowledge base; and to develop or create new, fresh ideas. You will be required to
develop and use a variety of thinking skills—higher-order thinking skills—which you seldom used in
high school. In college, your instructors’ roles will be not only to supply a base of new information and
ideas, as good instructors will challenge you to stretch your skills and knowledge base through critical
and creative thinking. Much of their teaching involves the questions they ask, not the directions they
give. Your success in college education—and in life beyond college—is directly linked to becoming a
better and more complete thinker. Becoming a better and more complete thinker requires mastering
some skills and consistent practice.
1. Understand that there are diffierent types of thinking.
2. Identify how each type of thinking contributes to learning.
So what are the various types of thinking skills, and what kind things are we doing when we apply
them? In the 1950s, Benjamin Bloom developed a classification of thinking skills that is still helpful
today; it is known as Bloom’s taxonomy. He lists six types of thinking skills, ranked in order of complexity: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Figure 3.2 outlines
each skill and what is involved in that type of thinking, as updated by Lorin Anderson and David
Bloom’s taxonomy
A classification of thinking
skills developed by Benjamin
Bloom. In order of increasing
complexity, they are
knowledge, comprehension,
application, analysis,
synthesis, and evaluation.
FIGURE 3.2 TypesofThinkingSkills
Thinking Skill
What It Involves
1. Remembering
and Recalling
Retrieving or repeating information or ideas from
memory.This is the first and most basic thinking skill you
develop (starting as a toddler with learning numbers,
letters,and colors).
2. Understanding
Interpreting,constructing meaning,inferring,or explaining
material from written,spoken, or graphic sources.Reading
is the most common understanding skill; these skills are
developed starting with early education.
3. Applying
Using learned materialor implementing material in new
situations.This skill is commonly used starting in middle
school(in some cases earlier).
4. Analyzing
Breaking material or concepts into key elements and
determining how the parts relate to one another or to an
overall structure or purpose.Mental actions included in
this skill are examining,contrasting or differentiating,
separating,categorizing,experimenting,and deducing.
You most likely started developing this skill in high school
(particularly in science courses) and will continue to
practice it in college.
All of these thinking skills are important for college work (and life in the "real world," too). You've
likely had a great deal of experience with the lower-level thinking skills (yellow section). The midlevel
skills are skills you will get a lot of practice with in college, and you may be well on your way to mastering them already. The higher-level thinking skills (red section) are the most demanding, and you will
need to invest focused effort to develop them.
E X E R C I S E :
Think about Figure 3.2. Are you using all six thinking skills? Reflect on your schoolwork in the past three weeks
and identify specific examples where you used each of the thinking skills. Use the comment column to write
notes about the skills that are second nature to you and those you would like to develop further.
Skill Set
How You Used It in the Past Three Weeks Comments
Remembering and Recalling
Look at the lists of things you actually did in each case. Notice that there are certain verbs that apply to each
skill set. When you see those verbs as a prompt in an assignment or an exam, you will know what kind of
thinking the instructor expects from you. Table 3.1 lists some of the most common verbs associated with each
thinking skill.
Thinking Verbs
Skill Set
Bookmark, count, describe, draw, enumerate, find, google, identify, label, list, match, name,
Remembering quote, recall, recite, search, select, sequence, tell, write
and Recalling
Blog, conclude, describe, discuss, explain, generalize, identify, illustrate, interpret,
Understanding paraphrase, predict, report, restate, review, summarize, tell, tweet
3. Applying
Apply, articulate, change, chart, choose, collect, compute, control, demonstrate, determine,
do, download, dramatize, imitate, implement, interview, install (as in software), participate,
prepare, produce, provide, report, role-play, run (software), select, share, show, solve,
transfer, use
4. Analyzing
Analyze, break down, characterize, classify, compare, contrast, debate, deduce, diagram,
diffierentiate, discriminate, distinguish, examine, infer, link, outline, relate, research, reverseengineer, separate, subdivide, tag
5. Evaluating Appraise, argue, assess, beta test, choose, collaborate, compare, contrast, conclude, critique,
criticize, decide, defend, “friend/de-friend,” evaluate, judge, justify, network, post, predict,
prioritize, prove, rank, rate, review, select, support
6. Creating
Adapt, animate, blog, combine, compose, construct, create, design, develop, devise, film,
formulate, integrate, invent, make, model, modify, organize, perform, plan, podcast,
produce, program, propose, rearrange, remix, revise, rewrite, structure
Throughout this book, we give tips that will help you develop your thinking skills. You have read about
the learning cycle and the importance of applying your knowledge. You will learn tips for remembering
information from your notes and classes. Preparing for class requires you to analyze what you know
and what you need to learn. The sections on listening and reading will help you develop your understanding skills. Look for those tips and practice them.
In this chapter, we will focus on critical thinking (evaluating) and creative thinking. They deserve
specific focus because they are likely to be the skills you have least practice with. These are the skills
most helpful for success in college and in “real life.” Creative thinking will help you come up with possible solutions for problems and new ideas. Critical thinking will help you decide which of those ideas
have most merit and deserve to be implemented.
We use diffierent types of thinking skills to address diffierent requirements, and these skills are classified in
Bloom’s taxonomy.
You have been using many thinking skills since childhood.
Two very important thinking skills you will need to develop for success in college and in life are critical (or
evaluative) thinking and creative thinking.
1. List three verbs that are associated with application skills.
2. What is another name for “evaluation” thinking skills?
3. What thinking skills are associated with each of the following?
a. Compose and design:
Tweet and describe:
Break down and discriminate:
Rank and beta test:
e. Enumerate and google:
Understand what critical thinking is and why it’s important.
Identify logical pitfalls.
Discover assumptions and biases.
Practice problem solving and decision making.
Know the power of questions.
Evaluate information (on and offi the Internet).
Americans Have Access to…
1 million new books each year
5,500 magazines
10,500 radio stations
65,000 iPhone apps
1,000,000,000,000 Web pages[2]
In today’s environment, it is not so critical to “know” a great deal of information. The list above indicates how much information we can easily access. In fact, the abundance of information might be the
greater challenge. Your success will depend on what you can do with the information, not just on what
you know. How we filter and use that abundance of data is the reason critical thinking has become so
important today.
Critical thinking is the ability to discover the value of an idea, a set of beliefs, a claim, or an argument. It requires you to use logic and reasoning to evaluate evidence or information to make a decision
or reach a conclusion. Critical thinking is
a foundation for effiective communication,
the principal skill used in effiective decision making,
< at the core of creating new knowledge,
< a way to uncover bias and prejudices.
Critical thinking is a part of everyday life, too. Decisions you make can have a lasting impact on your
life, and these decisions benefit from critical thinking. Did you ever decide to quit smoking or to lose
weight? Were you successful? How did you decide to attend the college you are in? Was that the right
choice for you? In any of these cases, could you have made a better decision if you had better or more
critical thinking
The ability to discover the
value of an idea, a set of
beliefs, a claim, or an
argument. It requires you to
use logic and reasoning to
evaluate evidence or
information to make a
decision or reach a
3.1 The Critical Thinking Process
The critical thinking process is really nothing more than asking the right questions to understand a
problem or issue and then gathering the data you need to complete the decision or take sides on an
What is the problem or issue I am considering really about? Understanding this is key to successful critical thinking. What is the objective? A position? A decision? Are you deciding what candidate in
an election will do a better overall job, or are you looking to strengthen the political support for a particular cause? Are you really against a recommendation from your dad, or are you using the issue to establish your independence?
Do you understand the terms related to the issue? Are you in agreement with the proponent’s
definitions? For example, if you are evaluating a quotation on the health-care system for use in a paper,
your objective might be to decide to use the quotation or not, but before you can make that decision
you need to understand what the writer is really saying. If a term like “family” is used, for example,
does it mean direct relations or extended family?
What are my options? What are choices that are available to you (if you are making a decision), or
what are the “sides” (in the case of a position) you might choose to agree with? What are their diffierences? What are the likely consequences of each option? In making a decision, it might be helpful to
ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that might happen in each scenario?” Examining diffierent points
of view is very important; there may be dozens of alternative viewpoints to a particular issue—and the
validity of each can change depending on circumstances. A position that is popular or politically correct today may not have been a year ago, and there is no guarantee it will be right in the future. Likewise, a solution to a personal problem that was successful for your roommate may not apply to you.
Remember also that sometimes the best option might be a combination of the options you identify
What do I know about each option? First, make sure you have all the information about each option. Do you have all the information to support each of your likely options? What is still missing?
Where can you get the information you need? Keep an open mind and don’t dismiss supporting information on any position before you evaluate it carefully.
How good is my information? Now it’s time to evaluate the quality of the support of each option
or point of view. Evaluate the strengths and the weaknesses of each piece of supporting evidence. Are
all the relevant facts presented? Are some facts presented in misleading ways? Are enough examples
presented to support the premise? Consider the source of the supporting information. Who is the expert presenting the facts? That “expert” may have a vested interest in the position. Consider that bias,
more for understanding the point of view than for rejecting it. Consider your own opinions (especially
when working with emotional issues); are your emotional ties to a point of view getting in your way of
clear thinking (your own biases)? If you really like a particular car model, are you giving the financial
implications of buying that car a fair consideration? Are there any errors or fallacies in your logic? (See
Table 3.2.)
Fallacies are defects in logic that weaken arguments. You should learn to identify them in your
own thinking so you can strengthen your positions, as well as in the arguments of others when evaluating their strength.
A personal inclination that
may prevent unprejudiced
consideration of a question.
Defects in logic that weaken
TABLE 3 .2 Fallacies and How to Avoid Them
Generalizations Making assumptions Engineering
about a whole group students are nerds.
of people based on an
inadequate sample. economics class is
boring, and my
friend says her
economic class is
too—therefore all
economics classes
are boring.
False Cause
Drawing improper
conclusions through
sequencing. If A
comes before B, then
A causes B.
How to Avoid It in Your Own Thinking
What kind of sample are you using? Is it large
enough to support the conclusions? You may
want to increase your sample size or draw a
more modest conclusion by using the word
“some” or “many.”
I studied biology When making causal statements, be sure you
last term, and this can explain the process through which A causes
B beyond their mere sequence.
term I’m taking
organic chem,
which is very
confusing. Biology
makes chemistry
Personalizations Also known by their
Latin names (ad
hominem, or “against
the man,” and tu
quoque, or “you too”).
Inserting personalities
inappropriately into
an argument.
Common in political
Against the man: I Focus on the merits and supporting data of an
won’t support
argument, not on the personality or behavior of
Senator Smith’s
the people making the arguments.
education bill. He’s
had a mistress and
marital problems.
Everyone Does
Also known by its
Latin name (ad
populum, or “against
many”). Justifying an
issue based solely on
the number of people
You too: A parent The popular position is not always the right one.
explains the
Be wary of arguments that rely exclusively on
evidence of the
one set of numbers.
risks of binge
drinking. The child
rejects the
arguments, saying,
“When you were
my age, you drank
It’s healthy to
drink only soda;
millions of
American kids do.
Appealing to
Using an endorsement
from someone as a
primary reason for
supporting a point of
We should oppose
higher taxes; Curt
Schilling does.
Pitcher Curt
Schilling may be a
credible authority
on baseball, but is
he an authority on
Quoting authorities is a valuable tool to build an
argument; make sure the authorities you quote
are truly subject matter experts on the issue you
are discussing.
Weak Analogy
Using irrelevant
similarities in two
objects to draw a
Cars and
motorcycles are
both driven at
high speeds on
the highway. Car
drivers aren’t
required to wear
helmets, so
motorcycle riders
shouldn’t have to
You can draw an analogy between just about
any two objects or ideas. If you are using an
analogy, make sure you identify the properties
relevant to the argument you are making and
see if both share those properties. (In the
example, the motorcycle does not provide
protection to the rider, but the car does.
Equating the two vehicles based on traveling
speed is not relevant to the argument.)
Setting up a situation
in which it looks like
there are only two
possible options. If
one option is
discredited, the other
must be accepted.
The classic
example here is
“America, love it or
leave it.”
Examine your own thinking. Are there really only
two options? Look for the third option. If you
were asked to develop a compromise between
the two positions, what would it look like? What
would its strengths and weaknesses be?
You will need to use critical thinking throughout your college years and beyond. Here are some common critical thinking situations and the kinds of questions you should ask to apply critical thinking.
Note that critical thinking is central to themes covered in detail throughout this book.
Personal choices. Examples include “What should I major in?” and “Should I buy a new car?”
What do you know about each of your options? What is the quality of that information? Where
can you get more (reliable) information? How do those options relate to your financial and
emotional needs? What are the pros and cons of each option? Are you open to the points of view
of others who may be involved? (See Chapter 11 and Chapter 12.)
< Reading, listening, note taking, and studying. What are the core messages of the instructor or
author? Why are they important? How do these messages relate to one another or diffier? (This is
covered in much more detail in Chapter 4 and Chapter 5.)
< Research papers. What evidence do you need to support your thesis? What sources are available
for that evidence? Are they reliable sources? Are there any fallacies in your argument? (This is
covered in more detail in Chapter 8.)
< Essay questions on exams. What is the professor really asking you to do? What do you know
about the question? What is your personal belief about the question? What are the beliefs or
biases of the professor or quoted authors? What are the arguments against your point of view?
What are the most important pieces of evidence you should offier to support your answer? (This
covered in more detail in Chapter 6.)
Tips for Critical Thinking
Consider all points of view; seriously consider more than two (look for grey areas).
Keep an open mind.
Answer three questions about your supporting data:
1. Is it enough support?
2. Is it the right support?
3. Is it credible?
Look for evidence that contradicts your point of view. Pretend to disagree with the position you are
supporting. What parts of your argument are weak? Do you have the supporting facts to overcome
that evidence?
Create a set of criteria you will use to evaluate the strength of information you want to use to support
your argument. Ask questions like these:
What is the source of this information?
Is the author well respected in the field?
When was this information developed? Is that important? Why?
Does the author or publisher have an agenda for publishing the information? How does that
agenda affiect the credibility of the information?
Create a table on which you list your main points, then for each one, list the evidence you have to
support it. This method will help you visually identify where you have weak evidence and what
points actually lack evidence.
Be willing to admit that you lack information to support a point of view or make a decision. Ask
questions or do some focused research to get what you still need.
Make sure that your assumptions and points of view are supported by facts, not opinions.
Learn what types of fallacies you use habitually, and then be on the lookout for them. Writers will
often rely on certain types of arguments as a matter of habit. Review some of your old papers to
identify which fallacies you need to avoid.
Question your characterizations of others. Are those authorities truly competent in the area you are
considering? Are you attacking the opponents of your point of view rather than attacking their
Be careful of broad generalizations. Claims that use absolute words like “all,” “none,” “always,” “never,”
“no one,” and “everyone” require much more proof than claims that use words like “most,” “some,”
“often,” “rarely,” “sometimes,” and so on.
An Internet address; URL
stands for “uniform resource
Where Did That Come From?
One of the most consistent uses for critical thinking in your college work is in considering the value of research
material and deciding how to use it. The Internet gives you access to an almost unlimited amount of data, and
you must choose what to use carefully. Following are some guidelines.
1. Look at the URL, the Web address. It can give you important information about the reliability and
intentions of the site. Start with the page publisher. Have you heard of this source before? If so, would
you consider it a reliable source for the kind of material you are about to read? Now consider the
domain type in the URL, which follows the period after the publisher: “.com” and “.biz” are used by
commercial enterprises, “.org” is normally used by nonprofit organizations, and “.edu” is reserved for
educational institutions. None of these is necessarily bad or good, but they may give you a sense
behind the motivation for publishing this material. Are you dealing with a company or the Web site
of an individual—and how might that affiect the quality of the information on that site?
2. What can you learn from poking around with navigation tabs or buttons, and what do they tell you
about the objective of the Web site? Look for a tab labeled “About Us” or “Biography.”
3. Consider what others are saying about the site. Does the author offier references, reviews, or
quotations about the material? What do they say? Check the blogosphere to see what other people
think of the author or Web site.
4. Trust your own impressions about the material. Is the information consistent with what you already
5. Ask yourself why the Web site was written. (To inform? To provide data or facts? To sell something?
To promote a cause? To parody?)
Based on what you learned, ask yourself if the information from this Web site is reliable for your needs. These
steps are covered in more detail in Chapter 5.
Critical thinking is evaluating the strength of your arguments, data, and information.
Three questions to ask about the support for an argument or position:
1. Is it enough support?
2. Is it the right support?
3. Is it credible?
Weaknesses in arguments are most commonly logical fallacies. Recognizing them will help evaluate the
strength of an argument effiectively.
Crossword: Full of Fallacies
1. Fallacy is an error in
3. Also known as the “you too” fallacy
4. False
2. Appealing to
5. Ad
; everybody does it
; a fallacy based on the order of events 7. To draw conclusions based on a small sample
6. A tendency or inclination which prevents fair
consideration of a point of view
8. Weak
9. False
; a fallacy on forced choice
between only two options
; irrelevant comparison
Use creative thinking: the competitive advantage in the twenty-first century.
Understand the diffierence between creative thinking and free-form thinking.
Practice guidelines for creating ideas.
Use rules and directions to create effiectively.
Understand group creativity: how to conduct effiective brainstorming.
America still has the right stuffi to thrive. We still have the most creative, diverse, innovative culture and
open society—in a world where the ability to imagine and generate new ideas with speed and to
implement them through global collaboration is the most important competitive advantage.
- Thomas Friedman[3]
Let’s face it: many jobs are subject to outsourcing. The more menial or mechanical the job, the greater
the likelihood that there will be someone overseas ready to do the job for a lot less pay. But generating
new ideas, fostering innovation, and developing processes or plans to implement them are something
that cannot be easily farmed out, and these are strengths of the American collegiate education. Businesses want problem solvers, not just doers. Developing your creative thinking skills will position you
for lifelong success in whatever career you choose.
creative thinking
The ability to look at things
from a new perspective, to
come up with fresh solutions
to problems. It is a deliberate
process that allows you to
think in ways that increase
the likelihood of generating
new ideas or thoughts.
Creative thinking is the ability to look at things from a new perspective, to come up with fresh
solutions to problems. It is a deliberate process that allows you to think in ways that improve the likelihood of generating new ideas or thoughts.
Let’s start by killing a couple of myths:
Creativity is an inherited skill. Creativity is not something people are born with but is a skill that
is developed over time with consistent practice. It can be argued that people you think were
“born” creative because their parents were creative, too, are creative simply because they have
been practicing creative thinking since childhood, stimulated by their parents’ questions and
< Creativity is free-form thinking. While you may want to free yourself from all preconceived
notions, there is a recognizable structure to creative thinking. Rules and requirements do not
limit creative thinking—they provide the scaffiolding on which truly creative solutions can be
built. Free-form thinking often lacks direction or an objective; creative thinking is aimed at
producing a defined outcome or solution.
Creative thinking involves coming up with new or original ideas; it is the process of seeing the same
things others see but seeing them diffierently. You use skills such as examining associations and relationships, flexibility, elaboration, modification, imagery, and metaphorical thinking. In the process,
you will stimulate your curiosity, come up with new approaches to things, and have fun!
4.1 Tips for Creative Thinking
Feed your curiosity. Read. Read books, newspapers, magazines, blogs—anything at any time.
When surfing the Web, follow links just to see where they will take you. Go to the theatre or
movies. Attend lectures. Creative people make a habit of gathering information, because they
never know when they might put it to good use. Creativity is often as much about rearranging
known ideas as it is about creating a completely new concept. The more “known ideas” you have
been exposed to, the more options you’ll have for combining them into new concepts.
< Develop your flexibility by looking for a second right answer. Throughout school we have been
conditioned to come up with the right answer; the reality is that there is often more than one
“right” answer. Examine all the possibilities. Look at the items in Figure 3.4. Which is diffierent
from all the others?
FI G U RE 3 . 4
If you chose C, you’re right; you can’t eat a board. Maybe you chose D; that’s right, too—clams are the
only animal on the chart. B is right, as it’s the only item you can make oil from, and A can also be right;
it’s the only red item.
Each option can be right depending on your point of view. Life is full of multiple answers, and if
we go along with only the first most obvious answer, we are in danger of losing the context for our
ideas. The value of an idea can only be determined by comparing it with another. Multiple ideas will
also help you generate new approaches by combining elements from a variety of “right” answers. In
fact, the greatest danger to creative thinking is to have only one idea. Always ask yourself, “What’s the
other right answer?”
Combine old ideas in new ways. When King C. Gillette registered his patent for the safety razor,
he built on the idea of disposable bottle caps, but his venture didn’t become profitable until he
toyed with a watch spring and came up with the idea of how to manufacture inexpensive
(therefore disposable) blades. Bottle caps and watch springs are far from men’s grooming
materials, but Gillette’s genius was in combining those existing but unlikely ideas. Train yourself
to think “out of the box.” Ask yourself questions like, “What is the most ridiculous solution I can
come up with for this problem?” or “If I were transported by a time machine back to the 1930s,
how would I solve this problem?” You may enjoy watching competitive design, cooking, or
fashion shows (Top Chef, Chopped, Project Runway, etc.); they are great examples of combining
old ideas to make new, functional ones.
< Think metaphorically. Metaphors are useful to describe complex ideas; they are also useful in
making problems more familiar and in stimulating possible solutions. For example, if you were a
partner in a company about to take on outside investors, you might use the pie metaphor to
clarify your options (a smaller slice of a bigger pie versus a larger slice of a smaller pie). If an
organization you are a part of is lacking direction, you may search for a “steady hand at the tiller,”
communicating quickly that you want a consistent, nonreactionary, calm leader. Based on that
ship-steering metaphor, it will be easier to see which of your potential leaders you might want to
support. Your ability to work comfortably with metaphors takes practice. When faced with a
problem, take time to think about metaphors to describe it, and the desired solution. Observe
how metaphors are used throughout communication and think about why those metaphors are
effiective. Have you ever noticed that the financial business uses water-based metaphors (cash
flow, frozen assets, liquidity) and that meteorologists use war terms (fronts, wind force, storm
surge)? What kinds of metaphors are used in your area of study?
< Ask. A creative thinker always questions the way things are: Why are we doing things this way?
What were the objectives of this process and the assumptions made when we developed the
process? Are they still valid? What if we changed certain aspects? What if our circumstances
changed? Would we need to change the process? How? Get in the habit of asking questions—lots
of questions.
Creative thinking is a requirement for success.
Creative thinking is a deliberate process that can be learned and practiced.
Creative thinking involves, but is not limited to, curiosity, flexibility, looking for the second right answer,
combining things in new ways, thinking metaphorically, and questioning the way things are.
1. Feed your curiosity. List five things you will do in the next month that you have never done before (go to
the ballet, visit a local museum, try Moroccan food, or watch a foreign movie). Expand your comfort
“envelope.” Put them on your calendar.
2. How many ways can you use it? Think of as many uses for the following common items as possible. Can
you name more than ten?
Peanut Butter (PBJ counts as one,
Paper Clips
regardless of the flavor of jelly)
Honors Level: Pen Caps
3. A metaphor for life. In the movie Forrest Gump, Forrest states, “Life was like a box of chocolates; you never
know what you’re gonna get.” Write your own metaphor for life and share it with your classmates.
4. He has eyes in the back of his head. What if we really had eyes in the backs of our heads? How would life
be diffierent? What would be affiected? Would we walk backward? Would we get dizzy if we spun in
circles? Would it be easy to put mascara on the back eyes? Generate your own questions and answers; let
the creative juices flow!
1. Learn to understand the problem.
2. Learn to combine creative thinking and critical thinking to solve problems.
3. Practice problem solving in a group.
Much of your college and professional life will be spent solving problems; some will be complex, such
as deciding on a career, and require time and effiort to come up with a solution. Others will be small,
such as deciding what to eat for lunch, and will allow you to make a quick decision based entirely on
your own experience. But, in either case, when coming up with the solution and deciding what to do,
follow the same basic steps.
Define the problem. Use your analytical skills. What is the real issue? Why is it a problem? What
are the root causes? What kinds of outcomes or actions do you expect to generate to solve the
problem? What are some of the key characteristics that will make a good choice: Timing?
Resources? Availability of tools and materials? For more complex problems, it helps to actually
write out the problem and the answers to these questions. Can you clarify your understanding of
the problem by using metaphors to illustrate the issue?
< Narrow the problem. Many problems are made up of a series of smaller problems, each requiring
its own solution. Can you break the problem into diffierent facets? What aspects of the current
issue are “noise” that should not be considered in the problem solution? (Use critical thinking to
separate facts from opinion in this step.)
< Generate possible solutions. List all your options. Use your creative thinking skills in this phase.
Did you come up with the second “right” answer, and the third or the fourth? Can any of these
answers be combined into a stronger solution? What past or existing solutions can be adapted or
combined to solve this problem?
T H I N K :
Brainstorming is a process of generating ideas for solutions in a group. This method is very effiective because ideas from one person will trigger additional ideas from another. The following guidelines make for an
effiective brainstorming session:
Decide who should moderate the session. That person may participate, but his main role is to keep the
discussion flowing.
Define the problem to be discussed and the time you will allow to consider it.
Write all ideas down on a board or flip chart for all participants to see.
Encourage everyone to speak.
Do not allow criticism of ideas. All ideas are good during a brainstorm. Suspend disbelief until after the
session. Remember a wildly impossible idea may trigger a creative and feasible solution to a problem.
Choose the best solution. Use your critical thinking skills to select the most likely choices. List
the pros and cons for each of your selections. How do these lists compare with the requirements
you identified when you defined the problem? If you still can’t decide between options, you may
want to seek further input from your brainstorming team.
5.1 Decisions, Decisions
You will be called on to make many decisions in your life. Some will be personal, like what to major in,
or whether or not to get married. Other times you will be making decisions on behalf of others at work
or for a volunteer organization. Occasionally you will be asked for your opinion or experience for decisions others are making. To be effiective in all of these circumstances, it is helpful to understand some
principles about decision making.
First, define who is responsible for solving the problem or making the decision. In an organization,
this may be someone above or below you on the organization chart but is usually the person who will
A process of generating ideas
for solutions in a group of
be responsible for implementing the solution. Deciding on an academic major should be your decision,
because you will have to follow the course of study. Deciding on the boundaries of a sales territory
would most likely be the sales manager who supervises the territories, because he or she will be responsible for producing the results with the combined territories. Once you define who is responsible
for making the decision, everyone else will fall into one of two roles: giving input, or in rare cases, approving the decision.
Understanding the role of input is very important for good decisions. Input is sought or given due
to experience or expertise, but it is up to the decision maker to weigh the input and decide whether and
how to use it. Input should be fact based, or if offiering an opinion, it should be clearly stated as such.
Finally, once input is given, the person giving the input must support the other’s decision, whether or
not the input is actually used.
Consider a team working on a project for a science course. The team assigns you the responsibility
of analyzing and presenting a large set of complex data. Others on the team will set up the experiment
to demonstrate the hypothesis, prepare the class presentation, and write the paper summarizing the
results. As you face the data, you go to the team to seek input about the level of detail on the data you
should consider for your analysis. The person doing the experiment setup thinks you should be very
detailed, because then it will be easy to compare experiment results with the data. However, the person
preparing the class presentation wants only high-level data to be considered because that will make for
a clearer presentation. If there is not a clear understanding of the decision-making process, each of you
may think the decision is yours to make because it influences the output of your work; there will be
conflict and frustration on the team. If the decision maker is clearly defined upfront, however, and the
input is thoughtfully given and considered, a good decision can be made (perhaps a creative compromise?) and the team can get behind the decision and work together to complete the project.
Finally, there is the approval role in decisions. This is very common in business decisions but often
occurs in college work as well (the professor needs to approve the theme of the team project, for example). Approval decisions are usually based on availability of resources, legality, history, or policy.
Effiective problem solving involves critical and creative thinking.
The four steps to effiective problem solving are the following:
Define the problem
Narrow the problem
Generate solutions
Choose the solution
Brainstorming is a good method for generating creative solutions.
Understanding the diffierence between the roles of deciding and providing input makes for better
1. Gather a group of three or four friends and conduct three short brainstorming sessions (ten minutes each)
to generate ideas for alternate uses for peanut butter, paper clips, and pen caps. Compare the results of the
group with your own ideas. Be sure to follow the brainstorming guidelines. Did you generate more ideas in
the group? Did the quality of the ideas improve? Were the group ideas more innovative? Which was more
fun? Write your conclusions here.
2. Using the steps outlined earlier for problem solving, write a plan for the following problem: You are in your
second year of studies in computer animation at Jeffierson Community College. You and your wife both
work, and you would like to start a family in the next year or two. You want to become a video game
designer and can benefit from more advanced work in programming. Should you go on to complete a
four-year degree?
a. Define the problem: What is the core issue? What are the related issues? Are there any
requirements to a successful solution? Can you come up with a metaphor to describe the issue?
b. Narrow the problem: Can you break down the problem into smaller manageable pieces? What
would they be?
c. Generate solutions: What are at least two “right” answers to each of the problem pieces?
d. Choose the right approach: What do you already know about each solution? What do you still
need to know? How can you get the information you need? Make a list of pros and cons for each
Chapter Takeaways
Your ability to think critically and creatively is a key to your success in college and in life. You should
develop and practice these skills.
Bloom’s taxonomy provides a framework to describe the many kinds of thinking we need to do. Up
to this point, you probably have practiced most of the lower-level thinking skills but have not had
much experience with the higher-level skills (critical thinking and creative thinking).
Critical thinking involves evaluating the strength of ideas or concepts by asking questions about
them. Critical thinking will also allow you to identify and weed out logical fallacies that weaken the
value of an idea.
Creative thinking is the process of generating new ideas, concepts, or solutions. This often involves
adapting existing ideas or combining them in new ways to create a new solution.
Problem solving is effiectively achieved by applying both critical thinking and creative thinking to
generate viable solutions and decisions.
1. List the six levels of thinking described in Bloom’s taxonomy.
2. Which thinking skill is most important for short answer quizzes? Why?
3. List five verbs that describe the application level of thought.
4. What thinking skills are you using if you are blogging? How do you use each one?
5. What is critical thinking?
6. Why is it important to pose some questions about the source of the material you read? What kinds of
questions should you ask?
7. What is a logical fallacy? Give an example of two types.
8. List six words that signal a broad generalization and a recommended alternative that would resolve that
problem of each.
9. What are some ways in which you can feed your curiosity?
10. Why is brainstorming more effiective at generating new ideas than individual work?
11. List the four steps of problem solving.
12. How do you use critical thinking and creative thinking in solving problems?
Two things I will do to
My critical thinking
My creative thinking
My problem solving
By when I expect to take the
The expected results of that
L. W. Anderson and David R. Krathwohl, eds., A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and
Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Boston, MA: Allyn
& Bacon, 2001).
Scott McLeod and Karl Fisch, “Did You Know? 4.0,” video,
watch?v=6ILQrUrEWe8 (accessed January 10, 2010).
Thomas L. Friedman, “Time to Reboot America,” New York Times, December 23, 2008,
January 14, 2010).
Listening, Taking Notes, and
FI G U RE 4 . 1
© Thinkstock
Where Are You Now?
Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.
Yes Unsure No
1. I am satisfied with my grades.
2. I usually feel well prepared for classes.
3. I usually understand what is going on in class.
4. I find it easy to stay focused in class.
5. I am not shy or self-conscious about asking questions.
6. I learn from recorded lectures and podcasts.
7. I take useful notes in class.
8. I go to the instructor’s offlce when I have a question about an assignment.
9. I can successfully study for a test from the notes I have taken.
10. I use diffierent note-taking methods in diffierent classes.
11. I do not have trouble remembering facts and ideas.
12. I retain useful information after an exam.
Where Do You Want to Go?
Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself. On a scale of 1 to 10, how
would you rate your level of academic achievement at this time?
A poor student
An excellent student
In the following list, circle the three most important areas in which you think you can improve:
Preparing for class
Taking notes on your laptop
Listening in class
Using diffierent systems for note taking
Using seat selection to your advantage
Remembering facts and figures
Listening to podcasts
Remembering ideas and concepts
Asking good questions
Choosing a memory method that’s right for you
Taking notes on paper
Using a memory system
Are there other areas in which you can improve your academic performance? Write down other things you
feel you need to work on.
How to Get There
Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:
Setting yourself up for success by following the learning cycle
Listening actively
Listening in class
Asking good questions
Taking effiective notes
Learning the principal note-taking methods
Modifying your note-taking methods to meet your learning style and your instructor’s
approach to the material
Understanding how your memory works
Using your memory effiectively
Learning memory-building tips
As you embark on your college career, you have found yourself in an environment like no other. You
soon will discover the new social structure, you may be invigorated by a new freedom, and you may be
daunted by the number of options you have for activities. We cover these nonacademic aspects of college life starting in Chapter 9. But for now, consider some of the diffierences between college classes and
what you likely were used to in high school. These diffierences are important because they demand you
change your behavior if you want to be a successful student.
TABL E 4 .1 Differences between High School and College Classes
In High School
In College
Your teacher would guide you and
let you know when you were falling
You are expected to take responsibility for your academic success.
Your teacher would take attendance
and report you when you were
absent; the teacher would help you
make up the material you missed.
Your instructor rarely takes attendance but expects you to be in class and
understand the material.
Your teacher would write
assignments on the board and
remind you to complete them.
It is up to you to read, save, and follow the course syllabus and to know
what material you must read and understand and by when. Since the
syllabus makes this clear, instructors will rarely remind you of assignment
due dates.
Each class would typically meet three Each class meets less frequently but requires much more work from each
to five times each week with minimal student. You should generally count on doing two to three hours of
homework each night.
studying for each hour of class. What seems like an eight-hour work day
may quickly become fourteen hours or more of academic work. Take
responsibility for budgeting your time and not falling behind. In college it
is much harder to catch up if you do get behind.
High school teachers are passionate
about guiding their students and
teaching them to learn.
College instructors are often more passionate about their subject matter
than they are about their teaching. But you can tap into their passion for
what they are talking about and guide your own learning by asking
questions, seeking advice during offlce hours, and participating in class
Daily homework assignments and
unit quizzes contributed heavily to
your grade. Oftentimes a teacher
would offier extra credit opportunities
to give students a chance to make
up for lapses along the way.
Your grade in a course may be determined primarily by one or two exams
and a long-term project or paper. A subpar performance on a single exam
or paper can really drag your grades down. Identify the assignments on the
syllabus and get to work on them early and consistently. Don’t put offi
assignments or studying for tests until the last minute! In college, extra
credit is not an option to fall back on!
You were told what you should study You determine what you want to learn. It is your education—not
and when. You followed a
someone else’s. Find your passion and follow it! You will be a much better
student if you do.
predetermined curriculum set by
state and local offlcials. Even your
parents and guidance counselors
had a major say in your “elective”
1. Identify the roles of listening and note taking in the learning cycle.
Too many students try to get the grade just by going to class, maybe a little note taking, and then cramming through the text right before an exam they feel unprepared for. Sound familiar? This approach
may have worked for you in high school where tests and quizzes were more frequent and teachers prepared study guides for you, but colleges require you to take responsibility for your learning and to be
better prepared.
Most students simply have not learned how to study and don’t understand how learning works. As
we discussed in Chapter 1, learning is actually a cycle of four steps: preparing, absorbing, capturing,
and reviewing. When you get in the habit of paying attention to this cycle, it becomes relatively easy to
study well. But you must use all four steps.
This chapter focuses on listening, a key skill for learning new material, and note taking, the most
important skill in the capturing phase of the cycle. These skills are closely related. Good listening skills
make you a better note taker, and taking good notes can help you listen better. Both are key study skills
to help you do better in your classes.
Purposefully focusing on
what a speaker is saying with
the objective of
FI GU R E 4 .2 The Learning Cycle
College is very diffierent from high school.
You must take personal responsibility for your learning.
Time management is crucial.
Learning is a cycle of four steps: preparing, absorbing, capturing, and reviewing.
1. Prepare for listening in class and taking notes.
2. Use a syllabus.
A professional athlete wouldn’t take the field without warming up first. An effiective student won’t go to
a class without preparing for it first. To get the most out of a class, you need to get yourself in the right
frame of mind. This does not take a lot of time, but it greatly increases your ability to listen actively and
take good notes.
Like a good athlete, first you need to get psyched. Clearly visualize your goals. Thinking about the
following questions may help:
What do I want to get out of the class?
What is the main idea the class will cover?
< How will today’s class help me do better in this course?
An outline of the course from
the instructor, which covers
the course objectives, the
material to be covered in
each class, and often
Go to class with confidence. The best way to achieve this is to start early and be sure you’ve completed
any assignment the instructor gave you in the last class. Think about how today’s material will tie into
what you’ve already learned. You should also review the course syllabus to see what the instructor expects to cover in the class and how it relates to what you have learned so far.
Be physically prepared, too:
Make sure you are getting enough sleep and eating nutritious meals, including breakfast. It’s hard
to focus on learning when you’re hungry.
< Make sure you have all materials you’ll need for class (paper, pens, laptop, books, etc.).
< Be punctual. Give yourself plenty of time to get into your seat and organize your space. If you are
late, you’ll struggle to get into the right mind-set for listening, and you won’t feel in control of
your learning as you try to catch up with the class. If you’re tardy, you also create a distraction for
your classmates—and the instructor, who will take notice!
< Clear away all other distractions before the instructor starts. Remember that putting your cell
phone on “vibrate” may still distract you—so turn it offi, all the way offi.
Now, take a deep breath, focus on the instructor, and listen and learn!
To get the most out of a class, get yourself in the right frame of mind.
Clearly visualize your goals and approach the class with confidence.
Be physically prepared: rested, punctual, and not distracted.
1. Listen actively in social situations and in class environments.
2. Apply strategies that make listening more effiective.
3. Ask good questions.
Are you a good listener? Most of us like to think we are, but when we really think about it, we recognize
that we are often only half listening. We’re distracted, thinking about other things, or formulating what
we are going to say in reaction to what we are hearing before the speaker has even finished. Effiective
listening is one of the most important learning tools you can have in college. And it is a skill that will
benefit you on the job and help your relationships with others. Listening is nothing more than purposefully focusing on what a speaker is saying with the objective of understanding.
This definition is straightforward, but there are some important concepts that deserve a closer
look. “Purposefully focusing” implies that you are actively processing what the speaker is saying, not
just letting the sounds of their voice register in your senses. “With the objective of understanding”
means that you will learn enough about what the speaker is saying to be able to form your own
thoughts about the speaker’s message. Listening is an active process, as opposed to hearing, which is
You listen to others in many situations: to interact with friends, to get instructions for a task, or to
learn new material. There are two general types of listening situations: where you will be able to interact freely with the speaker (everyday conversations, small discussion classes, business meetings) and
where interaction is limited (lectures and Webcasts).
In interactive situations, you should apply the basic principles of active listening (see “Principles
of Active Listening”). These are not hard to understand, but they are hard to implement and require
practice to use them effiectively.
Principles of Active Listening
1. Focus on what is being said. Give the speaker your undivided attention. Clear your mind of anything
else. Don’t prejudge. You want to understand what the person is saying; you don’t need to agree
with it.
2. Repeat what you just heard. Confirm with the speaker that what you heard is what he or she said.
3. Ask speaker to expand or clarify. If you are unsure you understand, ask questions; don’t assume.
4. Look for nonverbal signals as well as the words used. Nonverbal messages come from facial
expressions, body positioning, arm gestures, and tone of voice. Confirm these body language
messages just as you would verbal messages by saying, for example, “You seem very excited about
this idea.”
5. Listen for requests. A speaker will often hide a request as a statement of a problem. If a friend says, “I
hate math!” this may mean, “Can you help me figure out a solution to this problem?”
active listening
A strategy for listening
effiectively in interactive
situations by focusing on
what is being said,
confirming that you heard
the right message, asking for
any needed clarification,
watching for nonverbal
messages, and listening for
A C T I V I T Y :
Think of a person you consider an excellent listener. Picture that person clearly in your mind. Focus on what
she does, not what they she is saying. Describe what actions and postures she uses to show she is listening.
Put this list on the left-hand side of the page.
Think of a person you consider a poor listener. Picture that person clearly in your mind. Focus on what he
does, not what he is saying. Describe what actions and postures he uses to show he is not listening. Put this
list on the right-hand side of the page.
Now compare these lists with your own behavior. How many of the body language signals from each side do
you think you exhibit? How can you add more of the left column’s attitudes and actions to your own behaviors? How can you control those behaviors you recognize in yourself from the right column?
Listening in a classroom or lecture hall to learn can be challenging because you are limited by
how—and how much—you can interact with an instructor during the class. The following strategies
help make listening at lectures more effiective and learning more fun.
1. Get your mind in the right space. Prepare yourself mentally to receive the information the
speaker is presenting by following the previous prep questions and by doing your assignments
(instructors build upon work presented earlier).
2. Get yourself in the right space. Sit toward the front of the room where you can make eye contact
with the instructor easily. Most instructors read the body language of the students in the front
rows to gauge how they are doing and if they are losing the class. Instructors also believe students
who sit near the front of the room take their subject more seriously and are more willing to give
them help when needed or to give them the benefit of the doubt when making a judgment call
while assigning grades.
3. Focus on what is being said. Eliminate distractions. Turn your cell phone offi and pack it away in
your backpack. If you are using your laptop for notes, close all applications except the one that
you use to take notes. Clear your mind and keep quiet. Listen for new ideas. Think like an
investigative reporter: you don’t just want to accept what is being said passively—you want to
question the material and be convinced that it makes sense.
4. Look for signals. Each instructor has a diffierent way of telling you what is important. Some will
repeat or paraphrase an idea; others will raise (or lower) their voices; still others will write related
words on the board. Learn what signals your instructors tend to use and be on the lookout for
them. When they use that tactic, the idea they are presenting needs to go in your notes and in
your mind—and don’t be surprised if it appears on a test or quiz!
5. Listen for what is not being said. If an instructor doesn’t cover a subject, or covers it only
minimally, this signals that that material is not as important as other ideas covered in greater
6. Sort the information. Decide what is important and what is not, what is clear and what is
confusing, and what is new material and what is review. This mental organizing will help you
remember the information, take better notes, and ask better questions.
7. Take notes. We cover taking notes in much greater detail later in this chapter, but for now think
about how taking notes can help recall what your instructor said and how notes can help you
organize your thoughts for asking questions.
8. Ask questions. Asking questions is one of the most important things you can do in class. Most
obviously it allows you to clear up any doubts you may have about the material, but it also helps
you take ownership of (and therefore remember) the material. Good questions often help
instructors expand upon their ideas and make the material more relevant to students. Thinking
through the material critically in order to prepare your questions helps you organize your new
knowledge and sort it into mental categories that will help you remember it.
A note about tape-recording lectures: You may want to record a lecture to double-check what you
heard in class, but it’s usually not a good idea. Depending on a recording may lead you to listen less
effiectively and think less actively. Additionally, many instructors do not allow students to record their
lectures, so recording is usually not even an option.
4.1 Dealing with Special Listening Challenges
What to Do If…
Your instructor speaks too fast. Crank up your preparation. The more you know about the
subject, the more you’ll be able to pick up from the instructor. Exchange class notes with other
students to fill in gaps in notes. Visit the instructor during offlce hours to clarify areas you may
have missed. You might ask the instructor—very politely, of course—to slow down, but habits
like speaking fast are hard to break!
< Your instructor has a heavy accent. Sit as close to the instructor as possible. Make connections
between what the instructor seems to be saying and what he or she is presenting on the board or
screen. Ask questions when you don’t understand. Visit the instructor during offlce hours; the
more you speak with the instructor the more likely you will learn to understand the accent.
< Your instructor speaks softly or mumbles. Sit as close to the instructor as possible and try to
hold eye contact as much as possible. Check with other students if they are having problems
listening, too; if so, you may want to bring the issue up with the instructor. It may be that the
instructor is not used to the lecture hall your class is held in and can easily make adjustments.
Now That’s a Good Question…
Are you shy about asking questions? Do you think that others in the class will ridicule you for asking a dumb
question? Students sometimes feel this way because they have never been taught how to ask questions.
Practice these steps, and soon you will be on your way to customizing each course to meet your needs and
letting the instructor know you value the course.
Be prepared. Doing your assignments for a class or lecture will give you a good idea about the areas
you are having trouble with and will help you frame some questions ahead of time.
Position yourself for success. Sit near the front of the class. It will be easier for you to make eye
contact with the instructor as you ask the question. Also, you won’t be intimidated by a class full of
heads turning to stare at you as you ask your question.
Don’t wait. Ask your questions as soon as the instructor has finished a thought. Being one of the first
students to ask a question also will ensure that your question is given the time it deserves and won’t
be cut short by the end of class.
In a lecture class, write your questions down. Make sure you jot your questions down as they occur
to you. Some may be answered in the course of the lecture, but if the instructor asks you to hold your
questions until the end of class, you’ll be glad you have a list of the items you need the instructor to
clarify or expand on.
Ask specific questions. “I don’t understand” is a statement, not a question. Give the instructor
guidance about what you are having trouble with. “Can you clarify the use of the formula for
determining velocity?” is a better way of asking for help. If you ask your question at the end of class,
give the instructor some context for your question by referring to the part of the lecture that
triggered the question. For example, “Professor, you said the Union troops were emboldened by
Lincoln’s leadership. Was this throughout the Civil War, or only after Gettysburg?”
Don’t ask questions for the sake of asking questions. If your question is not thought out, or if it
appears that you are asking the question to try to look smart, instructors will see right through you!
In all interactive learning situations, apply the basic principles of active listening.
Focus on what is being said, confirm that you heard the right message, ask for any clarification you need,
watch for nonverbal messages, and listen for requests.
Specific strategies are helpful for listening well in a lecture hall.
Be ready to compensate if your instructor speaks too fast, has a heavy accent that makes understanding
difflcult for you, or speaks too softly.
Don’t be shy about asking questions. Asking questions is easier when you are prepared and positioned for
1. List two things you should do before the class to prepare yourself for active listening.
2. Where should you sit in the classroom? Why?
3. What are some of the ways instructors signal important material?
1. Explain why taking notes is important.
2. Use the four primary methods of note taking: lists, outlines, concept maps, and the Cornell
3. Define which methods support your learning style and the instructor’s teaching style.
4. Apply strategies to make note taking more effiective.
5. Use some effiective strategies if you happen to miss a class.
6. Organize your notes into effiective study guides.
7. Use teacher handouts to complement your notes.
8. Determine what to do with your notes after the course is complete.
Everybody takes notes, or at least everybody claims to. But if you take a close look, many who are
claiming to take notes on their laptops are actually surfing the Web, and paper notebooks are filled
with doodles interrupted by a couple of random words with an asterisk next to them reminding you
that “This is important!” In college, these approaches will not work. In college, your instructors expect
you to make connections between class lectures and reading assignments; they expect you to create an
opinion about the material presented; they expect you to make connections between the material and
life beyond college. Your notes are your road maps for these thoughts. Do you take good notes? After
learning to listen, note taking is the most important skill to ensure your success in a class.
Effiective note taking is important because it
supports your listening effiorts,
allows you to test your understanding of the material,
< helps you remember the material better when you write key ideas down,
< gives you a sense of what the instructor thinks is important,
< creates your “ultimate study guide.”
There are various forms of taking notes, and which one you choose depends on both your personal
style and the instructor’s approach to the material. Each can be used in a notebook, index cards, or in a
digital form on your laptop. No specific type is good for all students and all situations, so we recommend that you develop your own style, but you should also be ready to modify it to fit the needs of a
specific class or instructor. To be effiective, all of these methods require you to listen actively and to
think; merely jotting down words the instructor is saying will be of little use to you.
TABL E 4 .2 Note-Taking Methods
Method Description
When to Use
This method is what most
students use as a fallback if
they haven’t learned other
methods. This method typically
requires a lot of writing, and
you may find that you are not
keeping up with the professor.
It is not easy for students to
prioritize ideas in this method.
A sequential listing of ideas as they are presented. Lists may be short
phrases or complete paragraphs describing ideas in more detail.
Outlines The outline method places most important ideas along the left
margin, which are numbered with roman numerals. Supporting ideas
to these main concepts are indented and are noted with capital
letters. Under each of these ideas, further detail can be added,
designated with an Arabic number, a lowercase letter, and so forth.
A good method to use when
material presented by the
instructor is well organized.
Easy to use when taking notes
on your computer.
Concept When designing a concept map, place a central idea in the center of
the page and then add lines and new circles in the page for new
ideas. Use arrows and lines to connect the various ideas.
Great method to show
relationships among ideas. Also
good if the instructor tends to
hop from one idea to another
and back.
Cornell The Cornell method uses a two-column approach. The left column
Method takes up no more than a third of the page and is often referred to as
the “cue” or “recall” column. The right column (about two-thirds of the
page) is used for taking notes using any of the methods described
above or a combination of them. After class or completing the
reading, review your notes and write the key ideas and concepts or
questions in the left column. You may also include a summary box at
the bottom of the page, in which to write a summary of the class or
reading in your own words.
The Cornell method can
include any of the methods
above and provides a useful
format for calling out key
concepts, prioritizing ideas,
and organizing review work.
Most colleges recommend
using some form of the Cornell
5.1 The List Method
FIGURE 4.3 The List Method of Note Taking
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The list method is usually not the best choice because it is focused exclusively on capturing as much of
what the instructor says as possible, not on processing the information. Most students who have not
learned effective study skills use this method, because it's easy to think that this is what note taking is
all about. Even if you are skilled in some form of shorthand, you should probably also learn one of the
other methods described here, because they are all better at helping you process and remember the material. You may want to take notes in class using the list method, but transcribe your notes to an outline
or concept map method after class as a part of your review process. It is always important to review
your notes as soon as possible after class and write a summary of the class in your own words.
5.2 The Outline Method
FIGURE 4.4 The Outline Method of Note Taking
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The advantage of the outline method is that it allows you to prioritize the material. Key ideas are written to the left of the page, subordinate ideas are then indented, and details of the subordinate ideas can
be indented further. To further organize your ideas, you can use the typical outlining numbering
scheme (starting with roman numerals for key ideas, moving to capital letters on the first subordinate
level, Arabic numbers for the next level, and lowercase letters following.) At first you may have trouble
identifying when the instructor moves from one idea to another. This takes practice and experience
with each instructor, so don't give up! In the early stages you should use your syllabus to determine
what key ideas the instructor plans to present. Your reading assignments before class can also give you
guidance in identifying the key ideas.
If you’re using your laptop computer for taking notes, a basic word processing application (like
Microsoft Word or Works) is very effiective. Format your document by selecting the outline format
from the format bullets menu. Use the increase or decrease indent buttons to navigate the level of importance you want to give each item. The software will take care of the numbering for you!
After class be sure to review your notes and then summarize the class in one or two short paragraphs using your own words. This summary will significantly affiect your recall and will help you prepare for the next class.
5.3 The Concept Map Method
FI GU R E 4 .5 The Concept Map Method of Note Taking
This is a very graphic method of note-taking that is especially good at capturing the relationships
among ideas. Concept maps harness your visual sense to understand complex material “at a glance.”
They also give you the flexibility to move from one idea to another and back easily (so they are helpful
if your instructor moves freely through the material).
To develop a concept map, start by using your syllabus to rank the ideas you will listen to by level
of detail (from high-level or abstract ideas to detailed facts). Select an overriding idea (high level or abstract) from the instructor’s lecture and place it in a circle in the middle of the page. Then create
branches offi that circle to record the more detailed information, creating additional limbs as you need
them. Arrange the branches with others that interrelate closely. When a new high-level idea is presented, create a new circle with its own branches. Link together circles or concepts that are related. Use arrows and symbols to capture the relationship between the ideas. For example, an arrow may be used to
illustrate cause or effiect, a double-pointed arrow to illustrate dependence, or a dotted arrow to illustrate
impact or effiect.
As with all note-taking methods, you should summarize the chart in one or two paragraphs of
your own words after class.
5.4 The Cornell Method
FIGURE 4.6 The Cornell Method of Note Taking
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Cornell method
A classic method of taking
organized class notes using a
two-column approach that
highlights key ideas.
The Cornell method was developed in the 1950s by Professor Walter Pauk at Cornell University. It is
recommended by most colleges because of its usefulness and flexibility. This method is simple to use
for capturing notes, is helpful for defining priorities, and is a very helpful study tool.
The Cornell method follows a very specific format that consists of four boxes: a header, two
columns, and a footer.
The header is a small box across the top of the page. In it you write identification information like
the course name and the date of the class. Underneath the header are two columns: a narrow one on
the left (no more than one-third of the page) and a wide one on the right. The wide column, called the
"notes" column, takes up most of the page and is used to capture your notes using any of the methods
outlined earlier. The left column, known as the “cue” or “recall” column, is used to jot down main
ideas, keywords, questions, clarifications, and other notes. It should be used both during the class and
when reviewing your notes after class. Finally, use the box in the footer to write a summary of the class
in your own words. This will help you make sense of your notes in the future and is a valuable tool to
aid with recall and studying.
Using Index Cards for the Cornell Method
Some students like to use index cards to take notes. They actually lend themselves quite well to the Cornell
method. Use the “back” or lined side of the card to write your notes in class. Use one card per key concept. The
“front” unlined side of the card replaces the left hand “cue” column. Use it after class to write keywords, comments, or questions. When you study, the cards become flash cards with questions on one side and answers
on the other. Write a summary of the class on a separate card and place it on the top of the deck as an introduction to what was covered in the class.
I used to tape my lecture classes so I could fill in my sketchy notes afterward. Now that I’m using the
Cornell system, my notes are complete and organized in much less time. And my regular five-minute
reviews make learning almost painless. No more taping and listening twice.
- a student at Southern Methodist University
You will have noticed that all methods end with the same step: reviewing your notes as soon as possible
after class. Any review of your notes is helpful (reading them, copying them into your computer, or
even recasting them using another note-taking method). But THINK! Make your review of notes a
thoughtful activity, not a mindless process. When you review your notes, think about questions you
still have and determine how you will get the answers. (From the next class? Studying with a friend?
Looking up material in your text or on the net?) Examine how the material applies to the course; make
connections with notes from other class sessions, with material in your text, and with concepts covered
in class discussions. Finally, it’s fun to think about how the material in your notes applies to real life.
Consider this both at the very strategic level (as in “What does this material mean to me in relation to
what I want to do with my life?”) as well as at a very mundane level (as in “Is there anything cool here I
can work into a conversation with my friends?”).
5.5 Instructor Handouts
Some instructors hand out or post their notes or their PowerPoint slides from their lectures. These
handouts should never be considered a substitute for taking notes in class. They are a very useful complement and will help you confirm the accuracy of your notes, but they do not involve you in the process of learning as well as your own notes do. After class, review your notes with highlighter in hand
and mark keywords and ideas in your notes. This will help you write the summary of the class in your
own words.
5.6 General Tips on Note Taking
Regardless of what note-taking method you choose, there are some note-taking habits you should get
into for all circumstances and all courses:
1. Be prepared. Make sure you have the tools you need to do the job. If you are using a notebook, be
sure you have it with you and that you have enough paper. Also be sure to have your pen (as well
as a spare) and perhaps a pen with diffierent colored ink to use for emphasis. If you are taking
notes on your laptop, make sure the battery is charged! Select the application that lends itself best
to your style of note taking. Microsoft Word works very well for outline notes, but you might find
taking notes in Excel to work best if you are working within the Cornell method. (It’s easier to
align your thoughts in the cue or recall column to your notes in the right column. Just be sure
you keep one idea per row!)
2. Write on only one side of the paper. This will allow you to integrate your reading notes with
your class notes.
3. Label, number, and date all notes at the top of each page. This will help you keep organized.
4. When using a laptop, position it such that you can see the instructor and white board right
over your screen. This will keep the instructor in your field of vision even if you have to glance at
your screen or keyboard from time to time. Make sure your focus remains with the instructor and
not on your laptop. A word of caution about laptops for note taking: use them if you are very
adept at keyboarding, but remember that not all note-taking methods work well on laptops
because they do not easily allow you to draw diagrams and use special notations (scientific and
math formulas, for example).
5. Don’t try to capture everything that is said. Listen for the big ideas and write them down. Make
sure you can recognize the instructor’s emphasis cues and write down all ideas and keywords the
instructor emphasizes. Listen for clues like “the four causes were<” or “to sum up.<”
6. Copy anything the instructor writes on the board. It’s likely to be important.
7. Leave space between ideas. This allows you to add additional notes later (e.g., notes on the
answer to a question you or one of your classmates asked).
8. Use signals and abbreviations. Which ones you use is up to you, but be consistent so you will
know exactly what you mean by “att.” when you review your notes. You may find it useful to keep
a key to your abbreviations in all your notebooks.
9. Use some method for identifying your own thoughts and questions to keep them separate from
what the instructor or textbook author is saying. Some students use diffierent color ink; others
box or underline their own thoughts. Do whatever works for you.
10. Create a symbol to use when you fall behind or get lost in your note taking. Jot down the symbol,
leave some space, and focus on what the instructor is covering now. Later you can ask a classmate
or the professor to help you fill in what you missed, or you can find it in your textbook.
11. Review your notes as soon after class as possible (the same day is best). This is the secret to
making your notes work! Use the recall column to call out the key ideas and organize facts. Fill in
any gaps in your notes and clean up or redraw hastily drawn diagrams.
12. Write a summary of the main ideas of the class in your own words. This process is a great aid to
recall. Be sure to include any conclusions from the lecture or discussion.
Choose one of your classes where you normally take notes. Make a conscious effiort to use the Cornell method
with either the outline or concept map method for taking your notes. Follow as many steps listed previously
as possible. Now compare these notes with those you took in the previous class. Are your new notes more
useful? What did you like about taking notes this way? What are some of the things you need to work on improving? (Remember this will get much easier with more practice.) Write your thoughts here.
5.7 What If You Miss Class?
Clearly the best way to learn class material is to be at the class and to take your own notes. In college,
regular attendance is expected. But life happens. On occasion, you may have to miss a class or lecture.
When this happens, here are some strategies you can use to make up for it:
Check with the instructor to see if there is another section of the class you can attend. Never ask
the instructor “Did I miss anything important?” (Think about what that’s saying and you’ll see it’s
rather insulting.)
< If the instructor posts his or her lectures as a podcast, listen to the lecture online and take notes. If
the instructor uses PowerPoint slides, request a copy (or download them if posted) and review
them carefully, jotting down your own notes and questions. Review your notes with a classmate
who did attend.
You may want to borrow class notes from a classmate. If you do, don’t just copy them and insert
them in your notebook. They will not be very helpful. When you borrow notes from a classmate,
you should photocopy them and then review them carefully and mark your copy with your own
notes and questions. Use your textbook to try to fill in the gaps. Finally, schedule a study session
with the person who gave you the notes to review the material and confirm your understanding.
(See studying with others in Chapter 6.)
< If none of these options is available for you, use the course syllabus to determine what was
covered in the class, then write a short paper (two pages or so) on the material using the class
readings and reliable online sources. See your instructor during offlce hours to review your key
findings and to answer any questions you still may have.
5.8 Keeping Your Notes
Class is over, and you have a beautiful set of notes in your spiral notebook or saved in your laptop. You
have written the summary of the class in your own words. Now what?
Start by organizing your notes. We recommend you use a three-ring binder for each of your subjects. Print your notes if you used a computer. If you used note cards, insert them in plastic photo holders for binders. Group all notes from a class or unit together in a section; this includes class notes, reading notes, and instructor handouts. You might also want to copy the instructor’s syllabus for the unit
on the first page of the section.
Next, spend some time linking the information across the various notes. Use the recall column in
your notes to link to related information in other notes (e.g., “See class notes date/page”).
If you have had a quiz or test on the unit, add it to your binder, too, but be sure to write out the
correct answer for any item you missed. Link those corrections to your notes, too.
Use this opportunity to write “notes on your notes.” Review your summary to see if it still is valid
in light of your notes on the reading and any handouts you may have added to your notes package.
You don’t need to become a pack rat with your notes. It is fairly safe to toss them after the end of a
course except in the following cases:
1. If the course you took is a prerequisite for another course, or when the course is part of a
standard progression of courses that build upon each other (this is very common in math and
science courses), you should keep them as a reference and review for the follow-up course.
2. If the course may pertain to your future major, keep your notes. You may not realize it now that
they may have future value when you study similar topics or even the same topics in more depth.
3. If you are very interested in the course subject and would like to get into the material through a
more advanced course, independent study, or even research, keep your notes as a prep tool for
further work.
After effiective listening, good note taking is the most important skill for academic success.
Choose among effiective note-taking styles for what works best for you and modify it to meet the needs of
a specific class or instructor.
List notes are generally less effiective and not prioritized.
Outlines work well for taking notes on a laptop when the instructor is well organized.
Concept map notes are good for showing the relationships among ideas.
The Cornell method is effiective for calling out key concepts and organizing notes for review.
Instructor handouts and PowerPoint presentations help with—but do not replace the need for—personal
note taking.
If you miss a class, explore your options for replacing your missing notes.
Keep your notes organized in a way that makes it easy to study for tests and other uses in the future.
1. Name two advantages of the Cornell system over the list method of note taking.
2. Describe the benefits of—and potential problems with—taking class notes on a laptop.
3. List at least three ways to make up for missing notes because you miss a class.
Identify what is important to remember.
Understand the diffierence between short- and long-term memory.
Use a variety of strategies to build your memory power.
Identify the four key types of mnemonic devices.
Use mnemonics to remember lists of information.
Up to now we have covered how to capture material in your notes. The rest of this chapter is dedicated
to strategies for recording ideas and facts in your memory.
6.1 The Role of Memorization in Learning
Have you ever gone into an exam you have studied for and drawn a blank on a particular question?
Have you ever walked into a room only to forget for a moment why you went there? Have you ever forgotten where you left your keys? How about finding yourself in a conversation with someone whose
name you can’t remember? The fact is, memory fails everyone from time to time. It is not surprising
that students, with a huge amount of information they must commit to memory (not to mention frequent distractions and interruptions), are often frustrated by their memory.
Let’s start by taking some of the pressure offi you. You will not be required to memorize everything
your instructor says in a class—nor should you try to. There is way too much to capture. People speak
at a rate of 100 to 150 words per minute. An average 50-minute lecture may contain around 7,500
words. By listening effiectively and taking notes, your job is to distill the main ideas and a few keywords.
These are the things you should choose to memorize.
In your early and high school education, memorization was a key aspect of learning. You memorized multiplication tables, the names of the states, and vocabulary words. Memorized facts ensured
your success on multiple-choice questions. In college, however, most of your work is focused on understanding the material in depth. Remembering the year of the 9/11 attack (2001) is far less important
than grasping the impact of that attack on American foreign policy. Understanding themes and ideas
and being able to think critically about them is really the key to your success in college learning. For
more on critical thinking skills, see Chapter 3. Although memorization is not the primary key to success, having a good memory is important to capture ideas in your mind, and it helps tremendously in
certain subjects like sciences and foreign languages.
6.2 How Memory Works
Memory is the process of storing and retrieving information. Think of a computer. In many ways it is
an electronic model of the human memory. A computer stores, retrieves, and processes information
similarly to how the human mind does. Like the human version, there are two types of memory: shortterm or active memory (RAM in the computer) and long-term or passive memory (the computer’s
hard drive). As its name suggests, short-term or active memory is made up of the information we are
processing at any given time. Short-term memory involves information being captured at the moment
(such as listening in class) as well as from information retrieved from our passive memory for doing
complex mental tasks (such as thinking critically and drawing conclusions). But short-term memory is
limited and suffiers from the passing of time and lack of use. We begin to forget data within thirty
seconds of not using it, and interruptions (such as phone calls or distractions) require us to rebuild the
short-term memory structure—to get “back on task.” Learn more about multitasking in Chapter 6. To
keep information in our memory, we must either use it or place it into our long-term memory (much
like saving a document on your computer).
How we save information to our long-term memory has a lot to do with our ability to retrieve it
when we need it at a later date. Our mind “saves” information by creating a complex series of links to
the data. The stronger the links, the easier it is to recall. You can strengthen these links by using the following strategies. You should note how closely they are tied to good listening and note-taking
Make a deliberate decision to remember the specific data. “I need to remember Richard’s name”
creates stronger links than just wishing you had a better memory for names.
< Link the information to your everyday life. Ask yourself, “Why is it important that I remember
this material?”—and answer it.
< Link the information to other information you already have “stored,” especially the key themes
of the course, and you will recall the data more easily. Ask yourself how this is related to other
information you have. Look for ways to tie items together. Are they used in similar ways? Do they
have similar meanings? Do they sound alike?
< Mentally group similar individual items into “buckets.” By doing this, you are creating links, for
example, among terms to be memorized. For example, if you have to memorize a vocabulary list
for a Spanish class, group the nouns together with other nouns, verbs with verbs, and so forth. Or
your groupings might be sentences using the vocabulary words.
< Use visual imagery. Picture the concept vividly in your mind. Make those images big, bold, and
colorful—even silly! Pile concepts on top of each other or around each other; exaggerate their
features like a caricature; let your imagination run wild. Humor and crazy imagery can help you
recall key concepts.
< Use the information. Studies have generally shown that we retain only 5 percent of what we hear,
10 percent of what we read, 20 percent of what we learn from multimedia, and 30 percent of what
is demonstrated to us, but we do retain 50 percent of what we discuss, 75 percent of what we
practice by doing, and 90 percent of what we teach others or use immediately in a relevant
activity. Review your notes, participate in class, and study with others.
< Break information down into manageable “chunks.” Memorizing the ten-digit number
“3141592654” seems difflcult, but breaking it down into two sets of three digits and one of four
digits, like a phone number—(314) 159-2654—now makes it easier to remember. (Pat yourself on
the back if you recognized that series of digits: with a decimal point after the three, that’s the
value of pi to ten digits. Remember your last math class?)
< Work from general information to the specific. People usually learn best when they get the big
picture first, and then look at the details.
< Eliminate distractions. Every time you have to “reboot” your short-term memory, you risk losing
data points. Multitasking—listening to music or chatting on Facebook while you study—will play
havoc with your ability to memorize because you will need to reboot your short-term memory
each time you switch mental tasks.
< Repeat, repeat, repeat. Hear the information; read the information; say it (yes, out loud), and say
it again. The more you use or repeat the information, the stronger the links to it. The more senses
you use to process the information, the stronger the memorization. Write information on index
cards to make flash cards and use downtime (when waiting for the subway or during a break
between classes) to review key information.
The process of storing and
retrieving information.
This is a test. Test your memory often. Try to write down everything you know about a specific
subject, from memory. Then go back and check your notes and textbook to see how you did.
Practicing retrieval in this way helps ensure long-term learning of facts and concepts.
< Location, location, location. There is often a strong connection between information and the
place where you first received that information. Associate information to learning locations for
stronger memory links. Picture where you were sitting in the lecture hall as you repeat the facts in
your mind.
Choose a specific fact from each of your classes on a given day. Now find a way of working that information
into your casual conversations during the rest of the day in a way that is natural. Can you do it? What effiect do
you think that will have on your memory of that information?
Read the following list for about twenty seconds. After you have read it, cover it and write down all the items
you remember.
Paper clip
Thumb drive
How many were you able to recall? Most people can remember only a fraction of the items.
Now read the following list for about twenty seconds, cover it, and see how many you remember.
Paper clip
Leia Pen
Thumb drive
Did your recall improve? Why do you think you did better? Was it easier? Most people take much less time doing this version of the list and remember almost all the terms. The list is the same as the first list, but the words
have now been grouped into categories. Use this grouping method to help you remember lists of mixed
words or ideas.
6.3 Using Mnemonics
What do the names of the Great Lakes, the makings of a Big Mac, and the number of days in a month
have in common? They are easily remembered by using mnemonic devices. Mnemonics (pronounced
neh-MA-nicks) are tricks for memorizing lists and data. They create artificial but strong links to the
data, making recall easier. The most commonly used mnemonic devices are acronyms, acrostics,
rhymes, and jingles.
Acronyms are words or phrases made up by using the first letter of each word in a list or phrase.
Need to remember the names of the Great Lakes? Try the acronym HOMES using the first letter of
each lake:
< Ontario
< Michigan
< Erie
< Superior
To create an acronym, first write down the first letters of each term you need to memorize. Then rearrange the letters to create a word or words. You can find acronym generators online (just search for
“acronym generator”) that can help you by offiering options. Acronyms work best when your list of letters includes vowels as well as consonants and when the order of the terms is not important. If no vowels are available, or if the list should be learned in a particular order, try using an acrostic instead.
Acrostics are similar to acronyms in that they work offi the first letter of each word in a list. But
rather than using them to form a word, the letters are represented by entire words in a sentence or
phrase. If you’ve studied music, you may be familiar with “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge” to learn
the names of the notes on the lines of the musical staffi: E, G, B, D, F. The ridiculous and therefore
memorable line “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas” was used by many of us to remember the names of the planets (at least until Pluto was downgraded):
Tricks for memorizing lists
and data.
A word formed from the
initial letters of words in a
phrase or series of words,
such as “USA” for “United
States of America.”
A mnemonic method in
which words in a sentence or
phrase work as memory aids
for something beginning
with the same first letters in
the acrostic.
Educated Earth
Served Saturn Us
To create an acrostic, list the first letters of the terms to be memorized in the order in which you want
to learn them (like the planet names). Then create a sentence or phrase using words that start with
those letters.
Rhymes are short verses used to remember data. A common example is “In fourteen hundred and
ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” Need to remember how many days a given month has?
“Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November<,” and so forth. Writing rhymes is a talent
that can be developed with practice. To start, keep your rhymes short and simple. Define the key information you want to remember and break it down into a series of short phrases. Look at the last
words of the phrases: can you rhyme any of them? If they don’t rhyme, can you substitute or add a
word to create the rhyme? (For example, in the Columbus rhyme, “ninety-two” does not rhyme with
“ocean,” but adding the word “blue” completes the rhyme and creates the mnemonic.)
Jingles are phrases set to music, so that the music helps trigger your memory. Jingles are commonly used by advertisers to get you to remember their product or product features. Remember “Two
all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun”—the original Big
Mac commercial. Anytime you add rhythm to the terms you want to memorize, you are activating your
auditory sense, and the more senses you use for memorization, the stronger the links to the data you
are creating in your mind. To create a jingle for your data, start with a familiar tune and try to create alternate lyrics using the terms you want to memorize. Another approach you may want to try is reading
your data aloud in a hip-hop or rap music style.
Short verses used to
remember data.
A phrase that is set to music
and is easy to remember.
Create an acrostic to remember the noble gasses: helium (He), neon (Ne), argon (Ar), krypton (Kr), xenon (Xe),
and the radioactive radon (Rn).
Create an acronym to remember the names of the G8 group of countries: France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, Germany, Japan, Italy, and Canada. (Hint: Sometimes it helps to substitute terms with
synonyms—“America” for the United States or “England” for the United Kingdom—to get additional options.)
Create a jingle to remember the names of the Seven Dwarfs: Bashful, Doc, Dopey, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, and
Mnemonics are good memory aids, but they aren’t perfect. They take a lot of effiort to develop, and they
also take terms out of context because they don’t focus on the meaning of the words. Since they lack
meaning, they can also be easily forgotten later on, although you may remember them through the
Understanding ideas is generally more important in college than just memorizing facts.
To keep information in our memory, we must use it or build links with it to strengthen it in long-term
Key ways to remember information include linking it to other information already known; organizing facts
in groups of information; eliminating distractions; and repeating the information by hearing, reading, and
saying it aloud.
To remember specific pieces of information, try creating a mnemonic that associates the information with
an acronym or acrostic, a rhyme or a jingle.
1. For each of the following statements, circle T for true or F for false:
T F Preparing for class is important for listening, for taking notes, and for memory.
T F Multitasking enhances your active memory.
T F If you listen carefully, you will remember most of what was said for three days.
T F “Use it or lose it” applies to information you want to remember.
T F Mnemonics should be applied whenever possible.
Chapter Takeaways
Learning involves following a cycle of preparing, absorbing, recording, and reviewing.
The most important diffierence between high school learning and college learning is that colleges
expect you to take full responsibility for your learning. Many of the support mechanisms you had in
high school do not exist in college.
Listening takes place in two primary situations: where there can be open interaction with the speaker
(social conversation, small group discussions, business meetings, and small classes) and where there
is limited interaction with the speaker (lectures, online courses, and podcasts).
In situations where interaction is allowed, active listening principles work well.
In lecture situations, additional strategies are required. They include physical preparation, seating for
listening, eliminating distractions, thinking critically about the material as it is presented, taking notes,
and asking appropriate questions.
Prepare for listening by completing all assignments for the class and reviewing the syllabus. Ask
yourself what you expect to gain from the class and how that ties in to the rest of the course material.
Think critically about what you are listening to. Do you agree with what the instructor is saying? How
does it tie to the rest of the material in the course? What does this new material mean to you in “real”
Note Taking
There are four primary ways of taking notes (lists, outlines, concept maps, and the Cornell method).
Select the note-taking method that best serves your learning style and the instructor’s teaching style.
Remember that methods may be combined for maximum effiect.
Completing assignments and reviewing the syllabus can help you define the relative importance of
the ideas the instructor presents.
Don’t expect to capture everything the instructor says. Look for keywords and central ideas.
Anything the instructor writes on the board is likely to be important.
Review your notes as soon as possible after the class, to annotate, correct, complete, and summarize.
The two types of memory are short-term memory, which allows you to apply knowledge to a specific
task, and long-term memory, which allows you to store and recall information.
The brain commits information to long-term memory by creating an intricate system of links to that
information. Strength, number, and variety of links all lead to better recall.
To create strong links, start by making a conscious decision to want to commit something specific to
memory. Link the information to real life and other data from the course. Group like information into
“buckets” that create links among the terms you want to remember.
Use the information. The more you use the information, the more you will activate the links in your
Eliminate distractions. Every time you are diverted from your task, you need to reboot your short-term
memory, weakening the links.
1. Describe the four steps of active listening.
2. How is listening defined?
3. List three things you should do to prepare to listen in class.
4. Where should you sit in a class? Why?
5. What should you do with your notes soon after each class?
6. Why do you think the Cornell method of note taking is recommended by so many colleges?
7. How do short-term and long-term memory diffier?
8. List three ways in which you can create links to help remember ideas.
9. Why is multitasking dangerous to memorization?
10. What is a mnemonic?
Two things I will do to
My listening
My note taking
My memory
By when I expect to take
the action
How I will know I accomplished
the action
Reading to Learn
FI G U RE 5 . 1
© 2010 Jupiterimages Corporation
Where Are You Now?
Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.
Unsure No Yes
1. I am a good reader and like to read for pleasure.
2. I feel overwhelmed by the amount of reading I have to do for classes.
3. I usually understand what is written in textbooks.
4. I get frustrated by difflcult books.
5. I find it easy to stay focused on my reading.
6. I am easily bored reading for classes.
7. I take useful notes when I read.
8. I can successfully study for a test from the notes I have taken.
9. I use a dictionary when needed while reading.
10. I have trouble reading long passages on the computer screen.
Where Do You Want to Go?
Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself. On a scale of 1 to 10, how
would you rate your level of academic reading at this time?
Poor reader
Excellent reader
In the following list, circle the three most important areas in which you think you can improve:
Preparing for reading
Understanding what you read
Staying focused while reading
Selecting the best location for reading
Selecting the best time for reading assignments
Breaking down assignments into manageable pieces
Working my way through a difflcult text
Setting priorities for reading assignments
Reading faster
Taking notes while reading
Finding strategies for highlighting and marginal notes
Reading primary source documents
Improving my vocabulary
Are there other ways in which you can improve your reading? Write down other things you feel you need to
work on.
How to Get There
Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:
Understanding why reading is so important for college success
Learning how reading fits into the learning cycle
Learning how reading in college is diffierent from reading in high school
Discovering the principles of reading to learn (active reading)
Knowing where, when, and how long to read
Discovering the anatomy of a textbook
Learning tips for reading textbooks in specific subjects
Learning tips for reading primary sources
Learning tips for reading digital texts
Building your vocabulary
Sure you can read. After all, that’s what you are doing now, at this moment. But reading to learn is active reading, a process that involves much more than the mechanics of converting a set of letters into
meaningful words. It is a process that you will use for gathering much of the new information you get
in school—and in life.
Does the following sound familiar? You’ve had a full day of classes, so you go to the gym to get in a
workout. Afterward, you meet a friend who suggests going out for a quick bite; you get back to your
room around eight o’clock and settle in to work on your reading assignment, a chapter from your sociology text entitled “Stratification and Social Mobility.” You jump right in to the first paragraph, but the
second paragraph seems a bit tougher. Suddenly you wake up and shake your head and see your clock
says 11:15 p.m. Oh no! Three hours down the drain napping, and your book is still staring back at you
at the beginning of the chapter, and you have a crick in your neck.
Now, picture this: You schedule yourself for a series of shorter reading periods at the library
between classes and during the afternoon. You spend a few minutes preparing for what you are going
to read, and you get to work with pen and paper in hand. After your scheduled reading periods, by 5:30
p.m. you have completed the assignment, making a note that you are interested in comparing the social
mobility in India with that in the United States. You reward yourself with a workout and dinner with a
friend. At 8 p.m., you return to your room and review your notes, feeling confident that you are ready
for the next class.
The diffierence between these two scenarios is active reading. Active reading is a planned, deliberate set of strategies to engage with text-based materials with the purpose of increasing your understanding. This is a key skill you need to master for college. Along with listening, it is the primary method for absorbing new ideas and information in college. But active reading also applies to and facilitates
the other steps of the learning cycle; it is critical for preparing, capturing, and reviewing, too.
FI GU R E 5 .2 The Role of Reading in the Learning Cycle
In this chapter, you will learn the basics of active reading. Follow all the recommended steps, even
though at first you may think they take too long. In the end, you will be able to cut your reading time
while increasing what you learn from reading. Read on!
1. Explain how reading in college is diffierent from reading in high school.
2. Understand the importance of reading for college learning.
Think back to a high school history or literature class. Those were probably the classes in which you
had the most reading. You would be assigned a chapter, or a few pages in a chapter, with the expectation that you would be discussing the reading assignment in class. In class, the teacher would guide you
and your classmates through a review of your reading and ask questions to keep the discussion moving.
The teacher usually was a key part of how you learned from your reading.
If you have been away from school for some time, it’s likely that your reading has been fairly casual. While time spent with a magazine or newspaper can be important, it’s not the sort of concentrated
reading you will do in college. And no one will ask you to write in response to a magazine piece you’ve
read or quiz you about a newspaper article.
active reading
A conscious process in which
the reader chooses to create
an interaction with the
written word, with the
objective of increasing
ancillary materials
Additional or supplemental
reading materials beyond a
standard course textbook.
These may include journal
articles and academic papers.
primary sources
Documents, letters, diaries,
newspaper reports, financial
reports, lab reports, and
records that directly report or
offier new information or
ideas, rather than secondary
sources (like many textbooks)
that collect information that
originated in primary sources.
In college, reading is much diffierent. You will be expected to read much more. For each hour you
spend in the classroom, you will be expected to spend two or more additional hours studying between
classes, and most of that will be reading. Assignments will be longer (a couple of chapters is common,
compared with perhaps only a few pages in high school) and much more difflcult. College textbook authors write using many technical terms and include complex ideas. Many college authors include research, and some textbooks are written in a style you may find very dry. You will also have to read from
a variety of sources: your textbook, ancillary materials, primary sources, academic journals, periodicals, and online postings. Your assignments in literature courses will be complete books, possibly
with convoluted plots and unusual wording or dialects, and they may have so many characters you’ll
feel like you need a scorecard to keep them straight.
In college, most instructors do not spend much time reviewing the reading assignment in class.
Rather, they expect that you have done the assignment before coming to class and understand the material. The class lecture or discussion is often based on that expectation. Tests, too, are based on that expectation. This is why active reading is so important—it’s up to you to do the reading and comprehend
what you read.
Note: It may not always be clear on an instructor’s syllabus, but a reading assignment listed on any
given class date should be read before coming to class on that date.
College reading is very diffierent from high school reading.
You must take personal responsibility for understanding what you read.
Expect to spend about two or more hours on homework, most of it reading, for every hour you spend in
Reading is a primary means for absorbing ideas in the learning cycle, but it is also very important for the
other three aspects of the learning cycle.
1. Understand the four steps of active learning.
2. Develop strategies to help you read effiectively and quickly.
The four steps of active reading are almost identical to the four phases of the learning cycle—and that is
no coincidence! Active reading is learning through reading the written word, so the learning cycle naturally applies. Active reading involves these steps:
1. Preparing
2. Reading
3. Capturing the key ideas
4. Reviewing
Let’s take a look at how to use each step when reading.
3.1 Preparing to Read
front matter
A publishing term used to
describe the first parts of the
book that are not part of the
actual text. The front matter
may include a preface, a
foreword, an introduction,
biographical profiles of the
authors, and the table of
Start by thinking about why your instructor has chosen this text. Has the instructor said anything
about the book or the author? Look at the table of contents; how does it compare with the course syllabus? What can you learn about the author from the front matter of the book (see Table 5.1)?
Understanding this background will give you the context of the book and help define what is most important in the text. Doing this exercise once per textbook will give you a great deal of insight
throughout the course.
Now it is time to develop a plan of attack for your assignment. Your first step in any reading assignment is to understand the context of what you are about to read. Think of your reading assignment
in relation to the large themes or goals the instructor has spelled out for the class. Remember that you
are not merely reading—you are reading for a purpose. What parts of a reading assignment should you
pay special attention to, and what parts can you browse through? As we mentioned in the beginning of
this chapter, you will be expected to do a considerable amount of reading in college, and you will not
get through it all by reading each and every word with a high level of focus and mental intensity. This is
why it is so important to learn to define where to invest your effiorts.
Open your text to the assigned pages. What is the chapter title? Is the chapter divided into sections? What are the section titles? Which sections are longer? Are there any illustrations? What are they
about? Illustrations in books cost money, so chances are the author and publisher thought these topics
were particularly important, or they would not have been included. How about tables? What kinds of
information do they show? Are there bold or italicized words? Are these terms you are familiar with, or
are they new to you? Are you getting a sense for what is important in the chapter? Use the critical
thinking skills discussed in Chapter 3 as you think about your observations. Why did the author choose
to cover certain ideas and to highlight specific ideas with graphics or boldface fonts? What do they tell
you about what will be most important for you in your course? What do you think your instructor
wants you to get out of the assignment? Why?
Anatomy of a Textbook
Good textbooks are designed to help you learn, not just to present information. They diffier from other types of
academic publications intended to present research findings, advance new ideas, or deeply examine a specific
subject. Textbooks have many features worth exploring because they can help you understand your reading
better and learn more effiectively. In your textbooks, look for the elements listed in the table below.
Anatomy of a Textbook
What It Is
Why You Might Find It Helpful
Preface or
A section at the beginning of a book in
Introduction which the author or editor outlines its
purpose and scope, acknowledges
individuals who helped prepare the
book, and perhaps outlines the features
of the book.
You will gain perspective on the author’s point
of view, what the author considers important. If
the preface is written with the student in mind,
it will also give you guidance on how to “use”
the textbook and its features.
A section at the beginning of the book,
often written by an expert in the
subject matter (diffierent from the
author) endorsing the author’s work
and explaining why the work is
A foreword will give you an idea about what
makes this book diffierent from others in the
field. It may provide hints as to why your
instructor selected the book for your course.
Author Profile
A short biography of the author This will help you understand the author’s
illustrating the author’s credibility in the perspective and what the author considers
subject matter.
Table of
A listing of all the chapters in the book The table of contents is an outline of the entire
and, in most cases, primary sections book. It will be very helpful in establishing links
within chapters.
among the text, the course objectives, and the
Chapter Preview A section at the beginning of each
chapter in which the author outlines
or Learning
Objectives what will be covered in the chapter and
what the student should expect to
know or be able to do at the end of the
These sections are invaluable for determining
what you should pay special attention to. Be
sure to compare these outcomes with the
objectives stated in the course syllabus.
The first paragraph(s) of a chapter,
which states the chapter’s objectives
and key themes. An introduction is also
common at the beginning of primary
chapter sections.
Introductions to chapters or sections are “must
reads” because they give you a road map to the
material you are about to read, pointing you to
what is truly important in the chapter or section.
Applied Practice Exercises, activities, or drills designed to
let students apply their knowledge
gained from the reading. Some of these
features may be presented via Web
sites designed to supplement the text.
These features provide you with a great way to
confirm your understanding of the material. If
you have trouble with them, you should go
back and reread the section. They also have the
additional benefit of improving your recall of
the material.
A section at the end of a chapter that It is a good idea to read this section before you
confirms key ideas presented in the read the body of the chapter. It will help you
strategize about where you should invest your
reading effiort.
Review Material A section at the end of the chapter that The review questions will help you confirm your
includes additional applied practice understanding of the material.
exercises, review questions, and
suggestions for further reading.
and Formal citations of sources used to These will help you infer the author’s biases and
prepare the text.
are also valuable if doing further research on the
subject for a paper.
Now, before actually starting to read, try to give your reading more direction. Are you ever bored when
reading a textbook? Students sometimes feel that about some of their textbooks. In this step, you create
a purpose or quest for your reading, and this will help you become more actively engaged and less
Start by checking your attitude: if you are unhappy about the reading assignment and complaining
that you even have to read it, you will have trouble with the reading. You need to get “psyched” for the
assignment. Stoke your determination by setting yourself a reasonable time to complete the assignment
and schedule some short breaks for yourself. Approach the reading with a sense of curiosity and thirst
for new understanding. Think of yourself more as an investigator looking for answers than a student
doing a homework assignment.
Take out your notebook for the class for which you are doing the reading. Remember the Cornell
method of note taking from Chapter 4? You will use the same format here with a narrow column on
the left and a wide column on the right. This time, with reading, approach taking notes slightly
diffierently. In the Cornell method used for class notes, you took notes in the right column and wrote in
questions and comments in the left column after class as you reviewed your notes. When using this system with reading, write your questions about the reading first in the left column (spacing them well
apart so that you have plenty of room for your notes while you read in the right column). From your
preliminary scanning of the pages, as described previously, you should already have questions at your
Use your critical thinking skill of questioning what the author is saying. Turn the title of each major section of the reading into a question and write it down in your left column of your notes. For example, if the section title is “The End of the Industrial Revolution,” you might write, “What caused the
Industrial Revolution to end?” If the section title is “The Chemistry of Photosynthesis,” you might
write, “What chemical reactions take place to cause photosynthesis, and what are the outcomes?” Note
that your questions are related to the kind of material you are hearing about in class, and they usually
require not a short answer but a thoughtful, complete understanding. Ideally, you should not already
know the answer to the questions you are writing! (What fun is a quest if you already know each turn
and strategy? Expect to learn something new in your reading even if you are familiar with the topic
already.) Finally, also in the left column, jot down any keywords that appear in boldface. You will want
to discover their definitions and the significance of each as you read.
A C T I V I T Y :
N O W !
OK. Time to take a break from reading this book. Choose a textbook in which you have a current reading assignment. Scan the assigned pages, looking for what is really important, and write down your questions using
the Cornell method.
Now answer the following questions with a journal entry.
Do you feel better prepared to read this assignment? How?
Do you feel more confident?
Do you feel less overwhelmed?
Do you feel more focused?
Alternative Approaches for Preparing to Read
In Chapter 4 you may have determined that you are more comfortable with the outline or concept map
methods of note taking. You can use either of these methods also to prepare for reading. With the outline method, start with the chapter title as your primary heading, then create subheadings for each section, rephrasing each section title in terms of a question.
If you are more comfortable using the concept map method, start with the chapter title as your
center and create branches for each section within the chapter. Make sure you phrase each item as a
3.2 Now Read
Now you are ready to start reading actively. Start by taking a look at your notes; they are your road
map. What is the question you would like to answer in the first section? Before you start reading, reflect
about what you already know about the subject. Even if you don’t know anything, this step helps put
you in the right mind-set to accept new material. Now read through the entire section with the objective of understanding it. Follow these tips while reading, but do not start taking notes or highlighting
text at this point:
Look for answers to the questions you wrote.
Pay particular attention to the first and last lines of each paragraph.
< Think about the relationships among section titles, boldface words, and graphics.
< Skim quickly over parts of the section that are not related to the key questions.
After reading the section, can you answer the section question you earlier wrote in your notes? Did you
discover additional questions that you should have asked or that were not evident from the title of the
section? Write them down now on your notes page. Can you define the keywords used in the text? If
you can’t do either of these things, go back and reread the section.
3.3 Capture the Key Ideas
Once you can answer your questions effiectively and can define the new and keywords, it is time to
commit these concepts to your notes and to your memory. Start by writing the answers to your questions in your notes in the right column. Also define the keywords you found in the reading.
Now is also the time to go back and reread the section with your highlighter or pencil to call out
key ideas and words and make notes in your margins. Marking up your book may go against what you
were told in high school, when the school owned the books and expected to use them year after year. In
college, you bought the book. Make it truly yours. Although some students may tell you that you can
get more cash by selling a used book that is not marked up, this should not be a concern at this
time—that’s not nearly as important as understanding the reading and doing well in the class!
The purpose of marking your textbook is to make it your personal studying assistant with the key
ideas called out in the text. Most readers tend to highlight too much, however, hiding key ideas in a sea
of yellow lines. When it comes to highlighting, less is more. Think critically before you highlight. Your
choices will have a big impact on what you study and learn for the course. Make it your objective to
highlight no more than 10 percent of the text.
Use your pencil also to make annotations in the margin. Use a symbol like an exclamation mark (!)
or an asterisk (*) to mark an idea that is particularly important. Use a question mark (?) to indicate
something you don’t understand or are unclear about. Box new words, then write a short definition in
the margin. Use “TQ” (for “test question”) or some other shorthand or symbol to signal key things that
may appear in test or quiz questions. Write personal notes on items where you disagree with the author. Don’t feel you have to use the symbols listed here; create your own if you want, but be consistent.
Your notes won’t help you if the first question you later have is “I wonder what I meant by that?”
If you are reading an essay from a magazine or an academic journal, remember that such articles
are typically written in response to other articles. In Chapter 4, you learned to be on the lookout for signal words when you listen. This applies to reading, too. You’ll need to be especially alert to signals like
“according to” or “Jones argues,” which make it clear that the ideas don’t belong to the author of the
piece you are reading. Be sure to note when an author is quoting someone else or summarizing another
person’s position. Sometimes, students in a hurry to get through a complicated article don’t clearly distinguish the author’s ideas from the ideas the author argues against. Other words like “yet” or
“however” indicate a turn from one idea to another. Words like “critical,” “significant,” and
“important” signal ideas you should look at closely.
After annotating, you are ready to read the next section.
3.4 Reviewing What You Read
When you have completed each of the sections for your assignment, you should review what you have
read. Start by answering these questions: “What did I learn?” and “What does it mean?” Next, write a
summary of your assigned reading, in your own words, in the box at the base of your notepaper. Working from your notes, cover up the answers to your questions and answer each of your questions aloud.
(Yes, out loud. Remember from Chapter 4 that memory is improved by using as many senses as possible?) Think about how each idea relates to material the instructor is covering in class. Think about
how this new knowledge may be applied in your next class.
If the text has review questions at the end of the chapter, answer those, too. Talk to other students
about the reading assignment. Merge your reading notes with your class notes and review both together. How does your reading increase your understanding of what you have covered in class and vice
3.5 Strategies for Textbook Reading
The four steps to active reading provide a proven approach to effiective learning from texts. Following
are some strategies you can use to enhance your reading even further:
Pace yourself. Figure out how much time you have to complete the assignment. Divide the
assignment into smaller blocks rather than trying to read the entire assignment in one sitting. If
you have a week to do the assignment, for example, divide the work into five daily blocks, not
seven; that way you won’t be behind if something comes up to prevent you from doing your work
on a given day. If everything works out on schedule, you’ll end up with an extra day for review.
< Schedule your reading. Set aside blocks of time, preferably at the time of the day when you are
most alert, to do your reading assignments. Don’t just leave them for the end of the day after
completing written and other assignments.
< Get yourself in the right space. Choose to read in a quiet, well-lit space. Your chair should be
comfortable but provide good support. Libraries were designed for reading—they should be your
first option! Don’t use your bed for reading textbooks; since the time you were read bedtime
stories, you have probably associated reading in bed with preparation for sleeping. The
combination of the cozy bed, comforting memories, and dry text is sure to invite some shut-eye!
< Avoid distractions. Active reading takes place in your short-term memory. Every time you move
from task to task, you have to “reboot” your short-term memory and you lose the continuity of
active reading. Multitasking—listening to music or texting on your cell while you read—will
cause you to lose your place and force you to start over again. Every time you lose focus, you cut
your effiectiveness and increase the amount of time you need to complete the assignment.
< Avoid reading fatigue. Work for about fifty minutes, and then give yourself a break for five to ten
minutes. Put down the book, walk around, get a snack, stretch, or do some deep knee bends.
Short physical activity will do wonders to help you feel refreshed.
< Read your most difflcult assignments early in your reading time, when you are freshest.
< Make your reading interesting. Try connecting the material you are reading with your class
lectures or with other chapters. Ask yourself where you disagree with the author. Approach
finding answers to your questions like an investigative reporter. Carry on a mental conversation
with the author.
Consider why the instructor has selected the particular text. Map the table of contents to the course
Understand how your textbook is put together and what features might help you with your reading.
Plan your reading by scanning the reading assignment first, then create questions based on the section
titles. These will help you focus and prioritize your reading.
Use the Cornell method for planning your reading and recording key ideas.
Don’t try to highlight your text as you read the first time through. At that point, it is hard to tell what is
really important.
End your reading time by reviewing your notes.
Pace yourself and read in a quiet space with minimal distractions.
1. List the four steps to active reading. Which one do you think will take most time? Why?
2. Think of your most difflcult textbook. What features can you use to help you understand the material
3. What things most commonly distract you when you are reading? What can you do to control these
4. List three specific places on your campus or at home that are appropriate for you to do your reading
assignments. Which is best suited? What can you do to improve that reading environment?
1. Recognize strategies for reading special types of material and special situations, such as the
< Mathematics texts
< Science texts
< Social studies texts
< Primary sources
< Foreign language texts
< Integrating reading with your family life
< Online reading
While the active reading process outlined earlier is very useful for most assignments, you should consider some additional strategies for reading assignments in other subjects.
4.1 Mathematics Texts
Mathematics present unique challenges in that they typically contain a great number of formulas,
charts, sample problems, and exercises. Follow these guidelines:
Do not skip over these special elements as you work through the text.
< Read the formulas and make sure you understand the meaning of all the factors.
< Substitute actual numbers for the variables and work through the formula.
< Make formulas real by applying them to real-life situations.
< Do all exercises within the assigned text to make sure you understand the material.
< Since mathematical learning builds upon prior knowledge, do not go on to the next section until
you have mastered the material in the current section.
< Seek help from the instructor or teaching assistant during offlce hours if need be.
Reading Graphics
You read earlier about noticing graphics in your text as a signal of important ideas. But it is equally important to understand
what the graphics intend to convey. Textbooks contain tables, charts, maps, diagrams, illustrations, photographs, and the
newest form of graphics—Internet URLs for accessing text and media material. Many students are tempted to skip over
graphic material and focus only on the reading. Don’t. Take the time to read and understand your textbook’s graphics. They
will increase your understanding, and because they engage diffierent comprehension processes, they will create diffierent
kinds of memory links to help you remember the material.
To get the most out of graphic material, use your critical thinking skills and question why each illustration is present
and what it means. Don’t just glance at the graphics; take time to read the title, caption, and any labeling in the illustration.
In a chart, read the data labels to understand what is being shown or compared. Think about projecting the data points beyond the scope of the chart; what would happen next? Why?
Table 5.2 shows the most common graphic elements and notes what they do best. This knowledge may help guide your
critical analysis of graphic elements.
TABLE 5 .2 Common Uses of Textbook Graphics
FI GU R E 5 . 3 Table
Most often used to present raw data. Understand what is being
measured. What data points stand out as very high or low? Why?
Ask yourself what might cause these measurements to change.
FI GU R E 5 . 4 Bar Chart
Used to compare quantitative data or show changes in data over
time. Also can be used to compare a limited number of data
series over time. Often an illustration of data that can also be
presented in a table.
FI GU R E 5 . 5 Line Chart
FI GU R E 5 . 6 Pie Chart
Used to illustrate a trend in a series of data. May be used to
compare diffierent series over time.
Used to illustrate the distribution or share of elements as a part
of a whole. Ask yourself what effiect a change in distribution of
factors would have on the whole.
FI GU R E 5 .7 Map
FI GU R E 5 .8 Photograph
FI GU R E 5 .9 Illustration
Used to illustrate geographic distributions or movement across
geographical space. In some cases can be used to show
concentrations of populations or resources. When encountering
a map, ask yourself if changes or comparisons are being
illustrated. Understand how those changes or comparisons
relate to the material in the text.
Used to represent a person, a condition, or an idea discussed in
the text. Sometimes photographs serve mainly to emphasize an
important person or situation, but photographs can also be used
to make a point. Ask yourself if the photograph reveals a biased
point of view.
Used to illustrate parts of an item. Invest time in these graphics.
They are often used as parts of quizzes or exams. Look carefully
at the labels. These are vocabulary words you should be able to
FI GU R E 5 .1 0 Flowchart or Diagram
Commonly used to illustrate processes. As you look at diagrams,
ask yourself, “What happens first? What needs to happen to
move to the next step?”
4.2 Scientific Texts
Science occurs through the experimental process: posing hypotheses, and then using experimental data
to prove or disprove them. When reading scientific texts, look for hypotheses and list them in the left
column of your notes pages. Then make notes on the proof (or disproof) in the right column. In scientific studies these are as important as the questions you ask for other texts. Think critically about the
hypotheses and the experiments used to prove or disprove them. Think about questions like these:
Can the experiment or observation be repeated? Would it reach the same results?
Why did these results occur? What kinds of changes would affiect the results?
< How could you change the experiment design or method of observation? How would you
measure your results?
< What are the conclusions reached about the results? Could the same results be interpreted in a
diffierent way?
4.3 Social Sciences Texts
Social sciences texts, such as those for history, economics, and political science classes, often involve interpretation where the authors’ points of view and theories are as important as the facts they present.
Put your critical thinking skills into overdrive when you are reading these texts. As you read, ask yourself questions such as the following:
Why is the author using this argument?
< Is it consistent with what we’re learning in class?
< Do I agree with this argument?
< Would someone with a diffierent point of view dispute this argument?
< What key ideas would be used to support a counterargument?
A personal inclination that
may prevent unprejudiced
consideration of a question.
Record your reflections in the margins and in your notes.
Social science courses often require you to read primary source documents. Primary sources include documents, letters, diaries, newspaper reports, financial reports, lab reports, and records that
provide firsthand accounts of the events, practices, or conditions you are studying. Start by understanding the author(s) of the document and his or her agenda. Infer their intended audience. What response did the authors hope to get from their audience? Do you consider this a bias? How does that bias affiect your thinking about the subject? Do you recognize personal biases that affiect how you might
interpret the document?
4.4 Foreign Language Texts
Reading texts in a foreign language is particularly challenging—but it also provides you with invaluable
practice and many new vocabulary words in your “new” language. It is an effiort that really pays offi.
Start by analyzing a short portion of the text (a sentence or two) to see what you do know. Remember
that all languages are built on idioms as much as on individual words. Do any of the phrase structures
look familiar? Can you infer the meaning of the sentences? Do they make sense based on the context? If
you still can’t make out the meaning, choose one or two words to look up in your dictionary and try
again. Look for longer words, which generally are the nouns and verbs that will give you meaning
sooner. Don’t rely on a dictionary (or an online translator); a word-for-word translation does not always yield good results. For example, the Spanish phrase “Entre y tome asiento” might correctly be
translated (word for word) as “Between and drink a seat,” which means nothing, rather than its actual
meaning, “Come in and take a seat.”
Reading in a foreign language is hard and tiring work. Make sure you schedule significantly more
time than you would normally allocate for reading in your own language and reward yourself with
more frequent breaks. But don’t shy away from doing this work; the best way to learn a new language is
practice, practice, practice.
Note to English-language learners: You may feel that every book you are assigned is in a foreign
language. If you do struggle with the high reading level required of college students, check for college
resources that may be available to ESL (English as a second language) learners. Never feel that those resources are only for weak students. As a second-language learner, you possess a rich linguistic experience that many American-born students should envy. You simply need to account for the difflculties
you’ll face and (like anyone learning a new language) practice, practice, practice.
A C T I V I T Y :
Go online and open a Web-based language translator such as Babel Fish ( In
the translation window, type in a phrase that you or your friends might say in your daily conversations, including any slang terms. Translate it to another language (any language will do) and then copy the translation.
Then open a new translation window, paste the translated phrase, and translate back from that language to
English. Does it match your original phrase? Try this with other languages to see if your results vary. What does
this tell you about automated translation programs?
4.5 Integrating Reading with Your Family Life
If you are a parent of young children, you know how hard it is to get your schoolwork done with them
around. You might want to consider some of these strategies.
Don’t expect that you will often get long periods of uninterrupted reading time. Find or create
short periods of time to do things like scanning the assignment and preparing your questions.
< Schedule your heavy reading for early in the morning or late at night when the children are
sleeping. Don’t use that precious uninterrupted time for watching television or washing the
dishes; those can be done when the kids are awake.
< Read to your children and then tell them it’s time for everybody to read their own book. (Even
very young children like to “read” books by looking at the pictures.) You’ll be surprised how long
kids will read, especially when they see Mommy and Daddy reading, too.
< Take your reading with you. You can get a lot of reading done while waiting for your children
during music or dance class or soccer practice, or while you wait to pick them up at school.
< Share child-care responsibilities with other students who also have children. This can buy an
additional big block of reading time for each of you.
4.6 Online Reading
When accessing materials online, you should ask additional questions in order to fully understand the
assignment. The Internet provides access to virtually endless numbers of articles on just about any subject. The following five steps will help you understand the “story behind the story” in online materials
and also evaluate the reliability of the material, especially if this is a reading you selected yourself for research or independent work.
An expression whose
meaning is not predictable
by the meanings of the
words that make it up; many
slang expressions are idioms.
An Internet address; URL
stands for “uniform resource
1. Look at the URL, the Web address. It can give you important information about the reliability
and intentions of the site. Start with the page publisher (the words following the “www” or
between the “http//” and the first single backslash). Have you heard of this source before? If so,
would you consider it a reliable source for the kind of material you are about to read? For
example, you might happen upon an article about cholesterol with this URL: The page publisher identifier
shows this is the Web site of the American Heart Association, a reputable source of health
information. Now consider the domain type in the URL, which follows the period after the
publisher. “.com” and “.biz” are used by commercial enterprises, “.org” is normally used by
nonprofit organizations, and “.edu” is reserved for educational institutions. None of these is
necessarily bad or good, but it may give you a sense of the motivation for publishing this material.
For example, a diffierent article about cholesterol on a pharmaceutical company’s Web site might
be biased toward treatment of high cholesterol with a drug the company makes.
2. Look at the page’s perimeter and the “masthead” at the top of the page. What name is listed
there? Is it the same entity as the one listed as the publisher in the URL? Are you dealing with a
company or the Web site of an individual—and how might that affiect the quality of the
information on this site? What can you learn from poking around with navigation tabs or
buttons: what do they tell you about the objective of the Web site? Look for a tab labeled “About
Us” or “Biography”; those pages will give you additional background on the writer.
3. Check the quality of the information. Based on what you learned earlier, ask yourself if the
information from this Web site is reliable for your needs. If the material you are reading was
originally published elsewhere, was that publication reputable, such as an academic or peerreviewed journal or a well-known newspaper? If you need the most up-to-date information,
check the bottom of the page, where a “last modified” date may be shown. Does the author
reference reliable sources? What links does the author offier to other Web sites? Are they active
and reputable?
4. Consider what others are saying about the site. Does the author offier references, reviews, or
quotes about the material? Check blogs to see what other people think of the author or Web site
by searching for the title of the article together with the word “review” or “blog.” Enter the Web
site’s URL in the search engine at to see what other Web sites link to the
one you are reading.
5. Trust your impressions about the material. You have recently been exposed to related material in
your class and textbooks. What does your “gut” say about the material? Ask yourself why the
Web site was written. (To inform and provide data or facts? To sell something? To promote a
cause? To parody?) If you are unsure of the quality of the information, don’t use it or check first
with your instructor or college librarian before you do.
Additional Resources
University of California Berkeley Library.
Cornell University Olin and Uris Libraries.
Duke University Library.
Do all the exercises in math textbooks; apply the formulas to real-world situations.
Each type of graphic material has its own strength; those strengths are usually clues about what the author
wants to emphasize by using the graphic.
Look for statements of hypotheses and experimental design when reading science texts.
History, economics, and political science texts are heavily influenced by interpretation. Think critically
about what you are reading.
Working with foreign language texts requires more time and more frequent breaks. Don’t rely on word-forword translations.
If you need to read with children around, don’t put offi your reading until you have a large block of time;
there is much you can do with short reading periods.
Online materials offier endless possibilities, but select Web sites for information carefully to ensure
reliability and currency.
Go online and find an article about something you are reading about in a textbook. (Use the five steps to evaluate the article.) Scan both the Web page and the equivalent textbook section and list your questions for
both. Are the questions diffierent, or are many similar? How does each author answer those questions? Which
do you think is better written and more authoritative? Why?
1. Recognize the importance of building your vocabulary.
2. Master techniques for building your vocabulary.
Both leaders and advertisers inspire people to take action by choosing their words carefully and using
them precisely. A good vocabulary is essential for success in any role that involves communication, and
just about every role in life requires good communication skills. We include this section on vocabulary
in this chapter on reading because of the connections between vocabulary building and reading. Building your vocabulary will make your reading easier, and reading is the best way to build your
Learning new words can be fun and does not need to involve tedious rote memorization of word
lists. The first step, as in any other aspect of the learning cycle, is to prepare yourself to learn. Consciously decide that you want to improve your vocabulary; decide you want to be a student of words.
Work to become more aware of the words around you: the words you hear, the words you read, the
words you say, and those you write.
Do you have a lazy vocabulary? Wake it up with the “lazy speech” exercise.
A C T I V I T Y :
Recruit a friend you spend a lot of time with. Give them an index card with the following words written on it
and ask them to keep a tally of the number of times you say these words sometime when you are together for
an hour or more. If you have a small recorder, give it to the person and ask them to record you at a time you
are not aware of it.
Ummm or Uhh
You know
Include in this list any other words, including expletives, that you may be using without thinking.
Are there words you constantly overuse? Were you surprised at how often you used some of these expressions? Now that you are aware of the frequency you use certain expressions, what strategies can you use to
control or substitute more articulate and expressive words for them?
Building a stronger vocabulary should start with a strong foundation of healthy word use. Just as you
can bring your overuse of certain words to your conscious awareness in the previous activity, think
about the kinds of words you should be using more frequently. Some of the words you might consciously practice are actually very simple ones you already know but significantly underuse or use imprecisely. For example, many students say he or she “goes” instead of he or she “says.” If you take it a
step further, you can consider more accurate choices still. Perhaps, he “claims” or she “argues.” Maybe
he “insists” or “assumes.” Or it could be that she “believes” or she “suggests.” This may seem like a
small matter, but it’s important from both a reader’s and a writer’s perspective to distinguish among
the diffierent meanings. And you can develop greater awareness by bringing some of these words into
your speech.
These habits are easier to put into action if you have more and better material to draw upon: a
stronger vocabulary. The following tips will help you gain and correctly use more words.
Be on the lookout for new words. Most will come to you as you read, but they may also appear in
an instructor’s lecture, a class discussion, or a casual conversation with a friend. They may pop up
in random places like billboards, menus, or even online ads!
< Write down the new words you encounter, along with the sentences in which they were used.
Do this in your notes with new words from a class or reading assignment. If a new word does not
come from a class, you can write it on just about anything, but make sure you write it. Many
word lovers carry a small notepad or a stack of index cards specifically for this purpose.
< Infer the meaning of the word. The context in which the word is used may give you a good clue
about its meaning. Do you recognize a common word root in the word? (Check Table 5.3 for
common roots.) What do you think it means?
< Look up the word in a dictionary. Do this as soon as possible (but only after inferring the
meaning). When you are reading, you should have a dictionary at hand for this purpose. In other
situations, do this within a couple hours, definitely during the same day. How does the dictionary
definition compare with what you inferred?
< Write the word in a sentence, ideally one that is relevant to you. If the word has more than one
definition, write a sentence for each.
< Say the word out loud and then say the definition and the sentence you wrote.
< Use the word. Find occasion to use the word in speech or writing over the next two days.
< Schedule a weekly review with yourself to go over your new words and their meanings.
TABLE 5 .3 Common Latin and Greek Word Roots
Meaning Examples
automatic, automobile
bicycle, biplane
biography, biology
chrono time
synchronize, chronicle
predict, dictate
give birth generate, genetic
thought biology, logic, pathology
geology, geography, geometry
manu hand
manufacture, manual
philosophy, anglophile
transport, portable
submarine, subtract
vacuum, evacuate
Where Have You Been All My Life?
The following are some fun ways to find new words:
When you look up a word in the dictionary, look at other interesting words on the same page.
Solve crossword puzzles.
Play word games like Scrabble, Boggle, or Pictionary.
Watch movies.
Listen to speeches and attend lectures.
Go to comedy clubs.
Have discussions (not just casual conversations) with friends.
Read some more.
The best way to build your vocabulary is to read, and a stronger vocabulary makes it easier and more fun
to read.
Be aware of your own lazy vocabulary and try to avoid those words and expressions.
Look for new words everywhere, not just in class readings.
Before you look up a word in the dictionary, infer its meaning based on its context and roots.
After you look up a word in the dictionary, write your own sentence using the new word. Say the word and
definition out loud.
Use the new word as soon as possible.
1. Which words do you habitually overuse? Do your friends overuse the same words? How can you
collaborate to correct that overuse?
2. During the course of the day, find five new words in five diffierent places. What were those words, and
where did you uncover them?
3. What do the words “manuscript,” “scribe,” and “scribble” have in common? Can you detect the same root
in these words?
4. What do you think the root means?
Chapter Takeaways
Reading, like learning, involves a cycle of preparing, absorbing, recording, and reviewing.
In college, you will be expected to do much reading; it is not unusual to do two or more hours of
reading for every hour you spend in class. In college, you are also expected to think critically about
what you read.
Active reading involves four steps:
1. Prepare for reading by scanning the assignment and developing questions for which you
want to discover answers through your reading.
2. Read the material and discover the answers to your questions.
3. Capture the information by highlighting and annotating the text as well as by taking
effiective notes.
4. Review the reading by studying your notes, by integrating them with your class notes, and
by discussing the reading with classmates.
Before you read, learn as much as you can about the author and his or her reason for writing the text.
What is his or her area of expertise? Why did the instructor select this text?
When scanning a reading, look for clues to what might be important. Read the section titles, study
illustrations, and look for keywords and boldface text.
Do not highlight your text until you have read a section completely to be sure you understand the
context. Then go back and highlight and annotate your text during a second read-through.
Think critically about what you are reading. Do you agree with what the author is saying? How does it
relate to the rest of the material in the course? What does this new material mean to you in “real life”?
Special Texts and Situations
Do all the exercises in math textbooks; apply the formulas to real-world situations.
Practice “reading” the illustrations. Each type of graphic material has its own strength or purpose.
Look for statements of hypotheses and experimental design when reading science texts.
History, economics, and political science texts are heavily influenced by interpretation. Think critically
about what you are reading.
Working with foreign language texts requires more time and more frequent breaks. Don’t rely on
word-for-word translations.
If you need to read with children around, don’t put offi your reading until you have a large block of
time; learn to read in short periods as available.
When reading on the Internet, be extra diligent to evaluate the source of the material to decide how
reliable that source may be.
If English is your second language, seek out resources that may be offiered on campus. In any case, be
patient with the process of mastering college-level English. And always remember this: what feels like
a disadvantage in one situation can be a great gift in another situation.
Reading and vocabulary development are closely linked. A stronger vocabulary makes reading easier
and more fun; the best way to build a vocabulary is to read.
Look for new words everywhere, not just in class.
When you encounter a new word, follow these steps:
Write it down and write down the sentence in which it was used.
Infer its meaning based on the context and word roots.
Look it up in a dictionary.
Write your own sentence using the word.
Say the word, its definition, and your sentence out loud.
Find an opportunity to use the word within two days.
1. Describe the four steps of active reading.
2. What part of a textbook should you compare with a class syllabus? Why?
3. Why is it important to know something about a textbook’s author?
4. What time of the day should you plan to do your reading? Why?
5. What is the diffierence between using the Cornell method for taking class notes and using the Cornell
method for reading notes?
6. Why do you think it is important to pose some questions about the material before you read?
7. What should you do if you are getting tired when reading?
8. List three requirements for a good reading location.
9. Can you multitask while doing a reading assignment? Why or why not?
10. Describe the process of evaluating a Web-based reading selection.
Two things I will do to
My reading comprehension/
My reading speed
My vocabulary
By when I expect to take How I will know I
accomplished the action
the action
Preparing for and Taking
FI G U RE 6 . 1
© Thinkstock
Where Are You Now?
Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.
Usually Sometimes Seldom
1. I do well on exams.
2. Exams make me very nervous and anxious.
3. I study for exams at the last minute.
4. I feel confident going into tests or exams.
5. When we get pop quizzes, I do OK.
6. I remember what I’ve studied long after studying for an exam.
7. I am overwhelmed by the amount of material I have to study for an
8. I run out of time when taking exams.
9. I write good responses to essay questions.
10. I “draw a blank” during an exam on material I know.
11. I have trouble really understanding what the instructor is looking for on
a test.
12. I lose points for stupid mistakes.
Where Do You Want to Go?
Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself. On a scale of 1 to 10, how
would you rate your preparation for tests at this time?
Prepare for tests poorly
Prepare for tests well
On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your test-taking skills at this time?
A poor tester
An excellent tester
In the following list, circle the three most important areas in which you think you can improve:
Reducing test anxiety
Cramming for exams
Using study time more effiectively
Feeling confident for an exam
Staying focused while studying
Using my time effiectively during an exam
Selecting the right things to study
Answering multiple-choice questions
Selecting the best time and place to study
Answering short answer questions
Working in effiective study groups
Answering essay questions
Studying from my notes
Taking oral exams/giving presentations as exams
Studying from my text
Taking online exams
Are there other areas in which you can improve your test preparation and test taking? Write down other
things you feel you need to work on.
How to Get There
Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:
Knowing what exams really are and why the right attitude about them is important for
your college success
Discovering how studying for and taking tests fit in to the learning cycle
Dealing with test anxiety
Learning when, where, and how to study
Recognizing types of tests and types of test questions
Learning tips for multiple-choice, true-or-false, fill-the-blank, matching, short answer, and
essay questions
Applying general strategies for tests and exams
Applying strategies for math and science tests
Testing is a part of life. Have you ever participated in an athletic event? Completed a crossword puzzle?
Acted in a play? Cooked dinner? Answered a child’s question? Prepared a cost estimate? All of these
common life situations are forms of tests because they measure how much we know about a specific
subject at a single point in time. They alone are not good measurements about how smart or gifted you
are—they show only how much you know or can do at that moment. We can learn from how we have
performed, and we can think about how to apply what we have learned to do even better next time. We
can have fun measuring our progress.
Many of our daily activities are measurements of progress toward mastery of skills or knowledge.
We welcome these opportunities as both work and fun. But when these opportunities are part of our
academic life, we often dread them and rarely feel any sense of fun. In reality, however, academic tests
are similar to real-life tests in the following ways:
They help us measure our progress toward mastery of a particular skill.
They are not a representation of how smart, talented, or skilled we are but rather are a
measurement only of what we know about a specific subject at a specific point in time.
< They are extraordinary learning opportunities.
Academic tests in college are diffierent from those you took in high school. College instructors expect to
see much more of you in an exam: your thoughts, your interpretations, your thinking process, your
conclusions. High school teachers usually look for your ability to repeat precisely what you read in
your text or heard in your class. Success on high school tests relies much more on memorization than
on understanding the material. This is why you need to modify your study habits and your strategies
for taking exams in college.
Take a look at the learning cycle in Figure 6.2. In this chapter, we cover reviewing and applying the
material you learn; preparing for and taking exams is the practical application of this phase.
FI GU R E 6 .2 The Learning Cycle: Review and Apply
The end and the beginning of the learning cycle are both involved in test taking, as we’ll see in this
chapter. We will discuss the best study habits for effiective review and strategies for successful application of your knowledge in tests and exams. Finally, we will cover how the review and application processes set you up for additional learning.
Let’s start at the top of the cycle. You have invested your time in preparing for class, you have been
an active listener in class, and you have asked questions and taken notes. You have summarized what
you learned and have looked for opportunities to apply the material. You have completed your reading
assignments and compared your reading notes with your class notes. And now you hear your instructor say, “Remember the exam next week.”
A sense of dread takes over. You worry about the exam and what might be on it. You stay up for a
couple of nights trying to work through the volumes of material the course has covered. Learning or remembering it all seems hopeless. You find yourself staring at the same paragraph in your text over and
over again, but you just don’t seem to get it. As the exam looms closer, you feel your understanding of
the material is slipping away. You show up to the exam and the first questions look familiar, but then
you draw a blank—you’re suffiering from test anxiety.
1. Learn what test anxiety really is.
2. Gain strategies for controlling anxiety.
Take the true-or-false quiz below (circle T for true or F for false). There are no wrong answers.
A C T I V I T Y :
T F I have a hard time starting to study for a test.
T F When studying for an exam, I feel desperate or lost.
T F When studying for an exam, I often feel bored and tired.
T F I don’t sleep well the night before an exam.
T F My appetite changes the day of the exam. (I’m not hungry and skip meals or I overeat—especially
high-sugar items like candy or ice cream.)
T F When taking an exam, I am often confused or suffier mental blocks.
T F When taking an exam, I feel panicky and my palms get sweaty.
T F I’m usually in a bad mood after taking an exam.
T F I usually score lower on exams than on papers, assignments, and projects.
T F After an exam, I can remember things I couldn’t recall during the exam.
test anxiety
A psychological condition in
which a person feels distress
before, during, or after a test
or exam to the point where
stress causes poor
If you answered true to any of the statements in the table above, you have suffiered some of the symptoms of test anxiety. Most of us have experienced this. It is normal to feel stress before an exam, and in
fact, that may be a good thing. Stress motivates you to study and review, generates adrenaline to help
sharpen your reflexes and focus while taking the exam, and may even help you remember some of the
material you need. But suffiering too many stress symptoms or suffiering any of them severely will impede your ability to show what you have learned. Test anxiety is a psychological condition in which a
person feels distress before, during, or after a test or exam to the point where stress causes poor performance. Anxiety during a test interferes with your ability to recall knowledge from memory as well as
your ability to use higher-level thinking skills effiectively. To learn more about critical thinking and
study skills, see Chapter 3 and Chapter 4, respectively.
There are steps you should take if you find that stress is getting in your way:
Be prepared. A primary cause of test anxiety is not knowing the material. If you take good class
and reading notes and review them regularly, this stressor should be greatly reduced if not
eliminated. You should be confident going into your exam (but not overconfident).
< Bounce bad vibes. Your own negative thoughts—“I’ll never pass this exam” or “I can’t figure this
out, I must be really stupid!”—may move you into spiraling stress cycle that in itself causes
enough anxiety to block your best effiorts. When you feel you are brewing a storm of negative
thoughts, stop what you are doing and clear your mind. Allow yourself to daydream a little;
visualize yourself in pleasant surroundings with good friends. Don’t go back to work until you
feel the tension release. Sometimes it helps to take a deep breath and shout “STOP!” and then
proceed with clearing your mind. Once your mind is clear, repeat a reasonable afflrmation to
yourself—“I know this stuffi”—before continuing your work.
< Visualize success. Picture what it will feel like to get that A. Translate that vision into specific,
reasonable goals and work toward each individual goal. Take one step at a time and reward
yourself for each goal you complete.
It’s all about you! Don’t waste your time comparing yourself to other students in the class,
especially during the exam. Keep focused on your own work and your own plan. Exams are not a
race, so it doesn’t matter who turns in their paper first. Certainly you have no idea how they did
on their exam, so a thought like “Kristen is already done, she must have aced it, I wish I had her
skills” is counterproductive and will only cause additional anxiety.
< Have a plan and follow it. As soon as you know that an exam is coming, you can develop a plan
for studying. As soon as you get your exam paper, you should develop a plan for the exam itself.
We’ll discuss this more later in this chapter. Don’t wait to cram for an exam at the last minute;
the pressure you put on yourself and the late night will cause more anxiety, and you won’t learn
or retain much.
< Make sure you eat well and get a good night’s sleep before the exam. Hunger, poor eating
habits, energy drinks, and lack of sleep all contribute to test anxiety.
< Chill! You perform best when you are relaxed, so learn some relaxation exercises you can use
during an exam. Before you begin your work, take a moment to listen to your body. Which
muscles are tense? Move them slowly to relax them. Tense them and relax them. Exhale, then
continue to exhale for a few more seconds until you feel that your lungs are empty. Inhale slowly
through your nose and feel your rib cage expand as you do. This will help oxygenate your blood
and reenergize your mind. Chapter 10 has more tips for dealing with stress.
E X E R C I S E :
You’ve learned how negative thoughts contribute to test anxiety and keep you from doing as well as you can.
Take some time to disarm your most frequent offienders. From the following list, select three negative
thoughts that you have experienced (or write your own). Then fill in the second and third columns for each
statement, as shown in the example.
I don’t know anything.<What’s the matter with me?
If I fail this test, I’ll flunk the course.
I should have studied more.<I’ll never make it through.
I just can’t think.<Why did I ever take this course?
I know everyone’s doing better than I am.
If I fail this test, my dad (or husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend, teacher) will be mad. I don’t know how I can
face them again.
I’m going to be the last one done again.<I must really be stupid.
I’m getting really tense again; my hands are shaking.<I can’t even hold the pen.
I can’t remember a thing.<This always happens to me.<I never do well on anything.
My boogie statement
How rational is this
thought? Do you have any
evidence that it is true?
Reasonable reinforcing or afflrmation
statements you can use to replace it.
Example: I’m drawing a
blank.<I’ll never get the
answer<I must really be stupid.
I studied this and know it. I’ll visualize
I’ve missed questions on
things that I studied and knew where it’s written in my notes to help
me trigger my memory.
Some stress before a test or exam is common and beneficial.
Test anxiety is stress that gets in the way of performing effiectively.
The most common causes of test anxiety are lack of preparation and negative attitudes.
The key to combating test anxiety is to try to reduce stressors to a manageable level rather than try to
eliminate them totally.
1. List three things you should do before a test or exam to combat test anxiety.
2. List three things you can do during an exam to reduce stress.
FI G U RE 6 . 3
Late-night cramming is not an effiective
studying strategy!
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Face tests with confidence, not anxiety.
Learn how to use your class and reading notes to learn the material, not just to pass the test.
Gain key strategies for effiective studying.
Form and participate in study groups.
You have truly learned material when you can readily recall it and actually use it—on
tests or in real-life situations. Effiective studying is your most important tool to combat
test anxiety, but more important, effiective studying helps you truly master the material
and be able to apply it as you need to, in school and beyond.
In Chapter 4 and Chapter 5, we set the foundation for effiective learning. You
learned how to listen and how to take notes. You learned some tricks for improving
your memory. You learned how to read actively and how to capture information from
written sources. Now we’ll follow up on some of those key ideas and take the learning
cycle to its conclusion and a new beginning.
The reviewing and applying stage of the learning cycle involves studying and using
the material you have been exposed to in your course. Recall that in Chapter 4 and
Chapter 5 we emphasized the importance of reviewing your notes soon after the class
or assignment. This review is largely what studying is all about.
Effiective studying is an ongoing process of reviewing course material. The first and
most important thing you should know is that studying is not something you do a few
days before an exam. To be effiective, studying is something you do as part of an ongoing learning process, throughout the duration of the term.
3.1 Studying Every Day
Studying begins after each class or assignment when you review your notes. Each study session should
involve three steps:
1. Gather your learning materials. Take time to merge your class notes with your reading notes.
How do they complement each other? Stop and think. What do the notes tell you about your
material? What aspects of the material are you unsure about? Do you need to reread a part of
your text? Write down any questions you have for your instructor and pay a visit during offlce
hours. It is better to clear up any misconceptions and get your questions answered soon after you
are exposed to the material, rather than to wait, for two reasons: (1) the question or doubt is fresh
in your mind and you won’t forget about it and (2) instructors usually build their lessons on
material already presented. If you don’t take these steps now, you are setting yourself up for
problems later in the course.
2. Apply or visualize. What does this material mean to you? How will you use this new knowledge?
Try to find a way to apply it in your own life or thoughts. If you can’t use the knowledge right
away, visualize yourself using the knowledge to solve a problem or visualize yourself teaching the
material to other students.
3. Cement your knowledge. If you use the two-column note-taking method, cover up the right side
of your notes with a piece of paper, leaving the questions in the left column exposed. Test
yourself by trying to answer your questions without referring to your notes. How did you do? If
you are unsure about anything, look up the answer and write it down right away. Don’t let a
wrong answer be the last thing you wrote on a subject, because you will most likely continue to
remember the wrong answer.
3.2 Studying in Course Units
At the end of each unit, or at least every two weeks or so, use your notes and textbook to write an outline or summary of the material in your own words. (Remember the paragraphs you wrote to summarize each class or reading? They’ll be very helpful to you here.) After you have written the summary or
outline, go back and reread your outline from the prior unit followed by the one you just wrote. Does
the new one build on the earlier one? Do you feel confident you understand the material?
3.3 Studying before the Exam
At least a week before a major exam, ask yourself these questions: What has the instructor said about
what is included on the exam? Has the instructor said anything about what types of questions will be
included? If you were the instructor, what questions would you ask on an exam? Challenge yourself to
come up with some really tough open-ended questions. Think about how you might answer them. Be
sure to go to any review sessions the instructor or your section leader holds.
Now go back and review your outlines. Do they cover what the instructor has suggested might be
on the exam? After reviewing your outlines, reread the sections of your notes that are most closely associated with expected exam questions. Pay special attention to those items the instructor emphasized
during class. Read key points aloud and write them down on index cards. Make flash cards to review in
downtimes, such as when you’re waiting for a bus or for a class to start.
3.4 More Tips for Success
Schedule a consistent study-review time for each course at least once a week, in addition to your
class and assignment time. Keep to that schedule as rigorously as you do your class schedule. Use
your study time to go through the steps outlined earlier; this is not meant to be a substitute for
your assignment time.
< Get yourself in the right space. Choose to study in a quiet, well-lit space. Your chair should be
comfortable but provide good support. Remember that libraries were designed for reading and
should be your first option.
< Minimize distractions. Turn offi your cell phone and get away from Facebook, television, other
nearby activities, and chatty friends or roommates. All of these can cut into the effiectiveness of
your study effiorts. Multitasking and studying don’t mix.
< If you will be studying for a long time, take short breaks at least once an hour. Get up, stretch,
breathe deeply, and then get back to work. (If you keep up with your daily assignments and
schedule weekly review sessions for yourself—and keep them—there should be almost no need
for long study sessions.)
3.5 Studying in Groups
FI G U RE 6 . 4
Study groups are a great idea—as long as they are thoughtfully managed. A study group
can give you new perspectives on course material and help you fill in gaps in your
notes. Discussing course content will sharpen your critical thinking related to the subject, and being part of a group to which you are accountable will help you study consistently. In a study group, you will end up “teaching” each other the material, which is
the strongest way to retain new material. But remember, being in a group working together doesn’t mean there will be less work for you as an individual; your work will just
be much more effiective.
Here are some tips for creating and managing effiective study groups:
A study group that is too large is more likely to
digress into casual conversation.
Think small. Limit your study group to no more than three or four people. A larger
group would limit each student’s participation and make scheduling of regular study
sessions a real problem.
< Go for quality. Look for students who are doing well in the course, who ask questions,
and who participate in class discussions. Don’t make friendship the primary
consideration for who should be in your group. Meet up with your friends instead
during “social time”—study time is all about learning.
< Look for complementary skills and learning styles. Complementary skills make for a
good study group because your weaknesses will be countered by another student’s strengths.
When a subject requires a combination of various skills, strengths in each of those skills is helpful
(e.g., a group with one student who is really good at physics and another at math would be perfect
for an engineering course). Finally, a variety of learning styles is helpful because each of you pick
up diffiering signals and emphases from the instructor that you can share with each other, so you
will not likely miss important points.
< Meet regularly. When you first set up a study group, agree to a regular meeting schedule and
stick to it. Moving study session times around can result in nonparticipation, lack of preparation,
and eventually the collapse of the study group. Equally important is keeping your sessions to the
allotted times. If you waste time and regularly meet much longer than you agreed to, participants
will not feel they are getting study value for their time invested.
< Define an agenda and objectives. Give your study sessions focus so that you don’t get
sidetracked. Based on requests and comments from the group, the moderator should develop the
agenda and start each session by summarizing what the group expects to cover and then keep the
group to task.
< Include some of the following items on your agenda:
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Review and discuss class and assignment notes since your last meeting.
< Discuss assigned readings.
< Quiz each other on class material.
< “Reteach” aspects of the material team participants are unsure of.
< Brainstorm possible test questions and responses.
< Review quiz and test results and correct misunderstandings.
< Critique each other’s ideas for paper themes and approaches.
< Define questions to ask the instructor.
Assign follow-up work. If there is any work that needs to be done between meetings, make sure
that all team members know specifically what is expected of them and agree to do the work.
< Rotate the role of moderator or discussion leader. This helps ensure “ownership” of the group is
spread equally across all members and ensures active participation and careful preparation.
Effiective studying happens over time, not just a few days before an exam. Consistent and regular review
time helps you learn the material better and saves you time and anguish as exam time approaches.
The following are three steps to follow in each study session:
Gather your knowledge.
Apply or visualize your knowledge.
Cement your knowledge.
Study groups are a great idea—provided they are thoughtfully managed.
1. What do we mean by “gathering your knowledge”?
2. What study habits recommended in this section do you want to develop or improve? What specific steps
will you take to start working on them?
3. Think of your toughest course. Which students in that class would you want to include in a study group?
1. Understand the kinds of tests you will take in college and how you can learn from them.
2. Learn general strategies to apply when taking tests and quizzes.
4.1 Types of Tests
All tests are designed to determine how much you know about a particular subject at a particular point
in time. But you should be aware of diffierences in types of tests because this will help guide how you
prepare for them. Two general types of tests are based on their objectives, or how they are intended to
be used: formative assessments and summative assessments.
Formative assessments include quizzes, unit tests, pop quizzes, and review quizzes from a textbook
or its Web site. Their main objective is to make sure you know the fundamental material before moving on to more challenging topics. Because these quizzes usually don’t count much toward your final
grade, many students think they are not very important. In fact, these quizzes are very important, particularly to you; they can help you to identify what you know and what you still need to learn to be successful in the course and in applying the material. A poor result on a quiz may not negatively affiect
your final grade much—but learning from its results and correcting your mistakes will affiect your final
grade, on the positive side, when you take midterms and finals! More on this in Chapter 6, Section 7.
Summative assessments include midterms and finals. They are used by the instructor to determine
if you are mastering a large portion of the material, and as such, they usually carry a heavy weight toward your final grade for the course. Because of this, they often result in high levels of test anxiety and
long study periods.
formative assessment
A test or quiz used to
determine a student’s basic
understanding of material
before taking on more
challenging ideas.
summative assessment
A test or exam used by an
instructor to determine if a
student has mastered the
material sufflciently to get
credit for the course.
In addition to this classification by objective, tests can also be grouped into various categories
based on how they are delivered. Each type has its own peculiar strategies.
Paper tests are still the most common type of test, requiring students to write answers on the test
pages or in a separate test booklet. They are typically used for in-class tests. Neatness and good
grammar count, even if it’s not an English exam. Remember that the instructor will be reading
dozens of test papers and will not likely spend much time trying to figure out your hieroglyphics,
arrows, and cross-outs.
< Open-book tests allow the student to consult their notes, textbook, or both while taking the
exam. Instructors often give this type of test when they are more interested in seeing your
thoughts and critical thinking than your memory power. Be prepared to expose and defend your
own viewpoints. When preparing, know where key material is present in your book and notes;
create an index for your notes and use sticky notes to flag key pages of your textbook before the
exam. Be careful when copying information or formulas to your test answers, because nothing
looks worse in an open-book exam than misusing the material at your disposal.
< Take-home tests are like open-book tests except you have the luxury of time on your side. Make
sure you submit the exam on time. Know what the instructor’s expectations are about the content
of your answers. The instructor will likely expect more detail and more complete work because
you are not under a strict time limit and because you have access to reference materials. Be clear
about when the test is due. (Some instructors will ask you to e-mail your exam to them by a
specific time.) Also find out if the instructor allows or expects you to collaborate with classmates.
Be sure to type your exam and don’t forget to spell-check!
< Online tests are most commonly used for formative assessments, although they are starting to
find their way into high-stakes exams, particularly in large lecture classes that fulfill a graduation
requirement (like introductory psychology or history survey courses). The main advantage of
online tests is that they can be computer graded, providing fast feedback to the student (with
formative tests) and allowing the instructor to grade hundreds of exams easily (with summative
assessments). Since these tests are computer graded, be aware that the instructor’s judgment is not
involved in the grading. Your answers will be either right or wrong; there is no room for partially
correct responses. With online tests, be sure you understand the testing software. Are there
practice questions? If so, make sure you use them. Find out if you will be allowed to move freely
between test sections to go back and check your work or to complete questions you might have
skipped. Some testing software does not allow you to return to sections once they are
“submitted.” Unless your exam needs to be taken at a specific time, don’t wait until the last
minute to take the test. Should you have technical problems, you want to have time to resolve the
issues. To avoid any conflicts with the testing software, close all other software applications
before beginning the testing software.
< Electronic tests in the classroom are becoming more common as colleges install “smart
classrooms” with technology such as wireless “clicker” technology that instructors may use to get
a quick read of students’ understanding of a lecture. This testing method allows for only true-orfalse and multiple-choice questions, so it is rarely used for summative assessments. When taking
this kind of quick quiz, take notes on questions you miss so that you can focus on them when you
do your own review.
< Presentations and oral tests are the most complete means for instructors to evaluate students’
mastery of material, because the evaluation is highly interactive. The instructor can (and likely
will) probe you on certain points, question your assumptions, or ask you to defend your point of
view. Make sure you practice your presentation many times with and without an audience (your
study group is good for this). Have a clear and concise point of view and keep to the allotted time.
(You don’t want to miss delivering a killer close if your instructor cuts you offi because you
weren’t aware of the time!) Chapter 7 covers public speaking and class presentations in more
detail. Use the same strategies in oral exams.
4.2 Tips for Taking Tests
You’ve reviewed the material for a test and feel confident that you will do well. You have brought your
test anxiety into control. What else can you do to ensure success on a test? Learn and apply these top
ten test-taking strategies:
1. Learn as much as you can about the test. What has the instructor told you about the test? Will it
be open book? What types of questions will be on it? Are there parts of the test that will be worth
more points than others? Will it be cumulative or just cover the most recent material? Will you
have choices about which questions to answer?
2. Try to foresee the questions likely to be on the test. What kinds of questions would you include
if you were the instructor? Brainstorm possible questions with your study group. Look for
possible questions in your notes. Review past quizzes and tests to see what kinds of questions the
instructor likes to ask. Above all, take it seriously whenever your instructor warns, “This will be
on the test.”
3. Don’t be tempted to stay up late cramming. Get some exercise and watch what you eat.
Cramming is not a substitute for doing your assignments and studying consistently over time. It
is far more important to get a good night’s sleep and face your test fresh and well rested. A good
workout the day before an exam will help you be fresh and stay focused during the exam
(provided you already like to work out; if not, find time to take a long walk). A healthy diet the
night before and the day of the exam will give you energy and concentration to do well on the
exam. Include “brain foods,” such as those rich in omega-3 oils, and avoid “heavy” foods that are
rich in fat and sugar. (After the exam, you can celebrate with a cheeseburger, fries, and
milkshake—but not before the exam!)
4. Get to the test site early. Take out all your allowable tools (pencils, pens, calculator, etc.). Turn offi
your cell phone (yes, all the way offi, not on vibrate) as a way of disconnecting from your
everyday world. Do some of the relaxation exercises described earlier for controlling test anxiety.
5. Create a test plan. Listen carefully to the directions given by the instructor. When you receive
your test, scan the entire test first. Evaluate the importance of each section. Then create a time
allocation plan. Decide how much time you should dedicate to each section. You don’t want to
spend 80 percent of your time on a question worth 10 percent of the grade.
6. Write it down. Take a couple minutes to write down key facts, dates, principles, statistics, and
formulas on a piece of scratch paper or in the margin of the exam paper. Do this while you are
still fresh and aren’t yet feeling time pressure (when it will be harder to remember them). Then
you can refer to these notes as you take the exam.
7. Read the directions carefully. Then reread them. Do you understand what is expected of you? If
not, ask the instructor to be sure you are clear. Too many students lose points simply by not
following directions completely!
8. Do the easy questions first. By getting the easy questions out of the way, you’ll feel more confident
about the test and have more time to think about the tougher questions. Start with the objective
sections of the exam first (multiple choice, true or false, and matching columns). As you answer
these questions, keep an eye out for facts or concepts you may want to use later in an
essay question.
9. Keep an eye on the time. Keep as close to your plan as possible. If you see that you are running
out of time, don’t panic. Move to those questions you think you can still answer accurately within
the remaining time.
10. Check your work. This doesn’t mean going through all your calculations again. Start by ensuring
that you have complete answers according to the directions. Then look for other common
mistakes, such as a misplaced decimal point, dropped words (especially those that can modify the
answer, like “not”), and any incomplete or incomprehensible phrases.
Strategies for Math and Science Exams
Math tests require some special strategies because they are often problem based rather than question
Do the following before the test:
Attend all classes and complete all assignments. Pay special attention to working on all assigned
problems. After reviewing problems in class, take careful notes about what you did incorrectly.
Repeat the problem and do a similar one as soon as possible. It is important that the last solution
to a problem in your mind is a correct solution.
< Think about how each problem solution might be applied in a real-world situation. This helps
make even the most complex solutions relevant and easier to learn.
< In your study group, take turns presenting solutions to problems and observing and correcting
everyone’s work.
< If you are having difflculty with a concept, get help right away. Remember that math especially
builds new material on previous material, so if you are having trouble with a concept now, you
are likely to have trouble going forward. Make an appointment with your instructor, your
teaching assistant, or a skilled classmate. Check with your college’s academic support offlce to see
about a tutor. Don’t be shy about asking for a tutor—tutoring is not just for students needing
remedial help; many successful students seek them out, too.
Do the following during the test:
Review the entire test before you start and work the problems you feel most confident with first.
< Approach each problem following three distinct steps:
1. Read the problem through twice: the first time to get the full concept of the question, and
the second time to draw out pertinent information. After you read through the problem
the first time, ask yourself, “What is this problem about?” and “What is the answer likely
to look like?” The second time through, consider these questions: “What facts do I have
available?” “What do I know?” “What measurable units must the answer be in?” Think
about the operations and formulas you will need to use. Try to estimate a ballpark
2. Compute your answer. First, eliminate as many unknowns as possible. You may need to
use a separate formula for each unknown. Use algebraic formulas as far as you can before
plugging in actual numbers; that will make it easier to cancel and combine factors.
Remember that you may need two or more tries before you come up with the answer.
3. Check your work. Start by comparing your actual answer to the estimate you made when
you first read the problem. Does your final answer sound likely? Check your arithmetic
by opposite operations: use multiplication to check division and addition to check
subtraction, and so on.
You should consider using these three steps whenever you are working with any math problems, not
just when you get problems on tests.
Science tests also are often problem based, but they also generally use the scientific method. This is
why science tests may require some specific strategies.
Before the test, review your lab notes as well as your class notes and assignments. Many exam
questions build upon lab experience, so pay close attention to your notes, assignments, and labs.
Practice describing the experimental process.
< Read the question carefully. What does the instructor expect you to do? Prove a hypothesis?
Describe an experiment? Summarize research? Underline the words that state the objective of the
< Look carefully at all the diagrams given with the question. What do they illustrate? Why are they
included with the question? Are there elements on the diagram you are expected to label?
< Many science questions are based on the scientific method and experimental model. When you
read the test question, identify the hypothesis the problem is proposing; be prepared to describe
an experimental structure to prove a hypothesis. When you check your work, make sure the
hypothesis, experimental steps, and a summary of results (or expected results) are clear. Some of
these elements may be part of the question, while others you may need to provide in your answer.
There is no such thing as an unimportant quiz.
In addition to studying, prepare for exams and quizzes by getting plenty of rest, eating well, and getting
some exercise the day before the exam.
Cramming is seldom a good strategy.
Before the exam, learn as much as you can about the kinds of questions your instructor will be asking and
the specific material that will be covered.
The first step to successful completion of any exam is to browse the entire exam and develop a plan
(including a “time budget”) for completing the exam.
Read questions carefully. Underline keywords in questions, particularly in essay questions and science
Unless points are deducted for a wrong answer, it pays to take educated guesses.
1. Understand the five principal types of questions.
2. Gain specific strategies for addressing each type of question.
You can gain even more confidence in your test-taking abilities by understanding the diffierent kinds of
questions an instructor may ask and applying the following proven strategies for answering them. Most
instructors will likely use various conventional types of questions. Here are some tips for handling the
most common types.
5.1 Multiple-Choice Questions
Read the instructions carefully to determine if there may be more than one right answer. If there
are multiple right answers, does the instructor expect you to choose just one, or do you need to
mark all correct options?
< Read each question carefully and try to answer it in your head before reading the answer options.
Then consider all the options. Eliminate first the options that are clearly incorrect. Compare the
remaining answers with your own answer before choosing one and marking your paper.
< Look for clue words that hint that certain option answers might be correct or incorrect. Absolute
words like “never,” “always,” “every,” or “none” are rarely found in a correct option. Less absolute
words like “usually,” “often,” or “rarely” are regularly found in correct options.
< Be on the lookout for the word “not” in the stem phrase and in the answer choice options; it is an
easy word to miss if you are reading too quickly, but it completely changes the meaning of the
possible statements.
5.2 True-or-False Questions
Most of the tips for multiple-choice questions apply here as well. Be particularly aware of the
words “never,” “always,” “every,” “none,” and “not” because they can determine the correct
< Answer the questions that are obvious to you first. Then go back to statements that require more
< If the question is stated in the positive, restate it to yourself in the negative by adding the word
“not” or “never.” Does the new statement sound truer or more false?
< If you still are unsure whether a statement is true or false and must guess, choose “true” because
most tests include more true statements than false (but don’t guess if a wrong answer penalizes
you more than one left blank).
5.3 Matching Columns
Start by looking at the two columns to be matched. Is there an equal number of items in both
columns? If they are not equal, do you have to match some items in the shorter column to two or
more items in the longer column, or can you leave some items unmatched? Read the directions to
be sure.
< If one column has a series of single words to be matched to phrases in the other column, read all
the phrases first, then all the single words before trying to make any matches. Now go back and
read each phrase and find the word that best suits the phrase.
< If both columns have single words to be matched, look to cut down the number of potential
matches by grouping them by parts of speech (nouns with nouns, verbs with verbs, etc.).
< As always, start by making the matches that are obvious to you, and then work on the ones that
require more thought. Mark offi all items you have already used so you can easily see which words
or phrases still remain to be matched.
5.4 Short Answer Questions
FI G U RE 6 . 5
An essay test requires careful
planning of what you want
to write.
Short answer questions are designed for you to recall and provide some very specific information
(unlike essay questions, which also ask you to apply critical thinking to that information). When
you read the question, ask yourself what exactly the instructor wants to know. Keep your answers
short and specific.
5.5 Essay Questions
Essay questions are used by instructors to evaluate your thinking and reasoning applied to the
material covered in a course. Good essay answers are based on your thoughts, supported by
examples from classes and reading assignments.
< Careful planning is critical to answering essay questions effiectively. Note how many essay
questions you have to answer and how difflcult each question seems. Then allocate your time
< Read the question carefully and underline or circle keywords. Watch for words that describe the
instructor’s expectations for your response (see Table 6.1).
< If time allows, organize your thoughts by creating a quick outline for your essay. This helps
ensure that you don’t leave out key points, and if you run out of time, it may pick up a few points
for your grade. Jot down specific information you might want to use, such as names, dates, and
places. Chapter 8 discusses outlining and other aspects of the writing process in more detail.
< Introduce your essay answer, but get right to the point. Remember that the instructor will be
grading dozens of papers and avoid “filler” text that does not add value to your answer. For
example, rather than writing, “In our study of the Civil War, it is helpful to consider the many
facets that lead to conflict, especially the economic factors that help explain this important
turning point in our nation’s history,” write a more direct and concise statement like this:
“Economic factors help explain the start of the Civil War.”
< Write neatly and watch your grammar and spelling. Allow time to proofread your essay. You
want your instructor to want to read your essay, not dread it. Remember that grading essays is
largely subjective, and a favorable impression can lead to more favorable grading.
< Be sure to answer all parts of the question. Essay questions often have more than one part.
Remember, too, that essay questions often have multiple acceptable answers.
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TABL E 6 .1 Words to Watch for in Essay Questions
What It Means
What the Instructor Is Looking For
Break concept into
key parts
Don’t just list the parts; show how they work together and illustrate any
Compare Show similarities (and Define the similarities and clearly describe how the items or ideas are similar.
Do these similarities lead to similar results or effiects? Note that this word is
diffierences) between often combined with “contrast.” If so, make sure you do both.
two or more
concepts or ideas
Show diffierences
between two or
more concepts or
Define the diffierences and clearly describe how the items or ideas are
diffierent. How do these diffierences result in diffierent outcomes? Note that
this word is often combined with “compare.” If so, make sure you do both.
Judge and analyze
Explain what is wrong—and right—about a concept. Include your own
judgments, supported by evidence and quotes from experts that support
your point of view.
Describe the
meaning of a word,
phrase, or concept
Define the concept or idea as your instructor did in class—but use your own
words. If your definition diffiers from what the instructor presented, support
your diffierence with evidence. Keep this essay short. Examples can help
illustrate a definition, but remember that examples alone are not a definition.
Explain or review
Define the key questions around the issue to be discussed and then answer
them. Another approach is to define pros and cons on the issue and compare
and contrast them. In either case, explore all relevant data and information.
Clarify, give reasons
for something
Clarity is key for these questions. Outline your thoughts carefully. Proofread,
edit, proofread, and proofread again! Good explanations are often lost in too
many words.
Offier examples
Use examples from class material or reading assignments. Compare and
contrast them to other examples you might come up with from additional
reading or real life.
Provide evidence
and arguments that
something is true
Instructors who include this prompt in an exam question have often proven
the hypothesis or other concepts in their class lectures. Think about the kind of
evidence the instructor used and apply similar types of processes and data.
Summarize Give a brief, precise
description of an
idea or concept
Keep it short, but cover all key points. This is one essay prompt where
examples should not be included unless the instructions specifically ask for
them. (For example, “Summarize the steps of the learning cycle and give
examples of the main strategies you should apply in each one.”)
Test your test knowledge.
2. “Always,” “never,” and “every” are words that
usually indicate the answer is
1. It helps to group words in matching columns by
3. A way to organize your thoughts for an essay
4. Clarify, give reasons for something
6. Short answer questions require a
5. Essay questions often have more than one
8. Describe the meaning of a word
7. Show similarities and diffierences
9. Give a brief, precise description of an idea or
12. Most common answer in true and false questions
10. Type of question used to evaluate thinking and
11. Since instructors need to read many essays, it is
important to write
1. Understand the importance of academic integrity and the consequences of dishonesty.
2. Identify most common types of academic dishonesty.
Throughout this book we have focused on the active process of learning, not just on how to get good
grades. The attitude of some students that grades are the end-all in academics has led many students to
resort to academic dishonesty to try to get the best possible grades or handle the pressure of an academic program. Although you may be further tempted if you’ve heard people say, “Everybody does it,”
or “It’s no big deal at my school,” you should be mindful of the consequences of cheating:
You don’t learn as much. Cheating may get you the right answer on a particular exam question,
but it won’t teach you how to apply knowledge in the world after school, nor will it give you a
foundation of knowledge for learning more advanced material. When you cheat, you cheat
yourself out of opportunities.
< You risk failing the course or even expulsion from school. Each institution has its own
definitions of and penalties for academic dishonesty, but most include cheating, plagiarism, and
fabrication or falsification. The exact details of what is allowed or not allowed vary somewhat
among diffierent colleges and even instructors, so you should be sure to check your school’s Web
site and your instructor’s guidelines to see what rules apply. Ignorance of the rules is seldom
considered a valid defense.
< Cheating causes stress. Fear of getting caught will cause you stress and anxiety; this will get in the
way of performing well with the information you do know.
< You’re throwing away your money and time. Getting a college education is a big investment of
money and effiort. You’re simply not getting your full value when you cheat, because you don’t
learn as much.
< You are trashing your integrity. Cheating once and getting away with it makes it easier to cheat
again, and the more you cheat, the more comfortable you will feel with giving up your integrity in
other areas of life—with perhaps even more serious consequences.
< Cheating lowers your self-esteem. If you cheat, you are telling yourself that you are simply not
smart enough to handle learning. It also robs you of the feeling of satisfaction from genuine
academic dishonesty
Cheating or using any
unauthorized or
unacceptable material in
academic activities such as
assignments and tests;
turning in work that is not
your own under your name.
Technology has made it easier to cheat. Your credit card and an Internet connection FI G U RE 6 . 7
can procure a paper for you on just about any subject and length. You can copy and
Resist the temptation to cheat by using
paste for free from various Web sites. Students have made creative use of texting and
video on their cell phones to gain unauthorized access to material for exams. But be material from the Internet.
aware that technology has also created ways for instructors to easily detect these forms
of academic dishonesty. Most colleges make these tools available to their instructors.
Instructors are also modifying their testing approaches to reduce potential academic
misconduct by using methods that are harder to cheat at (such as in-class essays that
evaluate your thinking and oral presentations).
If you feel uneasy about doing something in your college work, trust your instincts.
Confirm with the instructor that your intended form of research or use of material is
acceptable. Cheating just doesn’t pay.
Examples of Academic Dishonesty
Academic dishonesty can take many forms, and you should be careful to avoid them. The following list from Northwestern University is a clear and complete compilation of what most institutions will consider unacceptable academic behavior.
© Thinkstock
1. Cheating: using unauthorized notes, study aids, or information on an examination; altering a graded
work after it has been returned, then submitting the work for regrading; allowing another person to
do one's work and submitting that work under one's own name; submitting identical or similar
papers for credit in more than one course without prior permission from the course instructors.
2. Plagiarism: submitting material that in part or whole is not entirely one's own work without
attributing those same portions to their correct source.
3. Fabrication: falsifying or inventing any information, data or citation; presenting data that were not
gathered in accordance with standard guidelines defining the appropriate methods for collecting or
generating data and failing to include an accurate account of the method by which the data were
gathered or collected.
4. Obtaining an Unfair Advantage: (a) stealing, reproducing, circulating or otherwise gaining access to
examination materials prior to the time authorized by the instructor; (b) stealing, destroying, defacing
or concealing library materials with the purpose of depriving others of their use; (c) unauthorized
collaboration on an academic assignment; (d) retaining, possessing, using or circulating previously
given examination materials, where those materials clearly indicate that they are to be returned to
the instructor at the conclusion of the examination; (e) intentionally obstructing or interfering with
another student's academic work; or (f) otherwise undertaking activity with the purpose of creating
or obtaining an unfair academic advantage over other students' academic work.
5. Aiding and Abetting Academic Dishonesty: (a) providing material, information, or other assistance
to another person with knowledge that such aid could be used in any of the violations stated above,
or (b) providing false information in connection with any inquiry regarding academic integrity.
6. Falsification of Records and Official Documents: altering documents affiecting academic records;
forging signatures of authorization or falsifying information on an offlcial academic document, grade
report, letter of permission, petition, drop/add form, ID card, or any other offlcial University
7. Unauthorized Access to computerized academic or administrative records or systems: viewing or
altering computer records, modifying computer programs or systems, releasing or dispensing
information gained via unauthorized access, or interfering with the use or availability of computer
systems or information.[1]
Being dishonest can have major consequences that can affiect not only your college career but also your
life beyond college.
“Everybody does it” and “It’s no big deal at my school” are not valid reasons for cheating.
When you cheat, you are primarily cheating yourself.
1. What are the most common forms of academic dishonesty you have heard about at your school? What
should be done about them?
2. What resources do you have on campus to learn about correct forms of referencing other people’s work in
your own?
1. Effiectively evaluate your test results and correct your mistakes.
2. Use your test results as a study guide.
So far, we have focused on how to study for and take tests effiectively. This section discusses how to use
test results to their greatest benefit. Some of your most important learning begins when your graded
test paper is returned to you. Your first reaction, of course, is to see what grade you received and how
you did compared with your classmates. This is a natural reaction.
Make sure you listen to the instructor as the papers are returned. What is the instructor saying
about the test? Is there a particular point everyone had trouble with? Does the instructor generally
think everyone did well? The instructor’s comments at this point may give you important information
about what you should study more, about the value of review sessions, and even about possible questions for the next exam.
Although you may be tempted to throw away the exam, don’t. It is a very helpful tool for the next
phase of preparing for learning. This is a three-step process, beginning with evaluating your results.
7.1 Evaluating Your Test Results
When you receive your test back, sit quietly and take a close look at it. What questions did you get
wrong? What kind of mistakes were they? (See Table 6.2.) Do you see a pattern? What questions did
you get right? What were your strengths? What can you learn from the instructor’s comments?
Now think of the way in which you prepared for the exam and the extent to which you applied the
exam strategies described earlier in this chapter. Were you prepared for the exam? Did you study the
right material? What surprised you? Did you read the entire test before starting? Did your time allocation work well, or were you short of time on certain parts of the exam?
TABL E 6 .2 Exam Errors and How to Correct Them
Type of Error
Corrective Steps
Study and
I did not study the material for that question Practice predicting possible questions better.
I ran out of time.
Join a study group.
I did not prepare enough.
Read the entire test before starting. Allocate your
Focus Errors or I did not read the directions carefully.
I confused terms or concepts that I actually
know well.
Allocate exam time carefully.
Give yourself time to read carefully and think
before answering a question.
I misread or misunderstood the question.
Content Errors
I studied the material but couldn’t make it
work with the question
Seek additional help from the instructor.
I didn’t understand what the instructor
Go to all classes, labs, and review sessions.
I confused terms or concepts.
Join a study group.
Check and practice your active reading and
listening skills.
Schedule regular study time for this course.
The instructor misread my writing.
I didn’t erase a wrong answer completely (on
a computer-graded answer sheet).
I forgot to go back to a question I had
skipped over.
I miscopied some calculations or facts from
my worksheet.
Slow down! Don’t rush through the exam. Take
the time to do things right the first time.
Based on your analysis of your test, identify the kind of corrective steps you should take to improve
your learning and test performance. Implement those steps as you begin your preparation for your next
class. If you don’t learn from your mistakes, you are doomed to repeat them; if you don’t learn from
your successes, it will be harder to repeat them.
7.2 Correcting Your Mistakes
The second step in making your test work for you is to correct your wrong answers. The last time you
wrote the information (when you took the test), you created a link to wrong information in your
memory, so that must be corrected.
For multiple-choice questions, write out the question stem with the correct answer to form a
single correct sentence or phrase.
< For true-or-false questions, write the full statement if it is true; if it is false, reword it in such a
way that it is true (such as by inserting the word “not”). Then write the new statement.
< For math and science questions involving calculations, redo the entire solution with the
calculations written out fully.
< You need not rewrite an entire essay question if you did not do well, but you should create a new
outline for what would be a correct answer. Make sure you incorporate any ideas triggered by
your instructor’s comments.
< When you have rewritten all your answers, read them all out loud before incorporating your new
answers in your notes.
7.3 Integrating Your Test into Your Study Guide
Your corrected quizzes and midterm exams are an important study tool for final exams. Make sure you
file them with your notes for the study unit. Take the time to annotate your notes based on the exam.
Pay particular attention to any gaps in your notes on topics that appeared in the quiz or exam. Research those points in your text or online and complete your notes. Review your exams throughout the
term (not just before the final) to be sure you cement the course material into your memory.
When you prepare for the final exam, start by reviewing your quizzes and other tests to predict the
kinds of questions the instructor may ask on the final. This will help focus your final studying when
you have a large amount of coursework to cover.
7.4 If You Don’t Get Your Test Back
If your instructor chooses not to return tests to students, make an appointment to see the instructor
soon after the test to review it and your performance. Take notes on what you had trouble with and the
expected answers. Add these notes into your study guide. Make sure you don’t lose out on the opportunity to learn from your results.
Working with exams does not end when your instructor hands back your graded test.
Quizzes and midterms are reliable predictors of the kind of material that will be on the final exam.
When evaluating your test performance, don’t look only at the content you missed. Identify the types of
mistakes you commonly make and formulate plans to prevent these mistakes in future assessments.
1. Take time to examine your notes for each course you are now taking. Are your exams and quizzes part of
that package? If not, include them now. Review them this week.
2. Compare your exams across two or three courses. What kinds of mistakes do you make on a regular basis?
Is there a trend you need to correct?
1. What is test anxiety? What are the three causes of test anxiety you would like to work on controlling?
2. When should you start studying for an exam?
3. Can you multitask while studying? Why or why not?
4. What are some of the most common distractions to your studying?
5. Describe the characteristics of a successful study group.
6. What are the two types of assessment? Which of these forms might be called the “student’s assessment”?
7. Why would an instructor assign an open-book exam? What types of things should you pay attention to if
you are taking an open-book exam?
8. How might you predict the kinds of questions that will be on an exam?
9. What should you do right after the instructor hands out the exam?
10. List five words to watch for in multiple-choice and true-or-false questions.
11. List five words to watch for in essay questions.
12. What forms of academic dishonesty are most prevalent on your campus? What can you do to avoid them
in your own academic career?
13. List the five most common types of errors made on exams.
14. What should you do with your exam after is has been graded and returned to you?
The following test will allow you to practice the strategies for each question type outlined in Chapter Review I: I.
Multiple-choice section (10 points)
1. All actions on this list are examples of academic dishonesty except
copying from a classmate
using another author’s words without appropriate credit
chewing gum in class
creating fictitious data to support a point
2. To avoid running out of time on a test, you should
a. write quickly, even if it’s not so neat
b. stick with a difflcult question until you get a right answer so that you don’t have to come back to
it later
c. spend time reviewing the entire test before you start to budget your time
d. frequently ask your instructor to tell you how much time is left
II. True-or-false section (10 points)
You should never use examples when an essay question asks you to illustrate.
Beds are a good place to study because they are comfortable and quiet.
It’s smart to schedule a specific and consistent time for studying for each course.
In true-or-false questions, it is safer to mark true than false if you don’t know the answer.
One advantage of studying in a group is that students will encourage each other to do their best
III. Matching column section (10 points)
1. Define
A. A type of formative assessment
2. Study group
B. To describe pros and cons and compare them
3. Weekly quiz
C. To describe the meaning of a word, phrase, or concept
4. Discuss
D. Your own personalized study guide
5. Class and
assignment notes
E. Three or four students from a class who meet regularly to review class material
and encourage each other
IV. Short answer section (15 points)
1. List three things you should do before a test to prepare your body to perform effiectively.
2. Name at least three of the characteristics of successful study groups.
3. List at least four steps you should take before you start writing the answer to an essay question.
V. Essay section (Choose one; 55 points)
1. Compare and contrast effiective studying and cramming.
2. Discuss academic dishonesty and its consequences.
Two things I will do
Reduce my testing
Improve my study
Improve my performance 1.
on exams
By when I expect to take
each action
How I will know I accomplished
each action
Undergraduate Academic Conduct Committee of Northwestern University,
“Definitions of
Academic Violations,”
defines.html (accessed July 13, 2010).
Interacting with Instructors
and Classes
FI G U RE 7 . 1
© Thinkstock
Where Are You Now?
Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.
Often Sometimes Seldom
1. I talk with my college instructors outside of class.
2. I participate in class discussions, ask questions in class, and volunteer to
answer questions posed by my instructors.
3. I go to all my classes except when prevented by illness or an emergency.
4. I prepare for classes and make an active effiort to pay attention and get the
most from class lectures.
5. In lecture classes, I read other materials, check for phone messages or email, and talk with friends.
6. I don’t sign up for classes when I hear other students say the instructor is
boring or difflcult.
7. I talk to my instructors in their offlces only if I have a problem with a
specific assignment.
8. I write effiective, professional e-mails to my instructors when appropriate.
9. I am comfortable giving presentations in class and know how to prepare
10. When assigned to work with a group to give a presentation, I take the
lead and help ensure everyone works together well in his or her specific roles.
Where Do You Want to Go?
Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself. On a scale of 1 to 10, how
would you rate your interactions with your instructors and other students at this time?
Not very effiective
Very successful
In the following list, circle the three most important areas in which you think you can improve:
Attending classes
Networking and studying with other students
Going to classes fully prepared
Interacting with instructors through e-mail and telephone calls
Paying attention in lecture classes
Resolving a problem with an instructor
Asking questions in class
Interacting with the instructor and students in an online course
Answering questions in class
Giving presentations in front of the class
Participating in class discussions
Creating and using visual aids in a presentation
Speaking with instructors outside of class
Working with a student group to give a presentation
Are there other areas also in which you can improve how you interact with instructors and other students to
get the most out of your college education? Write down other things you feel you need to work on.
How to Get There
Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:
Understanding why it is so important to interact well with your instructors and participate
in class
Understanding why it is essential to attend classes and actively engage in the learning
Preparing for and being comfortable participating in class
Discovering the best communication practices for asking and answering questions in class
Staying active in lecture classes to increase your learning
Adapting your learning style when an instructor has a diffierent teaching style
Building a relationship with an instructor outside of class and finding a mentor
Writing professional e-mails to instructors and others
Interacting with the instructor of an online course and coping with its difflcult issues
Preparing for and delivering a successful class presentation
Working with other students on a group presentation
Throughout this text you have been reading about how success in college depends on your active participation in the learning process. Much of what you get out of your education is what you yourself put
into it. This chapter considers how to engage in the learning process through interactions with your instructors and other students. Students who actively interact with others in the educational experience
are much more successful than passive students who do not.
Yet relatively few college students consistently interact with their instructors and other students in
class. Typically only five to seven students in a class, regardless of the class’s size, do most of the participating. Why is that? If you’re just too shy, you can learn to feel comfortable participating.
Interacting with instructors and participating in class discussions with other students is among the
most important steps you can take to make sure you’re successful in college. The real essence of a college education is not just absorption of knowledge and information but learning a way of thinking that
involves actively responding to the ideas of others. Employers seek graduates who have learned how to
think critically about situations and ideas, to solve new problems, and to apply traditional knowledge in
new circumstances. And these characteristics come from active participation in the learning process.
1.1 Differences from High School
To understand why interaction is so important in college, let’s look again at some of the typical diffierences between high school and college instructors:
Many college classes focus more on how one thinks about a subject than on information about
the subject. While instructors in some large lecture classes may still present information to
students, as you take more classes in your major and other smaller classes, you’ll find that simply
giving back facts or information on tests or in assigned papers means much less. You really are
expected to develop your own ideas and communicate them well. Doing that successfully usually
requires talking with others, testing out your thoughts against those of others, responding to
instructors’ questions, and other interactions.
< Instructors are usually very actively involved in their fields. While high school teachers often are
most interested in teaching, college instructors are often more interested in their own fields. They
may be passionate about their subject and want you to be as well. They can become excited when
a student asks a question that shows some deeper understanding of something in the field.
< College instructors give you the responsibility for learning. Many high school teachers monitor
their students’ progress and reach out if they see a student not doing well. In college, however,
students are considered adults in charge of their own learning. Miss some classes, turn in a paper
late, do poorly on an exam—and you will get a low grade, but the instructor likely won’t come
looking for you to offier help. But if you ask questions when you don’t understand and actively
seek out your instructor during offlce hours to more fully discuss your ideas for a paper, then the
instructor will likely give you the help you need.
< Academic freedom is very important in college. High school instructors generally are given a set
curriculum and have little freedom to choose what—or how—to teach. College instructors have
academic freedom, however, allowing them to teach controversial topics and express their own
ideas—and they may expect you to partake in this freedom as well. They have more respect for
students who engage in the subject and demonstrate their thinking skills through participation in
the class.
academic freedom
The concept present in almost
all colleges that instructors are
free, within the boundaries of
laws and
ethics, to pursue studies and
to teach topics they deem
appropriate within their field,
without interference from
administrators, offlcials, or
1. Describe reasons why it is important to attend classes.
2. Know what to do if you must miss a class.
3. Explain the benefits of participating in class for both students and instructors.
An audio or video recording,
such as of a class lecture,
made available online; so
named because podcasts
were originally developed to
be downloaded and played
on iPods.
Among the student freedoms in college is the choice not to attend classes. Most college instructors do
not “grade” attendance, and some college students soon develop an attitude that if you can get class
notes from someone else, or watch a podcast of a lecture, there’s no reason to go to every class at all.
What’s wrong with that?
It is in fact true that you don’t have to attend every single class of every course to get a good grade.
But thinking only in terms of grades and how much one can get away with is a dangerous attitude toward college education. The real issue is whether you’re trying to get the most out of your education.
Let’s compare students with diffierent attitudes toward their classes:
Carla wants to get through college, and she knows she needs the degree to get a decent job, but
she’s just not that into it. She’s never thought of herself as a good student, and that hasn’t changed
much in college. She has trouble paying attention in those big lecture classes, which mostly seem
pretty boring. She’s pretty sure she can pass all her courses, however, as long as she takes the time
to study before tests. It doesn’t bother her to skip classes when she’s studying for a test in a diffierent
class or finishing a reading assignment she didn’t get around to earlier. She does make it through
her freshman year with a passing grade in every class, even those she didn’t go to very often. Then
she fails the midterm exam in her first sophomore class. Depressed, she skips the next couple
classes, then feels guilty and goes to the next. It’s even harder to stay awake because now she has
no idea what they’re talking about. It’s too late to drop the course, and even a hard night of
studying before the final isn’t enough to pass the course. In two other classes, she just barely passes.
She has no idea what classes to take next term and is starting to think that maybe she’ll drop out
for now.
Karen wants to have a good time in college and still do well enough to get a good job in business
afterward. Her sorority keeps a file of class notes for her big lecture classes, and from talking to
others and reviewing these notes, she’s discovered she can skip almost half of those big classes and
still get a B or C on the tests. She stays focused on her grades, and because she has a good memory,
she’s able to maintain OK grades. She doesn’t worry about talking to her instructors outside of class
because she can always find out what she needs from another student. In her sophomore year, she
has a quick conversation with her academic advisor and chooses her major. Those classes are
smaller, and she goes to most of them, but she feels she’s pretty much figured out how it works and
can usually still get the grade. In her senior year, she starts working on her résumé and asks other
students in her major which instructors write the best letters of recommendation. She’s sure her
college degree will land her a good job.
Alicia enjoys her classes, even when she has to get up early after working or studying late the night
before. She sometimes gets so excited by something she learns in class that she rushes up to the
instructor after class to ask a question. In class discussions, she’s not usually the first to speak out,
but by the time another student has given an opinion, she’s had time to organize her thoughts and
enjoys arguing her ideas. Nearing the end of her sophomore year and unsure of what to major in
given her many interests, she talks things over with one of her favorite instructors, whom she has
gotten to know through offlce visits. The instructor gives her some insights into careers in that field
and helps her explore her interests. She takes two more courses with this instructor over the next
year, and she’s comfortable in her senior year going to him to ask for a job reference. When she
does, she’s surprised and thrilled when he urges her to apply for a high-level paid internship with a
company in the field—that happens to be run by a friend of his.
Think about the diffierences in the attitudes of these three students and how they approach their classes.
One’s attitude toward learning, toward going to class, and toward the whole college experience is a
huge factor in how successful a student will be. Make it your goal to attend every class—don’t even
think about not going. Going to class is the first step in engaging in your education by interacting with
the instructor and other students. Here are some reasons why it’s important to attend every class:
Miss a class and you’ll miss something, even if you never know it. Even if a friend gives you notes
for the class, they cannot contain everything said or shown by the instructor or written on the
board for emphasis or questioned or commented on by other students. What you miss might
affiect your grade or your enthusiasm for the course. Why go to college at all if you’re not going to
go to college?
< While some students may say that you don’t have to go to every class to do well on a test, that is
very often a myth. Do you want to take that risk?
< Your final grade often reflects how you think about course concepts, and you will think more
often and more clearly when engaged in class discussions and hearing the comments of other
students. You can’t get this by borrowing class notes from a friend.
< Research shows there is a correlation between absences from class and lower grades. It may be
that missing classes causes lower grades or that students with lower grades miss more classes.
Either way, missing classes and lower grades can be intertwined in a downward spiral of
< Your instructor will note your absences—even in a large class. In addition to making a poor
impression, you reduce your opportunities for future interactions. You might not ask a question
the next class because of the potential embarrassment of the instructor saying that was covered in
the last class, which you apparently missed. Nothing is more insulting to an instructor than when
you skip a class and then show up to ask, “Did I miss anything important?”
< You might be tempted to skip a class because the instructor is “boring,” but it’s more likely that
you found the class boring because you weren’t very attentive or didn’t appreciate how the
instructor was teaching.
< You paid a lot of money for your tuition. Get your money’s worth!
FI G U RE 7 . 2
In a large class, your
instructor will still notice if
you are paying attention.
Attending the first day of class is especially critical. There you’ll get the syllabus and other handouts,
learn the instructor’s policies and preferences for how the class will function, and often take notes in an
opening lecture.
If You Must Miss a Class…
If you know that you will miss a class, take steps in advance. Tell your instructor and ask if he or she
teaches another section of the course that you might attend instead. Ask about any handouts or
special announcements.
Ask another student whose judgment you trust if you can copy his or her notes. Then talk to them
after you’ve read their notes to go over things that may be unclear to you.
It may not be necessary to see your instructor after missing a lecture class, and no instructor wants to
give you fifty minutes of offlce time to repeat what was said in class. But if you are having difflculty
after the next class because of something you missed earlier, stop and see your instructor and ask
what you can do to get caught up. But remember the worst thing you can say to an instructor: “I
missed class—did you talk about anything important?”
© Thinkstock
2.1 The Value of Interaction in Class
As noted earlier, there are many good reasons to attend every class. But it’s not enough just to be
there—you need to interact with the the instructor and other students to enjoy a full educational
In a small class, it’s easy to interact with the
© Thinkstock
Participating in class discussions is a good way to start meeting other students with
whom you share an interest. You may form a study group, borrow class notes if you
miss a class, or team up with other students on a group project. You may meet students
with whom you form a lasting relationship, developing your network of contacts for
other benefits in the future, such as learning about internships or jobs.
< Asking the instructor questions, answering the instructor’s questions in class, and
responding to other students’ comments is a good way to make an impression on your
instructor. The instructor will remember you as an engaged student—and this matters
if you later need extra help or even a potential mentor.
< Paying close attention and thinking critically about what an instructor is saying can
dramatically improve your enjoyment of the class. You’ll notice things you’d miss if
you’re feeling bored and may discover your instructor is much more interesting than
you first thought.
< Students actively engaged in their class learn more and thus get better grades. When
you speak out in class and answer the instructor’s questions, you are more likely to
remember the discussion.
FI G U RE 7 . 3
2.2 Are Podcasts and Recordings an Effective Alternative to Attending
Why not just listen to a recording of the lecture—or a video podcast, if available—instead of going to
class? After all, you hear and perhaps see the lecture just as if you were there, and you can sleep late and
“go” to this class whenever it’s convenient for you. What could be wrong with that?
This issue has received considerable discussion in recent years because many colleges and universities began videotaping class lectures and making them available for students online or in podcasts.
There was a lot of debate about whether students would stop coming to class and simply watch the
podcasts instead. In fact, some students do cut class, as some always have, but most students use podcasts and recordings as a way to review material they do not feel they grasp completely. A video podcast
doesn’t offier the opportunity to ask questions or participate, and even if you pay close attention to
watching a video, it’s still a passive experience from which you’re likely to learn much less.
The benefits of attending every class include not missing important material, thinking more clearly about
course topics, developing a better relationship with the instructor, and being better prepared for tests.
When possible, prepare in advance for missing a class by speaking with your instructor and arranging to
borrow and discuss someone’s notes.
Students benefit in many ways from class interaction, including more actively engaging in learning,
developing a network with other students, and forming a relationship with the instructor.
Podcasts, lecture recordings, and similar learning methods can supplement lectures but cannot replace all
the benefits of attending class in person.
1. Why is it more important to interact with your instructors in college than it was in high school?
2. Give an example of something important you may miss in a class from which you are absent—even if you
read a friend’s notes and hear a recording of the lecture.
3. List at least three potential benefits of forming a network with other students.
4. What can you do as a student to be more engaged during a lecture if you are finding it boring?
Understand how to set yourself up for successful participation in class.
List guidelines for effiectively asking and answering questions in class.
Describe how to interact successfully with an instructor in a large lecture class.
Explain strategies for effiective learning if your learning style is diffierent from your instructor’s
teaching style.
We’ve already discussed the many benefits of participating in class as a form of actively engaging in
learning. Not everyone naturally feels comfortable participating. Following some general guidelines
makes it easier.
3.1 Guidelines for Participating in Classes
Smaller classes generally favor discussion, but often instructors in large lecture classes also make some
room for participation.
A concern or fear about speaking in public is one of the most common fears. If you feel afraid to
speak out in class, take comfort from the fact that many others do as well—and that anyone can learn
how to speak in class without much difflculty. Class participation is actually an impromptu, informal
type of public speaking, and the same principles will get you through both: preparing and
body language
Another term for forms of
nonverbal communication,
including gestures, postures,
and facial expressions.
standard English
Use of relatively formal
English language with correct
grammar and syntax,
avoiding slang,
colloquialisms, and irregular
phrasings and word
meanings that may be
common to a particular
cultural group but that diffier
from those generally
accepted by the larger
Set yourself up for success by coming to class fully prepared. Complete reading assignments.
Review your notes on the reading and previous class to get yourself in the right mind-set. If there
is something you don’t understand well, start formulating your question now.
< Sit in the front with a good view of the instructor, board or screen, and other visual aids. In a
lecture hall, this will help you hear better, pay better attention, and make a good impression on
the instructor. Don’t sit with friends—socializing isn’t what you’re there for.
< Remember that your body language communicates as much as anything you say. Sit up and look
alert, with a pleasant expression on your face, and make good eye contact with the instructor.
Show some enthusiasm.
Pay attention to the instructor’s body language, which can communicate much more than just
his or her words. How the instructor moves and gestures, and the looks on his or her face, will
add meaning to the words—and will also cue you when it’s a good time to ask a question or stay
< Take good notes, but don’t write obsessively—and never page through your textbook (or browse
on a laptop). Don’t eat or play with your cell phone. Except when writing brief notes, keep your
eyes on the instructor.
< Follow class protocol for making comments and asking questions. In a small class, the instructor
may encourage students to ask questions at any time, while in some large lecture classes the
instructor may ask for questions at the end of the lecture. In this case, jot your questions in your
notes so that you don’t forget them later.
< Don’t say or ask anything just to try to impress your instructor. Most instructors have been
teaching long enough to immediately recognize insincere flattery—and the impression this makes
is just the opposite of what you want.
< Pay attention to the instructor’s thinking style. Does this instructor emphasize theory more than
facts, wide perspectives over specific ideas, abstractions more than concrete experience? Take a
cue from your instructor’s approach and try to think in similar terms when participating in class.
< It’s fine to disagree with your instructor when you ask or answer a question. Many instructors
invite challenges. Before speaking up, however, be sure you can explain why you disagree and
give supporting evidence or reasons. Be respectful.
Pay attention to your communication style. Use standard English when you ask or answer a
question, not slang. Avoid sarcasm and joking around. Be assertive when you participate in class,
showing confidence in your ideas while being respectful of the ideas of others. But avoid an
aggressive style that attacks the ideas of others or is strongly emotional.
< When your instructor asks a question to the class:
Raise your hand and make eye contact, but don’t call out or wave your hand all around
trying to catch his or her attention.
< Before speaking, take a moment to gather your thoughts and take a deep breath. Don’t
just blurt it out—speak calmly and clearly.
When your instructor asks you a question directly:
Be honest and admit it if you don’t know the answer or are not sure. Don’t try to fake it
or make excuses. With a question that involves a reasoned opinion more than a fact, it’s
fine to explain why you haven’t decided yet, such as when weighing two opposing ideas
or actions; your comment may stimulate further discussion.
< Organize your thoughts to give a sufflcient answer. Instructors seldom want a yes or no
answer. Give your answer and provide reasons or evidence in support.
When you want to ask the instructor a question:
Don’t ever feel a question is “stupid.” If you have been paying attention in class and have
done the reading and you still don’t understand something, you have every right to ask.
< Ask at the appropriate time. Don’t interrupt the instructor or jump ahead and ask a
question about something the instructor may be starting to explain. Wait for a natural
pause and a good moment to ask. On the other hand, unless the instructor asks students
to hold all question until the end of class, don’t let too much time go by, or you may
forget the question or its relevance to the topic.
< Don’t ask just because you weren’t paying attention. If you drift offi during the first half of
class and then realize in the second half that you don’t really understand what the
instructor is talking about now, don’t ask a question about something that was already
Don’t ask a question that is really a complaint. You may be thinking, “Why would soand-so believe that? That’s just crazy!” Take a moment to think about what you might
gain from asking the question. It’s better to say, “I’m having some difflculty
understanding what so-and-so is saying here. What evidence did he use to argue for that
< Avoid dominating a discussion. It may be appropriate in some cases to make a follow-up
comment after the instructor answers your question, but don’t try to turn the class into a
one-on-one conversation between you and the instructor.
Lecture Hall Classes
While opportunities are fewer for student discussions in large lecture classes, participa- FI G U RE 7 . 4
tion is still important. The instructor almost always provides an opportunity to ask
Don’t use your cell phone during class time.
questions. Because time is limited, be ready with your question or comment when the
opportunity arises—and don’t be shy about raising your hand first.
Being prepared is especially important in lecture classes. Have assigned readings
done before class and review your notes. If you have a genuine question about
something in the reading, ask about it. Jot down the question in your notes and be
ready to ask if the lecture doesn’t clear it up for you.
Being prepared before asking a question also includes listening carefully to the lecture. You don’t want to ask a question whose answer was already given by the instructor in the lecture. Take a moment to organize your thoughts and choose your words
carefully. Be as specific as you can. Don’t say something like, “I don’t understand the
big deal about whether the earth revolves around the sun or the sun around the earth.
So what?” Instead, you might ask, “When they discovered that the earth revolves
around the sun, was that such a disturbing idea because people were upset to realize
that maybe they weren’t the center of the universe?” The first question suggests you © Thinkstock
haven’t thought much about the topic, while the second shows that you are beginning
to grasp the issue and want to understand it more fully.
Following are some additional guidelines for asking good questions:
Ask a question or two early in the term, even on the first day of class. Once the instructor has
“noticed” you as a class participant, you are more likely to be recognized again when you have a
question. You won’t be lost in the crowd.
< Speak deliberately and professionally, not as you might when talking with a friend. Use standard
English rather than slang.
< If you’re very shy about public speaking or worried you’ll say the wrong thing, write down your
question before asking. Rehearse it in your mind.
< When you have the opportunity to ask questions in class, it’s better to ask right away rather than
saving a question for after class. If you really find it difflcult to speak up in a large class, this is an
acceptable way to ask your question and participate. A private conversation with an instructor
may also be more appropriate if the question involves a paper or other project you are working
on for the course.
A note on technology in the lecture hall. Colleges are increasingly incorporating new technology in
lecture halls. For example, each student in the lecture hall may have an electronic “clicker” with which
the instructor can gain instant feedback on questions in class. Or the classroom may have wireless Internet and students are encouraged to use their laptops to communicate with the instructor in “real
time” during the lecture. In these cases, the most important thing is to take it seriously, even if you have
anonymity. Most students appreciate the ability to give feedback and ask questions through such technology, but some abuse their anonymity by sending irrelevant, disruptive, or insulting messages.
3.2 Teaching Style versus Learning Style
As you learned in Chapter 1, students have many diffierent learning styles. Understanding your learning style(s) can help you study more effiectively. Most instructors tend to develop their own teaching
style, however, and you will encounter diffierent teaching styles in diffierent courses.
When the instructor’s teaching style matches your learning style, you are usually more attentive in
class and may seem to learn better. But what happens if your instructor has a style very diffierent from
your own? Let’s say, for example, that your instructor primarily lectures, speaks rapidly, and seldom
uses visuals. This instructor also talks mostly on the level of large abstract ideas and almost never gives
examples. Let’s say that you, in contrast, are more a visual learner, that you learn more effiectively with
learning style
A person’s preferred
approach to or way of
learning most effiectively.
visual aids and visualizing concrete examples of ideas. Therefore, perhaps you are having some difflculty paying attention in class and following the lectures. What can you do?
Capitalize on your learning strengths, as you learned in Chapter 1. In this example, you could use
a visual style of note taking, such as concept maps, while listening to the lecture. If the instructor
does not give examples for abstract ideas in the lecture, see if you can supply examples in your
own thoughts as you listen.
< Form a study group with other students. A variety of students will likely involve a variety of
learning styles, and when going over course material with other students, such as when studying
for a test, you can gain what they have learned through their styles while you contribute what you
have learned through yours.
< Use ancillary study materials. Many textbooks point students to online resource centers or
include a computer CD that offiers additional learning materials. Such ancillary materials usually
offier an opportunity to review course material in ways that may better fit your learning style.
< Communicate with your instructor to bridge the gap between his or her teaching style and your
learning style. If the instructor is speaking in abstractions and general ideas you don’t
understand, ask the instructor for an example.
< You can also communicate with the instructor privately during offlce hours. For example, you
can explain that you are having difflculty understanding lectures because so many things are said
so fast.
Finally, take heart that a mismatch between a student’s learning style and an instructor’s teaching style
is not correlated with lower grades.
To prepare for class participation, come to class ready, sit in front, and pay attention to the instructor’s
words and body language.
Use good communication techniques when asking or answering questions in class.
Take advantage of all opportunities to interact with your instructors, even in large lecture classes.
If your learning style does not match the instructor’s teaching style, adapt your learning and study with
other students to stay actively engaged.
1. For each of the following statements about class participation, circle T for true or F for false:
T F To avoid having to answer a question in class when you don’t know the answer, sit in the back row
and avoid making eye contact with the instructor.
T F If you haven’t finished a reading assignment before coming to a lecture class, bring the book along
and try to complete the reading during the lecture.
T F Although it is OK to disagree with something in your textbook, never disagree with something the
instructor says in a lecture.
T F If you are asked a question but don’t know the answer, it’s best to be honest and admit it.
T F Before raising your hand to ask a question, take a moment to consider whether maybe it’s a stupid
T F Because you don’t want your instructor to form a poor impression of you, wait a week or two into
the term before starting to ask questions in class.
T F If you’re shy, it’s best never to speak up in class at all.
T F If you are struggling with a class during the first two weeks of the term, it’s always best to drop the
class immediately because the situation won’t improve.
2. List two things you can do if you are having difflculty understanding what your instructor is talking about.
1. Describe additional benefits for interacting with your instructor beyond the value for that particular course.
2. List guidelines for successfully communicating individually with an instructor, such as doing so
during offlce hours.
3. Write e-mail messages to instructors and others that are polite, professional, and effiective.
4. Know how to graciously resolve a problem, such as a grade dispute, with an instructor.
5. Understand the value of having a mentor and how interactions with instructors, your academic
advisor, and others may lead to a mentoring relationship.
6. Explain what is needed to succeed in an online course and how to interact with an online
So far we’ve been looking at class participation and general interaction with both instructors and other
students in class. In addition to this, students gain very specific benefits from communicating directly
with their instructors. Learn best practices for communicating with your instructors during offlce
hours and through e-mail.
4.1 Additional Benefits of Talking with Your Instructors
College students are sometimes surprised to discover that instructors like students and enjoy getting to
know them. After all, they want to feel they’re doing something more meaningful than talking to an
empty room. The human dimension of college really matters, and as a student you are an important
part of your instructor’s world. Most instructors are happy to see you during their offlce hours or to
talk a few minutes after class.
This chapter has repeatedly emphasized how active participation in learning is a key to student
success. In addition, talking with your instructors often leads to benefits beyond simply doing well in
that class.
Talking with instructors helps you feel more comfortable in college and more connected to the
campus. Students who talk to their instructors are less likely to become disillusioned and drop
< Talking with instructors is a valuable way to learn about an academic field or a career. Don’t
know for sure what you want to major in, or what people with a degree in your chosen major
actually do after college? Most instructors will share information and insights with you.
< You may need a reference or letter of recommendation for a job or internship application.
Getting to know some of your instructors puts you in an ideal position to ask for a letter of
recommendation or a reference in the future when you need one.
< Because instructors are often well connected within their field, they may know of a job, internship,
or research possibility you otherwise may not learn about. An instructor who knows you is a
valuable part of your network. Networking is very important for future job searches and other
opportunities. In fact, most jobs are found through networking, not through classified ads
or online job postings.
< Think about what it truly means to be “educated”: how one thinks, understands society and the
world, and responds to problems and new situations. Much of this learning occurs outside the
classroom. Talking with your highly educated instructors can be among your most meaningful
experiences in college.
4.2 Guidelines for Communicating with Instructors
Getting along with instructors and communicating well begins with attitude. As experts in their field,
they deserve your respect. Remember that a college education is a collaborative process that works best
when students and instructors communicate freely in an exchange of ideas, information, and perspectives. So while you should respect your instructors, you shouldn’t fear them. As you get to know them
better, you’ll learn their personalities and find appropriate ways to communicate. Here are some
guidelines for getting along with and communicating with your instructors:
The process of engaging
others in helping reach an
Prepare before going to the instructor’s offlce. Go over your notes on readings and
lectures and write down your specific questions. You’ll feel more comfortable, and the
instructor will appreciate your being organized.
Your instructor can often help explain course
< Don’t forget to introduce yourself. Especially near the beginning of the term, don’t
assume your instructor has learned everyone’s names yet and don’t make him or her
have to ask you. Unless the instructor has already asked you to address him or her as
,” “Ms.
” or Mr.
,” or something similar, it’s appropriate to say
< Respect the instructor’s time. In addition to teaching, college instructors sit on
committees, do research and other professional work, and have personal lives. Don’t
show up two minutes before the end of an offlce hour and expect the instructor to stay
late to talk with you.
< Realize that the instructor will recognize you from class—even in a large lecture hall.
If you spent a lecture class joking around with friends in the back row, don’t think you
can show up during offlce hours to find out what you missed while you weren’t paying
© Thinkstock
< Don’t try to fool an instructor. Insincere praise or making excuses for not doing an
assignment won’t make it in college. Nor is it a good idea to show you’re “too cool” to
take all this seriously—another attitude sure to turn offi an instructor. To earn your instructor’s
respect, come to class prepared, do the work, participate genuinely in class, and show respect—
and the instructor will be happy to see you when you come to offlce hours or need some extra
< Try to see things from the instructor’s point of view. Imagine that you spent a couple hours
making PowerPoint slides and preparing a class lecture on something you find very stimulating
and exciting. Standing in front of a full room, you are gratified to see faces smiling and heads
nodding as people understand what you’re saying—they really get it! And then a student after
class asks, “Is this going to be on the test?” How would you feel?
< Be professional when talking to an instructor. You can be cordial and friendly, but keep it
professional and on an adult level. Come to offlce hours prepared with your questions—not just
to chat or joke around. (Don’t wear sunglasses or earphones in the offlce or check your cell phone
for messages.) Be prepared to accept criticism in a professional way, without taking it personally
or complaining.
< Use your best communication skills. In Chapter 9, you’ll learn the diffierence between assertive
communication and passive or aggressive communication.
FI G U RE 7 . 5
Part-Time and Returning Students
Students who are working and who have their own families and other responsibilities may have special issues
interacting with instructors. Sometimes an older student feels a little out of place and may even feel “the system” is designed for younger students; this attitude can lead to a hesitation to participate in class or see an instructor during offlce hours.
But participation and communication with instructors is very important for all students—and may be even
more important for “nontraditional” students. Getting to know your instructors is particularly crucial for feeling
at home in college. Instructors enjoy talking with older and other nontraditional students—even when, as
sometimes happens, a student is older than the instructor. Nontraditional students are often highly motivated
and eager to learn. If you can’t make the instructor’s offlce hours because of your work schedule, ask for an appointment at a diffierent time—your needs will be respected.
Part-time students, especially in community colleges where they may be taking evening courses, often have
greater difflculty meeting with instructors. In addition, many part-time students taking evening and weekend
classes are taught by part-time faculty who, like them, may be on campus only small amounts of time. Yet it is
just as critical for part-time students to engage in the learning process and have a sense of belonging on campus. With effiort, you can usually find a way to talk with your instructors. Don’t hesitate to ask for an appointment at another time or to meet with your instructor over a cup of coffiee after class before driving home.
Assert yourself: You are in college for reasons just as good as those of other students, and you have the same
rights. Avoid the temptation to give up or feel defeated; talk with your instructor to arrange a time to meet,
and make the most of your time interacting together. Use e-mail to communicate when you need to and contact your instructor when you have any question you can’t raise in person.
4.3 E-mail Best Practices
Just as e-mail has become a primary form of communication in business and society, e-mail has a
growing role in education and has become an important and valuable means of communicating with
instructors. Virtually all younger college students have grown up using e-mail and have a computer or
computer access in college, although some have developed poor habits from using e-mail principally
with friends in the past. Some older college students may not yet understand the importance of e-mail
and other computer skills in college; if you are not now using e-mail, it’s time to learn how (see
“Getting Started with E-mail”). Especially when it is difflcult to see an instructor in person during offlce
hours, e-mail can be an effiective form of communication and interaction with instructors. E-mail is
also an increasingly effiective way to collaborate with other students on group projects or while studying
with other students.
Getting Started with E-mail
If you don’t have your own computer, find out where on-campus computers are available for student
use, such as at the library or student center.
You can set up a free Web-based e-mail account at Google, Yahoo! or other sites. These allow you to
send and receive e-mail from any computer that is connected to the Internet.
If you don’t have enough computer experience to know how to do this, ask a friend for help getting
started or check at your library or student services offlce for a publication explaining how e-mail
Once you have your account set up, give your e-mail address to instructors who request it and to
other students with whom you study or maintain contact. E-mail is a good way to contact another
student if you miss a class.
Once you begin using e-mail, remember to check it regularly for messages. Most people view e-mail
like a telephone message and expect you to respond fairly soon.
Be sure to use good e-mail etiquette when writing to instructors.
If your instructor gives you his or her e-mail addresses, use e-mail rather than the telephone for nonurgent matters. Using e-mail respects other people’s time, allowing them to answer at a time of their
choosing, rather than being interrupted by a telephone call.
But e-mail is a written form of communication that is diffierent from telephone voice messages and
text messages. Students who text with friends have often adopted shortcuts, such as not spelling out full
words, ignoring capitalization and punctuation, and not bothering with grammar or full sentence constructions. This is inappropriate in an e-mail message to an instructor, who expects a more professional
quality of writing. Most instructors expect your communications to be in full sentences with correctly
spelled words and reasonable grammar. Follow these guidelines:
Use a professional e-mail name. If you have a funny name you use with friends, create a diffierent
account with a professional name you use with instructors, work supervisors, and others.
< Use the subject line to label your message effiectively at a glance. “May I make an appointment?”
says something; “In your offlce?” doesn’t.
< Address e-mail messages as you do a letter, beginning “Dear Professor
.” Include your full
name if it’s not easily recognizable in your e-mail account.
< Get to your point quickly and concisely. Don’t make the reader scroll down a long e-mail to see
what it is you want to say.
< Because e-mail is a written communication, it does not express emotion the way a voice message
does. Don’t attempt to be funny, ironic, or sarcastic, Write as you would in a paper for class. In a
large lecture class or an online course, your e-mail voice may be the primary way your instructor
knows you, and emotionally charged messages can be confusing or give a poor impression.
< Don’t use capital letters to emphasize. All caps look like SHOUTING.
< Avoid abbreviations, nonstandard spelling, slang, and emoticons like smiley faces. These do not
convey a professional tone.
< Don’t make demands or state expectations such as “I’ll expect to hear from you soon” or “If I
haven’t heard by 4 p.m., I’ll assume you’ll accept my paper late.”
< When you reply to a message, leave the original message within yours. Your reader may need to
recall what he or she said in the original message.
< Be polite. End the message with a “Thank you” or something similar.
Proofread your message before sending it.
< With any important message to a work supervisor or instructor, it’s a good idea to wait and
review the message later before sending it. You may have expressed an emotion or thought that
you will think better about later. Many problems have resulted when people sent messages too
quickly without thinking.
4.4 Resolving a Problem with an Instructor
The most common issue students feel with an instructor involves receiving a grade lower than they
think they deserve—especially new students not yet used to the higher standards of college. It’s depressing to get a low grade, but it’s not the end of the world. Don’t be too hard on yourself—or on the
instructor. Take a good look at what happened on the test or paper and make sure you know what to
do better next time. Review the earlier chapters on studying habits, time management, and taking tests.
If you genuinely believe you deserved a higher grade, you can talk with your instructor. How you
communicate in that conversation, however, is very important. Instructors are used to hearing students
complain about grades and patiently explaining their standards for grading. Most instructors seldom
change grades. Yet it can still be worthwhile to talk with the instructor because of what you will learn
from the experience.
Follow these guidelines to talk about a grade or resolve any other problem or disagreement with an
First go over the requirements for the paper or test and the instructor’s comments. Be sure you
actually have a reason for discussing the grade—not just that you didn’t do well. Be prepared with
specific points you want to go over.
< Make an appointment with your instructor during offlce hours or another time. Don’t try to talk
about this before or after class or with e-mail or the telephone.
< Begin by politely explaining that you thought you did better on the assignment or test (not simply
that you think you deserve a better grade) and that you’d like to go over it to better understand
the result.
< Allow the instructor to explain his or her comments on the assignment or grading of the test.
Don’t complain or whine; instead, show your appreciation for the explanation. Raise any specific
questions or make comments at this time. For example, you might say, “I really thought I was
being clear here when I wrote.<”
< Use good listening skills. Whatever you do, don’t argue!
< Ask what you can do to improve grade, if possible. Can you rewrite the paper or do any extracredit work to help make up for a test score? While you are showing that you would like to earn a
higher grade in the course, also make it clear that you’re willing to put in the effiort and that you
want to learn more, not just get the higher grade.
< If there is no opportunity to improve on this specific project, ask the instructor for advice on
what you might do on the next assignment or when preparing for the next test. You may be
offiered some individual help or receive good study advice, and your instructor will respect your
willingness to make the effiort as long as it’s clear that you’re more interested in learning than
simply getting the grade.
Tips for Success: Talking with Instructors
When you have a question, ask it sooner rather than later.
Be prepared and plan your questions and comments in advance.
Be respectful but personable and communicate professionally.
Be open minded and ready to learn. Avoid whining and complaining.
There is no such thing as a “stupid question.”
Controlling Anger over Grades
If you’re going to talk with an instructor about your grade or any other problem, control any anger you may be
feeling. The GPS LifePlan project of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System offiers some insights
into this process:
Being upset about a grade is good because it shows you care and that you have passion about your
education. But anger prevents clear thinking, so rein it in first.
Since anger involves bodily reactions, physical actions can help you control anger: try some deep
breathing first.
Try putting yourself in your instructor’s shoes and seeing the situation from their point of view. Try to
understand how grading is not a personal issue of “liking” you—that they are really doing something
for your educational benefit.
It’s not your life that’s being graded. Things outside your control can result in not doing well on a test
or assignment, but the instructor can grade only on what you actually did on that test or
assignment—not what you could have done or are capable of doing. Understanding this can help you
accept what happened and not take a grade personally.[1]
4.5 Finding a Mentor
A mentor is someone who is usually older and more experienced than you who becomes your trusted
guide, advisor, and role model. A mentor is someone you may want to be like in your future career or
profession—someone you look up to and whose advice and guidance you respect.
Finding a mentor can be one of the most fulfilling aspects of college. As a student, you think about
many things and make many decisions, large and small, almost daily: What do you want to do in the
future? How can you best balance your studies with your job? What should you major in? Should you
take this course or that one? What should you do if you feel like you’re failing a course? Where should
you put your priorities as you prepare for a future career? How can you be a better student? The questions go on and on. We talk about things like this with our friends and often family members, but often
they don’t have the same experience or background to help us as a mentor can.
Most important, a mentor is someone who is willing to help you, to talk with you about decisions
you face, to support you when things become difflcult, and to guide you when you’re feeling lost. A
mentor can become a valuable part of your future network but also can help you in the here and now.
Many diffierent people can become mentors: other students, family members, people you know
through work, your boss. As a college student, however, your best mentor likely is someone involved in
education: your advisor, a more experienced student, or an instructor. Finding a mentor is another
reason to develop good relationships with your instructors, starting with class participation and communication outside of class.
A mentor is not like a good friend, exactly—you’re not going to invite your instructor to a
movie—but it does involve a form of friendship. Nor is a mentor a formal relationship: you don’t ask
an instructor to become your mentor. The mentor relationship is more informal and develops slowly,
often without actively looking for a mentor. Here’s an example of how one student “found” a mentor:
A trusted individual, often an
older and wiser role model,
who provides guidance and
As a freshman taking several classes, Miguel particularly liked and admired one of his instructors,
Professor Canton. Miguel spoke up more in Canton’s class and talked with him sometimes during
offlce hours. When it was time to register for the next term, Miguel saw that Canton was teaching
another course he was interested in, so he asked him about that course one day during offlce
hours. Miguel was pleased when Professor Canton said he’d like to have him in his class next term.
By the end of his first year of college, Miguel seemed to know Canton better than any of his
other instructors and felt very comfortable talking with him outside of class. One day after talking
about a reading assignment, Miguel said he was enjoying this class so much that he was thinking
about majoring in this subject and asked Professor Canton what he thought about it. Canton
suggested that he take a few more classes before making a decision, and he invited Miguel to sit in
on a seminar of upper-level students he was holding.
In his second year, Miguel’s interests turned in another direction as he began to think about
his future job possibilities, but by then he felt comfortable enough talking with Canton that he
occasionally he stopped by the professor’s offlce even though he was not taking a class with him.
Sometimes he was surprised how much Professor Canton knew about other departments and
other faculty, and Canton often shared insights about other courses he might be interested in that
his advisor had not directed him to. When Miguel learned about a summer internship in his field
and was considering applying, Canton not only volunteered to write him a letter of
recommendation but even offiered to help Miguel with the essay part of the application if he
Some colleges have more formal mentoring programs, and you should become involved in one if
you have this opportunity, but often a mentoring relationship occurs informally as you get to know an
instructor or another person over time. In your first year, you don’t go searching frantically for a mentor, but you should begin interacting with your instructors and other students in ways that may lead,
over time, to developing that kind of relationship.
Similarly, your academic advisor or a college counselor might become a mentor for you if you
share interests and you look up to that person as a role model and trusted guide. Your advisor is so important for your college success that if you feel you are not getting along well, you should ask the advising department to switch you to a diffierent advisor. Take the time to build a good relationship with
your advisor, the same as with instructors—following the same guidelines in this chapter for communication and interaction.
4.6 Relating to an Instructor of an Online Course
Online courses have grown tremendously in recent years, and most colleges now have at least some online courses. While online learning once focused on students at a distance from campus, now many
students enrolled in regular classes also take some courses online. Online courses have a number of
practical benefits but also pose special issues, primarily related to how students interact with other students and the instructor.
Some online courses do involve “face time” or live audio connections with the instructor and other
students, via Webcasts or Webinars, but many are self-paced and asynchronous, meaning that you experience the course on your own time and communicate with others via messages back and forth
rather than communicating in real time. All online courses include opportunities for interacting with
the instructor, typically through e-mail or a bulletin board where you may see comments and questions
from other students as well.
Many educators argue that online courses can involve more interaction between
students and the instructor than in a large lecture class, not less. But two important FI G U RE 7 . 6
diffierences affiect how that interaction occurs and how successful it is for engaging students in learning. Most communication is written, with no or limited opportunity to Online courses let you study when you want,
ask questions face to face or during offlce hours, and students must take the initiative to where you want.
interact beyond the requirements of online assignments.
Many students enjoy online courses, in part for the practical benefit of scheduling
your own time. Some students who are reluctant to speak in class communicate more
easily in writing. But other students may have less confidence in their writing skills or
may never initiate interaction at all and end up feeling lost. Depending on your learning style, an online course may feel natural to you (if you learn well independently and
through language skills) or more difflcult (if you are a more visual or kinesthetic
learner). Online courses have higher drop-out and failure rates due to some students
feeling isolated and unmotivated.
Success in an online course requires commitment and motivation. Follow these
© Thinkstock
Make sure you have the technology. If you’re not comfortable reading and
writing on a computer, don’t rush into an online course. If you have limited
access to a computer or high-speed Internet connection, or have to arrange your schedule to use a
computer elsewhere, you may have difflculty with the course.
< Accept that you’ll have to motivate yourself and take responsibility for your learning. It’s
actually harder for some people to sit down at the computer on their own than to show up at a set
time. Be sure you have enough time in your week for all course activities and try to schedule
regular times online and for assignments. Evaluate the course requirements carefully before
signing up.
< Work on your writing skills. If you are not comfortable writing, you may want to defer taking
online courses until you have had more experience with college-level writing. When
communicating with the instructor of an online course, follow the guidelines for effiective e-mail
outlined earlier.
< Use critical thinking skills. Most online courses involve assignments requiring problem solving
and critical thinking. It’s not as simple as watching video lectures and taking multiple-choice
tests. You need to actively engage with the course material.
< Take the initiative to ask questions and seek help. Remember, your instructor can’t see you to
know if you’re confused or feeling frustrated understanding a lecture or reading. You must take
the first step to communicate your questions.
< Be patient. When you ask a question or seek help with an assignment, you have to wait for a
reply from your instructor. You may need to continue with a reading or writing assignment
before you receive a reply. If the instructor is online at scheduled times for direct contact, take
advantage of those times for immediate feedback and answers.
< Use any opportunity to interact with other students in the course. If you can interact with other
students online, do it. Ask questions of other students and monitor their communications. If you
know another person taking the same course, try to synchronize your schedules so that you can
study together and talk over assignments. Students who feel they are part of a learning community
always do better than those who feel isolated and on their own.
Additional benefits of getting to know and networking with instructors include receiving references and
academic advice.
Interacting with college instructors contributes to the growth and intellectual maturity that are part of
what it means to be “educated.”
Prepare in advance before meeting with an instructor and communicate respectfully, honestly, and
sincerely. Your effiorts will be repaid.
It is especially important for part-time and nontraditional students to make the effiort to interact with
Follow accepted guidelines for professional use of e-mail with instructors.
It is worthwhile speaking with an instructor when you disagree about a grade because of what you will
learn in this interaction.
Finding a mentor can be one of the most fulfilling experiences in college. Getting to know your instructors
may be the first step toward find a mentor.
Online courses involve special issues for effiective learning, but you must make the effiort to interact with
the instructor and other students in a way that encourages your success.
1. Name three benefits you might gain from talking with an instructor weeks or months after the course has
2. What should you do before going to see your instructor during offlce hours?
3. For each of the following statements, circle T for true or F for false:
T F The instructor of a large lecture course will recognize you even if you sit in the back and try not to
be noticed.
T F Instructors appreciate it when you talk to them in the kind of language you use with your best
T F Whining and complaining is the best way to convince an instructor to change your grade.
T F It is acceptable to ask an instructor if you can rewrite a paper or do extra-credit work to help make
up for a poor grade.
4. Write an appropriate opening for an e-mail to an instructor.
5. Think for a few minutes about all the past instructors you have had. Would you like to get to know any one
of them better, perhaps as a mentor? What personality traits does this person have that would make him
or her your ideal mentor? (If no instructor you have met so far is your idea of a perfect mentor, write down
the traits you hope to find in an instructor in the future.)
1. Know how to overcome nervousness and anxiety associated with public speaking and giving
class presentations.
2. Effiectively use the six-step process to prepare for and deliver a class presentation.
3. Create effiective visual aids for use in class presentations.
4. Work with a group to successfully plan and deliver a class presentation.
Public speaking—giving an oral presentation before a class or another group of people—is a special
form of interaction common in education. You will likely be asked to give a presentation in one of your
classes at some point, and your future career may also involve public speaking. It’s important to develop skills for this form of communication.
Public speaking is like participating in class—sharing your thoughts, ideas, and questions with others in the group. In other ways, however, public speaking is very diffierent. You stand in front of the
class to speak, rather than from your usual seat—and for most students, that changes the psychology of
the situation. You also have time outside of class to prepare your presentation, allowing you to plan it
carefully—and, for many, giving more time to worry about it and experience even more anxiety!
5.1 Overcoming Anxiety
Although a few people seem to be natural public speakers, most of us feel some stage fright or anxiety
about having to speak to a group, at least at first. This is completely normal. We feel like everyone is
staring at us and seeing our every flaw, and we’re sure we’ll forget what we want to say or mess up.
Take comfort from knowing that almost everyone else is dreading giving class presentations the same
as you are! But you can learn to overcome your anxiety and prepare in a way that not only safely gets
you through the experience but also leads to success in your presentation. The following are proven
strategies for overcoming anxiety when speaking in public:
Understand anxiety. Since stage fright is normal, don’t try to deny that you’re feeling anxious. A
little anxiety can help motivate you to prepare and do your best. Accept this aspect of the process
and work to overcome it. Anxiety is usually worst just before you begin and but eases up once
you’ve begun.
< Understand that your audience actually wants you to succeed. They’re not looking for faults or
hoping you’ll fail. Other students and your instructors are on your side, not your enemy. They
likely won’t even see your anxiety.
< Reduce anxiety by preparing and practicing. The next section discusses the preparation process
in more detail. The more fully you prepare and the more often you have practice, the more your
anxiety will go away.
< Focus on what you’re saying, not how you’re saying it. Keep in mind that you have ideas to share,
and this is what your classmates and instructors are interested in. Don’t obsess about speaking, but
focus on the content of your presentation. Think, for example, of how easily you share your ideas
with a friend or family member, as you naturally speak your mind. The same can work with public
speaking if you focus on the ideas themselves.
< Develop self-confidence. As you prepare, you will make notes you can refer to during the
presentation. You’re not going to forget what you want to say. The more you practice, the more
confident you’ll become.
5.2 Guidelines for Presentations
Preparing and delivering a presentation in class (or in business or other settings) is a process very similar to the learning process discussed in Chapter 4, Chapter 5, and Chapter 6 and the writing process
discussed in Chapter 8. The process breaks down into these six basic steps:
1. Analyze your audience and goals
2. Plan, research, and organize your content
3. Draft and revise the presentation
4. Prepare speaking notes
5. Practice the presentation
6. Deliver the presentation
Step 1: Analyze Your Audience and Goals
Who will see and hear your presentation—and why? Obviously, other students and the instructor. But
you still need to think about what they already know, and don’t know, about your topic. If your topic
relates to subject matter in class lectures and readings, consider what background information they
already have and be careful not to give a boring recap of things they already know. It may be important,
however, to show how your specific topic fits in with subjects that have been discussed already in class,
especially in the beginning of your presentation, but be sure to focus on your new topic.
New terms and concepts may become familiar to you while doing your research and preparation,
but remember to define and explain them to other students. Consider how much explanation or examples will be needed for your audience to grasp your points. If your topic involves anything controversial or may provoke emotion, consider your audience’s attitudes and choose your words carefully.
Thinking about your audience will help you find ways to get their attention and keep them interested.
Be sure you are clear about the goals for the presentation. Are you primarily presenting new information or arguing for a position? Are you giving an overview or a detailed report? Review the assignment and talk with the instructor if you’re unsure. Your goals guide everything in the presentation:
what you say, how much you say, what order you say it in, what visual aids you use, whether you use
humor or personal examples, and so forth.
Step 2: Plan, Research, and Organize Your Content
Starting with the assignment and your goals, brainstorm your topic. Jot notes on specific topics that
seem important. Often you’ll do reading or research to gather more information. Take notes as you
would with any reading. As you research the topic at this stage, don’t worry at first about how much
content you are gathering. It’s better to know too much and then pick out the most important things to
say than to rush ahead to drafting the presentation and then realize you don’t have enough material.
Organizing a presentation is similar to organizing topics in a class paper and uses the same principles. Introduce your topic and state your main idea (thesis), go into more detail about specific ideas,
and conclude your presentation. Look for a logical order for the specifics in the middle. Some topics
work best in chronological (time) order or with a compare-and-contrast organization. If your goal is to
persuade the audience, build up to the strongest reason. Put similar ideas together and add transitions
between diffierent ideas.
While researching your topic and outlining your main points, think about visual aids that may
help the presentation.
Also start thinking about how much time you have for the presentation, but don’t limit yourself
yet in the outline stage.
Step 3: Draft and Revise the Presentation
Unless required by the assignment, you don’t need to actually write out the presentation in full sentences and paragraphs. How much you write depends on your own learning and speaking style. Some
students speak well from brief phrases written in an outline, while other students find it easier to write
sentences out completely. There’s nothing wrong with writing the presentation out fully like a script if
that helps you be sure you will say what you intend to—just so you don’t actually get up and read from
the script.
You can’t know for sure how long a presentation will last until you rehearse it later, but you can estimate the time while drafting it. On the average, it takes two to three minutes to speak what can be
written on a standard double-spaced page—but with visual aids, pauses, and audience interaction, it
may take longer. While this is only a rough guide, you can start out thinking of a ten-minute presentation as the equivalent of a three to four-page paper.
Never wait until the last minute to draft your presentation. Arrange your time to prepare the first
draft and then come back to it a day or two later to ask these questions:
Am I going on too long about minor points? Could the audience get bored?
< Do I have good explanations and reasons for my main points? Do I need more data or better
examples? Where would visual aids be most effiective?
< Am I using the best words for this topic and this audience? Should I be more or less informal in
the way I talk?
< Does it all hold together and flow well from one point to the next? Do I need a better
introduction or transition when I shift from one idea to another?
Visual Aids in Presentations
Except for very short informal presentations, most presentations gain from visuals—and visual aids are often
expected. If encouraged or allowed to include visuals in your presentation, plan to do so. Consider all possible
Charts or graphs
Photos or other images
Video clips
Handouts (only when necessary—they can be distracting)
Use the available technology, whether it’s an overhead projector, PowerPoint slides, a flip chart, or posters.
(Talk to your instructor about resources and software for designing your visuals.) Follow these guidelines:
Design your visuals carefully. Here are some basic rules:
Use a simple, neutral background. A light-colored background with text in a dark color
works best for words; a dark background used like matting works best for photos.
Minimize the amount of text in visuals—more than eight words per slide is usually too
much. Avoid simply presenting word outlines of what you are saying. Make sure text is large
enough for the audience to read.
Don’t use more than two pictures in a slide, and use two only to make a direct comparison.
Montages are hard to focus on and distract the viewer from what you’re saying. Use images
only when they support your presentation; don’t use clip art just as decoration.
Don’t put a table of numbers in a visual aid. If you need to illustrate numerical data, use a
graph. (Microsoft Excel can make them for you easily.)
Don’t use sound effiects. Use a very brief recording only if directly related to your main
Don’t use visual special effiects such as dissolves, spins, box-outs, or other transitions. They
are distracting. Use animation sparingly and only if it helps make a point.
Don’t use so many visuals or move through them so quickly that the audience gives all its attention
to them rather than to you.
Practice your presentation using your visual aids, because they affiect your timing.
Explain visuals when needed but not when they’re obvious.
Keep your eyes on your audience, only briefly glancing at visuals to stay in synch with them.
Don’t hand out a printout of your visuals. Your audience should keep their eyes on you instead of
fiddling around with paper.
Step 4: Prepare Speaking Notes
As mentioned earlier, it’s not a good idea to read your presentation from a written page rather than deliver it. To keep your audience’s attention, it’s important to make eye contact with them and to use a
normal speaking voice—and you can’t do this if you keep your eyes on a written script.
Speaking notes are a brief outline for your presentation. You might write them on index cards or
sheets of paper. Include important facts and data as well as keywords for your main ideas, but don’t
write too much. (If you forget things later when you start practicing, you can always add more to your
outline then.) Be sure to number your cards or pages to prevent a last-minute mix-up.
Think especially about how to open and close your presentation, because these two moments have
the most impact of the whole presentation. Use the opening to capture the audience’s attention, but be
sure it is appropriate for your audience and the goals. Here are some possibilities for your opening:
A striking fact or example (illustrating an issue or a problem)
A brief interesting or humorous anecdote (historical, personal, or current event)
< A question to the audience
< An interesting quotation
Then relate the opening to your topic and your main point and move into the body of the presentation.
Your closing mirrors the opening. Transition from your last point to a brief summary that pulls
your ideas together. You might end with a challenge to the audience, a strong statement about your
topic, or a personal reflection on what you have been saying. Just make sure you have a final sentence
planned so that you don’t end up uncomfortably fumbling around at the end (“Well, I guess that ends
my presentation”).
The name of a specific
software presentation
program (within Microsoft
Offlce) used in many
educational and business
settings to produce and
deliver “slides” containing
text and graphics to a group
via a projected computer
Step 5: Practice the Presentation
Practice may be the most important step. It is also the best way to get over stage fright and gain
Practice first in an empty room where you imagine people sitting, so that you can move your eyes
around the room to this “audience.” The first time through, focus on putting your outlined notes into
full sentences in your natural speaking voice. Don’t read your notes aloud. Glance down at your notes
only briefly and then look up immediately around the room. Practice two or three times just to find the
right words to explain your points and feel more comfortable working with your notes. Time yourself,
but don’t obsess over your presentation being the exact length required. If your presentation is much
too long, however, adjust it now in your notes so that you don’t start memorizing things that you might
accidentally still say later on even though you cut them from your notes.
Once you feel good speaking from your notes, practice to add some more polish to your delivery.
You might want to record or videotape your presentation or ask a friend or roommate to watch your
presentation. Pay attention to these aspects of how you speak:
Try to speak in your natural voice, not in a monotone as if you were just reading aloud. If you will
be presenting in a large room without a microphone, you will need to speak louder than usual,
but still try to use a natural voice.
< In usual conversation, we speed up and slow down and vary the intensity of our words to show
how we feel about what we’re saying. Practice changes in your delivery style to emphasize key
< Don’t keep looking at your notes. It’s fine if you use words that are diffierent from those you wrote
down—the more you rehearse without looking at your notes, the more natural sounding you will
< Be sure you can pronounce all new words and technical terms correctly. Practice saying them
slowly and clearly to yourself until you can say them naturally.
< Don’t forget transitions. Listeners need a cue when you’re moving to a new idea. Practice phrases
such as “Another important reason for this is<” or “Now let’s move on to why this is so.<”
< Watch out for all those little “filler” words people use so often, such as “like,” “you know,” “well,”
and “uh.” They’re very distracting to most audiences. Listen to or watch your tape to see if you
are using these fillers or ask your friend to point it out.
< Pay attention to body language when practicing. Stand up straight and tall in every practice
session so that you become used to it. Unless you have to stand at a podium to use a fixed
microphone in your presentation, practice moving around while you speak; this helps keep the
audience watching you. Use hand and arm gestures if they are natural for you, but don’t try to
make up gestures for the presentation because they will look phony. Most important, keep your
eyes moving over the audience. Practice smiling and pausing at key points.
< Finally, it’s a good idea to be ready in case of an accident. Most likely your presentation will go
smoothly, you’ll stay on track with your notes, and your PowerPoint slides will work fine, but
sometimes a mishap happens. Be ready to joke about it, rather than becoming flustered. If the
computer fails and you lose your visuals, say something like, “Well, that’s a shame, I had some
really great photos to show you!” If you drop your index cards or notes, or accidentally skip
ahead in your presentation and then have to backtrack, make a joke: “Sorry about that, I was so
excited to get to my next point that I’m afraid I lost control there for a moment!” Let your
audience laugh with you—they’ll still be on your side, and you can defuse the incident and move
on without becoming more nervous.
Step 6: Deliver the Presentation
Be sure to get enough sleep and eat a healthy breakfast. Don’t drink too much caffieine or else you’ll become hyper and nervous. Wear your favorite—and appropriate—clothing and comfortable shoes.
Remember, your audience is on your side! If you’re still nervous before your turn,
take a few deep breaths. Rehearse your opening lines in your mind. Smile as you move FI G U RE 7 . 7
to the front of the room, looking at your audience. You’ll see some friendly faces smiling back encouragingly. As you start the presentation, move your eyes among those You may use computerized visual aids when
giving you a warm reception—and if you see some student looking bored or doing you give a presentation to a class.
something else, just ignore them. But don’t focus on any one person in the audience for
too long, which could make them nervous or cause them to look away.
Don’t keep looking at your watch or a clock: If your rehearsal times were close to
your assigned time, your presentation will be also. If you do notice that you’re running
behind schedule, it may be that you’re saying too much out of nervousness. Use your
notes to get back on track and keep the pace moving. But it’s better to deliver your
presentation naturally and fluidly and be a bit long or short than to try to change your
words and end up sounding unnatural.
At the closing, deliver your last line with confidence, sweeping your eyes over the
audience. If appropriate, ask if there are any questions. When you’re done, pause,
smile, say “Thank you,” and walk back to your seat.
Later on, ask other students and your instructor for comments. Be open © Thinkstock
minded—don’t just ask for praise. If you hear a suggestion for improvement, file that in
your memory for next time.
Group Presentations
You may be assigned to give a presentation in a small group. The six-step process discussed previously
works for group presentations, too, although group dynamics often call for additional planning and
shared responsibilities:
1. Schedule a group meeting as soon as possible to get started. Don’t let another student put things
offi. Explain that you’re too busy and won’t have time at the last minute.
2. Begin by analyzing your audience and your goals together as a group to make sure everyone
understands the assignment the same. Discuss who should do what. While everyone should talk
about what content to include, from here onward, you will take on specialized roles. One or more
may begin research and gathering information. Others who are good writers may volunteer to
draft the presentation, while one or more others may develop the visual aids. Those who have
public speaking experience may volunteer to do all or most of the speaking (unless the
assignment requires everyone to have a speaking role). You also need a team leader to keep
everyone on schedule, organize meetings, and so on. The best team leader is an even-tempered
student with good social skills, who can motivate everyone to cooperate.
3. Steps 2 and 3 can likely be carried out individually with assigned tasks, but group members
should stay in touch. For example, the person developing the visuals should be talking to those
doing the researching and drafting to see what visuals are needed and get started finding or
creating them.
4. Before preparing notes in step 4, meet again to go over the content and plan for visuals. Everyone
should be comfortable with the plan so far. Make final decisions about who will do each section
of the presentation. Set the time for each segment. Then speakers should prepare their own
speaking notes. Let someone with strong speaking skills open or close the presentation (or both),
with others doing the other parts.
5. The whole group should be present for practice sessions in step 5, even if not everyone is
speaking. Those not speaking should take notes and give feedback. If one student is doing most of
the presenting, an alternate should be chosen in case the first choice is sick on the scheduled day.
The alternate also needs to practice.
6. During the delivery, especially if using technology for visual aids, one student should manage the
visuals while others do the presenting. If several students present diffierent segments, plan the
transition from one to another so that the presentation keeps flowing without pauses.
Additional Resources
For Class Presentations
Using PowerPoint. A step-by-step illustrated tutorial for learning how to create effiective visual presentations
with PowerPoint.
“How to Give a Bad Talk.” A humorous look (with some very good advice) on what not to do when preparing
for and giving a class presentation.
Class presentations on YouTube. Search YouTube with the phrase “class presentation” and look for video examples of actual students giving class presentations. Observing and critiquing the presentations of other students are good ways to get started preparing your own and learning from others. Here’s a good example of a
student group presentation on a topic we can all relate to (how body language works):
View the video online at:
In this presentation, take note of
how students make good eye contact with the audience;
the first student’s natural speaking voice and tone, and how she did not have to use her note cards
very often (obviously she practiced well);
some diffierences among these students;
the use of PowerPoint slides within the presentation (some better than others);
the appropriate occasional use of humor;
the division of presentation responsibilities within the student group;
each presenter’s interaction with the audience.
Public speaking skills are important because you will likely give presentations in class and perhaps in a
future job.
Overcome anxiety about public speaking by understanding your feelings, preparing well and practicing
your delivery, and focusing on your subject.
Follow a six-step process to prepare and deliver a presentation:
Analyze your audience and goals
Plan, research, and organize your content
Draft and revise the presentation
Prepare speaking notes
Practice the presentation
Deliver the presentation and seek feedback
Use visual aids to support a presentation, creating visuals that are relevant, attractive, and powerful.
The success of a group presentation depends on effiective group meetings, successful division of roles, and
repeated group practices.
1. If you have given a class presentation in the past, what worked best for you? (If you have not given a
presentation yet as a student, what aspect do you think will be most difflcult for you?)
2. Name the two most important things you can do to reduce anxiety about a class presentation you will
have to give.
3. For each of the following statements about class presentations, circle T for true or F for false:
T F Although you are delivering the presentation to the class, your real audience is your instructor, so
you don’t need to waste time defining terms and concepts he or she already knows.
T F Organizing a presentation or speech is similar to organizing topics in a paper you write for class.
T F When creating visual aids, put as many photos as you can in each PowerPoint slide to have the
strongest impact.
T F In case your memory goes blank while giving a presentation, write the full presentation out so that
you can read it aloud.
4. Describe how best to use body language (facial expressions, eye movements, gestures, etc.) when giving a
5. If you were assigned along with three other students to give a group presentation in the class using this
textbook, what would be your preferred role in the preparation stages? Your least preferred role? If you
had to take your least preferred role, what single thing would you want to work hardest on to make the
presentation successful?
Chapter Takeaways
Actively engaging in your college education is essential for success, including attending classes,
participating, and communicating with your instructors.
Students benefit in several important ways when they participate in class and feel free to ask
Successful participation in class and interaction with your instructor begin with fully preparing for
class and working on communication skills.
Networking with instructors has additional benefits for your future and may lead to finding a helpful
Both impromptu speaking in class and more formal class presentations help develop key skills.
Learning to work well in a group is an element of college success.
1. List as many benefits of participating in class as you can think of.
2. Consider the instructors in your current classes. Which instructor have you spoken with the least (in or
outside of class)?
Are you hesitant to speak up in this class—or to see the instructor outside of class? Why?
When you have a question for this instructor about an assignment or reading, which form of
communication would be most appropriate?
3. List ways to be prepared if you have a question to ask in a large lecture class.
4. Think ahead through to the end of your college experience. If you were to develop a mentoring
relationship with one of your present instructors, what sorts of things might you talk about in the future
with that instructor after the current class has ended?
5. Review the six stages for preparing and giving a class presentation. Which stage(s) do you feel you
personally need to pay special attention to next time you are assigned a presentation?
What specifically can you plan to do to ensure your success in those stages in your next presentation?
Choose your current class with the largest enrollment and decide to ask the instructor a question in the next
class or during offlce hours. Prepare by carefully reviewing your class and reading notes and select a subject
area that you do not feel confident you fully understand. Focus in on a specific topic and write down a question whose answer would help you better understand the topic. Go to class prepared to ask that question if it
is relevant to the day’s discussion or lecture; if it is not relevant, visit your instructor during offlce hours and ask
the question. If this is your first time talking with this instructor, remember to introduce yourself and explain
your interest in the topic as you ask the question. Remember that your second goal is to begin establishing a
relationship with this instructor.
Attending Class
I sometimes don’t go to class because
I’ll keep myself motivated to go to every class by
Participating in Class
I tend to participate most in this class:
I need to make an effiort to participate more in this class:
I need to participate more because
I will take the following steps to be ready to ask a question:
Attending Lecture Classes
I tend to do these nonproductive things if I feel bored in a lecture:
I will work on staying more actively engaged in lectures in these ways:
Talking with Instructors Outside of Class
I have not yet spoken to this instructor outside of class:
Within the next two weeks, I will stop by during offlce hours to talk about the following:
This instructor’s offlce hours are
Using E-mail
The following are my worst e-mail habits:
The following current instructors prefer student questions through e-mail:
I will follow these professional e-mail practices:
Speaking Publicly
I am nervous about giving class presentations because
I realize that the best way to overcome my anxiety about public speaking and succeed in class presentations
is to
Adapted from “How to Communicate and Problem Solve with Your Instructor,”
(accessed December 27, 2009).
Writing for Classes
FI G U RE 8 . 1
© Thinkstock
Where Are You Now?
Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.
Yes Unsure No
1. I enjoy writing and am a confident and productive writer.
2. I know what my instructors expect in student writing.
3. I understand the feedback I get from instructors and accept their criticism.
4. I am comfortable sharing my writing with peers.
5. I begin working on papers early and always revise my first full draft before turning in
the paper.
6. I have a consistent approach to the writing process that works well for me.
7. I understand what plagiarism is and always cite online and print sources as required.
8. I seek out help whenever needed as I work on paper assignments.
9. I try to write all my college papers as if they were written for my composition
Where Do You Want to Go?
Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself. On a scale of 1 to 10, how
would you rate your level of confidence and your attitude about writing?
Not very strong
Very strong
In the following list, circle the three areas you see as most important to your improvement as a writer:
Using time effiectively
Using sources effiectively and appropriately
Understanding instructors’ expectations
Citing sources in the proper form
Being productive with brainstorming and other prewriting activities
Sharing my work in drafts and accepting feedback
Organizing ideas clearly and transitioning between ideas
Understanding the diffierence between proofreading and revision
Developing ideas fully
Drafting and redrafting in response to criticism
Using correct sentence mechanics (grammar, punctuation, etc.)
Using Web sites, reference books, and campus resources
Developing an academic “voice”
Think about the three things you chose: Why did you choose them? Have you had certain kinds of writing
difflculties in the past? Consider what you hope to learn here.
How to Get There
Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:
Understanding why writing is vital to your success in college
Learning how writing in college diffiers from writing in high school
Understanding how a writing class diffiers (and doesn’t diffier) from other classes with
assigned writing
Knowing what instructors in college expect of you as a writer
Knowing what diffierent types of assignments are most common in college
Using the writing process to achieve your best work
Identifying common errors and become a better editor of your own work
Responding to an instructor’s feedback on your work in progress and on your final paper
Using sources appropriately and avoiding plagiarism
Writing an in-class essay, for an online course, and in group writing projects
Writing is one of the key skills all successful students must acquire. You might think your main job in a
history class is to learn facts about events. So you read your textbook and take notes on important
dates, names, causes, and so on. But however important these details are to your instructor, they don’t
mean much if you can’t explain them in writing. Even if you remember the facts well and believe you
understand their meaning completely, if you can’t express your understanding by communicating
it—in college that almost always means in writing—then as far as others may know, you don’t have an
understanding at all. In a way, then, learning history is learning to write about history. Think about it.
Great historians don’t just know facts and ideas. Great historians use their writing skills to share their
facts and ideas effiectively with others.
History is just one example. Consider a lab course—a class that’s as much hands-on as any in college. At some point, you’ll be asked to write a step-by-step report on an experiment you have run. The
quality of your lab work will not show if you cannot describe that work and state your findings well in
writing. Even though many instructors in courses other than English classes may not comment directly
on your writing, their judgment of your understanding will still be mostly based on what you write.
This means that in all your courses, not just your English courses, instructors expect good writing.
In college courses, writing is how ideas are exchanged, from scholars to students and from students back to scholars. While the grade in some courses may be based mostly on class participation, oral reports, or multiple-choice exams, writing is by far the single most important form of instruction
and assessment. Instructors expect you to learn by writing, and they will grade you on the basis of your
If you find that a scary thought, take heart! By paying attention to your writing and learning and
practicing basic skills, even those who never thought of themselves as good writers can succeed in college writing. As with other college skills, getting offi to a good start is mostly a matter of being motivated and developing a confident attitude that you can do it.
As a form of communication, writing is diffierent from oral communication in several ways. Instructors expect writing to be well thought out and organized and to explain ideas fully. In oral communication, the listener can ask for clarification, but in written work, everything must be clear within
the writing itself. Guidelines for oral presentations are provided in Chapter 7.
Note: Most college students take a writing course their first year, often in the first term. Even if you
are not required to take such a class, it’s a good idea for all students to learn more about college writing.
This short chapter cannot cover even a small amount of what you will learn in a full writing course.
Our goal here is to introduce some important writing principles, if you’re not yet familiar with them, or
to remind you of things you may have already learned in a writing course. As with all advice, always
pay the most attention to what your instructor says—the terms of a specific assignment may overrule a
tip given here!
Define “academic writing.”
Identify key diffierences between writing in college and writing in high school or on the job.
Identify diffierent types of papers that are commonly assigned.
Describe what instructors expect from student writing.
Academic writing refers to writing produced in a college environment. Often this is writing that responds to other writing—to the ideas or controversies that you’ll read about. While this definition
sounds simple, academic writing may be very diffierent from other types of writing you have done in
the past. Often college students begin to understand what academic writing really means only after they
receive negative feedback on their work. To become a strong writer in college, you need to achieve a
clear sense of two things:
1. The academic environment
2. The kinds of writing you’ll be doing in that environment
2.1 Differences between High School and College Writing
Students who struggle with writing in college often conclude that their high school teachers were too
easy or that their college instructors are too hard. In most cases, neither explanation is fully accurate or
fair. A student having difflculty with college writing usually just hasn’t yet made the transition from
high school writing to college writing. That shouldn’t be surprising, for many beginning college students do not even know that there is a transition to be made.
In high school, most students think of writing as the subject of English classes. Few teachers in
other courses give much feedback on student writing; many do not even assign writing. This says more
about high school than about the quality of teachers or about writing itself. High school teachers typically teach five courses a day and often more than 150 students. Those students often have a very wide
range of backgrounds and skill levels.
Thus many high school English instructors focus on specific, limited goals. For example, they may
teach the “five paragraph essay” as the right way to organize a paper because they want to give every
student some idea of an essay’s basic structure. They may give assignments on stories and poems because their own college background involved literature and literary analysis. In classes other than English, many high school teachers must focus on an established body of information and may judge
academic writing
Analytical or informative
nonfiction writing that is
assigned by college
students using tests that measure only how much of this information they acquire. Often writing itself
is not directly addressed in such classes.
This does not mean that students don’t learn a great deal in high school, but it’s easy to see why
some students think that writing is important only in English classes. Many students also believe an
academic essay must be five paragraphs long or that “school writing” is usually literary analysis.
Think about how college diffiers from high school. In many colleges, the instructors teach fewer
classes and have fewer students. In addition, while college students have highly diverse backgrounds,
the skills of college students are less variable than in an average high school class. In addition, college
instructors are specialists in the fields they teach, as you recall from Chapter 7. College instructors may
design their courses in unique ways, and they may teach about specialized subjects. For all of these
reasons, college instructors are much more likely than high school teachers to
assign writing,
< respond in detail to student writing,
< ask questions that cannot be dealt with easily in a fixed form like a five-paragraph essay.
A kind or type of essay; an
approach or a specific form of
organization; a
compare-and-contrast essay,
for example, is a genre often
assigned by college
Your transition to college writing could be even more dramatic. The kind of writing you have done in
the past may not translate at all into the kind of writing required in college. For example, you may at
first struggle with having to write about very diffierent kinds of topics, using diffierent approaches. You
may have learned only one kind of writing genre (a kind of approach or organization) and now find
you need to master other types of writing as well.
2.2 What Kinds of Papers Are Commonly Assigned in College Classes?
Think about the topic “gender roles”—referring to expectations about diffierences in how men and women act. You might study gender roles in an anthropology class, a film class, or a psychology class. The
topic itself may overlap from one class to another, but you would not write about this subject in the
same way in these diffierent classes. For example, in an anthropology class, you might be asked to describe how men and women of a particular culture divide important duties. In a film class, you may be
asked to analyze how a scene portrays gender roles enacted by the film’s characters. In a psychology
course, you might be asked to summarize the results of an experiment involving gender roles or compare and contrast the findings of two related research projects.
It would be simplistic to say that there are three, or four, or ten, or any number of types of academic writing that have unique characteristics, shapes, and styles. Every assignment in every course is
unique in some ways, so don’t think of writing as a fixed form you need to learn. On the other hand,
there are certain writing approaches that do involve diffierent kinds of writing. An approach is the way
you go about meeting the writing goals for the assignment. The approach is usually signaled by the
words instructors use in their assignments.
When you first get a writing assignment, pay attention first to keywords for how to approach the
writing. These will also suggest how you may structure and develop your paper. Look for terms like
these in the assignment:
Summarize. To restate in your own words the main point or points of another’s work.
< Define. To describe, explore, or characterize a keyword, idea, or phenomenon.
< Classify. To group individual items by their shared characteristics, separate from other groups of
< Compare/contrast. To explore significant likenesses and diffierences between two or more
< Analyze. To break something, a phenomenon, or an idea into its parts and explain how those
parts fit or work together.
< Argue. To state a claim and support it with reasons and evidence.
< Synthesize. To pull together varied pieces or ideas from two or more sources.
Note how this list is similar to the words used in examination questions that involve writing. (See Table
6.1 in Chapter 6, Section 5.) This overlap is not a coincidence—essay exams are an abbreviated form of
academic writing such as a class paper.
Sometimes the keywords listed don’t actually appear in the written assignment, but they are usually implied by the questions given in the assignment. “What,” “why,” and “how” are common question
words that require a certain kind of response. Look back at the keywords listed and think about which
approaches relate to “what,” “why,” and “how” questions.
“What” questions usually prompt the writing of summaries, definitions, classifications, and
sometimes compare-and-contrast essays. For example, “What does Jones see as the main
elements of Huey Long’s populist appeal?” or “What happened when you heated the chemical
< “Why” and “how” questions typically prompt analysis, argument, and synthesis essays. For
example, “Why did Huey Long’s brand of populism gain force so quickly?” or “Why did the
solution respond the way it did to heat?”
Successful academic writing starts with recognizing what the instructor is requesting, or what you are
required to do. So pay close attention to the assignment. Sometimes the essential information about an
assignment is conveyed through class discussions, however, so be sure to listen for the keywords that
will help you understand what the instructor expects. If you feel the assignment does not give you a
sense of direction, seek clarification. Ask questions that will lead to helpful answers. For example,
here’s a short and very vague assignment:
Discuss the perspectives on religion of Rousseau, Bentham, and Marx. Papers should be four to five
pages in length.
Faced with an assignment like this, you could ask about the scope (or focus) of the assignment:
Which of the assigned readings should I concentrate on?
Should I read other works by these authors that haven’t been assigned in class?
< Should I do research to see what scholars think about the way these philosophers view religion?
< Do you want me to pay equal attention to each of the three philosophers?
You can also ask about the approach the instructor would like you to take. You can use the keywords
the instructor may not have used in the assignment:
Should I just summarize the positions of these three thinkers, or should I compare and contrast
their views?
< Do you want me to argue a specific point about the way these philosophers approach religion?
< Would it be OK if I classified the ways these philosophers think about religion?
Never just complain about a vague assignment. It is fine to ask questions like these. Such questions will
likely engage your instructor in a productive discussion with you.
Writing is crucial to college success because it is the single most important means of evaluation.
Writing in college is not limited to the kinds of assignments commonly required in high school English
Writers in college must pay close attention to the terms of an assignment.
If an assignment is not clear, seek clarification from the instructor.
1. What kind(s) of writing have you practiced most in your recent past?
2. Name two things that make academic writing in college diffierent from writing in high school.
3. Explain how the word “what” asks for a diffierent kind of paper than the word “why.”
scope (or focus)
A deliberate and purposeful
narrowing of coverage.
Writers must define specific
limitations to work within to
narrow the scope or sharpen
the focus of their subject.
Describe how a writing class can help you succeed in other courses.
Define what instructors expect of a college student’s writing.
Explain why learning to write is an ongoing task.
Understand writing as a process.
Develop productive prewriting and revision strategies.
Distinguish between revision and editing.
Access and use available resources.
Understand how to integrate research in your writing.
Define plagiarism.
Students are usually required to take at least one writing course in their first year of college. That
course is often crucial for your success in college. But a writing course can help you only if you recognize how it connects to your other work in college. If you approach your writing course merely as another hoop you need to jump through, you may miss out on the main message: writing is vital to your
academic success at every step toward your degree.
3.1 What Do Instructors Really Want?
Some instructors may say they have no particular expectations for student papers. This is partly true.
College instructors do not usually have one right answer in mind or one right approach to take when
they assign a paper topic. They expect you to engage in critical thinking and decide for yourself what
you are saying and how to say it. But in other ways college instructors do have expectations, and it is
important to understand them. Some expectations involve mastering the material or demonstrating
critical thinking. Other expectations involve specific writing skills. Most college instructors expect certain characteristics in student writing. Here are general principles you should follow when writing essays or student “papers.” (Some may not be appropriate for specific formats such as lab reports.)
Title the paper to identify your topic. This may sound obvious, but it needs to be said. Some students think of a paper as an exercise and write something like “Assignment 2: History 101” on the title
page. Such a title gives no idea about how you are approaching the assignment or your topic. Your title
should prepare your reader for what your paper is about or what you will argue. (With essays, always
consider your reader as an educated adult interested in your topic. An essay is not a letter written to
your instructor.) Compare the following:
Incorrect: Assignment 2: History 101
Correct: Why the New World Was Not “New”
It is obvious which of these two titles begins to prepare your reader for the paper itself. Similarly,
don’t make your title the same as the title of a work you are writing about. Instead, be sure your title
signals an aspect of the work you are focusing on:
Incorrect: Catcher in the Rye
Correct: Family Relationships in Catcher in the Rye
Address the terms of the assignment. Again, pay particular attention to words in the assignment
that signal a preferred approach. If the instructor asks you to “argue” a point, be sure to make a statement that actually expresses your idea about the topic. Then follow that statement with your reasons
and evidence in support of the statement. Look for any signals that will help you focus or limit your approach. Since no paper can cover everything about a complex topic, what is it that your instructor
wants you to cover?
Finally, pay attention to the little things. For example, if the assignment specifies “5 to 6 pages in
length,” write a five- to six-page paper. Don’t try to stretch a short paper longer by enlarging the font
(12 points is standard) or making your margins bigger than the normal one inch (or as specified by the
instructor). If the assignment is due at the beginning of class on Monday, have it ready then or before.
Do not assume you can negotiate a revised due date.
In your introduction, define your topic and establish your approach or sense of purpose. Think
of your introduction as an extension of your title. Instructors (like all readers) appreciate feeling oriented by a clear opening. They appreciate knowing that you have a purpose for your topic—that you
have a reason for writing the paper. If they feel they’ve just been dropped into the middle of a paper,
they may miss important ideas. They may not make connections you want them to make.
Build from a thesis or a clearly stated sense of purpose. Many college assignments require you to
make some form of an argument. To do that, you generally start with a statement that needs to be supported and build from there. Your thesis is that statement; it is a guiding assertion for the paper. Be
clear in your own mind of the diffierence between your topic and your thesis. The topic is what your paper is about; the thesis is what you argue about the topic. Some assignments do not require an explicit
argument and thesis, but even then you should make clear at the beginning your main emphasis, your
purpose, or your most important idea.
Develop ideas patiently. You might, like many students, worry about boring your reader with too
much detail or information. But college instructors will not be bored by carefully explained ideas, wellselected examples, and relevant details. College instructors, after all, are professionally devoted to their
subjects. If your sociology instructor asks you to write about youth crime in rural areas, you can be sure
he or she is interested in that subject.
In some respects, how you develop your paper is the most crucial part of the assignment. You’ll
win the day with detailed explanations and well-presented evidence—not big generalizations. For example, anyone can write something broad (and bland) like “The constitutional separation of church
and state is a good thing for America”—but what do you really mean by that? Specifically? Are you
talking about banning “Christmas trees” from government property—or calling them “holiday trees”
instead? Are you arguing for eliminating the tax-free status of religious organizations? Are you saying
that American laws should never be based on moral values? The more you really dig into your topic—the more time you spend thinking about the specifics of what you really want to argue and developing specific examples and reasons for your argument—the more developed your paper will be. It will
also be much more interesting to your instructor as the reader. Remember, those grand generalizations
we all like to make (“America is the land of the free”) actually don’t mean much at all until we develop
the idea in specifics. (Free to do what? No laws? No restrictions like speed limits? Freedom not to pay
any taxes? Free food for all? What do you really mean when you say American is the land of the “free”?)
Integrate—do not just “plug in”—quotations, graphs, and illustrations. As you outline or sketch
out your material, you will think things like “this quotation can go here” or “I can put that graph
there.” Remember that a quotation, graph, or illustration does not make a point for you. You make the
point first and then use such material to help back it up. Using a quotation, a graph, or an illustration
involves more than simply sticking it into the paper. Always lead into such material. Make sure the
reader understands why you are using it and how it fits in at that place in your presentation.
Build clear transitions at the beginning of every paragraph to link from one idea to another. A
good paper is more than a list of good ideas. It should also show how the ideas fit together. As you
write the first sentence of any paragraph, have a clear sense of what the prior paragraph was about.
Think of the first sentence in any paragraph as a kind of bridge for the reader from what came before.
Document your sources appropriately. If your paper involves research of any kind, indicate
clearly the use you make of outside sources. If you have used those sources well, there is no reason to
hide them. Careful research and the thoughtful application of the ideas and evidence of others is part of
what college instructors value. (We address specifics about documentation later on.)
Carefully edit your paper. College instructors assume you will take the time to edit and proofread
your essay. A misspelled word or an incomplete sentence may signal a lack of concern on your part. It
may not seem fair to make a harsh judgment about your seriousness based on little errors, but in all
writing, impressions count. Since it is often hard to find small errors in our own writing, always print
out a draft well before you need to turn it in. Ask a classmate or a friend to review it and mark any
word or sentence that seems “offi” in any way. Although you should certainly use a spell-checker, don’t
assume it can catch everything. A spell-checker cannot tell if you have the right word. For example,
these words are commonly misused or mixed up:
there, their, they’re
< its, it’s
< effiect, affiect
< complement, compliment
Your spell-checker can’t help with these. You also can’t trust what a “grammar checker” (like the one
built into the Microsoft Word spell-checker) tells you—computers are still a long way from being able
to fix your writing for you!
Turn in a clean hard copy. Some instructors accept or even prefer digital papers, but do not assume this. Most instructors want a paper copy and most definitely do not want to do the printing
themselves. Present your paper in a professional (and unfussy) way, using a staple or paper clip on the
left top to hold the pages together (unless the instructor specifies otherwise). Never bring your paper to
class and ask the instructor, “Do you have a stapler?” Similarly, do not put your paper in a plastic binder unless the instructor asks you to.
3.2 The Writing Process
Discovery, exploration,
development, and
clarification through a series
of steps or exercises.
The outcome or end result of
a writing process; the finished
paper you submit.
Writing instructors distinguish between process and product. The expectations described here all involve the “product” you turn in on the due date. Although you should keep in mind what your product
will look like, writing is more involved with how you get to that goal. “Process” concerns how you work
to actually write a paper. What do you actually do to get started? How do you organize your ideas?
Why do you make changes along the way as you write? Thinking of writing as a process is important
because writing is actually a complex activity. Even professional writers rarely sit down at a keyboard
and write out an article beginning to end without stopping along the way to revise portions they have
drafted, to move ideas around, or to revise their opening and thesis. Professionals and students alike often say they only realized what they wanted to say after they started to write. This is why many instructors see writing as a way to learn. Many writing instructors ask you to submit a draft for review
before submitting a final paper. To roughly paraphrase a famous poem, you learn by doing what you
have to do.
3.3 How Can I Make the Process Work for Me?
No single set of steps automatically works best for everyone when writing a paper, but writers have
found a number of steps helpful. Your job is to try out ways that your instructor suggests and discover
what works for you. As you’ll see in the following list, the process starts before you write a word. Generally there are three stages in the writing process:
1. Preparing before drafting (thinking, brainstorming, planning, reading, researching, outlining,
sketching, etc.)—sometimes called “prewriting” (although you are usually still writing something
at this stage, even if only jotting notes)
2. Writing the draft
3. Revising and editing
Involved in these three stages are a number of separate tasks—and that’s where you need to figure out
what works best for you.
Because writing is hard, procrastination is easy. Don’t let yourself put offi the task. Use the time
management strategies described in Chapter 2. One good approach is to schedule shorter time periods
over a series of days—rather than trying to sit down for one long period to accomplish a lot. (Even professional writers can write only so much at a time.) Try the following strategies to get started:
Discuss what you read, see, and hear. Talking with others about your ideas is a good way to
begin to achieve clarity. Listening to others helps you understand what points need special
attention. Discussion also helps writers realize that their own ideas are often best presented in
relation to the ideas of others.
< Use e-mail to carry on discussions in writing. An e-mail exchange with a classmate or your
instructor might be the first step toward putting words on a page.
< Brainstorm. Jot down your thoughts as they come to mind. Just write away, not worrying at first
about how those ideas fit together. (This is often called “free writing.”) Once you’ve written a
number of notes or short blocks of sentences, pause and read them over. Take note of anything
that stands out as particularly important to you. Also consider how parts of your scattered notes
might eventually fit together or how they might end up in a sequence in the paper you’ll get to
later on.
< Keep a journal in which you respond to your assigned readings. Set aside twenty minutes or so
three times a week to summarize important texts. Go beyond just summarizing: talk back about
what you have been reading or apply the reading to your own experience. See Chapter 5 for more
tips on taking notes about your readings.
< Ask and respond in writing to “what,” “why,” and “how” questions. Good questions prompt
productive writing sessions. Again, “what” questions will lead to descriptions or summaries;
“why” and “how” questions will lead you to analyses and explanations. Construct your own
“what,” “why,” and “how” questions and then start answering them.
< In your notes, respond directly to what others have written or said about a topic you are
interested in. Most academic writing engages the ideas of others. Academic writing carries on a
conversation among people interested in the field. By thinking of how your ideas relate to those
of others, you can clarify your sense of purpose and sometimes even discover a way to write your
All of these steps and actions so far are “prewriting” actions. Again, almost no one just sits down and
starts writing a paper at the beginning—at least not a successful paper! These prewriting steps help you
get going in the right direction. Once you are ready to start drafting your essay, keep moving forward
in these ways:
Write a short statement of intent or outline your paper before your first draft. Such a road map
can be very useful, but don’t assume you’ll always be able to stick with your first plan. Once you
start writing, you may discover a need for changes in the substance or order of things in your
essay. Such discoveries don’t mean you made “mistakes” in the outline. They simply mean you
are involved in a process that cannot be completely scripted in advance.
< Write down on a card or a separate sheet of paper what you see as your paper’s main point or
thesis. As you draft your essay, look back at that thesis statement. Are you staying on track? Or
are you discovering that you need to change your main point or thesis? From time to time, check
the development of your ideas against what you started out saying you would do. Revise as needed
and move forward.
< Reverse outline your paper. Outlining is usually a beginning point, a road map for the task
ahead. But many writers find that outlining what they have already written in a draft helps them
see more clearly how their ideas fit or do not fit together. Outlining in this way can reveal trouble
spots that are harder to see in a full draft. Once you see those trouble spots, effiective revision
becomes possible.
< Don’t obsess over detail when writing the draft. Remember, you have time for revising and
editing later on. Now is the time to test out the plan you’ve made and see how your ideas develop.
The last things in the world you want to worry about now are the little things like grammar and
punctuation—spend your time developing your material, knowing you can fix the details later.
< Read your draft aloud. Hearing your own writing often helps you see it more plainly. A gap or an
inconsistency in an argument that you simply do not see in a silent reading becomes evident
when you give voice to the text. You may also catch sentence-level mistakes by reading your
paper aloud.
A critical reflection of an early
draft that leads to significant
3.4 What’s the Difference between Revising and Editing?
Some students think of a draft as something that they need only “correct” after writing. They assume
their first effiort to do the assignment resulted in something that needs only surface attention. This is a
big mistake. A good writer does not write fast. Good writers know that the task is complicated enough
to demand some patience. “Revision” rather than “correction” suggests seeing again in a new light generated by all the thought that went into the first draft. Revising a draft usually involves significant
changes including the following:
Making organizational changes like the reordering of paragraphs (don’t forget that new
transitions will be needed when you move paragraphs)
< Clarifying the thesis or adjustments between the thesis and supporting points that follow
< Cutting material that is unnecessary or irrelevant
< Adding new points to strengthen or clarify the presentation
Editing and proofreading are the last steps following revision. Correcting a sentence early on may
not be the best use of your time since you may cut the sentence entirely. Editing and proofreading are
focused, late-stage activities for style and correctness. They are important final parts of the writing process, but they should not be confused with revision itself. Editing and proofreading a draft involve these
Careful spell-checking. This includes checking the spelling of names.
< Attention to sentence-level issues. Be especially attentive to sentence boundaries, subject-verb
agreement, punctuation, and pronoun referents. You can also attend at this stage to matters of
Remember to get started on a writing assignment early so that you complete the first draft well before
the due date, allowing you needed time for genuine revision and careful editing.
3.5 What If I Need Help with Writing?
Writing is hard work. Most colleges provide resources that can help you from the early stages of an assignment through to the completion of an essay. Your first resource may be a writing class. Most students are encouraged or required to enroll in a writing class in their first term, and it’s a good idea for
everyone. Use everything you learn there about drafting and revising in all your courses.
editing and proofreading
A close review of a revised
draft that leads to stylistic
refinements and sentence- or
word-level corrections.
Tutoring services. Most colleges have a tutoring service that focuses primarily on student writing.
Look up and visit your tutoring center early in the term to learn what service is offiered. Specifically
check on the following:
1. Do you have to register in advance for help? If so, is there a registration deadline?
2. Are appointments required or encouraged, or can you just drop in?
3. Are regular standing appointments with the same tutor encouraged?
4. Are a limited number of sessions allowed per term?
5. Are small group workshops offiered in addition to individual appointments?
6. Are specialists available for help with students who have learned English as a second language?
Three points about writing tutors are crucial:
1. Writing tutors are there for all student writers—not just for weak or inexperienced writers.
Writing in college is supposed to be a challenge. Some students make writing even harder by
thinking that good writers work in isolation. But writing is a social act. A good paper should
engage others.
2. Tutors are not there for you to “correct” sentence-level problems or polish your finished draft.
They will help you identify and understand sentence-level problems so that you can achieve
greater control over your writing. But their more important goals often are to address larger
concerns like the paper’s organization, the fullness of its development, and the clarity of its
argument. So don’t make your first appointment the day before a paper is due, because you may
need more time to revise after discussing the paper with a tutor.
3. Tutors cannot help you if you do not do your part. Tutors respond only to what you say and write;
they cannot enable you to magically jump past the thinking an assignment requires. So do some
thinking about the assignment before your meeting and be sure to bring relevant materials with
you. For example, bring the paper assignment. You might also bring the course syllabus and
perhaps even the required textbook. Most importantly, bring any writing you’ve done in response
to the assignment (an outline, a thesis statement, a draft, an introductory paragraph). If you want
to get help from a tutor, you need to give the tutor something to work with.
Teaching assistants and instructors. In a large class, you may have both a course instructor and a
teaching assistant (TA). Seek help from either or both as you draft your essay. Some instructors offier
only limited help. They may not, for example, have time to respond to a complete draft of your essay.
But even a brief response to a drafted introduction or to a question can be tremendously valuable. Remember that most TAs and instructors want to help you learn. View them along with tutors as part of a
team that works with you to achieve academic success. Remember the tips you learned in Chapter 7 for
interacting well with your instructors.
Writing Web sites and writing handbooks. Many writing Web sites and handbooks can help you
along every step of the way, especially in the late stages of your work. You’ll find lessons on style as well
as information about language conventions and “correctness.” Not only should you use the handbook
your composition instructor assigns in a writing class, but you should not sell that book back at the end
of the term. You will need it again for future writing. For more help, become familiar with a good Web
site for student writers. There are many, but one we recommend is maintained by the Dartmouth College Writing Center at
3.6 Plagiarism—and How to Avoid It
The unacknowledged use of
another writer’s words or
Plagiarism is the unacknowledged use of material from a source. At the most obvious level, plagiarism
involves using someone else’s words and ideas as if they were your own. There’s not much to say about
copying another person’s work: it’s cheating, pure and simple. But plagiarism is not always so simple.
Notice that our definition of plagiarism involves “words and ideas.” Let’s break that down a little
Words. Copying the words of another is clearly wrong. If you use another’s words, those words
must be in quotation marks, and you must tell your reader where those words came from. But it is not
enough to make a few surface changes in wording. You can’t just change some words and call the material yours; close, extended paraphrase is not acceptable. For example, compare the two passages that
follow. The first comes from Murder Most Foul, a book by Karen Halttunen on changing ideas about
murder in nineteenth-century America; the second is a close paraphrase of the same passage:
The new murder narratives were overwhelmingly secular works, written by a diverse array of
printers, hack writers, sentimental poets, lawyers, and even murderers themselves, who were
displacing the clergy as the dominant interpreters of the crime.
The murder stories that were developing were almost always secular works that were written by
many diffierent sorts of people. Printers, hack writers, poets, attorneys, and sometimes even the
criminals themselves were writing murder stories. They were the new interpreters of the crime,
replacing religious leaders who had held that role before.
It is easy to see that the writer of the second version has closely followed the ideas and even echoed
some words of the original. This is a serious form of plagiarism. Even if this writer were to acknowledge the author, there would still be a problem. To simply cite the source at the end would not excuse
using so much of the original source.
Ideas. Ideas are also a form of intellectual property. Consider this third version of the previous
At one time, religious leaders shaped the way the public thought about murder. But in nineteenthcentury America, this changed. Society’s attitudes were influenced more and more by secular
This version summarizes the original. That is, it states the main idea in compressed form in language that does not come from the original. But it could still be seen as plagiarism if the source is not
cited. This example probably makes you wonder if you can write anything without citing a source. To
help you sort out what ideas need to be cited and what not, think about these principles:
Common knowledge. There is no need to cite common knowledge. Common knowledge does
not mean knowledge everyone has. It means knowledge that everyone can easily access. For example,
most people do not know the date of George Washington’s death, but everyone can easily find that information. If the information or idea can be found in multiple sources and the information or idea remains constant from source to source, it can be considered common knowledge. This is one reason so
much research is usually done for college writing—the more sources you read, the more easily you can
sort out what is common knowledge: if you see an uncited idea in multiple sources, then you can feel
secure that idea is common knowledge.
Distinct contributions. One does need to cite ideas that are distinct contributions. A distinct
contribution need not be a discovery from the work of one person. It need only be an insight that is not
commonly expressed (not found in multiple sources) and not universally agreed upon.
Disputable figures. Always remember that numbers are only as good as the sources they come
from. If you use numbers like attendance figures, unemployment rates, or demographic profiles—or
any statistics at all—always cite your source of those numbers. If your instructor does not know the
source you used, you will not get much credit for the information you have collected.
Everything said previously about using sources applies to all forms of sources. Some students mistakenly believe that material from the Web, for example, need not be cited. Or that an idea from an instructor’s lecture is automatically common property. You must evaluate all sources in the same way
and cite them as necessary.
3.7 Forms of Citation
You should generally check with your instructors about their preferred form of citation when you write
papers for courses. No one standard is used in all academic papers. You can learn about the three major forms or styles used in most any college writing handbook and on many Web sites for college
The Modern Language Association (MLA) system of citation is widely used but is most
commonly adopted in humanities courses, particularly literature courses.
< The American Psychological Association (APA) system of citation is most common in the social
< The Chicago Manual of Style is widely used but perhaps most commonly in history courses.
common knowledge
Knowledge that is generally
accepted as true and that can
be found easily in various
distinct contribution
Knowledge or an idea that
may be disputed or that is
not found in many sources.
Many college departments have their own style guides, which may be based on one of the above. Your
instructor should refer you to his or her preferred guide, but be sure to ask if you have not been given
explicit direction.
Checklists for Revision and Editing
When you revise<
Check the assignment: does your paper do what it’s supposed to do?
Check the title: does it clearly identify the overall topic or position?
Check the introduction: does it set the stage and establish the purpose?
Check each paragraph in the body: does each begin with a transition from the preceding?
Check organization: does it make sense why each topic precedes or follows another?
Check development: is each topic fully explained, detailed, supported, and exemplified?
Check the conclusion: does it restate the thesis and pull key ideas together?
When you edit<
Read the paper aloud, listening for flow and natural word style.
Check for any lapses into slang, colloquialisms, or nonstandard English phrasing.
Check sentence-level mechanics: grammar and punctuation (pay special attention to past writing
When everything seems done, run the spell-checker again and do a final proofread.
Check physical layout and mechanics against instructor’s expectations: Title page? Font and margins?
End notes?
A writing course is central to all students’ success in many of their future courses.
Writing is a process that involves a number of steps; the product will not be good if one does not allow
time for the process.
Seek feedback from classmates, tutors, and instructors during the writing process.
Revision is not the same thing as editing.
Many resources are available to college writers.
Words and ideas from sources must be documented in a form recommended by the instructor.
1. For each of the following statements, circle T for true or F for false:
T F Intellectual freedom means that college instructors have no specific expectations for student
T F Since your instructor knows what you are writing about, you do not need to worry about titling
your paper.
T F The writing process begins when you start writing the first paragraph of a paper.
T F If you discover at some point in the writing process that you have to make significant
organizational changes or even change your thesis, then you must have misunderstood the
T F Copying directly from another’s text is the only serious form of plagiarism.
T F The Internet is a free zone of information; Web sources need not be cited.
T F All college instructors expect citations to be made in exactly the same way.
1. Understand the special demands of specific writing situations, including the following:
< Writing in-class essays
< Writing with others in a group project
< Writing in an online class
Everything about college writing so far in this chapter applies in most college writing assignments.
Some particular situations, however, deserve special attention. These include writing in-class essays,
group writing projects, and writing in an online course.
4.1 Writing In-Class Essays
You might well think the whole writing process goes out the window when you have to write an inclass essay. After all, you don’t have much time to spend on the essay. You certainly don’t have time for
an extensive revision of a complete draft. You also don’t have the opportunity to seek feedback at any
stage along the way. Nonetheless, the best writers of in-class essays bring as much of the writing process as they can into an essay exam situation. Follow these guidelines:
Prepare for writing in class by making writing a regular part of your study routine. Students who
write down their responses to readings throughout a term have a huge advantage over students
who think they can study by just reading the material closely. Writing is a way to build better
writing, as well as a great way to study and think about the course material. Don’t wait until the
exam period to start writing about things you have been studying throughout the term.
< Read the exam prompt or assignment very carefully before you begin to respond. Note keywords
in the exam prompt. For example, if the exam assignment asks for an argument, be sure to
structure your essay as an argument. Also look for ways the instructor has limited the scope of
your response. Focus on what is highlighted in the exam question itself. See Chapter 6 for more
tips for exam writing.
< Jot notes and sketch out a list of key points you want to cover before you jump into writing. If
you have time, you might even draft an opening paragraph on a piece of scratch paper before
committing yourself to a particular response. Too often, students begin writing before they have
thought about the whole task before them. When that happens, you might find that you can’t
develop your ideas as fully or as coherently as you need to. Students who take the time to plan
actually write longer in-class essays than those who begin writing their answers right after they
have read the assignment. Take as much as a fourth of the total exam period to plan.
< Use a consistent approach for in-class exams. Students who begin in-class exams with a plan that
they have used successfully in the past are better able to control the pressure of the in-class exam.
Students who feel they need to discover a new approach for each exam are far more likely to
panic and freeze.
< Keep track of the time. Some instructors signal the passing of time during the exam period, but
do not count on that help. While you shouldn’t compulsively check the time every minute or two,
look at your watch now and then.
< Save a few minutes at the end of the session for quick review of what you’ve written and for
making small changes you note as necessary.
A special issue in in-class exams concerns handwriting. Some instructors now allow students to write
in-class exams on laptops, but the old-fashioned blue book is still the standard in many classes. For students used to writing on a keyboard, this can be a problem. Be sure you don’t let poor handwriting hurt
you. Your instructor will have many exams to read. Be courteous. Write as clearly as you can.
4.2 Group Writing Projects
College instructors sometimes assign group writing projects. The terms of these assignments vary
greatly. Sometimes the instructor specifies roles for each member of the group, but often it’s part of the
group’s tasks to define everyone’s role. Follow these guidelines:
Get offi to an early start and meet regularly through the process.
< Sort out your roles as soon as you can. You might divide the work in sections and then meet to
pull those sections together. But you might also think more in terms of the specific strengths and
interests each of you bring to the project. For example, if one group member is an experienced
researcher, that person might gather and annotate materials for the assignment. You might also
assign tasks that relate to the stages of the writing process. For example, one person for one
meeting might construct a series of questions or a list of points to be addressed, to start a
discussion about possible directions for the first draft. Another student might take a first pass at
shaping the group’s ideas in a rough draft. And so on. Remember that whatever you do, you
cannot likely keep each person’s work separate from the work of others. There will be and
probably should be significant overlap if you are to eventually pull together a successful project.
< Be a good citizen. This is the most important point of all. If you are assigned a group project, you
should want to be an active part of the group’s work. Never try to ride on the skills of others or let
others do more than their fair share. Don’t let any lack of confidence you may feel as a writer
keep you from doing your share. One of the great things about a group project is that you can
learn from others. Another great thing is that you will learn more about your own strengths that
others value.
< Complete a draft early so that you can collectively review, revise, and finally edit together.
< See the section on group presentations in Chapter 7, Section 5 for additional tips.
4.3 Writing in Online Courses
Online instruction is becoming more and more common. All the principles discussed in this chapter
apply also in online writing—and many aspects are even more important in an online course. In most
online courses, almost everything depends on written communication. Discussion is generally written
rather than spoken. Questions and clarifications take shape in writing. Feedback on assignments is given in writing. To succeed in online writing, apply the same writing process as fully and thoughtfully as
with an essay or paper for any course.
Even in in-class essays, using an abbreviated writing process approach helps produce more successful
Group writing projects require careful coordination of roles and cooperative stages but can greatly help
students learn how to improve their writing.
Writing for an online course puts your writing skills to the ultimate test, when almost everything your
instructor knows about your learning must be demonstrated through your writing.
1. List three ways in which a process approach can help you write an in-class essay.
2. Describe what you see as a strength you could bring to a group writing project.
3. Explain ways in which writing in an online course emphasizes the social dimension of writing.
Chapter Takeaways
Successful writers in all contexts think of writing as
a process,
a means to learn,
a social act.
Paying close attention to the terms of the assignment is essential for understanding the writing
approach the instructor expects and for shaping the essay.
Using the writing process maximizes the mental processes involved in thinking and writing. Take the
time to explore prewriting strategies before drafting an essay in order to discover your ideas and how
best to shape and communicate them.
Avoid the temptation, after writing a draft, to consider the essay “done.” Revision is almost always
needed, involving more significant changes than just quick corrections and editing.
Virtually all college writing builds on the ideas of others; this is a significant part of the educational
experience. In your writing, be sure you always make it clear in your phrasing and use of citations
which ideas are your own or common knowledge and which come from other sources.
College writing extends throughout the curriculum, from your first writing class through to your last
term, including writing in class on examinations, group projects, and online courses. Through all this
great variety of writing, however, the main principles of effiective writing remain consistent. Work to
develop your college writing skills at this early stage, and you will be well served throughout your
education and into your career thereafter.
1. Complete this sentence:
The main reason I am in college right now is
2. Look for abstract or general words in what you just wrote. (For example, if you wrote, “I want a better job,”
the key general word is “better.” If you wrote, “I need a good education for my future,” the general words
are “good” and “education.” Circle the general word(s) in what you wrote.
3. Write a sentence that gives your personal definition of your general words. (For example, if you wrote “I
want a better job,” what makes a job better to you personally?)
4. Now look at the why of what you’ve written. Why did you define your reason for being in college in the
way that you did? Why this reason and not other reasons? Think about this for a minute, and then jot
down a statement about why this is important to you.
5. Now look at the what involved in your reasoning. What specifically do you expect as a result of being in
college? What are you gaining? Try to come up with at least three or four specific examples related to your
reasoning so far.
6. Imagine you are assigned to write an essay for this prompt: “Argue for a particular benefit of a college
education.” Look back at what you’ve written so far—is it headed in this direction? Write down a tentative
thesis statement for such an essay.
7. Look back at what you wrote for questions 5 and 6 to see if you have the beginning of a list of topics you
might discuss in an assigned essay like this. Test out a possible outline by jotting down a few key phrases
in the order in which you might discuss your ideas in the essay.
8. Think about what you have just been doing in the previous questions. If you took this exercise seriously
and wrote out your responses, you might actually be ready to begin writing such an essay—at least as
prepared as you might be for an in-class exam essay. You have just gone through the first step of the
writing process although very quickly. If you spent a few minutes thinking about your ideas, clarifying your
reasons and thinking of developing your thesis through examples and explanations, you are in a better
and stronger position to begin writing than if you’d started immediately with the prompt. Your essay will
be much more successful.
1. Use this exercise for the next paper you write in any of your college classes. Your goal is not merely to
write a great paper in that class but to learn what writing process techniques work best for you. Plan to
begin just as soon as you are given the assignment. Try to use each and every one of these strategies
(review them in the chapter), even if some things seem repetitious. Your goal is to find out which
techniques work best for you to stimulate the most thought and lead to the best writing.
Read the assignment and make sure you understand exactly what is expected.
Sit down with a piece of paper and jot some notes as you brainstorm about your topic.
Talk with another student in the class about what you’re thinking about your topic and what you
might say about it.
Write a journal entry, written strictly to yourself, about what you think you might do in your
Write down some questions to yourself about what your paper will be covering. Start your
questions with “why,” “how,” and “what.”
Send a classmate an e-mail in which you describe one of the points you’ll make in your essay,
asking them for their opinion about it.
When your classmate responds to your e-mail, think about what they say and prepare a written
response in your notes.
Write a statement of purpose for the paper and a brief outline listing key points.
Show your outline to your instructor or TA and ask if you’re on the right track for the assignment.
(You can ask other questions, too, if you have them, but try this step even if you feel confident
and have no questions at all. You might be surprised by their response.)
Write a fuller outline—and then go ahead and draft the paper.
2. Return to this exercise after receiving the paper back from your instructor. If you feel the paper was
successful, think back to the techniques you used and circle steps above that you felt were particularly
helpful and contributed to your success. If you are dissatisfied with the paper, it’s time to be honest with
yourself about what happened. When unhappy about their grade on a paper, most students admit they
didn’t spend as much time on it as they should have. Look back at the list above (and other writing
strategies earlier in this chapter): what should you have done more fully or more carefully to make sure
your paper got offi to a good start?
Past Writing
My worst writing habits have been the following:
To overcome these bad habits in college, I will take these steps:
Sentence-Level Mechanics
I generally make the following specific errors (things my past teachers have marked):
I can learn to correct errors like these when proofreading and editing by
Writing Process
I generally rush through the following stage: (circle one)
I will spend this much time on this stage in my next college paper:
I will use these strategies to ensure that I successfully move through this stage:
Seeking Help
I am most likely to need help in these areas of writing:
I will use these resources if I need help in these areas in my next course paper:
The Social World of College
FI G U RE 9 . 1
© Thinkstock
Where Are You Now?
Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.
Yes Unsure No
1. My interactions with students and others on campus will contribute to my academic
2. I feel I would like to make more or diffierent friends in college.
3. I am sometimes shy about interacting with others in social settings or feel lonely when
by myself.
4. I make an effiort to communicate well in social interactions, especially to listen actively
when others are speaking.
5. I use social networking Web sites to actively enhance social relationships.
6. When I get in an argument with someone, I work to calm the situation and try to reach
a compromise solution we can both live with.
7. I am comfortable in situations interacting with people who are diffierent from me in
age, race, ethnicity, or cultural background.
8. I make an effiort to meet and learn about others diffierent from me and to accept and
respect their diffierences.
9. When I see someone making a racist or sexist joke or comment, I speak out against
11. I am participating in some clubs and activities on campus that interest me.
Where Do You Want to Go?
Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself. On a scale of 1 to 10, how
would you rate your college relationships and interactions with people from diffierent backgrounds at this
Not very healthy
Very strong
In the following list, circle the three most important areas of social interaction in which you think you can
Variety of friends and relationships
Ability to interact comfortably with strangers
Speaking skills
Listening skills
Assertive communication skills
Online social networking use
Conflict resolution
Comfort level around people of diffierent race or ethnicity
Interacting with people of diffierent cultural backgrounds
Understanding of diffierent cultural groups
Ability to speak out against prejudice
Knowledge of campus clubs and activities
Participation in campus groups
Are there other areas in which you can improve your social relationships and interactions with others to
improve your college experience? Write down other things you feel you need to work on.
How to Get There
Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:
Understanding why social interaction is such an important part of the college experience
Developing new friendships on campus
Improving communication skills for social interactions at all levels
Knowing why and how to use online social networking
Balancing your schoolwork and social life
Resolving conflicts that may occur in social interactions
Knowing what to do if you experience harassment
Understanding the many kinds of diversity found on college campuses
Celebrating the benefits of diversity for all students
Dealing with prejudice and discrimination
Discovering the value of participating in organized campus groups and activities
New college students may not immediately realize that they’ve entered a whole new world at college,
including a world of other people possibly very diffierent from those they have known before. This is a
very important dimension of college—almost as important as the learning that goes on inside the
classroom. How you deal with the social aspects and diversity of college world has a large impact on
your academic success.
All the topics covered in this chapter relate to the social world of college. Here you will gain some
insight into the value of making new friends and getting along with the wide variety of people you will
encounter on campus. You will learn why and how a broad diversity of people enriches the college experience and better prepare you for the world after college.
Enter this new world with an open mind and you’ll gain many benefits. Even if you are taking a
course or two at night and do not spend much of your day on campus, try to make the most of this experience. You’ll meet others who will challenge and stimulate you and broaden your thinking and emotional experiences.
1. Explain the benefits of social interactions with a variety of people in the college environment.
2. List personal characteristics and skills that contribute to one’s ability to get along well with
3. Improve your communication skills.
4. Use online social networking beneficially.
5. Balance your social life with your schoolwork.
6. Describe how to successfully resolve a conflict with another person.
2.1 Interdependence
Humans are social creatures—it’s simply in our nature. We continually interact with other students
and instructors, and we can learn a great deal from these interactions that heighten the learning process. This frequent interaction with others forms a state of interdependence. College students depend
on their instructors, but just as importantly, they depend on other students in many ways.
As important as our interactions with others are, we do not automatically possess the skills that
help us form good relationships and make the most of our experiences. Consider how these two college
students are diffierent:
John often arrives just as class is beginning and leaves immediately afterward. He makes little effiort
to talk with other students in the classroom, and after class he goes offi to study alone or to his parttime job, where he spends most of his time at a computer screen. He is diligent in his studies and
generally does well. After two months, he has not gotten to know his roommate very well, and he
generally eats alone with a book in hand. He stops by to see his instructors in their offlces only if he
missed a class due to illness, and on weekends and holidays he often hangs out at his parents’
house or sees old friends.
Kim likes to get to class early and sits near others so they can talk about the reading for class or
compare notes about assignments. She enjoys running into other students she knows from her
classes and usually stops to chat. Although she is an older working student who lives alone offi
campus, she often dines in a campus café and asks students she meets in her classes to join her.
After two months, with the approach of midterms, she formed a study group with a couple other
students. If she feels she doesn’t understand an important lecture topic very well, she gets to her
instructor’s offlce a few minutes ahead of offlce hours to avoid missing out by having to wait in
line. A few weeks into the term, she spent a weekend with a student from another country and
learned much about a culture about which she had previously known little.
These students are very diffierent. Which do you think is more fully enjoying the college experience?
Which do you think is more likely to do well academically? Most of us fall somewhere between these
two extremes, but we can learn to be more like Kim and more actively engage with others.
2.2 Recognize the Value of Social Interaction
Building good relationships is important for happiness and a successful college experience. College
offiers the opportunity to meet many people you would likely not meet otherwise in life. Make the most
of this opportunity to gain a number of benefits:
A growing understanding of diverse other people, how they think, and what they feel that will
serve you well throughout your life and in your future career
< A heightened sense of your own identity, especially as you interact with others with diffierent
personalities and from diffierent backgrounds
< Emotional comfort from friendship with someone who understands you and with whom you can
talk about your problems, joys, hopes, and fears
< An opportunity to grow with wider intellectual and emotional horizons
College often offiers an opportunity to be stimulated and excited by new relationships and interactions
with people who will challenge your thinking and help you become your best. Still, it can be difflcult to
get started with new relationships in college.
2.3 Making New Friends
Some people just make friends naturally, but many first-year college students are more shy or quiet and
may need to actively seek new friends. Here are some starting points:
1. Keep all doors open for meeting new people. If you live in a dorm, literally keep the door open.
Try to sit with diffierent people at meals so you can get to know them better. Study in a common
area or lounge where you’ll be among others.
2. Be open in your interests. Don’t limit yourself to people who share only certain interests.
Meeting people by studying together is an excellent way to get to know people with diffierent
3. Don’t try to get involved in everything going on around you. Committing to too many activities
or joining too many social groups will spread your time too thin, and you may not spend enough
time with anyone to get to know them.
4. Let others see who you really are. Let people get to know the things you’re interested in, your real
passions. People who really know you are more likely to become good friends.
5. Make an effiort to get to know others, too. Show some interest. Don’t talk just about your
interests—ask them about theirs. Show others that you’re interested, that you think they’re worth
spending time with, and that you really do want to get to know them.
6. Once a friendship has started, be a good friend. Respect your friends for what they are and don’t
criticize them or talk about them behind their back. Give emotional support when your friends
need it and accept their support as well when you need it.
Are You Shy?
If you’re shy, try meeting and talking to people in situations where you can interact one-to-one, such as talking
with another student after class. Start with what you have in common—“How’d you do on the test?”—and let
the conversation grow from there. Avoid the emotional trap of thinking everyone but you is making new
friends and start some conversations with others who look interesting to you. You’ll soon find other “shy” or
quiet people eager to interact with you as well and get to know you.
Shy people may be more likely to feel lonely at times, especially while still feeling new at college. Loneliness is
usually a temporary emotional state, however. For tips for how to overcome feelings of loneliness, see the section on loneliness in Chapter 10, Section 7.
2.4 Communication Skills
Communication is at the core of almost all social interactions, including those involved in friendships
and relationships with your instructors. Communication with others has a huge effiect on our lives,
what we think and feel, and what and how we learn. Communication is, many would say, what makes
us human.
Oral communication involves not only speech and listening, of course, but also nonverbal comnonverbal communication
munication: facial expressions, tone of voice, and many other body language signals that affiect the
Communication that occurs
messages sent and received. Many experts think that people pay more attention, often unconsciously,
outside of the written and
to how people say something than to what they are saying. When the nonverbal message is inconsistent
spoken word, including
with the verbal (spoken) message, just as when the verbal message itself is unclear because of poorly
meanings inferred from facial
expressions and body
chosen words or vague explanations, then miscommunication may occur.
Miscommunication is at the root of many misunderstandings among people and makes it difflcult
to build relationships.
body language
Chapter 7 discusses oral communication skills in general and guidelines for comAnother term for forms of
municating well with your instructors. The same communication skills are important
nonverbal communication,
for building and maintaining significant relationships.
including gestures, postures,
and facial expressions.
Remember that communication is a two-way process. Listening skills are critical
for most college students simply because many of us may not have learned how to
really listen to another person. Here are some guidelines for how to listen effiectively:
FI G U RE 9 . 2
< Talk less to listen more. Most people naturally like to share their thoughts and
feelings, and some people almost seem unable to stop talking long enough to ever Miscommunication is at the root of many
listen to another person. Try this: next time you’re in a conversation with another misunderstandings.
student, deliberately try not to speak very much but give the other person a
chance to speak fully. You may notice a big diffierence in how much you gain
from the conversation.
< Ask questions. To keep the conversational ball rolling, show your interest in the
other person by asking them about things they are saying. This helps the other
person feel that you are interested in them and helps build the relationship.
< Watch and respond to the other person’s body language. You’ll learn much
more about their feelings for what they’re saying than if you listen only to their
< Show the other person that you’re really listening and that you care. Make eye
contact and respond appropriately with nods and brief comments like “That’s
© Thinkstock
interesting!” or “I know what you mean” or “Really?” Be friendly, smile when
appropriate, and encourage the person to keep speaking.
Give the other person feedback. Show you understand by saying things like “So you’re saying
that<” or asking a question that demonstrates you’ve been following what they’re saying and
want to know more.
As you learn to improve your listening skills, think also about what you are saying yourself and how.
Here are additional guidelines for effiective speaking:
Evaluative information
derived from a person’s
reaction or response to a
particular activity, such as
from a listener’s response to a
assertive communication
Communication that is
self-assured, positive, and
honest but still tactful and
passive communication
Communication characterized
by acceptance of things
expressed by others, without
taking an active or confident
role in sharing
one’s own ideas or thoughts.
aggressive communication
One-sided communication in
which a speaker attacks what
others say or uses a pushy,
domineering style to express
ideas or thoughts.
Be honest, but don’t be critical. Strongly disagreeing may only put the other person on the
defensive—an emotion sure to disrupt the hope for good communication. You can disagree, but
be respectful to keep the conversation from becoming emotional. Say “I don’t know, I think that
maybe it’s<” instead of “That’s crazy! What’s really going on is.<”
< Look for common ground. Make sure that your side of a conversation relates to what the other
person is saying and that it focuses on what you have in common. There’s almost no better way
to stop a conversation dead in its tracks than to ignore everything the other person has just said
and launch into an unrelated story or idea of your own.
< Avoid sarcasm and irony unless you know the person well. Sarcasm is easily misunderstood and
may be interpreted as an attack on the other person’s ideas or statements.
< Don’t try to talk like the other person, especially if the person is from a diffierent ethnic or
cultural background or speaks with an accent or heavy slang. The other person will feel that you
are imitating them and maybe even making fun of them. Be yourself and speak naturally.
< While not imitating the other person, relate to his or her personality and style of thinking. We
do not speak to our parents or instructors the exact same way we speak to our closest friends, nor
should we speak to someone we’ve just met the same way. Show your respect for the other person
by keeping the conversation on an appropriate level.
Remember that assertive communication is better than passive or aggressive
communication. “Assertive” in this context means you are honest and direct in stating your ideas
and thoughts; you are confident and clear and willing to discuss your ideas while still respecting
the thoughts and ideas of others. A passive communicator is reluctant to speak up, seems to agree
with everything others say, hesitates to say anything that others might disagree with, and
therefore seldom communicates much at all. Passive communication simply is not a real
exchange in communication. Aggressive communication, at the other extreme, is often highly
critical of the thoughts and ideas of others. This communication style may be sarcastic,
emotional, and even insulting. Real communication is not occurring because others are not
prompted to respond honestly and openly.
< Choose your conversations wisely. Recognize that you don’t have to engage in all conversations.
Make it your goal to form relationships and engage in interactions that help you learn and grow
as a person. College life offiers plenty of opportunities for making relationships and interacting
with others if you keep open to them, so you needn’t try to participate in every social situation
around you.
Some students may have difflculty in the opposite direction: their social lives may become so rich or so
time consuming that they have problems balancing their social lives with their schoolwork. Online social media, for example, may eat up a lot of time.
2.5 Online Social Networking
social networking
The use of a Web site to
connect with people who
share personal or professional
Most college students know all about Facebook, Twitter, blogging, chat rooms, and other social networking sites. Current studies reveal that over 90 percent of all college students use Facebook or
MySpace regularly, although older students use these sites less commonly. The media have often emphasized negative stories involving safety concerns, obsessive behavior, a perceived superficiality of social interaction online, and so on. But more recently, online social networking has been found to have
several benefits. Many of those who once criticized Facebook and MySpace are now regularly networking among themselves via LinkedIn, Plaxo, and other “professional” networking sites.
Following are some of the benefits of Facebook—some clear to those using it, others revealed only
recently by research in the social sciences:
Facebook and other forms of online networking makes it easy to stay in touch with friends and
family at a geographical distance. College students who have moved away from former friends
seem to make the transition more easily when they stay in touch. Maintaining past relationships
does not prevent most people from making new friends at college.
< Facebook provides users with increased “social capital,” which is a sum of resources gained
through one’s relationships with people. Facebook users gain information, opportunities for
participation in activities and groups, greater knowledge about others, some interaction skills,
and so forth. Social capital is also associated with self-esteem, success in some endeavors, and
general happiness.
< Facebook makes it easier for people who are shy or otherwise slow to initiate or respond to
interactions with others to participate socially in a group. Online network sites also offier an outlet
for self-expression and sharing.
For many college students, interactions on Facebook strengthen personal relationships rather
than detracting from them.
< Acknowledging that online social networking is a reality for most college students, many college
administrators and instructors also use it to stay in better touch with students, to provide
information and encouragement, and to help students experience the full richness of the college
experience. Your college may have a Facebook page where you can learn much about things
happening around campus, and you may even receive tweets about important announcements.
FI G U RE 9 . 3
Still, online social networking is not 100 percent beneficial for all college students. Someone who becomes obsessed with constantly updating their profile or attracting a huge number of friends can spend
so much time at their computer that they miss out on other important aspects of college life. Hopefully
by now everyone knows why you should never post compromising or inappropriate photos or information about yourself anywhere online, even as a joke: many employers, college admissions offlces, and
others may find this compromising material in the future and deny you the job, internship, graduate
program, or other position that you want. It’s important also to protect your identity and privacy on
online sites.
Overall, online networking in moderation can help enrich one’s life. When used to build relationships, gain information, and stay in touch with a larger community, it can contribute to success in college. Most college students use Facebook ten to thirty minutes a day. If you’re spending more than that,
you might ask yourself if you’re missing out on something else.
2.6 Balancing Schoolwork and Social Life
If there’s one thing true of virtually all college students, it’s that you don’t have enough time to do
everything you want. Once you’ve developed friendships within the college community and have an
active social life, you may feel you don’t have enough time for your studies and other activities such as
work. For many students, the numerous social opportunities of college become a distraction, and with
less attention to one’s studies, academic performance can drop. Here are some tips for balancing your
social life with your studies:
Keep working on your time management skills, as you learned in Chapter 2. You can’t just “go
with the flow” and hope that, after spending time with friends, you have enough time (and
energy) left over for studying. Make a study schedule that provides enough time for what you
need to do. Study first; socialize after.
< Keep working on your study skills, as you learned in Chapter 4, Chapter 5, and Chapter 6. When
you have only a limited amount of time for studying, be sure you’re using that time as effiectively
as possible as you read assignments and prepare for class, organize your notes after class, and
prepare for tests.
If you can’t resist temptations, reduce them. If you are easily distracted by the opportunity to
talk with your roommate, spouse, or family members because you study where you live, then go
to the library to study.
< Make studying a social experience. If your studying keeps you so busy that you feel like you
don’t have much of a social life, form a study group. You will learn more than you would alone by
gaining from the thoughts of others, and you can enjoy interacting with others without falling
< Keep your social life from affiecting your studying. Simply scheduling study time doesn’t mean
you’ll use it well. If you stayed up late the night before, you may not today be able to concentrate
well as you study for that big test. This is another reason for good time management and
scheduling your time well, looking ahead.
< Get help if you need it. If you’re still having difflculty balancing your study time with other
activities, talk with your academic advisor or a counselor. Maybe something else is keeping you
from doing your best. Maybe you need some additional study skills or you need to get some extra
help from a tutor or campus study center. Remember, your college wants you to succeed and will
try to help those who seek help.
A Note on Greek Life
Fraternities and sororities appeal to many students on many campuses. You meet a lot of people
quickly and have a social life provided for you almost automatically, with many events and parties as
well as usually an active house life. Many people have formed lasting, even lifelong relationships with
their fraternity and sorority friends. On the other hand, this living and social experience may limit the
kinds of people you meet and present fewer opportunities to interact with others outside the Greek system. If there are frequent activities, it may be important to learn to say no at time when studying becomes a priority. If you are interested in but not yet committed to this life, it’s worthwhile to find out
what the houses at your school are really like, consider what your life would likely be like in a fraternity
or sorority, and think about how it may impact your college goals.
2.7 Overcoming Difficulties and Resolving Conflicts
Conflicts among people who are interacting are natural. People have many diffierences in opinions,
ideas, emotions, and behaviors, and these diffierences sometimes cause conflicts. Here are just a few examples of conflicts that may occur among college students:
Your roommate is playing loud music in your room, and you need some quiet to study for a test.
You want to have a nice dinner out, but your spouse wants to save the money to buy new
< Your instructor gave you a C on a paper because it lacks some of the required elements, but you
feel it deserves a better grade because you think it accomplished more important goals.
< Others at your Greek house want to invite only members of other fraternities and sororities to an
upcoming party, but you want the party to be more inclusive and to invite more diverse students.
< Your partner wants to have sex with you, but you want to wait until you get protection.
conflict resolution
A step-by-step process
designed to resolve a dispute
or disagreement.
So how can such conflicts be resolved? Two things are necessary for conflict resolution that does not
leave one or more of the people involved feeling negative about the outcome: attitude and
A conflict cannot be resolved satisfactorily unless all people involved have the right attitude:
Respect the options and behaviors of others. Accept that people are not all alike and learn to
celebrate your diffierences. Most situations do not involve a single right or wrong answer.
< Be open minded. Just because at first you are sure that that you are right, do not close the door to
other possibilities. Look at the other’s point of view. Be open to change—even when that means
accepting constructive criticism.
< Calm down. You can’t work together to resolve a conflict while you’re still feeling strong
emotions. Agree with the other to wait until you’re both able to discuss it without strong
< Recognize the value of compromise. Even if you disagree after calmly talking over an issue,
accept that as a human reality and understand that a compromise may be necessary in order to
get along with others.
With the right attitude, you can then work together to resolve the issue. This process depends on good
Listen. Don’t simply argue for your position, but listen carefully to what the other says. Pay
attention to their body language as you try to understand their point of view and ask questions to
ensure that you do. Paraphrase what you think you hear to give the other a chance to correct any
< Use “I statements” rather than “you statements.” Explain your point of view about the situation
in a way that does not put the other person on the defensive and evoke emotions that make
resolution more difflcult. Don’t say, “You’re always playing loud music when I’m trying to study.”
Instead, say, “I have difflculty studying when you play loud music, and that makes me frustrated
and irritable.” Don’t blame the other for the problem—that would just get emotions flowing
< Brainstorm together to find a solution that satisfies both of you. Some compromise is usually
needed, but that is usually not difflcult to reach when you’re calm and have the right attitude
about working together on a solution. In some cases, you may simply have to accept a result that
you still do not agree with, simply in order to move on.
The process of conflict resolution is discussed more fully in Chapter 10. In most cases, when the people
involved have a good attitude and are open to compromise, conflicts can be resolved successfully.
Yet sometimes there seems to be no resolution. Sometimes the other person may simply be difflcult and refuse to even try to work out a solution. Regrettably, not everyone on or offi campus is mature
enough to be open to other perspectives. With some interpersonal conflicts, you may simply have to
decide not to see that person anymore or find other ways to avoid the conflict in the future. But remember, most conflicts can be solved among adults, and it’s seldom a good solution to run away from
a problem that will continue to surface and keep you from being happy with your life.
Roommate Issues
At many colleges students just out of high school must live in a campus residence hall. Other students
may live in a shared apartment with new roommates. This is the first time many students have had to
share a room, suite, or apartment with others who were not family members, and this situation may
lead to conflicts and strong feelings that can even affiect your academic success.
As in other interactions, the keys to forming a good relationship with a roommate are communication and attitude. From the beginning, you should talk about everyone’s expectations of the other(s)
and what matters most to you about where you live. Don’t wait until problems happen before talking.
It’s often good to begin with the key practical issues: agreeing on quiet hours for study (limiting not
only loud music but also visits from others), time for lights out, neatness and cleaning up, things shared
and private things not to touch.
Show respect for the other’s ideas and possessions, respect their privacy, and try to listen more
than you talk. Even if your roommate does not become a close friend, you can have a harmonious, successful relationship that makes your residence a good home for both of you. Millions of college students before you have learned to work this out, and if both (or all) of you respect each other and keep
communication open and nonconfrontational, you will easily get through the small bumps in the road
ahead, too. Follow these guidelines to help ensure you get along well:
Anticipate problems before they happen. Think about things that you consider essential in your
living environment and talk with a new roommate about these essentials now.
< Deal with any problem promptly. Don’t wait until a behavior is well established before speaking
up, as if the other person will somehow catch on that it aggravates you. It may be as simple as a
roommate using your coffiee cup or borrowing your toothpaste without asking, but if you say
nothing, trying to be polite, the habit may expand to other things.
< Be patient, flexible, and willing to compromise. It may take a while for each of you to get used to
each other and to establish a communication pattern of openness so that you can be honest with
each other about what really matters.
< Be warm, use humor, and be sensitive. Telling someone that they’re doing something
bothersome can be very difflcult for many people. Think before speaking, looking for the best
way to communicate what you feel. Remember, you’ll be spending a lot of time around this
person, so do you really want them to think of you as bossy or obsessive-compulsive?
< Get out more. Sometimes it helps to spend more time elsewhere on campus, studying in the
library or another quiet place. You just might need a certain amount of time a day alone. That’s
fine, but don’t expect your roommate to have to leave just to give you that time alone!
But What If You Really Have a Roommate Problem?
In some situations and with some people who will not compromise and do not respect you and your
needs, a roommate can be a serious problem. In some circumstances, you may able to move to a diffierent room. Room changes usually are not granted simply because you “don’t get along,” but certain circumstances may justify a change. The following are some examples:
Your roommate
Your roommate
the room.
< Your roommate
< Your roommate
< Your roommate
smokes in the room.
uses illegal drugs, drinks alcohol underage, or conducts other illegal activities in
repeatedly refuses to limit activities at any hour to allow you to sleep.
does anything that threatens your physical well-being or safety.
denies you your rights to practice your religion or other basic rights.
If you have a problem like this, first talk with your resident advisor (RA) or other residence hall authority. They will explain the process for a room change, if warranted, or other ways for managing the
2.8 Dealing with Harassment
Actions or words meant to
disturb, belittle, or torment
another person.
Although college campuses are for the most part safe, secure, and friendly places where social and intellectual interaction is generally mature and responsible, harassment can occur in any setting. Harassment is a general term referring to behavior that is intended to disturb or threaten another person in
some way, often psychologically. Typically the person or people doing the harassment target their victim because of a diffierence in race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, sex, age, sexual orientation, or
Acts of harassment may be verbal, physical, psychological, or any other behavior intended to disturb another person. Bullying behavior, name-calling, belittling, gesturing obscenely, stalking, mobbing—any action intended to torment or deliberately make another person uncomfortable or feel humiliated is harassment. Harassment may also be intended to manipulate a targeted person to act in
some specific way.
Sexual harassment is a special term referring to persistent, unwanted sexual behaviors or advances.
Sexual harassment may begin with words but progress to unwanted touching and potentially even rape.
Sexual harassment is discussed in more detail in Chapter 10.
Many types of harassment are illegal. In the workplace, a supervisor who tells offi-color sexual jokes
around an employee of the opposite gender may be guilty of sexual harassment. Students who deliberately malign members of another race may be guilty of committing a hate crime. Physically tormenting
another student in a hazing may be judged assault and battery. Any discrimination in the workplace
based on race, religion, age, sex, and so on is illegal. On a college campus, any harassment of a student
by a faculty member or college employee is expressly forbidden, unethical, and also possibly illegal.
Harassment of any type, at any time, of any person, is wrong and unacceptable. You will know it if
you are harassed, and you should know also that it is your basic right to be free of harassment and that
your college has strict policies against all forms of harassment. Here’s what you should do if you are being harassed:
1. Tell the person to stop the behavior—or if you feel at any risk of harm, get out of the situation
2. Document the incident, particularly with ongoing harassment. Keep notes of the details. Tell
someone you trust about the situation.
3. Report the harassment to the appropriate college authority. If you are unsure which to go to, go
to the dean of students first.
2.9 Changing Family Relationships
The college years are a time of many changes, including one’s relationships with parents, siblings, and
one’s own children and partners. Any time there is change, issues may arise.
As in other relationships, try to understand the other’s perspective. Honesty is particularly important—but with tact and understanding. Here are some tips for getting FI G U RE 9 . 4
A video communication program like Skype
Understand that your parents may not change their attitudes toward you as
makes it easy to stay in touch with friends and
quickly as you yourself may be changing. They may still think of you as a younger family.
person in need of their continued guidance. They will worry about you and fear
that you might fall in with the wrong crowd or engage in risky behavior. Be
patient. Take the time to communicate, and don’t close yourself offi. Let them
gradually accept you as a more mature person who can make your own decisions
< Stay in touch. You may be busier than ever and feel you haven’t time for a phone
call or e-mail, but communication is very important for parents—especially if
they are now empty nesters without other children at home. Even if they seem to
want too much involvement in your life and to make decisions for you, realize
that this at least in part is simply a desire to stay in touch with you—and to feel
they still matter in your life.
< Use your best listening skills. Understanding what they’re really feeling, which is
© Thinkstock
often simply a concern for you born of their love for you, will usually help you
know best to respond.
< Be assured that over time your parents and other family members will get used to your being on
your own and will accept your ability to make your own decisions. Time itself often solves issues.
< With your own family, now that you are busier than ever with classes and work, you may need to
pay special attention to ensuring you stay active in family relationships. Schedule times for family
outings and make room in your days for casual interactions. But remember, it’s not how much
time you spend together but the quality of that time, so give your family your full attention when
you are together.
A rich, diverse social life is an important dimension of the college experience that contributes also to
academic success.
Getting along with others involves communication skills and a willingness to interact with diffierent people
in a number of diffierent ways.
Effiective listening skills are as important as expressing yourself well verbally and nonverbally.
Online social networking used in moderation can be beneficial.
Balancing one’s social life with schoolwork requires time management skills as well as good study skills.
Because social interactions frequently involve conflicting values, behaviors, or ideas, it’s important to
respect others, stay open minded, be open to compromise, and understand how to resolve conflicts.
Acknowledge that family relationships will likely change after you enter college and work to ease the
transition for everyone.
1. List three or four guidelines for interacting successfully with others.
2. You are talking after class with another student with whom you’d like to be friends, but you’re distracted
by a test you have to study for. If you’re not careful, what nonverbal communication signals might you
accidentally send that could make the other person feel you are not friendly? Describe two or three
nonverbal signals that could give the wrong impression.
3. What are the best things to say when you’re actively engaged in listening to another?
4. For each of the following statements about effiective communication, circle T for true or F for false:
T F Avoid eye contact until you’ve gotten to know the person well enough to be sure they will not
misinterpret your interest.
T F Using the same slang or accent as other people will make them see you respect them as they are.
T F Communicating your ideas with honesty and confidence is usually more effiective than just
agreeing with what others are saying.
T F Communicating with people online is seldom as effiective as calling them on the telephone or
seeing them in person.
T F It’s usually best to accept spontaneous opportunities for social interaction, because you’ll always
have time later for your studies.
5. You are upset because your roommate (or a family member) always seems to have several friends over
just when you need to study most. Write in the space below what you might say to this person to explain
the problem, using “I statements” rather than “you statements.”
6. If another person is acting very emotionally and is harassing you, what should you not do at that moment?
1. Define diversity and explain the benefits of a diverse college campus for all students.
2. List ten or more ways in which diffierent groups of people can have significant diffierences, experiences, and perspectives.
3. Explain why all college students are more successful academically in a diverse environment
and list several additional benefits of diversity for all students.
4. Describe the valuable characteristics of “nontraditional” older college students.
5. Explain what students can do to foster multiculturalism and celebrate diversity on campus. For
students who have few experiences with diversity in the past, outline steps that can be taken
to gain cultural sensitivity and a multicultural outlook.
6. Describe how instructors help create a positive, inclusive learning environment in the
Ours is a very diverse society—and increasingly so. Already in many parts of the country, non-Hispanic whites comprise less than 50 percent of the population, and by 2020 an estimated one in three Americans will be a person of color, as will be about half of all college students. But “diversity” means much
more than a variety of racial and ethnic diffierences. As we’ll use the term here, diversity refers to the
great variety of human characteristics—ways that we are diffierent even as we are all human and share
more similarities than diffierences. These diffierences are an essential part of what enriches humanity.
We’ll look first at some of the ways that people diffier and explore the benefits of diversity for our
society generally and for the college experience. While we should all celebrate diversity, at the same
time we need to acknowledge past issues that grew from misunderstandings of such diffierences and
work together to bring change where needed.
A condition of having
diffierences, generally
referring to meaningful
diffierences among various
groups of people.
3.1 What Diversity Really Means
Diffierences among people may involve where a person was born and raised, the person’s family and
cultural group, factual diffierences in personal identity, and chosen diffierences in significant beliefs.
Some diversity is primarily cultural (involving shared beliefs and behaviors), other diversity may be
biological (race, age, gender), and some diversity is defined in personal terms (sexual orientation, religion). Diversity generally involves things that may significantly affiect some people’s perceptions of others—not just any way people happen to be diffierent. For example, having diffierent tastes in music,
movies, or books is not what we usually refer to as diversity.
When discussing diversity, it is often difflcult to avoid seeming to generalize about diffierent types
of people—and such generalizations can seem similar to dangerous stereotypes. The following descriptions are meant only to suggest that individuals are diffierent from other individuals in many possible ways and that we can all learn things from people whose ideas, beliefs, attitudes, values, backgrounds, experiences, and behaviors are diffierent from our own. This is a primary reason college admissions departments frequently seek diversity in the student body. Following are various aspects of
A simplified and standardized
image of what a certain type
or group of people is like,
often held in common by
members of a diffierent
A human group with
biological diffierences,
typically referring to skin
color and appearance.
Diversity of race. Race refers to what we generally think of as biological diffierences and is often
defined by what some think of as skin color. Such perceptions are often at least as much social as
they are biological.
Diversity of ethnicity. Ethnicity is a cultural distinction that is diffierent from race. An ethnic
group is a group of people who share a common identity and a perceived cultural heritage that
often involves shared ways of speaking and behaving, religion, traditions, and other traits. The
term “ethnic” also refers to such a group that is a minority within the larger society. Race and
ethnicity are sometimes interrelated but not automatically so.
A set of cultural and
sometimes physical
characteristics of a group of
people with a shared cultural
background and identity.
In anthropology, culture is
the total of characteristic
ways in which a group of
people live and interact,
transmitted from one
generation to another; more
generally, culture is the
behaviors and beliefs
characteristic of a particular
social, ethnic, or age group.
gender role
The roles that society or a
cultural group traditionally
assigns to males and females
based on their gender.
Diversity of cultural background. Culture, like ethnicity, refers to shared characteristics,
language, beliefs, behaviors, and identity. We are all influenced by our culture to some extent.
While ethnic groups are typically smaller groups within a larger society, the larger society itself is
often called the “dominant culture.” The term is often used rather loosely to refer to any group
with identifiable shared characteristics.
< Diversity of educational background. Colleges do not use a cookie-cutter approach to admit
only students with identical academic skills. Diversity of educational background helps ensure a
free flow of ideas and challenges those who might become set in their ways.
< Diversity of geography. People from diffierent places within the United States or the world often
have a range of diffierences in ideas, attitudes, and behaviors.
< Diversity of socioeconomic background. People’s identities are influenced by how they grow up,
and part of that background often involves socioeconomic factors. Socioeconomic diversity can
contribute a wide variety of ideas and attitudes.
Diversity of gender roles. Women have virtually all professional and social roles, including
those once dominated by men, and men have taken on many roles, such as raising a child, that
were formerly occupied mostly by women. These changing roles have brought diverse new ideas
and attitudes to college campuses.
< Diversity of age. While younger students attending college immediately after high school are
generally within the same age range, older students returning to school bring a diversity of age.
Because they often have broader life experiences, many older students bring diffierent ideas and
attitudes to the campus.
< Diversity of sexual orientation. Gays and lesbians make up a significant percentage of people in
American society and students on college campuses. Exposure to this diversity helps others
overcome stereotypes and become more accepting of human diffierences.
< Diversity of religion. For many people, religion is not just a Sunday morning practice but a larger
spiritual force that infuses their lives. Religion helps shape diffierent ways of thinking and
behaving, and thus diversity of religion brings a wider benefit of diversity to college.
< Diversity of political views. A diversity of political views helps broaden the level of discourse on
campuses concerning current events and the roles of government and leadership at all levels.
College students are frequently concerned about issues such as environmentalism and civil rights
and can help bring about change.
< Diversity of physical ability. Some students have athletic talents. Some students have physical
disabilities. Physical diffierences among students brings yet another kind of diversity to colleges—
a diversity that both widens opportunities for a college education and also helps all students
better understand how people relate to the world in physical as well as intellectual ways.
< Diversity of extracurricular abilities. As you remember from your college applications, colleges
ask about what you do outside of class—clubs, activities, abilities in music and the arts, and so on.
A student body with diverse interests and skills benefits all students by helping make the college
experience full and enriching at all levels.
These are just some of the types of diversity you are likely to encounter on college campuses and in our
society generally.
3.2 The Benefits of Diversity
The goal of many college admissions departments is to attract diverse students from a FI G U RE 9 . 5
broad range of backgrounds involving diffierent cultural, socioeconomic, age, and other
Diversity in the classroom is a goal of college
factors—everything in the preceding list. But why is diversity so important? There are
admissions offlces.
many reasons:
Experiencing diversity at college prepares students for the diversity they will
encounter the rest of their lives. Learning to understand and accept people
diffierent from ourselves is very important in our world. While many high school
students may not have met or gotten to know well many people with diffierent
backgrounds, this often changes in college. Success in one’s career and future
social life also requires understanding people in new ways and interacting with
new skills. Experiencing diversity in college assists in this process.
< Students learn better in a diverse educational setting. Encountering new
concepts, values, and behaviors leads to thinking in deeper, more complex, and
more creative ways, rather than furthering past ideas and attitudes. Students who
experience the most racial and ethnic diversity in their classes are more engaged
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in active thinking processes and develop more intellectual and academic skills
(and have higher grade point averages) than others with limited experience of
< Attention to diversity leads to a broader range of teaching methods, which benefits the learning
process for all students. Just as people are diffierent in diverse ways, people from diffierent
backgrounds and experiences learn in diffierent ways. College teaching has expanded to include
many new teaching techniques. All students gain when instructors make the effiort to address the
diverse learning needs of all students.
< Experiencing diversity on campus is beneficial for both minority and majority students.
Students have more fulfilling social relationships and report more satisfaction and involvement
with their college experience. Studies show all students on campus gain from diversity programs.
All the social and intellectual benefits of diversity cited in this list hold true for all students.
< Diversity experiences help break the patterns of segregation and prejudice that have
characterized American history. Discrimination against others—whether by race, gender, age,
sexual orientation, or anything else—is rooted in ignorance and sometimes fear of people who
are diffierent. Getting to know people who are diffierent is the first step in accepting those
diffierences, furthering the goal of a society free of all forms of prejudice and the unfair treatment
of people.
< Students of a traditional college age are in an ideal stage of development for forming healthy
attitudes about diversity. Younger students may not yet have reached a point at which they can
fully understand and accept very diffierent ideas and behaviors in others. The college years are a
time of growth and maturation intellectually, socially, and emotionally, and a sustained
experience of diversity is an opportunity to heighten this process.
< Experiencing diversity makes us all better citizens in our democracy. When people can better
understand and consider the ideas and perspectives of others, they are better equipped to
participate meaningfully in our society. Democratic government depends on shared values of
equality and the public good. An attitude of “us versus them,” in contrast, does not further the
public good or advance democratic government. Studies have shown that college graduates with a
good experience of diversity generally maintain patterns of openness and inclusivity in their
future lives.
< Diversity enhances self-awareness. We gain insights into our own thought processes, life
experiences, and values as we learn from people whose backgrounds and experiences are diffierent
from our own.
While all the benefits described have been demonstrated repeatedly on campuses all across the country
in study after study, and while admissions and retention programs on virtually all campuses promote
and celebrate diversity, some problems still remain. Society changes only slowly, and sadly, many students in some areas—including gay and lesbian students, students with disabilities, and many minority
students—still feel marginalized in the dominant culture of their campuses. Even in a country that elected an African American president, racism exists in many places. Gays and lesbians are still fighting for
equal rights under the law and acceptance everywhere. Women still earn less than men in the same
jobs. Thus society as a whole, and colleges in particular, need to continue to work to destroy old stereotypes and achieve a full acceptance of our human diffierences.
Treatment of a person based
on some group, class, or
category to which that
person belongs rather than
on individual merit.
Accepting, respecting, and
preserving diffierent cultures
or cultural identities within a
unified society.
Multiculturalism is not political correctness. We’ve all heard jokes about “political correctness,”
which suggests that we do or say certain things not because they are right but because we’re expected to
pay lip service to them. Unfortunately, some people think of colleges’ diversity programs as just the
politically correct thing to do. Use your critical thinking skills if you hear such statements. In the world
of higher education, truth is discovered through investigation and research—and research has shown
repeatedly the value of diversity as well as programs designed to promote diversity.
nontraditional students
A general term for college
students who do not attend
college within a year or so
after graduating high school
and who therefore are usually
older than seventeen to
nineteen years of age and
have significant work or other
noneducational experiences.
Older “Nontraditional” Students and Diversity
Sometimes overlooked among the types of diversity on most college campuses are older students, often
called nontraditional students, who are returning to education usually after working a number of years.
While many college students are younger and enroll in college immediately after high school, these older students help bring a wider range of diversity to campuses and deserve special attention for the benefits they
bring for all students. As a group, older students often share certain characteristics that bring unique value to
the college experience overall. Older students often
have well-established identities and broader roles and responsibilities on which to base their
more fully represent the local community and its values;
have greater emotional independence and self-reliance;
have well-developed problem-solving, self-directing, and decision-making skills;
can share important life lessons and insights not found in textbooks;
have relationships and experience with a greater variety of people;
can be positive role models for younger students with less experience and maturity.
In many ways, these “nontraditional” students benefit the campus as a whole and contribute in meaningful
ways to the educational process. Both instructors and “traditional” students gain when older students share
their ideas and feelings in class discussions, study groups, and all forms of social interaction.
3.3 Accepting and Celebrating Diversity and Working for Change
More than anything, multiculturalism is an attitude. Multiculturalism involves accepting and respecting the ideas, feelings, behaviors, and experiences of people diffierent from oneself—all the forms of diversity described earlier. America is not actually a “melting pot” in the sense that people from diverse
backgrounds somehow all become the same. America has always included a great diversity of ideas, attitudes, and behaviors. For example, the constitutional separation of church and state, a fundamental
principle present since early days in the United States, guarantees that people of all religion have the
same freedoms and rights for worship and religious behavior. People of diverse religious backgrounds
are not expected to “melt” together into one religion. Other laws guarantee the equal rights of all
people regardless of skin color, gender, age, and other diffierences—including more recently, in some
states, equality under the law for those with diverse sexual orientation. The United States does not even
have an offlcial national language—and many government and other publications in various geographical areas are offiered in a variety of languages as well. In short, America as a nation has always recognized the realities and benefits of diversity.
Colleges similarly make commitments to ensure they respect and value diffierences among people
and promote a wide understanding of such diffierences. Most colleges now have formal diversity programs to help all students not only accept and understand diffierences among students of varied backgrounds but also celebrate the benefits for all.
What Students Can Do
While diversity exists in most places, not everyone automatically understands diffierences among
people and celebrates the value of those diffierences. Students who never think about diversity and who
make no conscious effiort to experience and understand others gain less than others who do. There are
many ways you can experience the benefits of diversity on your college campus, however, beginning
with your own attitudes and by taking steps to increase your experiences with diverse individuals.
Acknowledge your own uniqueness, for you are diverse, too. Diversity doesn’t involve just other
people. Consider that you may be just as diffierent to other people as they are to you. Don’t think of the
other person as being the one who is diffierent, that you are somehow the “norm.” Your religion may
seem just as odd to them as theirs does to you, and your clothing may seem just as strange looking to
them as theirs is to you—until you accept there is no one “normal” or right way to be. Look at yourself
in a mirror and consider why you look as you do. Why do you use the slang you do with your friends?
Why did you just have that type of food for breakfast? How is it that you prefer certain types of music?
Read certain books? Talk about certain things? Much of this has to do with your cultural background—so it makes sense that someone from another cultural or ethnic background is diffierent in
some ways. But both of you are also individuals with your own tastes, preferences, ideas, and attitudes—making you unique. It’s only when you realize your own uniqueness that you can begin to understand and respect the uniqueness of others, too.
Consider your own (possibly unconscious) stereotypes. A stereotype is a fixed, simplistic view of
what people in a certain group are like. It is often the basis for prejudice and discrimination: behaving
diffierently toward someone because you stereotype them in some way. Stereotypes are generally
learned and emerge in the dominant culture’s attitudes toward those from outside that dominant
group. A stereotype may be explicitly racist and destructive, and it may also be a simplistic generalization applied to any group of people, even if intended to be flattering rather than negative. As you have
read this chapter so far, did you find yourself thinking about any group of people, based on any kind of
diffierence, and perhaps thinking in terms of stereotypes? If you walked into a party and saw many
diffierent kinds of people standing about, would you naturally avoid some and move toward others? Remember, we learn stereotypes from our cultural background—so it’s not a terrible thing to admit you
have inherited some stereotypes. Thinking about them is a first step in breaking out of these irrational
thought patterns.
Examples of Cultural Differences in Body Language
While we should be careful not to stereotype individuals or whole cultures, it is important to be aware of potential diffierences among cultures when interacting with other people. For example, body language often has
diffierent meanings in diffierent cultures. Understanding such diffierences can help you better understand your
interaction with others. Here are a few examples:
Some Americans clap their hands together to emphasize a point, while some French clap to end a
Many Americans cross their legs when seated and thus may point the bottom of their shoe toward
another person; many Japanese find this gesture offiensive.
Many Americans may wave their index fingers at someone else to make a point, but this gesture is
often offiensive to Mexicans and Somali, who may use that gesture only for dogs.
In America, men and women shake hands with each other, but in some other cultures, handshakes
across genders are not acceptable.
In America, eye contact is generally considered polite and a sign of interest, whereas in many Asian
cultures, people show their respect for others by bowing their head slightly and consider steady eye
contact aggressive.
A C T I V I T Y :
Read each of the following scenarios quickly and respond immediately without stopping to think. There are
no right or wrong answers.
Scenario 1. You are walking home down a dark sidewalk when ahead you see three people standing around.
Something about the way they are hanging out makes you a little frightened to walk past them.
Be honest with yourself: what did you just imagine these people looked like?
Why do think you might have associated this particular mental picture with the emotion of feeling frightened?
Scenario 2. In a café on campus, you see a student from another country sitting alone—someone you know
casually from a class—and you walk over and are just about to ask if you can join him, when two other students also from his country appear and sit down with him. You hesitate.
Would you have hesitated if this person had the same cultural background as you? What makes this situation
As you hesitate, you overhear them conversing in a language other than English.
Be honest with yourself: how does that make you feel now?
Scenario 3. A couple you know invites you to join them and one of their friends, whom you have not met, on
a “double date”—a movie and dinner after. When you meet them outside the theater, you see that their
friend, your date, is of a race diffierent from your own.
Are you surprised or shocked? What is your first reaction?
Do you anticipate any more difflculty making conversation with your date than with anyone else whom you
have just met?
Should your friends have told you in advance? Why or why not?
If they had told you, would that have made any diffierence? Explain.
Now think for a minute about how you responded in these scenarios. Did your mental image in the first scenario
involve a negative stereotype? What images in the media or society might have contributed to that response?
The second and third scenarios involve simple situations in which you couldn’t help but note some diffierence
between you and another person. What might you feel in such situations in real life? Again, there is no “right”
answer, and an awareness of diffierences is normal and natural even if it may cause some discomfort at first.
On the other hand, if you have had significant experiences with diverse others, you might have read these
scenarios and simply wondered, “So what? What’s the big deal?” It’s worthwhile thinking about what that
Do not try to ignore diffierences among people. Some people try so hard to avoid stereotyping that
they go to the other extreme and try to avoid seeing any diffierences at all among people. But as we have
seen throughout this chapter, people are diffierent in many ways, and we should accept that if we are to
experience the benefits of diversity.
Don’t apply any group generalizations to individuals. As an extension of not stereotyping any
group, also don’t think of any individual person in terms of group characteristics. People are individuals first, members of a group second, and any given generalization simply may not apply to an individual. Be open minded and treat everyone with respect as an individual with his or her own ideas, attitudes, and preferences.
Develop cultural sensitivity for communication. Realize that your words may not mean quite the
same thing in diffierent cultural contexts or to individuals from diffierent backgrounds. This is particularly true of slang words, which you should generally avoid until you are sure the other person will
know what you mean. Never try to use slang or expressions you think are common in the cultural
group of the person you are speaking with. Similarly, since body language often varies among diffierent
cultures, avoid strong gestures and expressions until the responses of the other person signify he or she
will not misinterpret the messages sent by your body language.
Take advantage of campus opportunities to increase your cultural awareness. Your college likely
has multiculturalism courses or workshops you can sign up for. Special events, cultural fairs and celebrations, concerts, and other programs are held frequently on most campuses. There may also be opportunities to participate in group travel to other countries or regions of cultural diversity.
Take the initiative in social interactions. Many students just naturally hang out with other students they are most like—that almost seems to be part of human nature. Even when we’re open minded
and want to learn about others diffierent from ourselves, it often seems easier and more comfortable to
interact with others of the same age, cultural group, and so on. If we don’t make a small effiort to meet
others, however, we miss a great opportunity to learn and broaden our horizons. Next time you’re
looking around the classroom or dorm for someone to ask about a class you missed or to study together for a test or group project, choose someone diffierent from you in some way. Making friends with
others of diffierent backgrounds is often one of the most fulfilling experiences of college students.
Work through conflicts as in any other interaction. Conflicts simply occur among people, whether of the same or diffierent background. If you are afraid of making a mistake when interacting with
someone from a diffierent background, you might avoid interaction altogether—and thus miss the benefits of diversity. Nothing risked, nothing gained. If you are sincere and respect the other, there is less
risk of a misunderstanding occurring. If conflict does occur, work to resolve it as you would any other
tension with another person, as described earlier.
Take a Stand against Prejudice and Hate
Unfortunately prejudice and hate still exist in America, even on college campuses. In addition to racial
prejudice, some people are also prejudiced against women, people with disabilities, older adults, gays
and lesbians—virtually all groups that can be characterized as “diffierent.” All campuses have policies
against all forms of prejudice and discriminatory behaviors. But it is not enough for only college administrators to fight prejudice and hate—this is a responsibility for all good citizens who take seriously
the shared American value of equality for all people. So what can you as a college student do?
Decide that it does matter. Prejudice threatens us all, not just the particular group being
discriminated against in a specific incident. Don’t stand on the sidelines or think it’s up to the
people who may be victimized by prejudice or hate to do something about it. We can all do
< Talk with others. Communication has great value on campuses. Let others know how you feel
about any acts of prejudice or hatred that you witness. The more everyone openly condemns such
behavior, the less likely it is to reappear in the future. This applies even if you hear another
student telling a racist joke or putting down the opposite sex—speak up and tell the person you
find such statements offiensive. You don’t want that person to think you agree with them.
Speaking up can be difflcult to do, but it can be done tactfully. People can and do learn what is
acceptable in a diverse environment.
< Report incidents you observe. If you happen to see someone spray-painting a hateful slogan, for
example, be a good citizen and report it to the appropriate campus offlce or the police.
< Support student groups working for change. America has a great tradition of college students
banding together to help solve social problems. Show your support for groups and activities that
celebrate diversity and condemn prejudice. Even if you are a shy, quiet person, your attendance at
a parade or gathering lends support. Or you can write a letter to the editor in a student
newspaper, help hand out leaflets for an upcoming rally, or put up posters on campus. Once you
become aware of such student activities on campus, you’ll find many ways you can help take a
< Celebrate diversity. In many ways, you can learn more about diversity through campus programs
and activities. The more all students participate, the closer the campus will come to being free of
prejudice and hate. Be a role model in how you act and what you say in relation to diversity, and
you may have more effiect on others than you realize.
3.4 Dealing with Prejudice
If you yourself experience prejudice or discrimination related to your race or ethnicity, gender, age,
disability, sexual orientation, religion, or any other aspect of diversity, don’t just try to ignore it or accept it as something that cannot be changed. As discussed earlier, college students can do much to minimize intolerance on campus. Many overt forms of discrimination are frankly illegal and against college
policies. You owe it to yourself, first and foremost, to report it to the appropriate college authority.
You can also attack prejudice in other ways. Join a campus organization that works to reduce prejudice or start a new group and discuss ways you can confront the problem and work for a solution.
Seek solidarity with other groups. Organize positive celebrations and events to promote understanding.
Write an article for a campus publication explaining the values of diversity and condemning
What if you are directly confronted by an individual or group making racist or other discriminatory remarks? In an emotionally charged situation, rational dialogue may be difflcult or impossible, and
a shouting match or name-calling seldom is productive. If the person may have made an offiensive remark inadvertently or because of a misunderstanding, then you may be able to calmly explain the problem with what they said or did. Hopefully the person will apologize and learn from the experience. But
if the person made the remark or acted that way intentionally, confronting this negative person directly
may be difflcult and not have a positive outcome. Most important, take care that the situation does not
escalate in the direction of violence. Reporting the incident instead to college authorities may better
serve the larger purpose of working toward harmony and tolerance.
If you are in the dominant cultural group on your campus, write a paragraph describing values you share with
your cultural group. Then list things that students with a diffierent background may have difflculty understanding about your group. If your racial, ethnic, or cultural background is diffierent from the dominant cultural
group on your campus, write a paragraph describing how students in the dominant culture seem to diffier
from your own culture.
Look back at what you just wrote. Did you focus on characteristics that seem either positive or negative?
Might there be any stereotypes creeping into your thinking?
Write a second paragraph focusing on yourself as a unique individual, not a part of a group. How would others
benefit from getting to know you better?
Diversity refers to a great variety of human characteristics, and ways in which people diffier.
Diversity in the college environment has many benefits for all students, faculty, and others. Students learn
more in a diverse setting, are better prepared for the future, and contribute more fully in positive ways to
Nontraditional students bring many unique characteristics to the college environment that help enrich all
students’ social and educational experiences.
Multiculturalism involves respecting the ideas, feelings, behaviors, and experiences diffierent from oneself
in any way. Colleges promote both diversity in the student body and multiculturalism among all students.
As an individual, each of us can gain the benefits of diversity as we challenge our own stereotypes,
understand and celebrate diffierences in others, and learn to interact well with others diffierent from
ourselves. Take advantage of campus opportunities to increase your cultural awareness and to form social
relationships with diverse others.
Although we would hope that all college campuses would be free of hate and discrimination, it can
become necessary to take a stand against prejudice.
1. List as many types of diversity as you can think of.
2. Write a description of someone who is of a diffierent race from yourself but who may not be diffierent
3. List several characteristics of your own cultural background that may be diffierent from the cultural
background of some others on your campus.
4. For each of the following statements about diversity, circle T for true or F for false:
T F A diverse educational environment is primarily good for students from minority groups.
T F Students of traditional college age are usually already too old to be open to new ideas and
attitudes learned from others with diverse backgrounds.
T F We gain insights into ourselves when we learn from others who are diffierent from ourselves.
T F You can better understand an individual from a cultural group other than your own if you apply
generalizations about that other culture to the person.
T F The best way to avoid a conflict that may arise from cultural diffierences is to interact only politely
and in superficial ways with people who seem diffierent from yourself.
5. Is it a cultural observation or a stereotype to say, for example, that Mexicans are more relaxed about time
commitments than Americans? (Think a minute before answering. How would you justify and explain your
answer if challenged? Could both answers be right in some way?)
6. List at least three ways you may be able to increase your cultural awareness and understanding of diversity
on your campus.
1. Describe several benefits of participating in campus life by joining organized groups and participating in campus activities.
2. Identify how participation in organized activities can promote multiculturalism and a better
understanding of diversity.
3. List several ways you can learn about groups and activities on your own campus.
The college social experience also includes organized campus groups and activities. Participating in organized activities requires taking some initiative—you can’t be passive and expect these opportunities
to come knocking on your door—but is well worthwhile for fully enriching college interactions. The
active pursuit of a stimulating life on campus offiers many benefits:
Organized groups and activities speed your transition into your new life. New students can be
overwhelmed by their studies and every aspect of a new life, and they may be slow to build a new
life. Rather than waiting for it to come along on its own, you can immediately begin broadening
your social contacts and experiences by joining groups that share your interests.
< Organized groups and activities help you experience a much greater variety of social life than
you might otherwise. New students often tend to interact more with other students their own age
and with similar backgrounds—this is just natural. But if you simply go with the flow and don’t
actively reach out, you are much less likely to meet and interact with others from the broader
campus diversity: students who are older and may have a perspective you may otherwise miss,
upper-level students who have much to share from their years on campus, and students of diverse
heritage or culture with whom you might otherwise be slow to interact.
< Organized groups and activities help you gain new skills, whether technical, physical,
intellectual, or social. Such skills may find their way into your résumé when you next seek a job
or your application for a scholarship or other future educational opportunity. Employers and
others like to see well-rounded students with a range of proficiencies and experiences.
< Organized groups and activities are fun and a great way to stay healthy and relieve stress. As
Chapter 10 discusses, exercise and physical activity are essential for health and well-being, and
many organized activities offier a good way to keep moving.
4.1 Participating in Groups and Activities
College campuses offier a wide range of clubs, organizations, and other activities open to all students.
College administrators view this as a significant benefit and work to promote student involvement in
such groups. When you made your decision to attend your college, you likely received printed materials or studied the college’s Web site and saw many opportunities. But you may have been so busy attending to academic matters that you haven’t thought of these groups since. It’s a good time now to
check out the possibilities:
Check bulletin boards on campus to learn
about cultural events.
© Thinkstock
Browse the college Web site, where you’re likely to find links to pages for student clubs
and organizations.
< Watch for club fairs, open houses, and similar activities on campus. Especially near the
beginning of the year, an activity fair may include tables set up by many groups to
provide students with information. Talk with the representatives from any group in
which you may be interested.
< Look for notices on bulletin boards around campus. Student groups really do want new
students to join, so they usually try to post information where you can find it.
< Stop by the appropriate college offlce, such as the student affiairs or student activities
offlce or cultural center.
< If you are looking for a group with very specialized interests, check with the academic
offlces of departments where many students with that interest may be majoring.
< Consider a wide variety of types of organizations. Some are primarily social; some are
political or activist; some are based on hobbies (photography, chess, equestrianism,
bird watching, videogaming, computer programming); some involve the arts
(instrumental music, choral singing, painting, poetry writing, drama club); some are
forms of physical recreation (rock-climbing, ballroom dancing, archery, yoga, table
tennis, tai chi, team sports); some focus on volunteerism (tutoring other students,
community service projects, food drives); and others are related to academic or
intellectual pursuits (nursing club, math club, chess club, engineering club, debate club,
student literary magazine).
< Consider other forms of involvement and roles beyond clubs. Gain leadership
experience by running for offlce in student government or applying for a residence hall
support position. If you are looking for a job, consider what kinds of people you’ll have
the opportunity to interact with. Chapter 11 will give you more tips for finding a job.
< If your campus doesn’t have a group focused on a particular activity you enjoy yourself,
think about starting a new club. Your college will help you get started; talk with the
student activities or affiairs offlce.
FI G U RE 9 . 6
Whatever your interests, don’t be shy about checking out a club or organization. Take
chances and explore. Attending a meeting or gathering is not a commitment—you’re just going the
first time to see what it’s like, and you have no obligation to join. Keep an open mind as you meet and
observe other students in the group, especially if you don’t feel at first like you fit in: remember that
part of the benefit of the experience is to meet others who are not necessarily just like everyone you
already know.
E X E R C I S E :
Write things you may be interested in doing with others in each of these categories.
Clubs Related to Hobbies and
Personal Interests
Sports, Exercise,
Physical Fitness
Interests Related to Your
Major Area of Study
Purely for
Bridging the Generation Gap
Is there still a “generation gap” in our society? Maybe not in the same sense as when that phrase came into being in the 1960s, but it remains generally true that most people naturally gravitate toward others of similar age.
Even in the open, accepting environment of most colleges, many students interact primarily with others of
similar age—which, sadly, misses a great opportunity for both older and younger students to learn from each
Younger, “traditional” students just out of high school usually live in residence halls and immediately meet
other students of the same age. New students who are just a few years older, who usually have spent some
time in the workforce before returning to their education, are more likely to live in a house or apartment and
probably spend less time on campus interacting with other students. Some students may be decades older
than both traditional and most untraditional students, returning to college sometimes with the desire to
change careers or simply to take classes of special interest; their lives may be so well settled in other respects
that they have little interest at all in the social world of college. Students in all of these groups may be slow to
initiate interactions with each other.
This is one of the great benefits of organized campus groups and activities, however. Regardless of your age or
background, you can attend a meeting of those with similar interests and have the opportunity to meet
people you simply would not have crossed paths with otherwise. Age barriers rapidly break down when
people share the same interests.
4.2 When and How to Say No
For all the benefits of an active social and campus life, too much of any good thing can also cause
trouble. If you join too many groups, or if you have limited time because of work and family commitments, you may spend less time with your studies—with negative results. Here are some guidelines for
finding a good balance between social life and everything else you need to do:
Don’t join too many organizations or clubs. Most advisors suggest that two or three regular
activities are the maximum that most students can handle.
< Work on your time management skills, as described in Chapter 2. Plan ahead for study time
when you don’t have schedule conflicts. If you have a rich social life, study in the library or places
where you won’t be tempted by additional social interaction with a roommate, family member, or
others passing by.
Don’t be afraid to say no. You may be active in a club and have plenty of time for routine
activities, but someone may ask you to spend extra time organizing an upcoming event just when
you have a major paper deadline coming up. Sometimes you have to remember the main reason
you’re in college and just say you can’t do it because you have to get your work done.
< If you really can’t resolve your time conflicts, seek help. Talk with your advisor or a college
counselor. They’ll help you get back on track.
College students with an active social life and who interact with the campus community are generally
more successful academically as well.
Organized groups and activities promote a more varied and diverse social experience.
Students participating in organized groups and activities gain skills that may become important for job
and other professional applications.
Most campuses offier a large variety of opportunities for involvement in clubs, associations, and other
Take the initiative to find organizations and activities you will most enjoy.
To balance your social life and academic studies, avoid joining too many organizations and use your time
management skills.
1. List two specific skills (technical, intellectual, or social) that you personally may gain or improve by
participating in a campus club or organization.
2. What events or campus groups have you noticed on a campus bulletin board or poster recently that
caught your eye?
3. What academic subject might you major in? Imagine yourself joining a club formed by students in that
major. What kinds of things might you do or talk about in such a club? (Use your imagination as you
consider how you can have fun with others in such a club.)
Chapter Takeaways
An active social life and social interaction with a variety of people on campus contribute to college
students’ well-being and overall academic success.
Successfully interacting with diverse others requires effiective communication skills, including both
listening skills and assertive communication rather than passive or aggressive communication.
Social interaction can be heightened by productive and moderate online networking.
Time management and study skills help one avoid problems when balancing social life and academic
To prevent or resolve conflicts that may occur in any social interaction, maintain an attitude of
respect for others, be open minded and willing to compromise, and know how to work together
calmly to resolve conflicts.
Diversity on campus is beneficial for all students, not just those from ethnic or minority groups. The
wider perspectives of students from diffierent backgrounds and the greater variety of teaching
methods help everyone gain more fully in educational experiences. Socially, students develop a more
mature worldview and are better prepared for interacting with a diverse world in the future.
Multiculturalism involves an attitude of respect for the ideas, feelings, behaviors, and experiences of
others who diffier from oneself in any way. Colleges promote both diversity in the student body and
multiculturalism among all students.
To gain a multicultural perspective, challenge your own learned stereotypes while you learn more
about other cultural groups. Understanding what can be learned from others leads to celebrating the
diversity found on most campuses.
Take a personal responsibility both for broadening your own social world and for speaking out
against prejudice and discrimination wherever encountered.
Take advantage of campus opportunities to increase your cultural awareness and to form social
relationships with diverse others. Organized campus groups and events can help you broaden your
horizons in many beneficial ways.
Participation in campus clubs and other organizations is not only fun and a good way to reduce
stress but also helps develop social, intellectual, and technical skills that may serve you well in your
future career or other endeavors.
1. List at least three benefits of social interaction with a variety of diffierent people on your college campus.
2. Describe what is involved in being a “good friend” to someone you have just recently met.
3. What can you do to demonstrate that you are really listening to the other person in a conversation?
4. Mark each of the following communication strategies as passive, assertive, or aggressive:
Showing your very critical reaction to another’s ideas:
Agreeing with everything another person says:
Hesitating to say something the other may disagree with:
Being honest and confident when expressing your ideas:
Joking sarcastically about something the other says:
Offiering your opinion while respecting other opinions:
5. True or false: Interactions on Facebook can strengthen one’s personal relationships with others and make
it easier to participate socially in a group.
6. Give two examples of how you can use time management skills to ensure you get your studies done while
still maintaining an active social life.
7. Write an “I statement” sentence you might say to prevent a heated argument with another student who
has just told a sexist joke.
8. Imagine this scenario: eight white college students between the ages of eighteen and twenty from a large
U.S. city are spending a summer in a poverty-stricken rural Indonesian village in a volunteer project.
Describe several behavioral characteristics of these students as an ethnic minority group that may not be
understood by the villagers.
9. Imagine yourself working in your chosen career five years from now. Describe two experiences you may
have in that career for which your current experience with diverse people on campus may help prepare
10. What insights into your own attitudes, behaviors, or values have you gained through interactions with
others diffierent from yourself? Think of specific aspects of yourself that you have come to view in a new
11. What’s wrong with the following statement? “People are what they are and you can’t change them. The
best thing you can do when someone’s showing their prejudice is just walk away and don’t let it bother
12. As you read the chapter section on clubs and organizations and all the possibilities that are likely on your
campus, what thoughts did you have about your own interests? What kind of club would be ideal for you?
If your college campus happens not to have that club at present, would you get together with others with
similar interests to start one?
13. Read this case study and answer the following questions:
The International Student Offlce is sponsoring South Asian Night, a celebration in which students
from this region will be showcasing their cultures and ethnic foods. Two groups of students, from India
and Pakistan, have had disagreements during the planning and rehearsals. They have argued about how
much time each group is allotted for their performances and how high on the evening’s agenda their
performances are scheduled. The conflict escalates and threatens cancellation of the whole celebration,
which the school and the campus community have been looking forward to.
a. If you were the director of the International Student Offlce, how would you handle this situation?
b. What would you say to these two groups of students? What process would you use?
1. Visit your college’s Web site and look for a section on student activities and organizations. Try to identify
two or three groups you might be interested to learn more about.
2. Next time you walk across campus or through the student center, stop to look at bulletin boards and
posters. Look for upcoming events that celebrate cultural diversity in some way. Read the information in
detail and imagine how much fun the event might be while you also learn something new. Then ask a
friend to go with you.
3. Go to—a Web site of the American
Anthropological Association—and take the short online sports quiz. Many things have been said about
why certain races or people from certain geographic areas excel at certain sports. People often talk about
diffierences in biology and other diffierences among ethnic groups as related to sports. How much is true,
partly true, or blatantly false? How much do you know about what are real or not real diffierences?
Sometimes I’m not as good a friend as I could be because I
I will work on the following things to be a better friend:
Social Interaction
Sometimes I have difflculty interacting well with these people:
I will use these communication techniques for more successful interactions in the future:
Communication Style
Sometimes I am too passive when talking with these people:
I can do these things to be more assertive in my communication:
Balance of Studies and Social Life
I sometimes don’t get enough studying done because I am busy doing the following:
I will ensure I have enough time for studying by taking these steps:
Family Life
Since I am so busy with college now, I may have ignored my relationship(s) with
I will do better to stay in touch by
Diversity on Campus
I admit to knowing very little about these groups of people I often see on campus:
By this time next year, I hope to be more culturally aware as a result of doing these things more often:
Campus Activities
I would really enjoy doing the following one thing more often with other people:
To participate in this activity with a variety of people, I will look on campus for a club or group such as the
I can do these things to learn more about this club:
Taking Control of Your
FI G U RE 1 0 . 1
© Thinkstock
Where Are You Now?
Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.
Yes Unsure No
1. I usually eat well and maintain my weight at an appropriate level.
2. I get enough regular exercise to consider myself healthy.
3. I get enough restful sleep and feel alert throughout the day.
4. My attitudes and habits involving smoking, alcohol, and drugs are beneficial to my
5. I am coping in a healthy way with the everyday stresses of being a student.
6. I am generally a happy person.
7. I am comfortable with my sexual values and my knowledge of safe sex practices.
8. I understand how all of these diffierent health factors interrelate and affiect my
academic success as a student.
Where Do You Want to Go?
Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself. On a scale of 1 to 10, how
would you rate your level of personal health at this time?
Not very healthy
Very healthy
In the following list, circle the three most important areas of health in which you think you can improve:
Weight control
Alcohol use
Drug use
Stress reduction
Emotional health
Romantic relationships
Sexual health
Are there other areas in which you can improve your physical, emotional, and mental health and become
happier? Write down other things you feel you need to work on.
How to Get There
Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:
Eating well to stay healthy and at a weight you feel good about
Finding regular physical activities you enjoy that will make you healthier and cope better
with the stresses of being a student
Determing how much sleep your body and mind really need—and how to get it
Developing an appropriate and healthy attitude toward smoking, alcohol, and drugs and
learning how to change your habits if needed
Understanding why everyone feels stressed at times and what you can do about it
Knowing what to do if you’re feeling lonely or anxious about school or your personal life
and how to stay balanced emotionally
Feeling good about your sexuality, having safe sex, and protecting against unwanted
pregnancy and sexual assault
Health and wellness are important for everyone—students included. Not only will you do better in
school when your health is good, but you’ll be happier as a person. And the habits you develop now
will likely persist for years to come. That means that what you’re doing now in terms of personal health
will have a huge influence on your health throughout life and can help you avoid many serious
Considerable research has demonstrated that the basic elements of good health—nutrition, exercise, not abusing substances, stress reduction—are important for preventing disease. You’ll live much
longer and happier than someone without good habits. Here are a few of the health problems whose
risks can be lowered by healthful habits:
Cardiovascular issues such as heart attacks and strokes (the numbers one and three causes of
< Some cancers
Diabetes (currently reaching epidemic proportions)
< Lung diseases related to smoking
< Injuries related to substance abuse
Wellness is more than just avoiding disease. Wellness involves feeling good in every respect, in mind
and spirit as well as in body. Good health habits also offier these benefits for your college career:
More energy
Better ability to focus on your studies
< Less stress, feeling more resilient and able to handle day-to-day stress
< Less time lost to colds, flu, infections, and other illnesses
< More restful sleep
This chapter examines a wide range of topics, from nutrition, exercise, and sleep to substance abuse
and risks related to sexual activity. All of these involve personal attitudes and behaviors. And they are
all linked together to one of the biggest problems students face: stress.
Everyone knows about stress, but not everyone knows how to control it. Stress is the great enemy
of college success. But once you’ve learned how to reduce it where you can and cope with unavoidable
stress, you’ll be well on the road to becoming the best student you can be.
Explain why good nutrition is important.
List health problems related to being overweight and obesity.
Explain the general principles of good nutrition.
Make good choices about foods to emphasize in meals and snacks.
Most Americans have a real problem with food. Overeating causes health problems, but what and how
you eat can also affiect how well you do as a student.
2.1 Why Are So Many Americans Overweight?
Americans are eating too much—much more so than in the past. One-third of all Americans twenty
years or older are obese. Another third of all adults are overweight. That means that two-thirds of us
are not eating well or getting enough exercise for how we eat. There are many intertwined causes of this
problem in American culture.
Why are being overweight and obesity a problem? Obesity is associated with many medical conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. Although some health problems
may not appear until later in life, diabetes is increasing rapidly in children and teenagers. Worse, the
habits young adults may already have or may form during their college years generally continue into
later years.
But it’s not just about body weight. Good nutrition is still important even if you don’t have a
health problem. What you eat affiects how you feel and how well you function mentally and physically.
Food affiects how well you study and how you do on tests. Doughnuts for breakfast can lower your
2.2 Why Do Students Find It So Tough to Eat Healthily?
If Americans have trouble eating well in an environment that encourages overeating, college students
often have it even worse. It seems like food is everywhere, and students are always snacking between
classes. Fast food restaurants abound. There may not be time to get back to your dorm or apartment
for lunch, and it’s just so easy to grab a quick pastry at the coffiee spot as you pass by between classes.
It’s the eating by habit, or mindlessly, that usually gets us in trouble. If we’re mindful instead,
however, it’s easy to develop better habits. Take the Nutrition Self-Assessment to evaluate your present
eating habits.
Having more body fat than is
optimally healthy, often
defined as a body mass index
between 25 and 29.9.
Condition in which body fat
has accumulated to the point
of having adverse health
effiects, often defined as a
body mass index of 30 or
S E L F - A S S E S S M E N T
Check the appropriate boxes.
Usually Sometimes Seldom
1. I take the time to eat breakfast before starting my day.
2. I eat lunch rather than snack throughout the day.
3. When I’m hungry between meals, I eat fruit rather than chips or cookies.
4. I consciously try to include fruit and vegetables with lunch and dinner.
5. There is food left on my plate at the end of a meal.
6. I try to avoid overeating snacks at night and while studying.
7. Over the last year, my eating habits have kept me at an appropriate
8. Overall, my eating habits are healthy.
2.3 Eating Well: It’s Not So Difficult
The basic unit of food energy;
consuming more calories in
one’s diet than are used leads
to weight gain.
The key to a good diet is to eat a varied diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and to minimize fats, sugar, and salt. The exact amounts depend on your calorie requirements and activity levels,
but you don’t have to count calories or measure and weigh your food to eat well. Following are the
U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) general daily guidelines for a two-thousand-calorie diet.
Grains (6 ounces)
Eat whole grain cereals, breads, rice, or pasta.
Vegetables (2.5 cups)
Eat more dark green veggies like broccoli and spinach
Eat more orange vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes
< Eat more beans and peas
Fruits (2 cups)
Eat a variety of fruit
Minimize fruit juices
Milk (3 cups)
Choose low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, and other milk products
< If you don’t drink milk, chose lactose-free products or other calcium sources such as
fortified foods
Meat and beans (5.5 ounces)
Choose low-fat or lean meats and poultry
Roast, broil, or grill the meat
< Vary protein sources, including more fish, beans, peas, and nuts
Minimize these (check food labels):
Solid fats like butter and margarine and foods that contain them (avoid saturated and
trans fats)
< Watch out for high-sodium foods
< Minimize added sugars
Be physically active for at least thirty minutes most days of the week.
FI GU R E 1 0 . 2 The USDA MyPyramid emphasizes healthful food choices.[1]
2.4 If You Need to Lose Weight
If you need to lose weight, don’t try to starve yourself. Gradual steady weight loss is healthier and easier. Try these guidelines:
1. Check your body mass index (BMI) to see the normal weight range for your height (see
“Additional Resources” below for more information).
2. Go to for help determining your ideal caloric intake for gradual
weight loss.
3. Set your goals and make a plan you can live with. Start by avoiding snacks and fast foods. Try to
choose foods that meet the guidelines listed earlier.
4. Stay active and try to exercise frequently.
5. Keep a daily food journal and write down what you eat. Simply writing it down helps people be
more aware of their habits and motivated to eat better.
6. Visit the student health center on your campus and ask for more information about weight loss
7. Remember, no one plan works for everyone. Visit the online resources listed later for a variety of
approaches for weight loss.
2.5 Avoiding the Freshman Fifteen
The “freshman fifteen” refers to the weight gain many students experience in their first year of college.
Even those whose weight was at an appropriate level often gained unwanted pounds because of changes
in their eating habits.
Start by looking back at the boxes you checked in the Nutrition Self-Assessment. Be honest with
yourself. If your first choice for a snack is cookies, ice cream, or chips, think about that. If your first
choice for lunch is a burger and fries, have you considered other choices?
Tips for Success: Nutrition
Eat a variety of foods every day.
Take a multivitamin every day.
Take an apple or banana with you for a snack in case you get hungry between meals.
Avoid fried foods.
body mass index (BMI)
A measure of a person’s
weight in relation to height,
used medically to determine
whether a person is
underweight, of normal
weight, overweight, or obese.
Avoid high-sugar foods. After the rush comes a crash that can make you drowsy, and you’ll have
trouble paying attention in class. Watch out for sugary cereals—try other types with less sugar and
more fiber.
If you have a soft drink habit, experiment with flavored seltzer and other zero- or low-calorie drinks.
Eat when you’re hungry, not when you’re bored or just because others are eating.
If you find yourself in a fast food restaurant, try a salad.
Watch portion sizes and never “supersize it”!
2.6 Eating Disorders
An eating disorder involving
a loss of the desire to eat,
often as a result of
psychological problems
related to how a person
perceives her or his
An eating disorder involving
frequent binge eating
followed by compensatory
behaviors such as vomiting.
binge eating
An eating disorder involving
frequent binge eating not
followed by compensatory
The most common eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating.
Anorexia is characterized by excessive weight loss and self-starvation. The individual usually feels
“fat” regardless of how thin she or he becomes and may continue to eat less and less. If your BMI is
lower than the bottom of the normal range, you may be developing anorexia.
Bulimia is characterized by frequent binge eating followed by an attempt to compensate for or
“undo” the overeating with a behavior such as self-induced vomiting or laxative abuse.
Binge eating disorder is characterized by frequent binge eating without compensatory behavior
to “undo” the overeating. Binge eating usually leads to weight gain and eventual obesity.
More than ten million Americans suffier from an eating disorder. The causes are complex, and the
individual usually needs help to overcome their obsession. Eating disorders hurt one’s health in a variety of ways and can become life threatening. The signs of a possible eating disorder include the
Eating secretly when others can’t see
< Having a strong fear of being overweight or gaining weight
< Only eating a limited number of foods
< Exercising obsessively
< Lacking a monthly menstrual period
Getting Help for Eating Disorders
Don’t feel ashamed if you obsess over food or your weight. If your eating habits are affiecting your life,
it’s time to seek help. As with any other health problem, professionals can provide help and treatment.
Talk to your doctor or visit your campus student health center.
Additional Resources
BMI calculator. Find out how your weight compares with normal ranges at
Diet planning. How much should you eat to maintain the same weight? What if you want to lose weight?
Find out at
Calorie counter, nutritional database, and personal diet log. If you’re really serious about losing weight and
want to keep a daily log of your progress, try this online tool:
Eating disorders. For information about causes and treatment of eating disorders, go to
Good nutrition and an appropriate body weight are important for health and wellness. You’re also more
successful academically.
Eating well does not require counting calories or obsessing over everything you eat. Focus on whole
grains, lots of fruits and vegetables, and low-fat meats and dairy products. Minimize processed snacks and
foods high in saturated fats, trans fats, sodium, and sugar.
If you need to control your weight, a variety of healthful plans are available to help you eat foods you like
and still lose weight without suffiering unduly.
1. What health problems may result from obesity?
2. List three or more snacks that are healthier than cookies, chips, ice cream, and doughnuts.
3. How many cups of fruit and vegetables should you eat every day?
1. List the physical and mental health benefits of regular exercise.
2. Plan a program of regular exercise that you enjoy and can maintain.
3.1 Does Exercise Really Matter?
Exercise is good for both body and mind. Indeed, physical activity is almost essential for good health
and student success. The physical benefits of regular exercise include the following:
Improved fitness for the whole body, not just the muscles
< Greater cardiovascular fitness and reduced disease risk
< Increased physical endurance
< Stronger immune system, providing more resistance to disease
Lower cholesterol levels, reducing the risks of cardiovascular disease
Lowered risk of developing diabetes
< Weight maintenance or loss
Perhaps more important to students are the mental and psychological benefits:
Stress reduction
< Improved mood, with less anxiety and depression
< Improved ability to focus mentally
< Better sleep
< Feeling better about oneself
For all of these reasons, it’s important for college students to regularly exercise or engage in physical
activity. Like good nutrition and getting enough sleep, exercise is a key habit that contributes to overall
wellness that promotes college success. First, use the Exercise and Activity Self-Assessment to consider your current habits and attitudes.
cardiovascular fitness
Having a healthy heart and
blood vessels.
immune system
The body system, involving
many diffierent organs and
body tissues, responsible for
defending the body against
infection and disease.
A fat-like substance, made by
the body and found naturally
in animal foods, that when in
excess levels in the body
contributes to cardiovascular
A disease in which the body
has high levels of sugar in the
blood because of an inability
to manage blood glucose;
diabetes is associated with a
range of serious health
A state of physical, emotional,
mental, and social well-being,
not merely the absence of
S E L F - A S S E S S M E N T
Check the appropriate boxes.
Usually Sometimes Seldom
1. I enjoy physical activity.
2. Exercise is a regular part of my life.
3. I get my heart rate up for twenty to thirty minutes several times a week.
4. I enjoy exercising or engaging in physical activities or sports with others.
Write your answers.
5. What physical activities do you enjoy?
6. How often each week do you engage in a physical activity?
7. If you feel you’re not getting much exercise, what stands in your way?
8. Overall, do you think you get enough exercise to be healthy?
9. Do you feel a lot of stress in your life?
10. Do you frequently have trouble getting to sleep?
3.2 How Much Exercise and What Kind?
aerobic exercise
Brisk physical activity that
requires the heart and lungs
to work harder to meet the
body’s increased oxygen
target heart rate
The level of heartbeat that
gives you the best workout:
about 60 to 85 percent of
your maximum heart rate,
which is typically calculated
as 220 minus your age.
With aerobic exercise, your heart and lungs are working hard enough to improve your cardiovascular
fitness. This generally means moving fast enough to increase your heart rate and breathing. For health
and stress-reducing benefits, try to exercise at least three days a week for at least twenty to thirty
minutes at a time. If you really enjoy exercise and are motivated, you may exercise as often as six days a
week, but take at least one day of rest. When you’re first starting out, or if you’ve been inactive for a
while, take it gradually, and let your body adjust between sessions. But the old expression “No pain, no
gain” is not true, regardless of what some past gym teacher may have said! If you feel pain in any activity, stop or cut back. The way to build up strength and endurance is through a plan that is consistent
and gradual.
For exercise to have aerobic benefits, try to keep your heart rate in the target heart rate zone for
at least twenty to thirty minutes. The target heart rate is 60 percent to 85 percent of your maximum
heart rate, which can be calculated as 220 minus your age. For example, if you are 24 years old, your
maximum heart rate is calculated as 196, and your target heart rate is 118 to 166 beats per minute. If
you are just starting an exercise program, stay at the lower end of this range and gradually work up
over a few weeks. “Additional Resources” below includes an online calculator that estimates your target
heart rate depending on your present level of fitness.
Enjoy It!
Most important, find a type of exercise or activity that you enjoy—or else you won’t stick with it. This
can be as simple and easy as a brisk walk or slow jog through a park or across campus. Swimming is excellent exercise, but so is dancing. Think about what you like to do and explore activities that provide
exercise while you’re having fun.
Do whatever you need to make your chosen activity enjoyable. Many people listen to music and
some even read when using workout equipment. Try diffierent activities to prevent boredom. You also
gain by taking the stairs instead of elevators, walking farther across campus instead of parking as close
to your destination as you can get, and so on.
Exercise with a friend is more enjoyable, including jogging or biking together. Some campuses
have installed equipment for students to play Dance Dance Revolution. Many Nintendo Wii games can
get your heart rate up.
You may stay more motivated using exercise equipment. An inexpensive pedometer can track
your progress walking or jogging, or a bike computer can monitor your speed and time. A heart rate
monitor makes it easy to stay in your target zone; many models also calculate calories burned. Some
devices can input your exercise into your computer to track your progress and make a chart of your
The biggest obstacle to getting enough exercise, many students say, is a lack of time. Actually, we
all have the time, if we manage it well. Build exercise into your weekly schedule on selected days. Eventually you’ll find that regular exercise actually saves you time because you’re sleeping better and concentrating better. Time you used to fritter away is now used for activity that provides many benefits.
3.3 Campus Activities Can Help
Most campuses have resources to make exercise easier and more enjoyable for their students. Take a
look around and think about what you might enjoy. A fitness center may offier exercise equipment.
There may be regularly scheduled aerobic or spin classes. You don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy casual sports such as playing tennis or shooting hoops with a friend. If you like more organized team sports,
try intramural sports.
Additional Resources
Exercise guidelines and more information. See
Target heart rate calculator. Find your target heart rate to experience the benefits of aerobic exercise (based
on age only) at
Target heart rate calculator based on age and current fitness level. See
Regular exercise has many benefits for your body and mind. You’ll also be a better student.
It is easier to make exercise a regular part of your life if you explore your interests and join activities with
others. The time you spend exercising will be made up for with increased ability to concentrate when it’s
time to study.
1. It is recommended that college students get
times a week.
2. List at least two ways to make exercise more fun.
minutes of aerobic exercise at least
1. Explain why students need adequate sleep to succeed in college.
2. Determine how much sleep you need.
3. Change your habits and routines in ways to ensure you get the sleep you need.
Like good nutrition and exercise, adequate sleep is crucial for wellness and success. Sleep is particularly
important for students because there seem to be so many time pressures—to attend class, study, maintain a social life, and perhaps work—that most college students have difflculty getting enough. Yet sleep
is critical for concentrating well. First, use the Sleep Self-Assessment to consider your current habits
and attitudes.
S E L F - A S S E S S M E N T
Check the appropriate boxes.
Usually Sometimes Seldom
1. I usually get enough sleep.
2. I feel drowsy or unfocused during the day.
3. I take a nap when I need more sleep.
4. I have fallen asleep in class or had trouble staying awake.
5. I have fallen asleep while studying.
6. I have pulled an “all-nighter” when studying for a test or writing a class
Write your answers.
7. How many hours of sleep do you usually get on weeknights?
8. How many hours of sleep do you usually get on weekends?
9. How would you rank the importance of sleep in relation to studying, working, spending time with friends,
and other activities?
10. How many hours of sleep do you think you ideally need?
11. Generally, do you believe you are getting as much sleep as you think you need?
4.1 The Importance of a Good Night’s Sleep
You may not realize the benefits of sleep, or the problems associated with being sleep deprived, because
most likely you’ve had the same sleep habits for a long time. Or maybe you know you’re getting less
sleep now, but with all the changes in your life, how can you tell if some of your stress or problems
studying are related to not enough sleep?
On the positive side, a healthy amount of sleep has the following benefits:
Improves your mood during the day
Improves your memory and learning abilities
< Gives you more energy
< Strengthens your immune system
< Promotes wellness of body, mind, and spirit
In contrast, not getting enough sleep over time can lead to a wide range of health issues and student
problems. Sleep deprivation can have the following consequences:
Affiects mental health and contributes to stress and feelings of anxiety, depression, and general
< Causes sleepiness, difflculty paying attention in class, and ineffiective studying
< Weakens the immune system, making it more likely to catch colds and other infections
< Increases the risk of accidents (such as while driving)
< Contributes to weight gain
4.2 How Much Sleep Is Enough?
College students are the most sleep-deprived population group in the country. With so much to do,
who has time for sleep?
Most people need seven to nine hours of sleep a night, and the average is around eight. Some say
they need much less than that, but often their behavior during the day shows they are actually sleep deprived. Some genuinely need only about six hours a night. New research indicates there may be a “sleep
gene” that determines how much sleep a person needs. So how much sleep do you actually need?
There is no simple answer, in part because the quality of sleep is just as important as the number of
hours a person sleeps. Sleeping fitfully for nine hours and waking during the night is usually worse
than seven or eight hours of good sleep, so you can’t simply count the hours. Do you usually feel rested
and alert all day long? Do you rise from bed easily in the morning without struggling with the alarm
clock? Do you have no trouble paying attention to your instructors and never feel sleepy in a lecture
class? Are you not continually driven to drink more coffiee or caffieine-heavy “power drinks” to stay attentive? Are you able to get through work without feeling exhausted? If you answered yes to all of these,
you likely are in that 10 percent to 15 percent of college students who consistently get enough sleep.
4.3 How to Get More and Better Sleep
You have to allow yourself enough time for a good night’s sleep. Using the time management strategies
discussed in Chapter 2, schedule at least eight hours for sleeping every night. If you still don’t feel alert
and energetic during the day, try increasing this to nine hours. Keep a sleep journal, and within a
couple weeks you’ll know how much sleep you need and will be on the road to making new habits to
ensure you get it.
Myths about Sleep
Having a drink or two helps me get to sleep better. False: Although you may seem to fall asleep
more quickly, alcohol makes sleep less restful, and you’re more likely to awake in the night.
Exercise before bedtime is good for sleeping. False: Exercise wakes up your body, and it may be
some time before you unwind and relax. Exercise earlier in the day, however, is beneficial for sleep.
It helps to fall asleep after watching television or surfing the Web in bed. False: Rather than helping
you unwind, these activities can engage your mind and make it more difflcult to get to sleep.
sleep deprivation
A chronic lack of sufflcient
restorative sleep.
A natural response of the
body and mind to a demand
or challenge, often associated
with feelings of tension and
negative emotions.
Tips for Success: Sleep
A habit-forming stimulant
found in tobacco, which
raises blood pressure,
increases heart rate, and has
toxic effiects throughout the
Avoid nicotine, which can keep you awake—yet another reason to stop smoking.
Avoid caffieine for six to eight hours before bed. Caffieine remains in the body for three to five hours
on the average, much longer for some people. Remember that many soft drinks contain caffieine.
Don’t eat in the two to three hours before bed. Avoid alcohol before bedtime.
Don’t nap during the day. Napping is the least productive form of rest and often makes you less alert.
It may also prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep.
Exercise earlier in the day (at least several hours before bedtime).
Try to get to bed and wake about the same time every day—your body likes a routine.
Make sure the environment is conducive to sleep: dark, quiet, comfortable, and cool.
Use your bed only for sleeping, not for studying, watching television, or other activities. Going to bed
will become associated with going to sleep.
Establish a presleep winding-down routine, such as taking a hot bath, listening to soothing music, or
reading (not a textbook). Try one of the relaxation techniques described in Chapter 10, Section 6.
A stimulant found in coffiee,
tea, many soft drinks, and
other foods and drinks that
increases alertness and
wakefulness but also may
have adverse effiects in large
An inability to sleep; chronic
If you can’t fall asleep after ten to fifteen minutes in bed, it’s better to get up and do something else
rather than lie there fitfully for hours. Do something you find restful (or boring). Read, or listen to a recorded book. Go back to bed when you’re sleepy.
If you frequently cannot get to sleep or are often awake for a long time during the night, you may
be suffiering from insomnia, a medical condition. Resist the temptation to try over-the-counter sleep
aids. If you have tried the tips listed here and still cannot sleep, talk with your health-care provider or
visit the student health clinic. Many remedies are available for those with a true sleep problem.
Getting enough sleep is very important for wellness and success in college. It’s easy to determine if you’re
getting enough sleep.
Don’t fall for popular myths about sleep. It’s worthwhile to get enough sleep, which gives you an
improved ability to focus and apply yourself more efflciently in your studies and work.
1. List at least three things you should not do before going to bed in order to get a good night’s sleep.
2. Identify one or two things you can do as a regular presleep routine to help you relax and wind down.
Define the terms “substance,” “abuse,” and “addictive.”
Describe physical and mental effiects associated with smoking and frequent or heavy drinking.
List the risks of using drugs.
Know how to get help if you have a substance use habit to break.
Substance is the word health professionals use for most things you might take into your body besides
food. When people talk about substances, they often mean drugs—but alcohol and nicotine are also
drugs and are considered substances.
Substances—any kind of drug—have effiects on the body and mind. People use these substances for
their effiects. But many substances have negative effiects, including being physically or psychologically
addictive. What is important with any substance is to be aware of its effiects on your health and on
your life as a student, and to make smart choices. Use of any substance to the extent that it has negative
effiects is generally considered abuse.
First, consider your own habits and attitudes with the Substance Use Self-Assessment.
S E L F - A S S E S S M E N T
Check the appropriate boxes.
A drug or other chemical
typically used in an
overindulgent manner for its
effiects on the body or mind.
A substance used for treating,
curing, or preventing disease
(prescription and
over-the-counter drugs) or
used without medical reason
to alter the body or mind
(illegal drugs or prescription
drugs used without
Daily Sometimes Never
1. I smoke cigarettes or use smokeless tobacco.
2. I drink beer or other alcohol.
3. I have missed a class because I was hung over from drinking the night before.
4. I have taken a medication that was not prescribed for me.
5. I have used an illegal drug.
Write your answers.
Having the characteristic of
becoming physically or
psychologically habit
forming, causing cravings;
the person becomes
dependent on the substance
and suffiers adverse effiects on
6. If you smoke cigarettes, how many a day do you usually smoke?
7. If you drink alcohol (including beer), on how many days in a typical week do you have at least one drink?
The use of illegal drugs or the
use of prescription or
over-the-counter drugs or
alcohol for other than their
intended purposes or in
excessive amounts.
8. If you drink at parties or when out with friends, how many drinks (or beers) do you typically have at one
9. If you use a pharmaceutical or illegal drug, how often do you take it?
10. Are your habits of smoking, drinking, or using other drugs affiecting your studies or grades?
5.1 Smoking and Tobacco: Why Start, and Why Is It So Hard to Stop?
Everyone knows smoking is harmful to one’s health. Smoking causes cancer and lung and heart disease. Most adult smokers continue smoking not because they really think it won’t harm them but because it’s very difflcult to stop.
A habit-forming stimulant
found in tobacco, which
raises blood pressure,
increases heart rate, and has
toxic effiects throughout the
coronary heart disease
A heart disease caused by
damage to the arteries that
supply blood and oxygen to
the heart.
If you have never smoked or used smokeless tobacco, feel good about your choices. But read this
section anyway because you may have friends now or in the future who smoke, and it’s important to
understand this behavior. If you do smoke, even only rarely as a “social smoker,” be honest with yourself—wouldn’t you like to stop if you thought you could without suffiering? Simply by being in college
now, you’ve shown that you care about your future and your life. You likely care about your health,
Many young smokers think there is plenty of time to quit later. Social smokers, who may have a cigarette only occasionally with a friend, usually think they won’t develop a habit. But smokers are fooling themselves. Nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs in our society today. Admitting this to
yourself is the first step toward becoming smoke free.
First, the good news. Stopping smoking brings immediate health benefits, and the benefits get better over time. Just twenty minutes after quitting, your heart rate drops. After two weeks to three
months, your heart attack risk begins to drop and your lung function begins to improve. After one
year, your added risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker’s. And every year your health
continues to improve.
Tips for Stopping Smoking
Stopping isn’t easy. Many ex-smokers say it was the hardest thing they ever did. Still, over 45 million
adults in the United States once smoked and then successfully stopped.
You know it’s worth the effiort. And it’s easier if you think it through and make a good plan.
There’s lots of help available. Before you quit, the National Cancer Institute suggests you START with
these five important steps:
1. S = Set a quit date.
2. T = Tell family, friends, and coworkers that you plan to quit.
3. A = Anticipate and plan for the challenges you’ll face while quitting.
4. R = Remove cigarettes and other tobacco products from your home, car, and work.
5. T = Talk to your doctor about getting help to quit.
To get ready, download the booklet “Clearing the Air: Quit Smoking Today” at The table of contents of that booklet (Figure 10.3) outlines the basic steps
that will help you be successful.
FI G U RE 1 0 . 3
“Clearing the Air,” a downloadable booklet available at, presents a plan for stopping
smoking that works for many smokers.
When You Really Crave a Cigarette
Remember that the urge to smoke will come and go. Try to wait it out. Use these tips:
Keep other things around instead of cigarettes. Try carrots, pickles, sunflower seeds, apples, celery,
raisins, or sugar-free gum.
Wash your hands or the dishes when you want a cigarette very badly. Or take a shower.
Learn to relax quickly by taking deep breaths.
Take ten slow, deep breaths and hold the last one.
Then breathe out slowly.
Relax all of your muscles.
Picture a soothing, pleasant scene.
Just get away from it all for a moment.
Think only about that peaceful image and nothing else.
Light incense or a candle instead of a cigarette.
Where you are and what is going on can make you crave a cigarette. A change of scene can really
help. Go outside or go to a diffierent room. You can also try changing what you are doing.
No matter what, don’t think, “Just one won’t hurt.” It will hurt. It will undo your work so far.
Remember that trying something to beat the urge is always better than trying nothing.[2]
Get Help to Stop Smoking
A lot of people are not able to stop smoking by themselves, so don’t feel bad if you aren’t successful the
first try. Ask your doctor about other ways to stop. Maybe nicotine-replacement therapy is what
you need. Maybe you need prescription medication. Stop by your college’s student health center and
learn about smoking cessation programs. Your doctor and other health professionals at your school
have a lot of experience helping people—they can help you find what works for you.
5.2 What’s the Big Deal about Alcohol?
Of all the issues that can affiect a student’s health and success in college, drinking causes more problems
than anything else. Everyone knows what happens when you drink too much. Your judgment is impaired and you may behave in risky ways. Your health may be affiected. Your studies likely are affiected.
Most college students report drinking at least some alcohol at some time—and even those who do
not drink are often affiected by others who do. Here are a few facts about alcohol use among college students from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:
Death. Each year, 1,700 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related
unintentional injuries, and 599,000 students are injured.
< Assault. More than 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another
student who has been drinking.
< Sexual abuse. More than 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcoholrelated sexual assault or date rape.
< Academic problems. About 25 percent of college students report academic consequences of their
drinking, including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving
lower grades overall.
< Health problems. More than 150,000 students develop an alcohol-related health problem.
< Alcohol abuse and dependence. In the past twelve months, 31 percent of college students met
criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol abuse and 6 percent for a diagnosis of alcohol dependence.[3]
So why is drinking so popular if it causes so many problems? You probably already know the answer to
that: most college students say they have more fun when drinking. They’re not going to stop drinking
just because someone lectures them about it.
Like everything else that affiects your health and happiness—eating, exercise, use of other substances—drinking is a matter of personal choice. Like most decisions we all face, there are trade-offis.
The most that anyone can reasonably ask of you is to be smart in your decisions. That means understanding the effiects of alcohol and deciding to take control.
The use of a nicotine product
(in gum, patches, etc.)
intended to replace nicotine
obtained from smoking,
thereby making it easier for
the person to stop smoking.
smoking cessation
The general term for any of
many diffierent programs
developed to help people
stop smoking, including use
of medications, counseling,
group therapy and support,
hypnosis, and other
Being abnormally tolerant to
and dependent on
something that is
psychologically or physically
habit forming (especially
alcohol or narcotic drugs);
Myths about Alcohol
Myth: I can drink and still be in control.
Fact: Drinking impairs your judgment, which increases the likelihood that you will do something you’ll later regret such as having unprotected sex, being involved in date rape, damaging property, or being victimized by
Myth: Drinking isn’t all that dangerous.
Fact: One in three 18- to 24-year-olds admitted to emergency rooms for serious injuries is intoxicated. And alcohol is also associated with homicides, suicides, and drownings.
Myth: I can sober up quickly if I have to.
Fact: It takes about three hours to eliminate the alcohol content of two drinks, depending on your weight.
Nothing can speed up this process—not even coffiee or cold showers.
Myth: I can manage to drive well enough after a few drinks.
Fact: About one-half of all fatal trafflc crashes among 18- to 24-year-olds involve alcohol. If you are under 21,
driving after drinking is illegal and you could lose your license.
Myth: Beer doesn’t have as much alcohol as hard liquor.
Fact: A 12-ounce bottle of beer has the same amount of alcohol as a standard shot of 80-proof liquor (either
straight or in a mixed drink) or 5 ounces of wine.[4]
College Alcohol Awareness Programs
Colleges have recognized the problems resulting from underage and excessive alcohol use, and in recent years they have designed programs to help students become more aware of the problems. If you
are a new student, you may be in such a program now. Two popular online programs, AlcoholEdu and
My Student Body, are used at many schools.
FI GU R E 1 0 . 4 The AlcoholEdu Online Alcohol Awareness Program from Outside the Classroom
The goal of these courses is not to preach against drinking. You’ll learn more about the effiects of alcohol on the body and mind. You’ll learn about responsible drinking versus high-risk drinking. You’ll
think about your own attitudes and learn coping strategies to help prevent or manage a problem. These
courses are designed for you—to help you succeed in college and life. They’re worth taking seriously.
How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?
There’s no magic number for how many drinks a person can have and how often. If you’re of legal
drinking age, you may not experience any problems if you have one or two drinks from time to time.
“Moderate drinking” is not more than two drinks per day for men or one per day for women. More
than that is heavy drinking.
As with most things that can affiect your health and your well-being as a student, what’s important
is being honest with yourself. You’re likely drinking too much or too often if
you have missed classes or work because you were hung over or overslept after drinking;
your friends or family members have hinted that you drink too much, or you’ve hidden your
drinking from others;
< your drinking is causing trouble in a relationship;
< you can’t remember what you did or said while drinking;
< you need to drink to have a good time at a party or with friends;
< you’ve driven a car when you know you shouldn’t have after drinking;
< you binge drink (consume five or more drinks at a time).
Did you know that one night of heavy drinking can affiect how well you think for two or three weeks afterward? This can really affiect how well you perform as a student.
Pressures to Party
Most of us can remember times when we were influenced by our friends and others around us to behave in some way we might not have otherwise. Say, for example, I have a big test tomorrow, and I’ve
been studying for hours, and just when I knock offi to relax for a while, a friend stops by with a six-pack
of beer. I’d planned to get to bed early, but my friend pops open a beer and sticks it in my hand, saying
it will help me relax. So I tell myself just one, or maybe two—after all, that’s not really drinking. And
let’s say I stop after two (or three) and get to bed. Maybe I don’t sleep quite as well, but I still pass the
test in the morning. So—was that peer pressure or my decision?
There are no easy answers! What matters is that you think about your own habits and choices and
how to take control of your own life.
Read this case study about a student who joins a college fraternity and feels pressured to drink.
You may be very diffierent from him—maybe you’re older and work full time and are taking night
courses—but you still should be able to relate to his issues. As you answer the questions about his situation, think about how the same questions might also apply to someone in your own situation.
Pressured to Drink
When John decided to pledge a fraternity in college, he knew there would likely be drinking in the house. He
had had a few beers at parties through high school but had never binged and felt there was nothing wrong
with that as long as he kept it under control. But he was surprised how much alcohol flowed through the fraternity house, and not just at parties—and the house advisor just seemed to look the other way. He wanted to
fit in, so he usually had a few whenever his roommate or others called him away from studying. One night he
definitely drank too much. He slept late, missed his first two classes, and felt rotten most of the day. He told
himself he’d drink only on weekends and only in moderation. Being underage didn’t bother him, but his
grades hadn’t been all that great in high school, and he didn’t want to screw up his first year in college. But it
was only one day before some of the older fraternity brothers interrupted his studying again and stuck a beer
in his hand. He didn’t know what to do.
1. Is John at risk for developing any problems if he tries to fit in with the drinkers while promising himself he
would drink only moderately? Why or why not?
2. If John decides to hold firm and drink only on weekends when he didn’t have to study, is he still at any risk
for developing a problem? Why or why not, depending on what circumstances?
3. If John decides to tell his fraternity brothers he does not want to drink, what should he say or do if they
continue to pressure him?
What to Do
If you think you may be drinking too much, then you probably are. Can you stop—or drink moderately
if you are of age—and still have fun with your friends? Of course. Here are some tips for enjoying yourself in social situations when others are drinking:
Drink only moderately (if above legal age) and slowly. Your body processes alcohol at a rate of
about one drink an hour—drinking faster than that leads to problems. Sip slowly. Set yourself a
limit and stick to it.
< Drink a mixer without the alcohol. It tastes just as good or better. Alternate alcoholic drinks with
nonalcoholic ones to slow down the pace.
< Rather than just standing around with others who are drinking, stay active: move about and
mingle with diffierent people, dance, and so on.
< If someone tries to make you uncomfortable for not drinking, go talk to someone else.
Because drinking is a serious issue in many places, it’s a good idea to know what to do if you find yourself with a friend who has had too much to drink:
Stay with the person if there is any risk of him hurting himself (driving, biking) or passing out.
Take away his keys if necessary.
< If he passes out after drinking a great deal of alcohol fast and cannot be awakened, get medical
< An intoxicated person who falls asleep or passes out on his back is at risk of choking on
vomit—roll him on his side or face down.
< Do not try to give him food or other substances in an effiort to sober him up.
< Don’t put him in a cold shower, which could cause unconsciousness.
If You Feel You Need Help
Visit the student health center or talk with your college counselor. They understand how you feel and
have a lot of experience with students feeling the same way. They can help.
5.3 Prescription and Illegal Drugs
People use drugs for the same reasons people use alcohol. They say they enjoy getting high. They may
say a drug helps them relax or unwind, have fun, enjoy the company of others, or escape the pressures
of being a student. While alcohol is a legal drug for those above the drinking age, most other
drugs—including the use of many prescription drugs not prescribed for the person taking them—are
illegal. They usually involve more serious legal consequences if the user is caught. Some people may
feel there’s safety in numbers: if a lot of people are using a drug, or drinking, then how can it be too
bad? But other drugs carry the same risks as alcohol for health problems, a risk of death or injury, and a
serious impact on your ability to do well as a student.
As with alcohol, the choice is yours. What’s important is to understand what you’re doing and
make smart choices. What’s the gain, and what are the risks and costs?
While society may seem to condone drinking, and the laws regarding underage drinking or being
drunk in public may not seem too harsh, the legal reality of being caught with an illegal drug can impact the rest of your life. Arrest and conviction may result in being expelled from college—even with a
first offiense. A conviction is a permanent legal record that can keep you from getting the job you may
be going to college for.
Although the effiects of diffierent drugs vary widely, a single use of a drug can have serious effiects
and consequences. Even if you’re told that a pill is a prescription medication whose effiects are mild or
safe, can you really be sure of the exact ingredients and strength of that pill? Do you fully understand
how it can affiect you with repeated use? Can it be addictive? Could it show up on an unexpected random drug test at work?
Table 10.1 lists some of the possible effiects of drugs used by college students. Good decisions also
involve being honest with oneself. Why do I use (or am thinking about using) this drug? Am I trying to
escape some aspect of my life (stress, a bad job, a boring class)? Could the effiects of using this drug be
worse than what I’m trying to escape?
prescription drug
A drug prescribed to a
specific person for a specific
medical condition by a
health-care provider; many
prescription drugs are illegal
when used by someone
other than the person for
whom it was prescribed.
TABLE 1 0 . 1 Common Prescription and Illegal Drugs on Campuses
Adverse Effiects
Drug and
Common Names
Anabolic Steroids
Liver cancer, sterility, masculine traits in women and
development feminine traits in men, aggression, depression, mood
feelings of
Addiction; slowed pulse and breathing; lowered blood
pressure; poor concentration; fatigue; confusion; impaired respiratory arrest,
coordination, memory, and judgment
Pain relief,
OxyContin, Vicodin,
Addiction, nausea, constipation, confusion, sedation,
respiratory depression
Respiratory arrest,
coma, death
Pain relief,
Addiction, slurred speech, impaired vision, respiratory
failure, coma,
Pain relief,
Addiction, drowsiness, nausea, constipation, confusion,
sedation, respiratory depression
Respiratory arrest,
coma, death
feelings of
feelings of
Addiction, irritability, anxiety, increased blood pressure,
paranoia, psychosis, depression, aggression, convulsions,
dizziness, sleeplessness
Cocaine, Crack
feelings of
Addiction, paranoia, hallucinations, aggression, insomnia,
and depression, elevated blood pressure and heart rate,
increased respiratory rate, insomnia, anxiety, restlessness,
Seizures, heart
attack, death
Panic, anxiety, depression, paranoia, nausea, blurred
vision, increased heart rate, hallucinations, fainting, chills,
sleep problems
vomiting, heart
attack, death
Marijuana, Hash
Impaired or reduced comprehension, altered sense of
time; reduced ability to perform tasks requiring
concentration and coordination; paranoia; intense anxiety
attacks; impairments in learning, memory, perception,
and judgment; difflculty speaking, listening effiectively,
thinking, retaining knowledge, problem solving
Hallucinogen: Elevated blood pressure, sleeplessness, tremors, chronic
altered states recurring hallucinations (flashbacks)
of perception
and feeling
Fever, severe headaches, paranoia, excessive repetition of seizures,
movements and meaningless tasks, tremors, muscle
Resources for Help
If you have questions or concerns related to drug use, your doctor or student health center can help.
Check these Web sites for additional information:
Drug Information Online:
National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information:
< Drug and Alcohol Treatment Hotline: 1-800-662-HELP
Excessive drinking or substance abuse is a common—but unhealthy—response to the stresses of college
life. While the decisions are yours, it’s important to understand the effiects of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs
and how they impact your life.
Quitting smoking is hard, but it’s clearly worth it—and lots of help is available. If you’re a smoker, make this
the year you become proud of yourself for quitting.
If you like to drink, be honest with yourself. How much does drinking enrich your life, and how much do
the effiects of drinking interfere with your life? Make smart decisions so that you live your life to its fullest
without regrets about losing control.
Avoiding drugs can be a complicated issue, certainly not as simple as simply deciding to say no. But you’ve
already made the decision to attend college, and that’s a smart decision. Make smart choices in other areas
of your life as well.
1. “Social smoking”—having a cigarette just every now and then with a friend—may not have significant
health effiects, but why is this still a problem?
2. For each of the following statements about drinking, circle T for true or F for false:
T F After a few drinks, you can sober up more quickly by eating or drinking coffiee.
T F A fourth of college students experience academic consequences from their drinking.
T F A 12-ounce beer has about half the alcohol of a standard shot of 80-proof liquor.
T F Moderate drinking is defined as no more than four drinks a day for men or two drinks a day for
T F A night of heavy drinking affiects your thinking ability for up to two weeks afterward.
3. If smoking marijuana relaxes you, can it minimize the stress you may feel over time in your life? Why or
why not?
List common causes of stress for college students.
Describe the physical, mental, and emotional effiects of persistent stress.
List healthy ways college students can manage or cope with stress.
Develop your personal plan for managing stress in your life.
We all live with occasional stress. Since college students often feel even more stress than most people,
it’s important to understand it and learn ways to deal with it so that it doesn’t disrupt your life.
Stress is a natural response of the body and mind to a demand or challenge. The thing that causes
stress, called a stressor, captures our attention and causes a physical and emotional reaction. Stressors
include physical threats, such as a car we suddenly see coming at us too fast, and the stress reaction
likely includes jumping out of the way—with our heart beating fast and other physical changes. Most of
our stressors are not physical threats but situations or events like an upcoming test or an emotional
break-up. Stressors also include long-lasting emotional and mental concerns such as worries about
money or finding a job. Take the Stress Self-Assessment.
A natural response of the
body and mind to a demand
or challenge, often associated
with feelings of tension and
negative emotions.
Anything, such as an event or
situation, that causes a
person stress.
S E L F - A S S E S S M E N T
Check the appropriate boxes.
Daily Sometimes Never
1. I feel mild stress that does not disrupt my everyday life.
2. I am sometimes so stressed out that I have trouble with my routine activities.
3. I find myself eating or drinking just because I’m feeling stressed.
4. I have lain awake at night unable to sleep because I was feeling stressed.
5. Stress has affiected my relationships with other people.
Write your answers.
6. What is the number one cause of stress in your life?
7. What else causes you stress?
8. What effiect does stress have on your studies and academic performance?
9. Regardless of the sources of your own stress, what do you think you can do to better cope with the stress
you can’t avoid?
6.1 What Causes Stress?
A positive and stimulating
kind or level of stress.
Not all stressors are bad things. Exciting, positive things also cause a type of stress, called eustress.
Falling in love, getting an unexpected sum of money, acing an exam you’d worried about—all of these
are positive things that affiect the body and mind in ways similar to negative stress: you can’t help
thinking about it, you may lose your appetite and lie awake at night, and your routine life may be momentarily disrupted.
But the kind of stress that causes most trouble results from negative stressors. Life events that usually cause significant stress include the following:
Serious illness or injury
Serious illness, injury, or death of a family member or loved one
< Losing a job or sudden financial catastrophe
< Unwanted pregnancy
< Divorce or ending a long-term relationship (including parents’ divorce)
< Being arrested or convicted of a crime
< Being put on academic probation or suspended
Life events like these usually cause a lot of stress that may begin suddenly and disrupt one’s life in many
ways. Fortunately, these stressors do not occur every day and eventually end—though they can be very
severe and disruptive when experienced. Some major life stresses, such as having a parent or family
member with a serious illness, can last a long time and may require professional help to cope with
Everyday kinds of stressors are far more common but can add up and produce as much stress as a
major life event:
Anxiety about not having enough time for classes, job, studies, and social life
Worries about grades, an upcoming test, or an assignment
< Money concerns
< Conflict with a roommate, someone at work, or family member
< Anxiety or doubts about one’s future or difflculty choosing a major or career
Frequent colds, allergy attacks, other continuing health issues
< Concerns about one’s appearance, weight, eating habits, and so on.
< Relationship tensions, poor social life, loneliness
< Time-consuming hassles such as a broken-down car or the need to find a new apartment
Take a moment and reflect on the list above. How many of these stressors have you experienced in the
last month? The last year? Circle all the ones that you have experienced. Now go back to your Stress
Self-Assessment and look at what you wrote there for causes of your stress. Write any additional things
that cause you stress on the blank lines above.
How many stressors have you circled and written in? There is no magic number of stressors that
an “average” or “normal” college student experiences—because everyone is unique. In addition,
stressors come and go: the stress caused by a midterm exam tomorrow morning may be gone by noon,
replaced by feeling good about how you did. Still, most college students are likely to circle about half
the items on this list.
But it’s not the number of stressors that counts. You might have circled only one item on that
list—but it could produce so much stress for you that you’re just as stressed out as someone else who
circled all of them. The point of this exercise is to start by understanding what causes your own stress
as a base for learning what to do about it.
6.2 What’s Wrong with Stress?
Physically, stress prepares us for action: the classic “fight-or-flight” reaction when confronted with a
danger. Our heart is pumping fast, and we’re breathing faster to supply the muscles with energy to fight
or flee. Many physical effiects in the body prepare us for whatever actions we may need to take to survive a threat.
But what about nonphysical stressors, like worrying about grades? Are there any positive effiects
there? Imagine what life would feel like if you never had worries, never felt any stress at all. If you never
worried about grades or doing well on a test, how much studying would you do for it? If you never
thought at all about money, would you make any effiort to save it or make it? Obviously, stress can be a
good thing when it motivates us to do something, whether it’s study, work, resolving a conflict with another, and so on. So it’s not stress itself that’s negative—it’s unresolved or persistent stress that starts to
have unhealthy effiects. Chronic (long-term) stress is associated with many physical changes and illnesses, including the following:
Weakened immune system, making you more likely to catch a cold and to suffier from any
illness longer
< More frequent digestive system problems, including constipation or diarrhea, ulcers, and
immune system
The body system, involving
many diffierent organs and
body tissues, responsible for
defending the body against
infection and disease.
Elevated blood pressure
Increased risk of diabetes
< Muscle and back pain
< More frequent headaches, fatigue, and insomnia
< Greater risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular problems over the long term
Chronic or acute (intense short-term) stress also affiects our minds and emotions in many ways:
Difflculty thinking clearly or concentrating
< Poor memory
< More frequent negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, frustration, powerlessness,
resentment, or nervousness—and a general negative outlook on life
< Greater difflculty dealing with others because of irritability, anger, or avoidance
No wonder we view stress as such a negative thing! As much as we’d like to eliminate all
stressors,however, it just can’t happen. Too many things in the real world cause stress and always will.
blood pressure
The pressure blood exerts on
the walls of blood vessels,
resulting from complex
processes in the body; high
blood pressure is associated
with several diseases and
health problems.
A disease in which the body
has high levels of sugar in the
blood because of an inability
to manage blood glucose;
diabetes is associated with a
range of serious health
An inability to sleep; chronic
6.3 Unhealthy Responses to Stress
Since many stressors are unavoidable, the question is what to do about the resulting stress. A person
can try to ignore or deny stress for a while, but then it keeps building and starts causing all those problems. So we have to do something.
Consider first what you have typically done in the past when you felt most stressed; use the Past
Stress-Reduction Habits Self-Assessment.
S T R E S S - R E D U C T I O N
S E L F - A S S E S S M E N T
On a scale of 1 to 5, rate each of the following behaviors for how often you have experienced it because of
high stress levels.
Stress Response
Never Seldom Sometimes Often Usually Always
1. Drinking alcohol
2. Drinking lots of coffiee
3. Sleeping a lot
4. Eating too much
5. Eating too little
6. Smoking or drugs
7. Having arguments
8. Sitting around depressed
9. Watching television or surfing the Web 0
10. Complaining to friends
11. Exercising, jogging, biking
12. Practicing yoga or tai chi
13. Meditating
14. Using relaxation techniques
15. Talking with an instructor or counselor 0
Total your scores for questions 1–10:
your scores for questions 11–15:
Subtract the second number from the first:
Interpretation: If the subtraction of the score for questions 11 to 15 from the first score is a positive number,
then your past coping methods for dealing with stress have not been as healthy and productive as they could
be. Items 1 to 10 are generally not effiective ways of dealing with stress, while items 11 to 15 usually are. If you
final score is over 20, you’re probably like most beginning college students—feeling a lot of stress and not yet
sure how best to deal with it.
What’s wrong with those stress-reduction behaviors listed first? Why not watch television or get a lot of
sleep when you’re feeling stressed, if that makes you feel better? While it may feel better temporarily to
escape feelings of stress in those ways, ultimately they may cause more stress themselves. If you’re worried about grades and being too busy to study as much as you need to, then letting an hour or two slip
by watching television will make you even more worried later because then you have even less time.
Eating too much may make you sluggish and less able to focus, and if you’re trying to lose weight,
you’ll now feel just that much more stressed by what you’ve done. Alcohol, caffieine, smoking, and
drugs all generally increase one’s stress over time. Complaining to friends? Over time, your friends will
tire of hearing it or tire of arguing with you because a complaining person isn’t much fun to be around.
So eventually you may find yourself even more alone and stressed.
Yet there is a bright side: there are lots of very positive ways to cope with stress that will also improve your health, make it easier to concentrate on your studies, and make you a happier person
6.4 Coping with Stress
Look back at your list of stressors that you circled earlier. For each, consider whether it is external (like
bad job hours or not having enough money) or internal, originating in your attitudes and thoughts.
Mark each item with an E (external) or an I (internal).
You may be able to eliminate many external stressors. Talk to your boss about changing your work
hours. If you have money problems, work on a budget you can live with (see Chapter 11), look for a
new job, or reduce your expenses by finding a cheaper apartment, selling your car, and using public
What about other external stressors? Taking so many classes that you don’t have the time to study
for all of them? Keep working on your time management skills (Chapter 2). Schedule your days carefully and stick to the schedule. Take fewer classes next term if necessary. What else can you do to eliminate external stressors? Change apartments, get a new roommate, find better child care—consider all
your options. And don’t hesitate to talk things over with a college counselor, who may offier other
Internal stressors, however, are often not easily resolved. We can’t make all stressors go away, but
we can learn how to cope so that we don’t feel so stressed out most of the time. We can take control of
our lives. We can find healthy coping strategies.
All the topics in this chapter involve stress one way or another. Many of the healthy habits that
contribute to our wellness and happiness also reduce stress and minimize its effiects.
Get Some Exercise
Exercise, especially aerobic exercise, is a great way to help reduce stress. Exercise increases the production of certain hormones, which leads to a better mood and helps counter depression and anxiety.
Exercise helps you feel more energetic and focused so that you are more productive in your work and
studies and thus less likely to feel stressed. Regular exercise also helps you sleep better, which further
reduces stress.
Get More Sleep
When sleep deprived, you feel more stress and are less able to concentrate on your work or studies.
Many people drink more coffiee or other caffieinated beverages when feeling sleepy, and caffieine contributes further to stress-related emotions such as anxiety and nervousness.
Manage Your Money
Worrying about money is one of the leading causes of stress. Try the financial management skills in
Chapter 11 to reduce this stress.
Adjust Your Attitude
You know the saying about the optimist who sees the glass as half full and the pessimist who sees the
same glass as half empty. Guess which one feels more stress?
Much of the stress you feel may be rooted in your attitudes toward school, your work—your whole
life. If you don’t feel good about these things, how do you change? To begin with, you really need to
think about yourself. What makes you happy? Are you expecting your college career to be perfect and
always exciting, with never a dull class or reading assignment? Or can you be happy that you are in fact
succeeding in college and foresee a great life and career ahead?
Maybe you just need to take a fun elective course to balance that “serious” course that you’re not
enjoying so much. Maybe you just need to play an intramural sport to feel as good as you did playing in
high school. Maybe you just need to take a brisk walk every morning to feel more alert and stimulated.
Maybe listening to some great music on the way to work will brighten your day. Maybe calling up a
friend to study together for that big test will make studying more fun.
No one answer works for everyone—you have to look at your life, be honest with yourself about
what affiects your daily attitude, and then look for ways to make changes. The good news is that although old negative habits can be hard to break, once you’ve turned positive changes into new habits,
they will last into a brighter future.
aerobic exercise
Brisk physical activity that
requires the heart and lungs
to work harder to meet the
body’s increased oxygen
A substance produced in the
body that has physical,
mental, or emotional effiects.
Learn a Relaxation Technique
relaxation technique
Any specific physical or
mental practice developed to
help a person calm the mind,
relax the body, or both to
lower stress and promote rest
or concentration.
Diffierent relaxation techniques can be used to help minimize stress. Following are a few tried-andtested ways to relax when stress seems overwhelming. You can learn most of these through books, online exercises, CDs or MP3s, and DVDs available at your library or student health center. Practicing
one of them can have dramatic effiects.
Deep breathing. Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight. Breathe in slowly and
deeply through your nose, filling your lungs completely. Exhale slowly and smoothly through
your mouth. Concentrate on your breathing and feel your chest expanding and relaxing. After
five to ten minutes, you will feel more relaxed and focused.
< Progressive muscle relaxation. With this technique, you slowly tense and then relax the body’s
major muscle groups. The sensations and mental concentration produce a calming state.
< Meditation. Taking many forms, meditation may involve focusing on your breathing, a specific
visual image, or a certain thought, while clearing the mind of negative energy. Many podcasts are
available to help you find a form of meditation that works best for you.
< Yoga or tai chi. Yoga, tai chi, and other exercises that focus on body position and slow, gradual
movements are popular techniques for relaxation and stress reduction. You can learn these
techniques through a class or from a DVD.
< Music and relaxation CDs and MP3s. Many diffierent relaxation techniques have been developed
for audio training. Simply play the recording and relax as you are guided through the techniques.
< Massage. Regular massages are a way to relax both body and mind. If you can’t affiord a weekly
massage but enjoy its effiects, a local massage therapy school may offier more affiordable massage
from students and beginning practitioners.
Get Counseling
If stress is seriously disrupting your studies or your life regardless of what you do to try to reduce it,
you may need help. There’s no shame in admitting that you need help, and college counselors and
health professionals are there to help.
Tips for Success: Stress
Pay attention to, rather than ignore, things that cause you stress and change what you can.
Accept what you can’t change and resolve to make new habits that will help you cope.
Get regular exercise and enough sleep.
Evaluate your priorities, work on managing your time, and schedule restful activities in your daily life.
Students who feel in control of their lives report feeling much less stress than those who feel that
circumstances control them.
Slow down and focus on one thing at a time—don’t check for e-mail or text messages every few
minutes! Know when to say no to distractions.
Break old habits involving caffieine, alcohol, and other substances.
Remember your long-range goals and don’t obsess over short-term difflculties.
Make time to enjoy being with friends.
Explore new activities and hobbies that you enjoy.
Find a relaxation technique that works for you and practice regularly.
Get help if you’re having a hard time coping with emotional stress.
All college students feel some stress. The amount of stress you feel depends on many factors, including your
sleeping habits, your exercise and activity levels, your use of substances, your time management and study
skills, your attitude, and other factors. As you look at your present life and how much stress you may be feeling, what short-term changes can you start making in the next week or two to feel less stressed and more in
control? By the end of the semester or term, how would you ideally like your life to be diffierent—and how can
you best accomplish that? Write your thoughts here.
Everyone feels stress, and many of the things that cause stress won’t go away regardless of what we do.
But we can examine our lives, figure out what causes most of our stress, and learn to do something about
Stress leads to a lot of diffierent unhealthy responses that actually increase our stress over the long term.
But once we understand how stress affiects us, we can begin to take steps to cope in healthier ways.
1. Why should it not be your goal to try to eliminate stress from your life completely?
2. List three or more unhealthful effiects of stress.
3. Name at least two common external stressors you may be able to eliminate from your life.
4. Name at least two common internal stressors you may feel that you need to learn to cope with because
you can’t eliminate them.
5. List at least three ways you can minimize the stress you feel.
1. Explain the common causes of anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions in college-age
2. Describe changes you can make in your life to achieve or maintain emotional balance.
3. List characteristics of healthy relationships.
4. Describe the steps of conflict resolution.
Your emotional health is just as important as your physical health—and maybe more so. If you’re unhappy much of the time, you will not do as well as in college—or life—as you can if you’re happy. You
will feel more stress, and your health will suffier.
Still, most of us are neither happy nor unhappy all the time. Life is constantly changing, and our
emotions change with it. But sometimes we experience more negative emotions than normally, and our
emotional health may suffier. Use the Emotional Self-Assessment to evaluate your emotional health.
S E L F - A S S E S S M E N T
Check the appropriate boxes.
Daily Sometimes Never
1. I sometimes feel anxious or depressed—without disruption of my everyday
2. I sometimes feel so anxious or depressed that I have trouble with routine
3. I sometimes feel lonely.
4. I sometimes feel that I have little control over my life.
5. I have sometimes just wanted to give up.
6. Negative emotions have sometimes kept me from studying or getting my
work done.
7. Negative emotions have affiected my relationships with others.
Write your answers.
8. Describe your emotional mood on most days.
9. Describe what you’d ideally like to feel like all the time.
10. What specific things are keeping you from feeling what you’d ideally like to feel like most of the time?
11. Are you happy with your relationships with others?
12. What do you think you can do to be a happier person?
7.1 Problematic Emotions
When is an emotion problematic? Is it bad to feel anxious about a big test coming up or to feel sad after
breaking up a romantic relationship?
It is normal to experience negative emotions. College students face so many demands and stressful
situations that many naturally report often feeling anxious, depressed, or lonely. These emotions become problematic only when they persist and begin to affiect your life in negative ways. That’s when it’s
time to work on your emotional health—just as you’d work on your physical health when illness
Feelings of worry, tension,
and nervousness with or
without a specific focus of
concern; severe or persistent
anxiety can be a mental
Anxiety is one of the most common emotions college students experience, often as a result of the demands of college, work, and family and friends. It’s difflcult to juggle everything, and you may end up
feeling not in control, stressed, and anxious.
Anxiety typically results from stress. Some anxiety is often a good thing if it leads to studying for a
test, focusing on a problem that needs to be resolved, better management your time and money, and so
on. But if anxiety disrupts your focus and makes you freeze up rather than take action, then it may become problematic. Using stress-reduction techniques often helps reduce anxiety to a manageable level.
Anxiety is easier to deal with when you know its cause. Then you can take steps to gain control
over the part of your life causing the anxiety. But anxiety can become excessive and lead to a dread of
everyday situations. There are five types of more serious anxiety:
A natural response of the
body and mind to a demand
or challenge, often associated
with feelings of tension and
negative emotions.
1. Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry and tension,
even when there is little or nothing to provoke it. The person may have physical symptoms,
especially fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, muscle aches, difflculty swallowing, trembling,
twitching, irritability, sweating, and hot flashes.
2. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts
(obsessions), repetitive behaviors (compulsions), or both. Repetitive behaviors such as hand
washing, counting, checking, or cleaning are often performed with the hope of preventing
obsessive thoughts or making them go away.
3. Panic disorder is characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied
by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath,
dizziness, or abdominal distress.
4. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal
in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger
PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military
5. Social phobia (or social anxiety disorder) is a persistent, intense, and chronic fear of being
watched and judged by others and being embarrassed or humiliated by one’s own actions. Their
fear may be so severe that it interferes with work or school, and other ordinary activities. Physical
symptoms often accompany the intense anxiety of social phobia and include blushing, profuse
sweating, trembling, nausea, and difflculty talking.
These five types of anxiety go beyond the normal anxiety everyone feels at some times. If you feel your
anxiety is like any of these, see your health-care provider. Effiective treatments are available to help you
regain control.
Loneliness is a normal feeling that most people experience at some time. College students away from
home for the first time are likely to feel lonely at first. Older students may also feel lonely if they no
longer see their old friends. Loneliness involves not feeling connected with others. One person may
need only one friend to not feel lonely; others need to feel more connected with a group. There’s no set
pattern for feeling lonely.
If you are feeling lonely, there are many things you can do to meet others and feel connected.
Don’t sit alone in your room bemoaning the absence of friends. That will only cause more stress and
emotional distress. You will likely start making new friends through going to classes, working, studying, and living in the community. But you can jump-start that process by taking active steps such as
Realize you don’t have to be physically with friends in order to stay connected. Many students use
social Web sites to stay connected with friends at other colleges or in other locations. Telephone
calls, instant messaging, and e-mail work for many.
< Understand that you’re not alone in feeling lonely. Many others like you are just waiting for the
opportunity to connect, and you will meet them and form new friendships fast once you start
reaching out.
< Become involved in campus opportunities to meet others. Every college has a wide range of clubs
for students with diffierent interests. If you’re not the “joiner” type, look for individuals in your
classes with whom you think you may have something in common and ask them if they’d like to
study for a test together or work together on a class project.
< Remember that loneliness is a temporary thing—it’s only a matter of time until you make new
If your loneliness persists and you seem unable to make friends, then it’s a good idea to talk with your
counselor or someone at the student health center. They can help.
An emotional state of
sadness and feeling isolated
from or not connected to
A despondent emotional
state with feelings of
pessimism and sometimes
feelings of inadequacy;
severe or persistent
depression affiecting one’s
daily life can be a mental
Depression, like anxiety and loneliness, is commonly experienced by college students. It may be a
mild sadness resulting from specific circumstances or be intense feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Many people feel depressed from time to time because of common situations:
Feeling overwhelmed by pressures to study, work, and meet other obligations
< Not having enough time (or money) to do the things you want to do
< Experiencing problems in a relationship, friendship, or work situation
< Feeling overweight, unhealthy, or not in control of oneself
< Feeling that your new life as a student lacks some of the positive dimensions of your former life
< Not having enough excitement in your life
Depression, like stress, can lead to unhealthy consequences such as poor sleep, overeating or loss of appetite, substance abuse, relationship problems, or withdrawal from activities that formerly brought joy.
For most people, depression is a temporary state. But severe depression can have crippling effiects. Not
everyone experiences the same symptoms, but the following are most common:
Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
< Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
< Irritability or restlessness
< Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
< Fatigue and decreased energy
< Difflculty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
< Insomnia, early morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
< Overeating or appetite loss
< Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
< Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems
If you have feelings like this that last for weeks at a time and affiect your daily life, your depression is
more severe than “normal,” temporary depression. It’s time to see your health-care provider and get
treatment as you would for any other illness.
Suicidal Feelings
Severe depression often makes a person feel there is no hope—and therefore many people with depression do not seek help. In reality, depression can be successfully treated, but only if the person seeks
Suicidal feelings, which can result from severe depression, are more common in college students
than in the past. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death in American college students (after
accidents). In most cases, the person had severe depression and was not receiving treatment. Recognizing severe depression and seeking treatment is crucial.
Depression can strike almost anyone at any age at any kind of college. It is a myth that high-pressure colleges have higher suicide rates or that students who feel compelled to excel because of college
pressures are more likely to commit suicide. In reality, anyone can be ill with severe depression and, if
not treated, become suicidal.
Following are risk factors for suicide:
Depression and other mental disorders or a substance-abuse disorder (more than 90 percent of
people who die by suicide have these risk factors)
< Prior suicide attempt
< Family history of mental disorder, substance abuse, or suicide
< Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
< Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others, such as family members, peers, or media figures
Warning Signs for Suicide
Being depressed or sad most of the time
Having feelings of worthlessness, shame, or hopelessness about the future
Withdrawing from friends and family members
Talking about suicide or death
Being unable to get over a recent loss (broken relationship, loss of job, etc.)
Experiencing changes in behavior, sleep patterns, or eating habits
If you or a friend is in a crisis and needs help at any time, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Call for yourself or for someone you care about. All calls are
If you think someone is suicidal, do not leave him or her alone. Try to get the person to seek immediate help by calling the hotline number. Many campuses also have twenty-four-hour resources. In
an emergency, call 911. Try to ensure that the person does not have access to a firearm or other potential tool for suicide, including medications.
7.2 Achieving Emotional Balance
Emotional balance is an essential element of wellness—and for succeeding in college. Emotional balance doesn’t mean that you never experience a negative emotion, because these emotions are usually
natural and normal. Emotional balance means we balance the negative with the positive, that we can be
generally happy even if we’re saddened by some things.
Emotional balance starts with being aware of our emotions and understanding them. If you’re feeling angry, stop and think about the real cause of your anger. Are you really angry because your friend
said something about one of your bad habits, or are you angry because you haven’t been able to break
that habit? Are you feeling anxiety because you’re worried you might not be cut out for college, or are
you just anxious about that test tomorrow?
See the “Tips for Success” for other ways you can achieve and maintain a healthy emotional
Tips for Success: Emotional Health
Accept that most emotions can’t be directly controlled. But the things you do—such as getting
exercise, using a relaxation technique, trying the various stress-reduction methods discussed in this
chapter—do improve your emotional state.
Connect with others. Your emotional state is less likely to change when you keep to yourself and
“stew over” the feeling.
Develop your empathy for others. Empathy involves recognizing the emotions that others are feeling.
You’ll find yourself in better emotional balance as a result, and your relationships will improve.
Be honest in your relationships. If you try to hide your feelings, the other person will know something
is wrong and may react the wrong way.
Understand that negative emotions are temporary. You may be feeling bad now, but it will pass in
time. But if a negative feeling does last a long time, recognize that you likely need help resolving
it—and that help is available.
If you’ve just become a college student, know that the first term is usually the hardest. Hang in there.
Once you’ve developed effiective study habits and time management skills, each term will be easier
and happier than the one before.
7.3 Relationships
Romantic relationships are often as much a part of a rich emotional life for college students as for anyone else. But the added challenges of college, especially while also working and maintaining a family
life, often stress these relationships. You may have to give extra attention to a relationship to keep it
healthy and avoid conflicts that lead to unhappiness and other problems.
Building Relationships
Ideally, a healthy relationship should have these characteristics:
A state of physical, emotional,
mental, and social well-being,
not merely the absence of
The ability to understand and
share the feelings of another
Both partners should respect each other as individuals with unique interests and personality
traits. Don’t expect your partner to be just like you; embrace rather than reject diffierences. Both
partners should be supportive of each other.
< Both partners should trust each other and be honest with each other. You must feel that you can
open up emotionally to the other without fear of rejection. Starting out with deceptions is certain
to cause eventual problems.
Both partners should be understanding and have empathy for each other. Good communication
is essential. Many relationship problems are rooted in misunderstandings, such as when one
partner doesn’t make the effiort to understand what the other wants or needs.
These positive characteristics of a good relationship don’t happen overnight. The relationship may begin with romantic attraction and only slowly develop into a trusting, mutually supportive friendship as
well. The following signs may indicate that a dating relationship is not developing well:
Your partner is pressuring you for sex when you’re not ready
< Your partner seems angry or abusive when you disagree about something
< Your partner seems possessive when others want to spend time with you
< Your partner treats you unequally in any way
< Your partner is emotionally or physically abusive (whether it happens once or many times)
If you recognize that any of these things are happening with someone you’re dating, it may be time to
reconsider, even if you still feel attracted. Any relationship that begins this way is not likely to end well.
Resolving Conflicts
conflict resolution
A step-by-step process
designed to resolve a dispute
or disagreement.
In any friendship or relationship, conflict will eventually happen. This is just natural because people are
diffierent. If a conflict is ignored, or the partners just argue without resolving it, it may simmer and continue to cause tension, eventually weakening the relationship. It’s better to take steps to resolve it.
Conflict resolution is a process of understanding what’s really going on and then finding a solution. The same general steps of conflict resolution can work to solve a relationship conflict or a conflict
between any people or groups because of a disagreement about anything. Following are the general
principles of conflict resolution:
1. Allow things to cool offi. It’s difflcult to resolve a conflict while either party is still emotional.
Wait a few minutes or agree to talk about it later.
2. Using “I statements” rather than “you statements,” each party explains what bothers him or her
about the cause of the conflict. For example, don’t say, “You’re always playing loud music when
I’m trying to study.” Instead, say, “I have difflculty studying when you play loud music, and that
makes me frustrated and irritable.” “You statements” put the other person on the defensive and
evoke emotions that make resolution more difflcult.
3. Listen carefully to what the other person says. Then restate the message in your own words to
give the other a chance to clarify their thoughts and feelings. Each party should listen to the other
and restate the other’s message to ensure the real issue is out on the table for discussion.
4. Accept responsibility for your role in the conflict, instead of blaming the other. A good
example of accepting responsibility is to say, “I know I’m always studying and need the quiet. I
guess that makes it hard for you to listen to your music.”
5. Brainstorm together to find a solution that satisfies both of you. Some compromise is usually
needed, but that is usually not difflcult to reach when you’re calm and are working together on a
solution. In this example, you might compromise by going elsewhere to study at selected times
when the other has friends over and wants to listen to music, and the other may compromise by
agreeing to use headphones at other times and never to play music aloud after 10 p.m.
6. Apologize, thank, and forgive. After reaching a resolution, emotional closure is needed to restore
your relationship and end on a positive, afflrming note. When appropriate, apologize for your
past anger or arguing. Thank the other for being willing to compromise to resolve the conflict. In
your mind, forgive the person for past misunderstandings and actions so that you do not carry
any grudge into the future.
Online and Long-Distance Relationships
Can your relationship survive if you and your partner are living at a distance? This is a common issue for young
people going offi to college at diffierent schools—and for older college students, too, who may move because
of work or school. Sometimes the relationship survives, and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s important, if you’re making an effiort to stay together, for both partners to accept that being apart will add new pressures on the relationship. Accept also that both of you will be changing in many ways. You may naturally grow apart and decide to break up.
Yet often long-distance relationships do survive successfully. If you do decide to work to keep your relationship alive and vibrant, there are things you can do:
Acknowledge that you are both changing, and accept and celebrate your new lives.
Don’t feel guilty about being excited by your new life, and don’t try to pretend to your partner that
you’re always miserable because you’re separated.
Don’t be upset or jealous when your partner tells you about new friends and activities—be happy
that he or she seems happy. Talk about these changes and be happy for each other.
If your relationship is solid, it is already based on trust and mutual support, which should continue to
give you strength when apart.
Emotional health is just as important as physical health. We can take steps to reduce the negative
emotions that plague us from time to time and gain control over our emotional health.
Emotional balance results from a variety of things in our lives. We need to connect with others, to be
honest and empathetic in our relationships, and to resolve conflicts that can cause bad feelings and
threaten our daily happiness. We can learn skills in these areas just as in other areas of our lives.
1. For each of the following statements about emotional health, circle T for true or F for false:
T F Anxiety is always a mental health disorder.
T F It’s normal to feel depressed sometimes about the pressures of studying, working, and other
obligations in your life.
T F When you’re feeling depressed or anxious, it’s best to keep to yourself and not try to connect with
others until after these feelings pass.
T F If someone says he is feeling suicidal, he is only seeking attention and is unlikely to actually try to
kill himself.
2. List at least two things you can do to make new friends at college.
3. Describe three characteristics of a good relationship.
4. List the six steps for effiective conflict resolution.
1. Explain the importance of understanding your sexual values and making wise decisions regarding your sexuality.
2. Describe guidelines for sexually active college students to protect themselves against sexually
transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy.
3. List actions some can take to protect against sexual assault.
Sexuality is normal, natural human drive. As an adult, your sexuality is your own business. Like other
dimensions of health, however, your sexual health depends on understanding many factors involving
sexuality and your own values. Your choices and behavior may have consequences. Learning about
sexuality and thinking through your values will help you make responsible decisions. Begin with the
Sexual Health Self-Assessment.
S E L F - A S S E S S M E N T
Check the appropriate boxes.
Often Sometimes Never
1. I think about issues related to sexuality.
2. I have experienced unwanted sexual advances from another.
3. If I am sexually active, I protect myself from the risk of sexually transmitted
4. If I am sexually active, I protect myself from the risk of unwanted pregnancy.
5. I am proud of the choices I have made regarding sexual activity.
6. I am concerned about the possibility of sexual assault including date rape.
7. I have been in situations involving some risk of date rape.
Write your answers.
8. How comfortable are you with your past and present decisions related to sexual behavior?
9. If you are not presently sexually active, do you feel prepared to make responsible decisions about sexual
activity if you become active in the near future?
10. If you are sexually active, how well protected are you against the risks of sexually transmitted infection? If
you are not active now, how well do you understand protections needed if you become active?
11. If you are sexually active, how well protected are you against the risk of unwanted pregnancy? If you are
not active now, how well do you understand the diffierent types of protection available if you become
12. If you suddenly found yourself in a situation with a potential for sexual assault, including date rape, would
you know what to do?
8.1 Sexual Values and Decisions
It’s often difflcult to talk about sexuality and sex. Not only is it a very private matter for most people,
but the words themselves are often used loosely, resulting in misunderstandings. Surveys have shown,
for example, that about three-fourths of college students say they are “sexually active”—but survey
questions rarely specify exactly what that phrase means. To some, sexual activity includes passionate
kissing and fondling, while to others the phrase means sexual intercourse. Manual and oral sexual
stimulation may or may not be included in an individual’s own definition of being sexually active.
We should therefore begin by defining these terms. First, sexuality is not the same as sex. Human
sexuality is a general term for how people experience and express themselves as sexual beings. Since
all people are sexual beings, everyone has a dimension of human sexuality regardless of their behavior.
Someone who practices complete abstinence from sexual behavior still has the human dimension of
Sexuality involves gender identity, or how we see ourselves in terms of maleness and femaleness,
as well as sexual orientation, which refers to the gender qualities of those to whom we are attracted.
The phrase sexual activity is usually used to refer to behaviors between two (or more) people involving the genitals—but the term may also refer to solo practices such as masturbation or to partner
activities that are sexually stimulating but may not involve the genitals. For the purposes of this
chapter, with its focus on personal health, the term sexual activity refers to any behavior that carries a
risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted disease. This includes vaginal, oral, and anal intercourse. The
term sexual intercourse will be used to refer to vaginal intercourse, which also carries the risk of unwanted pregnancy. We’ll avoid the most confusing term, sex, which in strict biological terms refers to
reproduction but is used loosely to refer to many diffierent behaviors.
There is a stereotype that sexual activity is very prominent among college students. One survey
found that most college students think that other students have had an average of three sexual partners
in the past year, yet 80 percent of those answering said that they themselves had zero or one sexual partner. In other words, college students as a whole are not engaging in sexual activity nearly as much as
they think they are. Another study revealed that about 20 percent of eighteen- to twenty-four-year-old
college students had never been sexually active and about half had not been during the preceding
In sum, some college students are sexually active and some are not. Misperceptions of what others
are doing may lead to unrealistic expectations or feelings. What’s important, however, is to be aware of
your own values and to make responsible decisions that protect your sexual health.
Information and preparation are the focus of this section of the chapter. People who engage in
sexual activity in the heat of the moment—often under the influence of alcohol—without having protection and information for making good decisions are at risk for disease, unwanted pregnancy, or
Alcohol and Sexual Activity
Almost all college students know the importance of protection against sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy. So why then do these problems occur so
often? Part of the answer is that we don’t always do the right thing even when we know
it—especially in the heat of the moment, particularly when drinking or using drugs.
Some four hundred thousand eighteen- to twenty-four-year-old college students a year
engage in unprotected sexual activity after drinking, and one hundred thousand report FI G U RE 1 0 . 5
having been too intoxicated to know if they had consented to the sexual activity.
human sexuality
A general term for how
people experience and
express themselves as sexual
beings, including feelings,
thoughts, and actions.
gender identity
A person’s sense of self in
terms of being male or
sexual orientation
A sexual preference or choice
that determines whether one
chooses a member of the
same or the opposite sex, or
both, for sexual satisfaction.
sexual activity
Any behavior involving
genital stimulation, including
vaginal, oral, and anal
intercourse, that carries the
risk of acquiring a sexually
transmitted disease.
An act of physical sexual
contact between individuals
that involves the genitalia of
at least one person, typically
with penetration of the
vagina, mouth, or anus.
sexual intercourse
As used here, referring to
heterosexual intercourse in
which the penis penetrates
the vagina.
Drinking alcohol increases the likelihood of
having unprotected sexual activity.
© Thinkstock
8.2 What’s “Safe Sex”?
safer sex
The use of protective actions
or devices during sexual
activity to minimize the risk of
sexually transmitted
infections and unwanted
sexually transmitted
infection (STI)
Any infection predominantly
transmitted through sexual
activity between two
individuals, usually through
direct contact with the
genitals or an exchange of
body fluids.
HIV (human
immunodeficiency virus)
Virus transmitted via body
fluids during sexual activity
and by other means such as
drug needle sharing; the
cause of AIDS, a fatal disease.
body fluids
In general, any fluid within
the body, but more
specifically used for those
fluids that may carry a
sexually transmitted disease:
blood, semen, and vaginal
It has been said that no sexual activity is safe because there is always some risk, even if very small, of
protections failing. The phrase “safer sex” better describes actions one can take to reduce the risk of
sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy.
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
About two dozen diffierent diseases can be transmitted through sexual activity. Sexually transmitted
infections (STIs) range from infections that can be easily treated with medications to diseases that
may have permanent health effiects to HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), the cause of AIDS, a
fatal disease. Despite decades of public education campaigns and easy access to protection, STIs still
affiect many millions of people every year. Often a person feels no symptoms at first and does not realize he or she has the infection and thus passes it on unknowingly. Or a person may not use protection
because of simple denial: “It can’t happen to me.”
Table 10.2 lists facts about common STIs for which college students are at risk. Although there are
some diffierences, in most cases sexual transmission involves an exchange of body fluids between two
people: semen, vaginal fluids, or blood (or other body fluids containing blood). Because of this similarity, the same precautions to prevent the transmission of HIV will prevent the transmission of other
STIs as well.
Although many of these diseases may not cause dramatic symptoms, always see a health-care provider if you have the slightest suspicion of having acquired an STI. Not only should you receive treatment as soon as possible to prevent the risk of serious health problems, but you are also obligated to
help not pass it on to others.
TABL E 1 0 . 2 Common Sexually Transmitted Infections
HIV (Human
Virus) Causing
new HIV
per year
Usually no symptoms for years or
decades. Later symptoms include
swollen glands, weight loss, and
susceptibility to infections.
Because medical
treatment can only
slow but not cure
AIDS, the disease is
currently eventually
Vaginal, anal, or
Over 1
oral sex with
new cases infected person
more not
Often no symptoms. Symptoms
may occur 1–3 weeks after
exposure, including burning
sensation when urinating and
abnormal discharge from vagina or
In women, pelvic
inflammatory disease
may result, with
permanent damage to
reproductive tissues,
possibly sterility. In
men, infection may
spread and cause pain,
fever, and rarely
Genital HPV
(Human Papilloma
Virus) Causing
Genital Warts
6.2 million
new cases
a year
Most infected people have no
symptoms at all and unknowingly
pass on the virus. Warts may appear
in weeks or months.
Of the 40 types of HPV,
many cause no health
problems. Some types
cause genital warts;
others can lead to
cancer. Vaccine is now
recommended for girls
and young women
and protects against
cancer-causing HPV.
Genital Herpes
Genital-genital or
estimated oral-genital
45 million contact
have had
Often no symptoms. First outbreak
within 2 weeks of contact may
cause sores and flu-like symptoms.
Outbreaks occur less frequently over
Many adults experience
recurrent painful
genital sores and
emotional distress.
Genital herpes in a
pregnant woman puts
the infant at risk
during childbirth.
Direct contact
new cases with the penis,
each year vagina, mouth, or
anus; ejaculation
does not have to
Often no recognized symptoms.
Burning sensation when urinating.
Abnormal discharge from vagina or
penis. Rectal infection symptoms
include itching, soreness, or
If untreated, it may
cause serious,
permanent health
problems, including
pelvic inflammatory
disease in women with
permanent damage to
reproductive tissues
and possibly sterility in
both men and
7.4 million Genital contact,
Most men have no symptoms or
new cases most often during may have slight burning after
each year vaginal sex
urination or mild discharge. Some
women have vaginal discharge with
strong odor and irritation or itching
of genital area.
Trichomoniasis makes
an infected woman
more susceptible to
HIV infection if
exposed to the virus.
Trichomoniasis is easily
treated with
Syphilis Bacteria
reported a
Because the infected
person may feel no
symptoms, the risk of
transmission is great.
Syphilis is easy to treat
in the early stages, but
treatment in late
stages cannot repair
damage that has
already occurred.
Untreated, syphilis is
often fatal.
Contact with
infected person’s
blood, semen, or
vaginal secretions
during any sexual
act (and needle
Genital contact,
most often during
vaginal and anal
Direct contact
with a syphilis
sore, which
occurs mainly on
the external
genitals, vagina,
anus, or in the
rectum but can
also occur on the
lips and in the
mouth; during
vaginal, anal, or
oral sex
Often no recognized symptoms for
years. Primary stage symptom (a
small painless sore) appears in
10–90 days but heals without
treatment. Secondary stage
symptoms (skin rashes, fever,
headache, muscle aches) may also
resolve without treatment. Latestage symptoms occur after 10–20
years, including severe internal
organ damage and nervous system
The following are guidelines to protect yourself against STIs if you are sexually active:
Not engaging in sexual
Know that only abstinence is 100 percent safe. Protective devices can fail even when used
correctly, although the risk is small. Understand the risks of not always using protection.
< Talk with your partner in advance about your sexual histories and health. Agree that regardless of
how sure you both are about not having an STI, you will use protection because you cannot be
certain even if you have no symptoms.
< Avoid sexual activity with casual acquaintances whose sexual history you do not know and with
whom you have not talked about health issues. Sexual activity is safest with a single partner in a
long-term relationship.
< Use a latex condom for all sexual activity. A male condom is about 98 percent effiective when used
correctly, and a female condom about 95 percent effiective when used correctly. With both,
incorrect use increases the risk. If you are unsure how to use a condom correctly and safely, do
some private online reading. Good information can be found at You can watch a
video demonstration of how to use condoms correctly at
< If you are sexually active with multiple partners, see your health-care provider twice a year for an
STI screening even if you are not experiencing symptoms.
Preventing Unwanted Pregnancy
A relationship involving a
single mate for a significant
period of time.
A surgical procedure that
causes a man to be sterile
and permanently incapable
of reproducing unless the
procedure is later reversed.
A drug, device, or procedure
used for the deliberate
prevention of pregnancy.
emergency contraception
Contraceptive measures, such
as a drug, used to prevent
pregnancy after sexual
intercourse has already
Heterosexual couples who engage in vaginal intercourse are also at risk for an unwanted pregnancy.
There are lots of myths about how a woman can’t get pregnant at a certain time in her menstrual cycle
or under other conditions, but in fact, there’s a risk of pregnancy after vaginal intercourse at any time.
All couples should talk about protection before reaching the stage of having intercourse and take appropriate steps.
While a male condom is about 98 percent effiective, that 2 percent failure rate could lead to tens of
thousands of unintended pregnancies among college students. When not used correctly, condoms are
only 85 percent effiective. In addition, a couple that has been healthy and monogamous in their relationship for a long time may be less faithful in their use of condoms if the threat of STIs seems diminished. Other methods of birth control should also therefore be considered. With the exception of the
male vasectomy, at present most other methods are used by the woman. They include intrauterine
devices (IUDs), implants, injected or oral contraceptives (the “pill”), hormone patches, vaginal rings,
diaphragms, cervical caps, and sponges. Each has certain advantages and disadvantages.
Birth control methods vary widely in effiectiveness as well as potential side effiects. This is therefore
a very personal decision. In addition, two methods can be used together, such as a condom along with a
diaphragm or spermicide, which increases the effiectiveness. (Note that a male and female condom
should not be used together, however, because of the risk of either or both tearing because of friction
between them.) Because this is such an important issue, you should talk it over with your health-care
provider, or a professional at your student health center or an agency such as Planned Parenthood.
In cases of unprotected vaginal intercourse, or if a condom tears, emergency contraception is
an option for up to five days after intercourse. Sometimes called the “morning after pill” or “plan B,”
emergency contraception is an oral hormone that prevents pregnancy from occurring. It is not an
“abortion pill.” Planned Parenthood offlces around the country can provide more information and
confidential contraceptive services including emergency contraception.
8.3 Sexual Assault and Date Rape
Sexual assault is a serious problem in America generally and among college students in particular:
About a third of all dating relationships involve some physical violence.
< One in six women and one in ten men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.
< About a fourth of sexual assault victims are in the typical college age range of eighteen to twentyfour years old.
< As many as one in four women experience unwanted sexual intercourse while attending college.
< In more than three fourths of rape cases, the victim knows the perpetrator.
Sexual assault is any form of sexual contact without voluntary consent. Rape is usually more narrowly legally defined as forced sexual intercourse, a specific type of sexual assault. Both are significant
problems among college students. Although men can also be victims of sexual assault and rape, the
problem usually involves women, so this section focuses primarily on the issue for women in college.
Men must also understand what is involved in sexual assault and help build greater awareness of the
problem and how to prevent it.
Sexual assault is so common in our society in part because many people believe in myths about
certain kinds of male-female interaction. Common myths include “It’s not really rape if the woman was
flirting first” and “It’s not rape unless the woman is seriously injured.” Both statements are not legally
correct. Another myth or source of confusion is the idea that “Saying no is just playing hard to get, not
really no.” Men who really believe these myths may not think that they are committing assault, especially if their judgment is impaired by alcohol. Other perpetrators of sexual assault and rape, however,
know exactly what they’re doing and in fact may plan to overcome their victim by using alcohol or a
date rape drug.
College administrators and educators have worked very hard to promote better awareness of sexual assault and to help students learn how to protect themselves. Yet colleges cannot prevent things that
happen at parties and behind closed doors. Students must understand how to protect themselves.
Perpetrators of sexual assault fall into three categories:
sexual assault
Any form of coerced sexual
contact or sexual activity
without the other person’s
voluntary consent.
Unlawful sexual intercourse
with or sexual penetration of
another person without that
person’s consent, typically
with force or threat of force.
1. Strangers
2. Acquaintances
3. Dating partners
Among college students, assault by a stranger is the least common because campus police departments
take many measures to help keep students safe on campus. Nonetheless, use common sense to avoid
situations where you might be alone in a vulnerable place. Walk with a friend if you must pass through
a quiet place after dark. Don’t open your door to a stranger. Don’t take chances. For more information
and ways to reduce your risk of sexual assault, see
Most sexual assaults are perpetrated by acquaintances or date partners. Typically, an acquaintance
assault begins at a party. Typically, both the man and the woman are drinking—although assault can
happen to sober victims as well. The interaction may begin innocently, perhaps with dancing or flirting. The perpetrator may misinterpret the victim’s behavior as a willingness to share sexual activity, or
a perpetrator intent on sexual activity may simply pick out a likely target. Either way, the situation may
gradually or suddenly change and lead to sexual assault.
Prevention of acquaintance rape begins with the awareness of its likelihood and then taking deliberate steps to ensure you stay safe at and after the party:
Go with a friend and don’t let someone separate you from your friend. Agree to stick together
and help each other if it looks like things are getting out of hand. If your friend has too much to
drink, don’t leave her or him alone. Plan to leave together and stick to the plan.
< Be especially alert if you become separated from your friend, even if you are only going offi alone
to look for the bathroom. You may be followed.
< Be cautious if someone is pressuring you to drink heavily.
< Trust your instincts if someone seems to be coming on too aggressively. Get back to your friends.
< Know where you are and have a plan to get home if you have to leave abruptly.
These preventions can work well at a party or in other social situations, but they don’t apply to most
dating situations when you are alone with another person. About half of sexual assaults on college students are date rape. An assault may occur after the first date, when you feel you know the person better and perhaps are not concerned about the risk. This may actually make you more vulnerable,
however. Until you really get to know the person well and have a trusting relationship, follow these
guidelines to lower the risk of sexual assault:
Make it clear that you have limits on sexual activity. Take care that your body language or
appearance does not send a message that you might be “easy.” If there is any question that your
date may not understand your limits, talk about your values and limits.
< If your date initiates unwanted sexual activity of any sort, do not resist passively. The other may
misinterpret passive behavior as consent.
< Be careful if your date is drinking heavily or using drugs. Avoid drinking yourself, or drink very
< Stay in public places where there are other people. Do not invite your date to your home before
your relationship is well established.
date rape
The rape of a person by
someone whom the person
is dating.
Trust your instincts if your date seems to be coming on too strong. End the date if necessary.
< Pay attention for signs of an unhealthy relationship (described in Chapter 10, Section 7).
If you are sexually assaulted, always talk to someone. Call a rape crisis center, your student health center, or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE for a confidential conversation. Even
if you do not report the assault to law enforcement, it’s important to talk through your feelings and
seek help if needed to prevent an emotional crisis.
Date Rape Drugs
In addition to alcohol, sexual predators use certain commonly available drugs to sedate women for sexual assault. They are odorless and tasteless and may be added to a punch bowl or slipped into your drink when
you’re not looking. These drugs include the sedatives GHB, sometimes called “liquid ecstasy,” and Rohypnol,
also called “roofies.” Both cause sedation in small doses but can have serious medical effiects in larger doses.
Date rape drugs are typically used at parties. Use the following tips to protect yourself against date rape drugs:
Don’t put your drink down where someone else may get to it. If your drink is out of your sight for
even a moment, don’t finish it.
Never accept an open drink. Don’t accept a mixed drink that you did not see mixed from pure
Never drink anything from a punch bowl, even if it’s nonalcoholic. You can’t know what may have
been added into the punch.
If you experience unexpected physical symptoms that may be the result of something you drank or
ate, get to an emergency room and ask to be tested.
Sexual health is an important dimension of wellness and something we should all think about to afflrm our
values and make responsible decisions.
Your time in college and your overall health and well-being would be seriously impacted if you were to
acquire a sexually transmitted infection or experience an unwanted pregnancy. You owe it to yourself—
and anyone with whom you are in a relationship—to have the facts and know how to protect yourself.
The huge number of sexual assaults that occur every year is one of our society’s “dirty little secrets.” This
problem is as rampant on college campuses as in society in general. You need to know what’s
involved—and what to do to protect yourself from the pain of becoming a victim.
1. For each of the following statements about sexual health, circle T for true or F for false:
T F As long as you always use a condom, you don’t have to worry about an STI from sexual activity.
T F You may have a very serious STI without feeling any symptoms at all.
T F Abstinence is the only 100 percent effiective method of birth control.
T F It’s not rape if a man has sexual intercourse with a woman after she says no as long as he does not
use force.
2. List at least three things a woman can do at a party to ensure she does not become a victim of sexual
3. Describe a first date scenario in which a woman is well protected from the risk of sexual assault. List at
least three things she should make sure of.
Chapter Takeaways
Good health helps you be more successful in college.
For good nutrition, eat a varied diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and minimize
fats, sugar, and salt.
Regular exercise is not only important for good health but is a great way to reduce stress in your life.
Sleep is one of the first areas where college students cut back when they find themselves too busy
with classes, work, and other activities. Taking the time to get enough sleep, however, makes you so
much more efflcient when studying that it can actually save you time.
Substance use and abuse not only takes its toll on the body but also contributes to problems in
college, at work, and in the future. You may need to make a smart decision between short-term
pleasures and long-term success.
Since many stressors are unavoidable in life, we all need to find good ways to minimize their effiects.
The best stress-reducers over time become good habits that will increase our wellness and help us
succeed in college and careers.
If you are having an emotional or relationship problem that persists and affiects your life, don’t
hesitate to seek help. Most colleges have counselors and health professionals trained to help you get
through any crisis.
Sexual health is your own business—except that sexuality usually affiects and is affiected by others.
Smart choices focus on protecting yourself from potential problems, regardless of your choices about
sexual activity.
1. Whose fault is it if I’m overweight now?
2. Whose fault is it if I’m overweight two years from now?
3. Whom can I talk to if I want to find a weight loss program that will work best for me?
4. Complete these sentences:
a. What I think most needs change in my diet is
b. The main reason I don’t get enough exercise is
c. When I feel stressed, I often
(How healthy is that?
Should you choose healthier activities instead?)
d. The first step in resolving a conflict you are having with someone else is to
5. How do you know if you’re drinking too much or too often?
6. As a college student, why should you care about how much stress you feel and what you do about it?
7. If you have a friend who has seemed very depressed lately, what signs should you look for that might
indicate he or she is becoming suicidal?
8. If you do see signs of suicide in your friend, what should you do?
9. If you are sexually active, can you be certain you are at zero risk for acquiring HIV? If so, when? If not, why
1. Choose a friend you enjoy spending time with and see if he or she will help you with an “experiment.”
Together, make a list of fun things to do together in the next week that will help minimize your stress.
Choose activities that are diffierent from your usual habits. Following are some ideas, but be creative and
try to include your own healthy ideas:
Cook a healthy meal together (if you have a kitchen) or shop together for snacks you can carry
with you for when you’re hungry between classes.
Go for a jog, bike ride, or long walk at least three times during the week.
Study together early in the evening, with snacks and drinks that won’t slow you down or keep
you up, and then get to bed on time.
At the end of the week, talk about the experiment and how you felt during and afterward. Did you have
fun? Did you get some ideas for other or better things to do? Plan to keep doing some of these activities.
2. Spend twenty to thirty minutes online getting more ideas about healthy ways to minimize the stress you
feel as a student. Start by typing the phrase “stress reduction” into your search engine. Look for specific
ideas and activities not already covered in this chapter. Write them down here to share with other
students and your instructor.
3. Go to and take the ten-question stress quiz to see
how much you now understand about stress-related topics. (The Web site also has a lot
of good information for students who speak English as a second language.)
My worst eating habits are
My action plan to eat better includes the following:
I don’t get enough exercise because
I’ll try to do these things to become more active:
I sometimes/often don’t get enough sleep because
I can better manage my time to get enough sleep in the following ways:
I tend to overuse or abuse these substances:
My action plan to avoid substance problems includes the following:
These things cause me the most stress:
I will take these steps to better cope with these stresses:
Emotional Health
I am happiest when I
I’ll be happier if I make these changes:
Sexual Health
I am/might be putting myself at risk when/if I do these things:
What I should always do to reduce these risks is to
United States Department of Agriculture, “MyPyramid: Steps to a Healthier You,” (accessed July 13, 2010).
2., “Quit Guide: Quitting,” (accessed July 13,
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “A Snapshot of Annual HighRisk College Drinking Consequences,” College Drinking—Changing the Culture,
(accessed July 13, 2010).
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Alcohol Myths,” College Drinking—Changing the
CollegeStudents/alcoholMyths.aspx (accessed July 13, 2010).
Taking Control of Your
FI G U RE 1 1 . 1
© Thinkstock
Where Are You Now?
Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.
Yes Unsure No
1. I am confident I will make it through college without any financial hardships.
2. I realize that while in college I won’t have as much money to spend on things as in the
3. I plan to avoid debt as much as possible while in college so I don’t have large loans to
pay back after college.
4. I am willing to make sacrifices and spend less on some things while in college.
5. I keep track of all my expenditures and maintain a budget so that I know when I am
spending too much.
6. I believe I can have a happy and fulfilling life while a student without having a lot of
7. I know the best kinds of jobs to seek while in college.
8. I always pay offi the full balance on my credit cards when the statement arrives.
9. I have applied for every possible form of financial aid to help pay for college.
Where Do You Want to Go?
Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself. On a scale of 1 to 10, how
would you rate your financial health at this time?
In financial trouble
Very financially secure
In the following list, circle the three most important financial areas in which you think you may need to
Making more money
Finding the best job
Spending less money
Living more cheaply
Paying bills on time
Avoiding overdraft and late-payment fees
Making a budget
Sticking to a budget
Controlling credit card spending
Getting help with personal finances
Saving money
Keeping good financial records
Building a good credit history
Applying for financial aid
Are there other areas in which you can improve your financial well-being and avoid potential money
problems while in college? Write down other things you feel you need to work on.
How to Get There
Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:
Setting realistic financial goals for your college years
Choosing between making more money and spending less money
Accepting the financial realities of college and being happy with your financial choices
Discovering what kinds of jobs are more fulfilling while in college and how to find them
Tracking spending using a budget and managing your budget to stay on track
Spending less while still having fun, eating well, and having a social life
Using a credit card without getting into debt
Avoiding future financial problems while building a good credit history now
Getting all the financial aid you can
What is a chapter on personal finances doing in a book on student success? If you’re a new college student you may not yet have money problems or issues—but most college students soon do. It doesn’t
matter whether you’re a “traditional” college student enrolled in college just after high school or a
“nontraditional” student returning to school.
Younger students are likely to confront money issues for several reasons:
If you are living away from home for the first time, you may have less experience setting and
sticking to a budget and handling money in general.
< Because you need more time for studying and other aspects of college life, you may have less time
to work and make money.
< Even if you receive financial support from your family, your funds are not unlimited, and you’ll
need to learn to live within a budget.
< You will have many new expenses including tuition and fees, room and board or housing and
food bills, books and supplies, and so on.
Nontraditional students who have worked or started a family before attending college may have already
learned to manage their money well but usually still confront some financial issues:
Because you need more time for studying and college, you likely have less time to work and make
< You will have many new expenses including tuition and fees, books and supplies, and so on.
< You are more likely to have to juggle a budget that may include a family, mortgage, and other
established expenses.
Almost everyone eventually has money issues at college, and they can impact your academic success.
Money problems are stressful and can keep you from concentrating on your studies. Spending too
much may lead you to work more hours than you might otherwise, giving you less time to study. Or
you might take fewer classes and thus spend more years in college than needed. Worse yet, money
problems cause many students to drop out of college entirely.
But it doesn’t have to be this hard. Like other skills, financial skills can be learned, and they have
lifelong value. This chapter will help you
set financial goals,
consider jobs and making money,
< learn how to spend less and manage a budget,
< avoid credit card debt,
< determine how best to finance your college expenses.
1. Set your financial goals to match your realities.
2. Establish financial priorities appropriate for your college years.
3. Make choices between spending less and making more.
It’s expensive to go to college. College tuition has risen for decades at virtually all schools, and very few
students are fortunate enough to not have to be concerned with this reality. Still, there are things you
can do to help control costs and manage your finances while in college. Begin by thinking about your
financial goals.
2.1 What Are Your Financial Goals?
Whatever it is you plan to do in your future, whether work or other activities, your financial goals in
the present should be realistic to enable you to fulfill your plan. Consider these scenarios:
Keri entered college planning to major in business. Her family was not able to give her much
financial support, but she chose to attend an expensive private college because she thought it
would help her get into a good graduate business school. She had to take large loans to pay her
tuition, but she wasn’t concerned about a budget because she assumed she’d make a lot later on
and be able to easily pay offi the loans. Yet when she graduated and had to begin making
payments on her private bank loans, she discovered she couldn’t affiord to go straight to business
school after all. She put her dream on hold for a few years and took a job she didn’t much like.
Jorge had worked a few years after high school but finally decided that he needed a college degree
to get the kind of job he wanted. He was happy with his life otherwise and kept his nice apartment
and car and enrolled in a couple night classes while continuing to work full time during the day. He
was surprised how much he had to study, however, and after a couple months he felt he was
struggling. He just didn’t have enough time to do it all—so he dropped first one class and then, a
couple weeks later, the other. He told himself that he’d try it again in a year or two, but part of him
wondered how anyone could ever get through college while working.
What Keri and Jorge have in common is a conflict between their financial goals and realities. Both were
motivated to succeed in college, and both had a vision for their future. But both were unsuccessful in
finding ways to make their dreams come true—because of money issues.
Could they have done things diffierently? Maybe Keri could have gone to a less expensive school
and still reached her goal, or maybe she could have avoided such heavy student loans by working summers and part time during the school year. Maybe Jorge could have reduced his living expenses and cut
back his work hours to ensure he could balance school and work better. Maybe both were spending
thousands of dollars a year on things they could have done without if only they’d thought through their
goals and learned to live within a budget.
Taking control of your personal finances begins with thinking about your goals and deciding what
really matters to you. Here are some things to think about:
A paid or unpaid position in a
formal program designed for
a student to gain practical
experience in a career field.
Is it important for you to graduate from college without debt? Is it acceptable to you, or
necessary, to take some student loans?
< What are your priorities for summers and other “free time”? Working to earn money? Taking
nonpaying internships or volunteering to gain experience in your field? Enjoying social
activities and time with friends?
< How important is it to take a full load of classes so that your college education does not take
longer than necessary?
< How important is it to you to live in a nice place, or drive a nice car, or wear nice clothes, or eat in
nice restaurants? How important in comparison to your educational goals?
There are no easy answers to such questions. Most people would like enough money to have and do
what they want, low enough expenses that they don’t have to work too much to stay on budget, and
enough financial freedom to choose activities without being swayed by financial concerns. Few college
students live in that world, however. Since you will have to make choices, it’s important first to think
about what really matters to you—and what you’re willing to sacrifice for a while in order to reach your
2.2 Make More or Spend Less?
An organized plan for
coordinating income and
That often becomes an issue for college students. You begin by setting up a realistic budget and sticking
to it. A budget is simply the best way to balance the money that comes in with the money that goes
For most college students, the only way to increase the “money coming in” side of the budget is to
work. Even with financial support from your family, financial aid from the college, your savings from
past jobs, and the like, you will still need to work if all your resources do not equal the “money going
out” side of the budget. The major theme of this chapter is avoiding debt except when absolutely necessary to finance your education. Why is that so important? Simply because money problems and
debt cause more people to drop out of college than any other single factor.
This chapter includes discussion of how students can earn money while in college and the benefits
of working. But working too much can have a negative impact by taking up time you might need for
studying. It’s crucial, therefore, whenever you think about your own financial situation and the need to
work, to also think about how much you need to work—and consider whether you would be happier
spending less if that meant you could work less and enjoy your college life and studies more. As we’ll
see later, students often spend more than they actually need to and are often happier once they learn to
spend less.
financial aid
Funds or a tuition waiver in a
formal program designed to
help students pay for college;
forms of financial aid include
scholarships, grants, student
loans, and work study
Almost every college student faces money issues, but you can learn to take control of your finances.
Being able to complete your college career should be a key priority when setting financial goals.
Since college students need time for classes and studying, it is generally more important to spend less
money rather than work more hours.
1. What is the leading reason some students have to drop out of college?
2. List three or more things you would be willing to give up or cut back on in order to be able to finance
your college education.
1. Understand the value of diffierent kinds of jobs while you’re in college.
2. List questions to consider when considering a particular job possibility.
3. Be able to perform an effiective job search.
Most college students work while in school. Whether you work summers only or part time or full time
all year, work can have both benefits and drawbacks. The diffierence may result as much from the type
of job you work as from the number of hours you work.
3.1 A Job Can Help or Hurt
In addition to helping pay the bills, a job or internship while in school has other benefits:
Experience for your résumé
< Contacts for your later job search network
< Employment references for your résumé
Work or internship experience related to your future career has significant value. Not all students can
find such opportunities in their community, however. But even a job or volunteering outside your field
can have value and say something about you to future employers. Your job may demonstrate that you
have initiative, are responsible, are a team player or can work independently, and can take on financial
responsibility. Potential future employers will check your work references. Having an employer from
your college years say you did a good job, were always on time to work, and were honest and
A document used to
summarize the experience of
a person.
responsible in doing your job definitely gives you an advantage over students who graduate without
having worked at all.
At the same time, some jobs contribute more to your overall college experience. Remember, you’re
in college for an education and to gain a wide range of skills—not just for the degree. The best student
jobs help you engage more deeply in the college experience, while the wrong kind of job gets in the way
of that experience. Here are some factors to consider as you look for a job:
What kinds of people will you be interacting with? Other students, instructors, researchers?
Interacting with others in the world of college can broaden your college experience, help motivate
you to study, and help you feel part of a shared experience. You may work with or meet people
who in the future can refer you to employers in your field. On the other hand, working in a
business far from campus, for example, may offier a steady paycheck but can separate you from
the academic community and detract from a positive college experience.
< Is the job flexible enough to meet a college student’s needs? Will you be able to change your
work hours during final exam week or when a special project is due? A rigid work schedule may
cause difflculty at times when you really need to focus on your classes.
< What will you be able to say about your work in your future résumé? Does it involve any skills—
including people skills or financial or managerial responsibilities—that your employer can
someday praise you for? Will working this job help you get a diffierent, better job next year?
These factors can make a job ideal for college students, but in the real world many students will have to
work less-than-ideal jobs. Working at a fast food restaurant or overnight shipping company may not
seem very glamorous or offier the benefits described previously, but it may be the only job available at
present. Don’t despair—things can always change. Make the money you need to get by in college but
don’t become complacent and stop looking for more meaningful work. Keep your eyes and ears open
for other possibilities. Visit the campus student employment offlce frequently (or check online) for new
postings. Talk to other students.
At the same time, even with a dull job, do your best and keep a good attitude. Remember that your
boss or supervisor may someday be a work reference who can help (or hurt) your chances of getting a
job you really want.
3.2 Student Jobs
The number of hours college students work per week varies considerably, from five to ten hours a week
to full time and everywhere in between. Before deciding how much you need to work, first make a detailed budget as described later. Your goal should be to make as much as you need, and hopefully a
little more to save, but first you need to know your true need. Remember your goals in college and stay
focused on your education. Cut back on your optional spending so that you don’t have to work so
many hours that your studies are impacted.
Where to Find a Job
A free online listing of
classified ads, organized by
city, useful for job searches;
access through
Start at your campus financial aid offlce or student employment offlce. If they don’t have anything right
for you at first, check back frequently for new job postings.
For offi-campus jobs, check the classified ads in your local newspaper and Craigslist. Many jobs
are never advertised, however, so ask friends, family members, and other students. Visit appropriate
companies in your area and ask if they have openings.
If you applied for financial aid when you applied to your college, you probably already know
whether you qualify for a work study program. Often these jobs are ideal because they are designed for
students. If your financial circumstances change, be sure to check in with the financial aid offlce because your eligibility may have changed.
Many government agencies also have summer jobs or internships for college students. This work
may be an ideal way to gain experience related to your chosen field. (See “Additional Resources” below
for more information.)
Go to Work for Yourself
If you have energy and initiative, you can create your own work. While it may take some time to get
started, flexibility and being your own boss can make up for this drawback. Students often make money
in ways like these:
Tutor classmates in a subject you are good in.
< Sell your technical skills to help others set up new computer hardware, teach software skills such
as PowerPoint or Excel, or design Web sites.
Sell things you no longer need (video games, DVDs, textbooks) on eBay or Craigslist. Earn a
commission by helping others sell their stuffi online.
< Provide services to faculty members and residents in the nearby community: lawn mowing, snow
shoveling, housecleaning, babysitting, pet sitting, dog walking, and so on.
Additional Resources
Campus jobs and work study. Check with your campus student employment or financial aid offlce.
Broad listing of links for federal government jobs and
Student Opportunities at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). See
Student Opportunities at the U.S. Department of Defense. See
Student Opportunities at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. See
Student Opportunities at the National Science Foundation. See
Student Internships at the State Department. See
3.3 Balancing the Job You Have with Your Ideal Job
A growing percentage of students are working full time when they return to school, and many continue
in the same jobs. If you’re in this situation, you know that balancing work and college is one of the
most difflcult things you’ve ever done. You’re used to working—but not used to finding time for class
and studying at the same time. You likely feel harried and frustrated at times, and you may even start to
wonder if you’re cut out for college. The time may come when you start thinking about dropping
classes or leaving college altogether. It may be hard to stay motivated.
If you start feeling this way, focus on your big goals and don’t let the day-to-day time stresses get
you down. As difflcult as it may be, try to keep your priorities, and remember that while you face temporary difflculties now, a college degree is forever.
Acknowledge that sacrifice and compromise may be needed.
< Reduce your expenses, if you can, so you can cut back on the number of hours you work. This
may mean temporarily giving up some things you enjoy in order to reach your goals.
< If you cannot cut your expenses and work hours and simply do not have the time to do well in
your classes, you may have to cut back on how many classes you take per term. Try everything
else first, but know that it’s better to succeed a little at a time than to push too hard and risk not
succeeding. If you do have to cut back, keep a positive attitude: you’re still working toward your
future ideal.
If you ever feel the temptation to quit, see your college counselor to explore all your options. Resources
may be available that you don’t know about.
The best student jobs have value for your college experience and future résumé and network, while the
wrong kinds of jobs may detract from your college experience.
How much you work should be based on a realistic budget and your financial goals and needs.
To find the best job for you, use all the resources available.
1. What are the primary benefits of a student job on campus? (List as many as you can.)
2. Considering your abilities and interests, what would be your ideal job while a college student?
1. Identify how you are spending your money and what optional expenditures you can cut back
2. Develop a positive attitude for spending less while still enjoying a full college experience.
3. Create and manage a workable budget by tracking expenditures to reach your financial goals.
4. Recognize if you are getting in financial trouble and know what to do about it.
5. List the benefits of saving money even while in college.
Where Does the Money Go?
Most people aren’t really sure where a lot of their money goes. Take this survey to see how much you remember about how you have spent money recently.
Do your best to remember how much you have spent in the last thirty days in each of the following
Amount in Dollars (Per Month)
Coffiee, soft drinks, bottled water
Newspapers, magazines
Movies, music concerts, sports events, night life
Fast food lunches, snacks, gum, candy, cookies, and so on
Social dining out with friends (lunch, dinner)
Music, DVDs, other personal entertainment
Ringtones and mobile phone applications
Bank account fees, ATM withdrawal fees
Credit card finance charges
Lottery tickets
Cigarettes, smokeless tobacco
Beer, wine, liquor purchased in stores
Beer, wine, liquor purchased in restaurants and bars
Gadgets, video or computer games, and so on
Travel, day trips
Now be honest with yourself: is this really all you spent on these items? Most of us forget small, daily kinds of
purchases or underestimate how much we spend on them—especially when we pay with cash.
You’ll notice also that this list does not include essential spending for things like room and board or an apartment and groceries, utilities, college tuition and books, and so on. The greatest potential for cutting back on
spending is in the area of optional things.
4.1 Spending on Essentials, Spending on Optionals
More people get into financial trouble because they’re spending too much than because they’re making
(or receiving) too little. While spending may seem a simple matter—“I need to buy this, I’d like to buy
that”—it’s actually very complex. America is a consumer society, and we’re deluged by advertisements
promising that we’ll be happier, more successful, better liked by more people, sexier, and everything
else if only we buy this. Companies have spent billions of dollars researching how to manipulate our
buying behavior. No wonder it’s so tough to resist these pressures!
Why does a person feel compelled to buy fast food for lunch, or a new CD with a song they just
heard on the radio, or a new video game a friend says is so good, or a new article of clothing? We owe it
to ourselves to try to understand our own attitudes about money and spending. Here’s a good place to
Having money or not having money doesn’t define who you are. Your real friends will think no
less of you if you make your own lunch and eat it between classes or take the bus to campus
rather than drive a new car. You are valued more by others for who you are as a person, not for
what things you have.
< You don’t have to spend as much as your friends to be one of the group. Some people always
have more money than others and spend more. Resist any feeling that your friends who are big
spenders are the norm. Don’t feel you have to go along with whatever expensive activities they
propose just so you fit in.
< A positive attitude leads to success. Learn to relax and not get stressed out about money. If you
need to make changes in how you spend money, view this as an exciting accomplishment, not a
depressing fact. Feel good about staying on a budget and being smart about how you spend your
< Be realistic about what you can accomplish. Most students have financial problems, and they
don’t just go away by waving a magic wand of good intentions. If your budget reveals you don’t
have enough money even while working and carefully controlling your spending, you may still
need a student loan or larger changes in your lifestyle to get by. That’s OK—there are ways to deal
with that. But if you unrealistically set your sights so high about spending less and saving a lot,
you may become depressed or discouraged if you don’t meet your goals.
Before you can make an effiective budget, you need to look at what you’re spending money on now and
consider what’s essential and what’s optional. Essential costs are the big things:
Room and board or rent/mortgage, utilities, and groceries
College tuition, fees, textbooks, supplies
< Transportation
< Insurance (health insurance, car insurance, etc.)
< Dependent care if needed
< Essential personal items (some clothing, hygiene items, etc.)
These things are sometimes called fixed costs, but that term can be misleading. If you have the option
to move to a less expensive apartment that is smaller or a few blocks farther away, you can partly control that cost, so it’s not really “fixed.” Still, for most people, the real savings come from spending less
on optional things.
Look back at the amounts you wrote in the earlier exercise “Where Does the Money Go?” These
things are “optional” expenses—you can spend more or less on them as you choose. Most people spend
by habit, not really thinking about where their money goes or how quickly their spending adds up. If
you knew you were spending more than a thousand dollars a year on coffiee you buy every day between
classes, would that make you think twice? Or another thousand on fast food lunches rather than taking
a couple minutes in the morning to make your lunch? When people actually start paying attention to
where their money goes, most are shocked to see how the totals grow. If you can save a few thousand
dollars a year by cutting back on just the little things, how far would that go to making you feel much
better about your finances?
Following are some general principles for learning to spend less. The “Tips for Success” then lists
specific ways you can try to follow these principles in your daily life. Remember, spending money
doesn’t define who you are!
Be aware of what you’re spending. Carry a small notebook and write down everything—
everything—you spend for a month. You’ll see your habits and be able to make a better budget
to take control.
< Look for alternatives. If you buy a lot of bottled water, for example, you may feel healthier than
people who drink soft drinks or coffiee, but you may be spending hundreds of dollars a year on
something that is virtually free! Carry your own refillable water bottle and save the money.
< Plan ahead to avoid impulse spending. If you have a healthy snack in your backpack, it’s much
easier to not put a dollar in a vending machine when you’re hungry on the way to class. Make a
list before going grocery shopping and stick to it. Shopping without a list usually results in buying
all sorts of unneeded (and expensive) things that catch your eye in the store.
< Be smart. Shop around, compare prices, and buy in bulk. Stopping to think a minute before
spending is often all it takes.
Any product commonly
marketed under a brand
name that is sold in a
package without a brand.
Tips for Success: Spending Less
Make your own lunches and snacks.
Read newspapers and magazines online or in the library.
Cancel cable television and watch programs online for free.
Use free campus and local Wi-Fi spots and cancel your home high-speed Internet connection.
Buy generic products instead of name brands.
Shop at thrift stores and yard sales.
Pay with cash instead of a credit card.
Cancel your health club membership and use a free facility on campus.
Compare prices online.
Avoid ATM fees by finding a machine on your card’s network (or change banks); avoid checking
account monthly fees by finding a bank with free checking.
Get cash from an ATM in small amounts so you never feel “rich.”
With larger purchases, postpone buying for a couple days (you may find you don’t “need” it after all).
Look for free fun instead of movies and concerts—most colleges have frequent free events.
If you pay your own utility bills, make it a habit to conserve: don’t leave lights burning or your
computer on all night.
Use good study skills to avoid failing a class—paying to retake a course is one of the quickest ways to
get in financial trouble!
Paying with cash rather than a credit card helps you stay aware of your spending habits.
© Thinkstock
4.2 Managing a Budget
Budgeting involves analyzing your income and expenses so you can see where your money is going and
making adjustments when needed to avoid debt. At first budgeting can seem complex or time consuming, but once you’ve gone through the basics, you’ll find it easy and a very valuable tool for controlling
your personal finances.
Why create and manage a budget? Going to college changes your financial situation. There are
many new expenses, and you likely don’t know yet how your spending needs and habits will work out
over the long term. Without a budget, it’s just human nature to spend more than you have coming in,
as evidenced by the fact that most Americans today are in debt. Debt is a major reason many students
drop out of college. So it’s worth it to go to the trouble to create and manage a budget.
Managing a budget involves three steps:
1. Listing all your sources of income on a monthly basis.
2. Calculating all your expenditures on a monthly basis.
3. Making adjustments in your budget (and lifestyle if needed) to ensure the money isn’t going out
faster than it’s coming in.
Tracking Income
Many college students receive money or financial assistance from a number of sources. To track income in a monthly budget, consider all your sources of funds and convert them to a monthly number.
For example, you may receive a student loan once during the year or you may work more in the summer and save up money then. To calculate your monthly projected income, add up your income
sources and divide that number by the number of months you will be using the income. For example, if
you have saved $4,800 that you can spend over two years of college, divide the $4,800 by twenty-four
months to arrive at a monthly income of $200 from those savings. Do the same with scholarship grants,
student loans, monetary gifts, and so on.
If some of your college costs are being paid directly by parents or others, do not include that
money in your budget as either income or an expense. Base your monthly budget on just those funds
and expenses that involve you directly.
Use Table 11.1 to record and total all your income on a monthly basis. If you must estimate some
sources, estimate low rather than high; it’s a bad trap to assume you’ll have more money coming in
than you actually do—that’s a real budget buster.
TABLE 1 1 . 1 Monthly Income and Funds
Source of Income/Funds
Amount in Dollars
Job income/salary (take-home amount)
Funds from parents/family/others
Monthly draw from savings
Monthly draw from financial aid
Monthly draw from student/other loans
Other income source:
Other income source:
Other income source:
Total Monthly Incoming:
Tracking Expenses
debit card
A card like a credit card that
functions like a check and
through which a purchase or
cash withdrawal from an
automated teller machine
(ATM) is made directly from
the holder’s bank account.
Tracking expenditures is more difflcult than tracking income. Some fixed expenses (tuition, rent, etc.)
you should already know, but until you’ve actually written down everything you spend in a typical
month, it’s hard to estimate how much you’re really spending on cups of coffiee or smoothies between
class, groceries, entertainment, and the like. The best way to itemize this side of your budget is to write
down everything you spend—everything, every bottle of water and cookie, coins into parking meters,
and so forth—for a full month. Then you can total up the diffierent categories of expenses more realistically. We urge you to immediately start writing everything down in a small notebook you carry with
you. You may be astonished how small purchases add up.
While you’re writing this down for a month, go ahead and work through the expenditure half of
your budget, using Table 11.2. Set aside an hour or two to look through your past financial records,
checkbook register and debit card transactions, past utility bills, credit card statements, and so on to
get the numbers to put in your expenses budget. Make estimates when you have to, but be honest with
yourself and don’t underestimate your usual spending. There will be plenty of time down the road to
adjust your budget—but don’t start out with an unrealistic plan. Write “est” (for estimated”) next to
numbers in your budget that you’re guessing at.
Once you have listed your routine expenditures using Table 11.2, write out your own budget categories that fit how you actually spend money. Everyone is unique, and you want your budget to be
easy to use for your own life and habits.
As noted previously with income, if some of your expenses are paid directly by others, do not include them here. Base your monthly budget on just those funds and expenses that involve you directly.
TABL E 1 1 . 2 Monthly Expenditures
Amount in
Tuition and fees (1/12 of annual)
Textbooks and supplies (1/12 of annual)
Housing: monthly mortgage, rent, or room and board
Home repairs
Renter’s insurance
Property tax
Average monthly utilities (electricity, water, gas, oil)
Optional utilities (cell phone, Internet service, cable television)
Dependent care, babysitting
Child support, alimony
Meals and snacks out (including coffiee, water, etc.)
Personal expenses (toiletries, cosmetics, haircuts, etc.)
Auto expenses (payments, gas, tolls) plus 1/12 of annual insurance premium—or public
transportation costs
Loan repayments, credit card pay-offi payments
Health insurance (1/12 of annual)
Prescriptions, medical expenses
Entertainment (movies, concerts, nightlife, sporting events, purchases of CDs, DVDs, video
games, etc.)
Bank account fees, ATM withdrawal fees, credit card finance charges
Newspapers, magazines, subscriptions
Travel, day trips
Cigarettes, smokeless tobacco
Beer, wine, liquor
Major purchases (computer, home furnishings) (1/12 of annual)
Clothing, dry cleaning
Memberships (health clubs, etc.)
Pet food, veterinary bills, and so on
Other expenditure:
Other expenditure:
Other expenditure:
Other expenditure:
Other expenditure:
Total Monthly Outgoing:
Balancing Your Budget
Now comes the moment of truth: compare your total monthly incoming with your total monthly outgoing. How balanced is your budget at this point? Remember that you estimated some of your expenditures. You can’t know for sure until you actually track your expenses for at least a month and
have real numbers to work with.
What if your spending total is higher than your income total? The first step is to make your budget
work on paper. Go back through your expenditure list and see where you can cut. Remember, college
students shouldn’t try to live like working professionals. Maybe you are used to a nice haircut every
month or two—but maybe you can go to a cheaper place or cut it yourself. There are dozens of ways to
spend less, as suggested earlier. The essential first step is to make your budget balance on paper.
Then your job is to live within the budget. It’s normal to have to make adjustments at first. Just be
sure to keep the overall budget balanced as you make adjustments. For example, if you find you must
spend more for textbooks, you may decide you can spend less on eating out—and subtract the amount
from that category that you add to the textbook category. Get in the habit of thinking this way instead
of reaching for a credit card when you don’t have enough in your budget for something you want or
Don’t be surprised if it takes several months to make the budget process work. Be flexible, but stay
committed to the process and don’t give up because it feels like to too much work to keep track of your
money. Without a budget, you may have difflculty reaching your larger goal: taking control of your life
while in college.
Budgeting on Your Computer
If you are good at Excel or another spreadsheet program, you can create your own budget in a spreadsheet
that allows you to monitor your income and expenditures month to month, with the calculations done for
you. Other budget calculators can be found online. Figure 11.3 shows a simple online budget calculator. The
categories are general, but you can add up your numbers from Table 11.2 in these categories and enter them
in the online budget form, which then does the calculations for you.
Simple Online Budget Calculator[1]
Most college students can do well with a simple budget that helps you track monthly income and expenditures so that you can make adjustments as needed. If your financial life is more complicated or you would enjoy full financial tracking and control using your computer, a software program like Quicken has all the power
you need and can download your banking and credit card records to easily track categories of expenses over
time. A free online budget and tracking system is available at
What If Your Budget Doesn’t Work?
Your budget may be unbalanced by a small amount that you can correct by reducing spending, or it
may have a serious imbalance. If your best effiorts fail to cut your expenditures to match your income,
you may have a more serious problem, unless you plan in advance to manage this with student loans or
other funds.
First, think about how this situation occurred. When you decided to go to college, how did you
plan to finance it? Were you offi in your calculations of what it would cost, or did you just hope for the
best? Are you still committed to finding a way to continue in college?
If you are motivated to reach your college goal, good! Now look closely at your budget to determine what’s needed. If you can’t solve the budget shortfall by cutting back on “optional” expenses, then
you need more dramatic changes. Are you paying a high rent because your apartment is spacious or
near campus? Can you move a little farther away and get by temporarily in a smaller place, if the diffierence in rent makes a big diffierence in your overall finances? If you’re spending a lot on your car, can
you sell it and get by with public transportation for a year or two? Play with the numbers for such items
in your budget and see how you can cut expenses to stay in college without getting deeply in debt. If
you worry you won’t be as happy if you change your lifestyle, remember that money problems are a key
source of stress for many college students and that stress affiects your happiness as well as how well you
do in college. It’s worth the effiort to work on your budget and prevent this stress.
If all else fails, see a financial aid counselor at your college. Don’t wait until you’re in real financial
trouble before talking to someone who may be able to offier help.
Why People Spend Too Much, Even on a Budget
Old habits die hard. Keep monitoring your spending habits and watch for things you’re spending
money on without really thinking about it.
Credit cards. Never use them if at all possible. They make it easy to spend too much or not see how
much you’re spending. Save them for emergencies.
Easy access to cash. Just put your card in an ATM and get some cash! It’s so easy to do, and an
automatic habit for so many, that it’s easy to bust your budget with small amounts daily.
Temptations are everywhere. Even when we’re careful, we’re often easily influenced by friends to go
out or spend in other ways. Remember why you made your budget in the first place and keep your
priorities in mind. The guilt you’ll feel tomorrow about spending a whole week’s food budget on one
expensive dinner out probably isn’t worth the pleasure of it!
We buy things to feel good. If that’s been a longtime habit for you, it will be hard to break. Often it’s
better to find small things that make you feel good rather than trying to go without everything.
Rewarding yourself with an ice cream treat for a week’s budgeting success won’t break your budget.
What If You Get in Financial Trouble?
People often don’t admit to themselves that they have a problem until it becomes unmanageable. We
human beings are very good at rationalizing and making excuses to ourselves! Here are some warning
signs of sliding into financial trouble:
For two or three months in a row, your budget is unbalanced because you’re spending more than
you are bringing in.
< You’ve begun using your savings for routine expenses you should be able to handle with your
regular budget.
< You’ve missed a deadline for a bill or are taking credit card cash advances or overdrawing your
checking account.
< You have a big balance on your credit card and have paid only the required minimum payment
for the last two months.
< You have nothing in the bank in case of an emergency need.
< You don’t even know how much total debt you have.
< You’re trying to cut expenses by eliminating something important, such as dropping health
insurance or not buying required textbooks.
If you are experiencing any of these warning signs, first acknowledge the problem. It’s not going to
solve itself—you need to take active steps before it gets worse and affiects your college career.
Second, if you just cannot budget your balance, admit that you need help. There’s no shame in
that. Start with your college counselor or the financial aid offlce; if they can’t help you directly, they can
refer you to someone who can. Take your budget and other financial records with you so that they can
see what’s really involved. Remember that they’re there to help—their goal is to ensure you succeed in
Balance Your Checkbook!
Lots of people don’t balance their checkbook every month, thinking it’s just too much trouble. But it’s important to keep your checkbook balanced for several reasons:
Banks sometimes make errors, and you can’t catch one without checking your record against your
monthly bank statement.
If you make a math error or forget to record a check or ATM withdrawal, you may have to pay
overdraft fees.
If you balance your checkbook only every few months, it can take many hours to examine records
and find a problem.
If you’re not sure how exactly to balance your checkbook, ask a teller at your bank or get instructions online.
This takes only a few minutes each month and is well worth it to avoid the stress and lost hours caused by an
inevitable problem.
4.3 Saving for the Future
If you’re having problems just getting by on your budget, it may seem pointless to even think about
saving for the future. Still, if you can possibly put aside some money every month into a savings plan,
it’s worth the effiort:
An emergency or unexpected situation may occur suddenly. Having the savings to cope with it is
much less stressful than having to find a loan or run up your credit cards.
< Saving is a good habit to develop. Saving for the future will prepare you well for the increasing
financial complexities of life after graduation.
< You may need your savings to help launch your career after graduation. If you’re broke when you
graduate, you may feel you have to take the first job that comes along, but with some savings you
may have time to find the job that’s perfect for you.
< You may change your mind about future plans. Maybe you now think that you’ll go to work at a
good job right after graduation, so you’re not concerned about saving—but maybe in a couple
years you’ll decide to go to graduate school, law school, or business school—or to start your own
business, or to join a volunteer program. Your savings may allow you to pursue a new goal.
credit union
A cooperative association
that offiers banking services to
employees and often
students at a particular
college, possibly at rates
more competitive than a
private bank.
money market
A specific type of investment
and spending account
offiered at many banks that
may pay a higher interest
certificate of deposit (CD)
A bank deposit, usually made
for a fixed term, at a specified
interest rate that is typically
higher than the rate of a
regular savings account,
involving a penalty for early
Start by saving in a savings account at your bank or credit union. You can have a certain amount
transferred from your checking account every month into a savings account—that makes it easier and
more routine. A savings account allows withdrawal anytime but pays lower interest than other accounts. Ask at your bank about money market accounts and certificates of deposit (CDs), which
generally pay higher interest but have restrictions on minimum balances and withdrawals. Savings
bonds are another option. All of these options are federally insured, so your money stays safe. Risky investments like the stock market are generally not appropriate for college students on a budget.
Financial success while in college depends on understanding and controlling your expenditures.
There are many ways you can spend less on optional expenses, and even essentials, and still have a full life
and enjoy your college experience.
A detailed monthly budget that lists all income sources and expenditures makes it easier to track expenses
and avoid sliding into financial trouble.
Spending too much can quickly lead to financial problems. If you see the signs that you’re starting to have
money problems, take steps quickly to prevent trouble before it snowballs out of control.
While it may seem difflcult just to make ends meet, make it a goal also to attempt to save something for
future needs.
1. List the top three optional expenditures you usually make every week.
2. List three tips for spending less that you feel you will be able to use routinely to avoid running out of
money while in college.
3. For each of the following statements, circle T for true or F for false:
T F It’s OK to miss a deadline for paying your phone bill as long as you pay on time at least half of the
T F There’s really nothing wrong with not having any money in the bank as long as you have a credit
card for emergencies and major purchases.
T F You should balance your checkbook every month when you receive your bank statement.
T F A good way to save money is to try to get by without buying expensive textbooks.
T F You only need to write up a budget if you’ve gotten deeply into debt and need to see a financial
advisor to get out of debt.
Identify the benefits of having a credit card and choosing one wisely.
Set personal limits for your credit card use to minimize your debt.
Describe steps to take to avoid overusing a credit card.
Understand the importance of a good credit history and how to obtain and review your credit
Credit cards are such a big issue because they are easy to get, easy to use—and for many people, addictive. Until new regulations in 2009 and 2010, many college students got deeply in debt and experienced
financial disaster. The new regulations set limits to prevent such serious problems for students under
age twenty-one, but older students may still experience problems from overuse.
Credit cards do have legitimate purposes:
credit rating
The classification of credit risk
based on a person’s financial
resources, past payment
pattern, and personal history
of debts.
In an emergency, you may need funds you cannot obtain otherwise.
< You generally need a credit card for travel, for hotels, and other needs.
< Often it’s less expensive to make significant purchases online, and to do that you usually need a
credit card. (Many ATM debit cards also function like a credit card for online purchases.)
If you are young, responsible use of a credit card is a good way to start building a credit
rating—but only if you use the credit card responsibly and always make sufflcient payments on
Even though federal regulations require banks to disclose all fees and make it more difflcult to increase
fees or rates without warning credit card holders in advance, many people overuse credit cards and pay
high interest rates and fees for making late payments. The average American household has credit card
debt of $5,000 to $8,000 (reports vary). College students reportedly are more likely to be late with payments and incur additional fees.
Your first goal with a credit card is to understand what you’re getting into and how you are
charged. Read the fine print on your monthly statements. You should understand about rate increases
and know what happens if you miss a payment, pay less than the minimum, or pay late. It also pays to
sites— and—compare rates of many credit cards and provide more information about
how credit cards work.
5.1 Setting Limits
All credit cards come with a limit, the maximum total amount you can charge, but this is not the same
as the limit you should set for how you use the card based on your budget. If you bought something
that cost $400, for example, would your monthly budget let you pay it offi when the bill comes? If it will
take you two or three months to have that much available in your budget, are you also including the interest you’ll be paying? What if an unexpected need then arises and you need to charge more?
Set your personal use limit by calculating how much your budget allows you to charge. If you are
using the card just for convenience, such as to pay for meals or regular purchases, be sure you have
enough in those categories in your budget left at the end of the month to make the payment. If tempted
to buy a significant item with your credit card, do the calculations in advance.
5.2 Avoiding Debt
If your credit card debt is not limited by your age, that balance can rapidly rise. Before the 2010 regulations, the average student had accumulated a debt estimated as high as $3,000. Following are tips that
will help you avoid slipping into credit card debt:
The act of withdrawing (or
purchasing with a debit card)
more funds from an account
than are in the account at the
Pay with cash when you can. Use your budget as a guide for how much cash to carry with you. A
good way is to plan how much you’ll need for a week (lunches, parking meters, snacks or drinks
between classes) and start the week with that amount from an ATM. Carrying that exact amount
helps you stay informed of how you’re doing on your budget and keeps you from “accidentally”
spending too much on a whim.
< When possible, use a debit card instead of a credit card. A debit card is taken just like a credit
card in most places, so you can use it instead of cash, but remember that a purchase is subtracted
immediately from your account. Don’t risk overdraft fees by using a debit card when you don’t
have the balance to back it up. Record a debit card purchase in your checkbook register as soon as
< Make it a priority to pay your balance in full every month. If you can’t pay it all, pay as much as
you can—and then remember that balance will still be there, so try not to use the card at all
during the next month.
< Don’t get cash advances on your credit card. With most cards, you begin paying interest from
that moment forward—so there will still be an interest charge even if you pay the bill in full at the
end of the month. Cash advance interest rates are often considerably higher than purchase rates.
< Don’t use more than one credit card. Multiple cards make it too easy to misuse them and lose
track of your total debt.
< Get and keep receipts for all credit card purchases. Don’t throw them away because you’ll see
the charges on your monthly statement. Write the amounts down in your spending budget. You
also need the receipts in case your monthly statement has an error.
< Stop carrying your credit card. If you don’t have enough willpower to avoid spontaneous
purchases, be honest with yourself. Don’t carry the card at all—after all, the chances of having an
emergency need for it are likely to be very small. Having to go home to get the card also gives you
a chance to consider whether you really need whatever it is that you were about to buy.
5.3 Credit History and Reports
Many younger college students are just beginning to develop a credit history. Older students likely
have had credit cards for years, as well as automobile and other types of loans, possibly a mortgage, and
other financial transactions that add up to a credit history. But everyone needs to understand what a
credit history is and how your monetary habits now can affiect your future financial well-being and
your future options. For example, frequent overdrafts on a debit card can prevent you from being approved for a credit card, or late credit card payments can prevent you in the future from obtaining a car
Credit bureaus collect financial data on everyone. The credit report they issue is a detailed history of many years of your financial habits (Figure 11.4). It includes the following:
Current and past credit accounts (credit cards and store charge cards)
< History of balances and credit payments
< History of late or missed payments
< Inquiries into your credit status (e.g., if you’ve applied for a number of credit cards, this is
recorded even if you did not receive the cards)
< Bankruptcy or mortgage foreclosure proceedings
All this information remains in your credit report for up to seven to ten years. What you do today can
really come back to haunt you!
credit history
A general term referring to a
person’s past use of credit
and payment patterns.
credit report
A written report, compiled by
a credit bureau, listing the
details of a person’s credit
history, possibly including a
credit rating, FICO score, or
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Reviewing Your Credit History
If you ha\ever had a loan or rcdit ard, you already have a rcdit history. It an be illll'Ortant to
know what is in your rCl'Ort. Errors arc mmmon in rcdit histories and, if not mrrc tcd, an hurt you
in the future.
You arc entitled to a free Ol'Y of your rcdit rCl'Ort every } ar, and ideally you should hck it
every year for l'OSsiblc errors.To obtain a Ol'Y online, go to http:iiwww.annuakrcditrcport.,-om.This
is a government Vvcb site, and the rq,ort is free.
You may also visit the Web site of any of the three main credit bureaus, but be aware that each has
for-fee services they may attempt to sell you while obtaining your report.
< Equifax:
Once you receive your credit report, go over it carefully to make sure its information is accurate. If you
have paid offi and closed an account, for example, it should not be listed as still open. Make sure all accounts listed actually belong to you and that the balances listed are correct. If you do find an error, report it promptly, following the procedure on the credit bureau’s Web site.
It’s also important to keep good financial records. Don’t immediately throw away your credit card
statements or loan papers. You may need these to prove an error in your credit history.
Your FICO Credit Score
To sum up your creditworthiness, credit bureaus analyze all your data to come up with a single number, called your credit score or FICO score. (FICO is short for the Fair Isaac Credit Organization,
which created this method of analyzing data.) The calculations of each credit bureau diffier somewhat.
The score may be anywhere between 250 and 336 (poor credit risk) and 843 and 900 (excellent credit
risk). The score is based on the following:
The length of your credit history
< The total amount you owe
< Your payment history
< The types of credit you have
FICO score
A standard credit score often
included in a credit report
generated by a credit bureau,
used to measure a person’s
credit risk; an acronym for the
Fair Isaac Credit Organization,
which devised the basic
formula for calculating this
Credit bureaus are not required to tell you the FICO score that they report to a lender who inquires
about your credit history. Check with any of the individual credit bureaus listed earlier, if you need to
know your score. Or you may be able to get this information from a lender with whom you have a loan.
Most students have no need to know their credit score, except to understand how banks and other
lenders make their decisions if you are applying for any type of loan.
Protecting Your Financial Identity
Identity theft is a serious and growing problem. Identity theft is someone else’s use of your personal
information—usually financial information—to make an illegal gain. A criminal who has your credit
card number or bank account information may be able to make purchases or transfer funds from your
accounts. Someone with the right information about you, such as your social security number along
with birth date and other data, can even pretend to be you and open new credit accounts that you don’t
know about—until the bank or collection agency tries to recover amounts from you. Although innocent, you would spend a lot of time and effiort dealing with the problem.
Follow these guidelines to prevent identity theft:
Never put in the trash any document with personal or financial information (e.g., your social
security number, credit card number). Shred it first.
< Carefully review bank statements, credit card bills, and the like when you receive them. If the
balance seems incorrect or you do not recognize charges, contact the bank or credit card
company immediately.
< Never give your social security number, credit card number, or other sensitive data when
requested by telephone or e-mail. Many schemes are used to try to trick people to reveal this
information, but legitimate companies do not make such requests.
< Do not use online banking or make online purchases with a credit card using a public computer
or an unsecured Wi-Fi connection. Your data can be picked up by others lurking within the WiFi signal range.
identity theft
A fraudulent use of
someone’s identifying or
personal data or documents,
such as a credit card.
Maria’s Financial Dilemma
When Maria decided to attend a community college after working full time a few years, she was confident she
could affiord it. She had saved enough money to pay tuition for two years, and she cut back to part-time work
that paid enough, she calculated, to live on. With great enthusiasm she registered for the fall term.
Her money problems began in November when her car broke down on the way to her job. The mechanic said
her transmission had to be rebuilt and her car also really needed new rear shocks The bill was well over a
thousand dollars. She paid with her Visa card. At the end of the month, she didn’t have enough in her checking account to pay the credit card bill in full. She almost decided just to pay the minimum, but then she
checked her statement and saw the 18 percent interest rate and decided to pay the full balance from her savings. She wouldn’t need that money for tuition until next year anyway, and that gave her a long time to save it
The first week in December, she slipped on an icy sidewalk and sprained her ankle. She had student health insurance, though she had to make a copayment. Unfortunately, she couldn’t do her job on crutches, so she lost
two weeks’ pay.
Still, “that’s life,” she thought, although she was so worried about money now that she almost decided to register for just two courses the next term. But college was her priority, so she took a full load and increased her
work hours for a couple months to help her get caught up financially. But then as midterm exams grew closer,
she felt unprepared because she hadn’t had enough time for studying. Because of the stress she wasn’t sleeping well, and one day she fell asleep in class. Always rushing around, she was eating more junk food than ever
and feeling too guilty to even get on the scale to see if she was gaining weight, too. She found herself daydreaming about the coming summer and being free of classes. To feel better, she took long drives in her car
on the weekends.
She did pass her midterms, though she did not do as well as she’d hoped. She still hadn’t been able to save
enough for next year’s tuition but felt that she had the summer to work full time and make up for it.
In April, her boss told her that business was too slow to be able to increase her hours to full time for the summer. He was very sorry, but she could keep working part time if she wanted.
Now Maria really doubted if she’d be able to make it. Her family could spare no money to help her out. She
had enough for rent, food, and her car, but that was about it. If she didn’t figure something out, she couldn’t
affiord tuition in the fall. Even with an installment plan to break up tuition payments, she just wasn’t making
enough to cover it. She didn’t know what to do.
1. What is the first step Maria should take to start sorting out her financial situation and learn about her
2. Maria’s financial planning was based on making enough to cover what she spends and using her savings
for tuition. If she were to make a monthly budget and analyze every expenditure, might she be able to cut
back and save more for unexpected expenses that come up? List areas in which she would likely be able
to spend less if she used a budget.
3. Maria’s attitude toward her credit card is a healthy indicator that she wants to avoid debt. If this proved to
be the only solution, however, should she consider a student loan to cover the tuition for her second year?
Why or why not?
4. If Maria was considering not attending college the second year but instead looking for a new full-time job
that would allow her to save up tuition money again, what advice might you give her?
Credit cards have several important benefits when used carefully, including building a credit history and
having emergency funds available.
Don’t charge purchases up to the credit card’s limit but set your own personal limit that allows you to pay
the balance in full every month.
Avoid high credit card balances by using the card minimally, paying cash when you can, and avoiding
cash advances.
How you manage your credit and finances now affiects your credit history and creditworthiness in the
1. What is the best number of credit cards to have and carry with you?
2. For each of the following statements, circle T for true or F for false:
T F The more credit cards you have, and the larger the balances you keep, the better is your credit
rating as long as you make the minimum payments every month on time.
T F Most credit cards charge the same interest rate.
T F An overdraft on an ATM cash advance won’t cost you anything as long as you pay it offi at the end
of the month.
T F Your credit history begins only after graduation from college, so it doesn’t matter much how you
manage money while still in school.
T F Identity theft happens only to senior citizens.
3. How often can one obtain a free credit report?
1. Understand the importance of researching and applying for financial aid every year even if you
don’t think you qualify for assistance.
2. Identify key diffierences among scholarships and grants, student loans, and work study
3. Avoid excessive student loans and setting yourself up for future financial difflculties.
You may already be receiving financial aid or understand what types of financial aid are available. Even
if you are not receiving financial aid, however, you should understand the basics because your financial
situation may change and you may need help paying for college. You owe it to yourself to learn about
potential types of aid you might receive.
Every college has a financial aid offlce that can give you information about standard financial aid
programs. Certain kinds of financial aid, however, such as private scholarships, are not administered
by the college, so you may need to do some research. There are three main categories of financial aid:
A sum of money or other
financial aid granted to a
student based on academic
merit or other ability,
intended to help meet the
expenses of attending
A sum of money or other
financial aid given to a
student usually based on
demonstrated financial need
or other criteria, intended to
help meet the expenses of
attending college.
student loan
A special kind of loan,
typically with a lower interest
rate and other characteristics,
intended to help qualified
students meet the expenses
of attending college; may
include both private bank
loans and subsidized,
low-interest federal loans.
work study
A type of financial aid in
which a student works part
time to earn funds for
financing the costs of
attending college; may
include a federally subsidized
or another work study
FAFSA (Free Application for
Federal Student Aid)
A detailed financial
application form including a
college student’s (and often
his or her parents’ or
guardians’) detailed financial
information such as income;
required by almost all U.S.
colleges as part of applying
for financial aid.
1. Scholarships and grants (money or tuition waivers that do not need to be repaid)
2. Student loans (money that does need to be repaid, usually starting after graduation)
3. Work study programs (money that is earned for tuition or other expenses)
These three types of aid are described in the following sections. Remember that this section only introduces these types of financial aid—be sure to get more information from your college’s financial aid
offlce and the online sources listed here.
6.1 Applying for Financial Aid
For financial aid administered by your college, often only one general application form is required,
along with detailed information on your financial situation (and those of your parents or guardians, if
you are receiving their support) provided by filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal
Student Aid). If you have not already done this application, learn more at
Virtually all colleges require the FAFSA.
Outside loans and scholarships are generally applied for separately. Follow these general rules to
ensure you receive any aid for which you are qualified:
1. Apply to your college for financial aid every year, even if you do not receive financial aid in your
first year or term. Your situation may change, and you want to remain eligible at all times in the
future by filing the application.
2. Talk to the financial offlce immediately if you (or your family) have any change in your
3. Complete your application accurately, fully, and honestly. Financial records are required to verify
your data. Pay attention to the deadlines for all applications.
4. Research possible outside financial aid based on other criteria. Many private scholarships or
grants are available, for example, for the dependents of employees of certain companies, students
pursuing a degree in a certain field, or students of a certain ethnic status or from a certain
religious or geographical background, and the like.
5. Do not pay for financial aid resource information. Some online companies try to profit from the
anxieties of students about financial aid by promising to find financial aid for you for a fee.
Legitimate sources of financial aid information are free.
6.2 Scholarships and Grants
Scholarships and grants are “free” money—you do not have to pay them back, unlike student loans. A
scholarship is generally based on merit rather than demonstrated financial need—based on past grades,
test scores, achievements, or experiences, including personal qualifications such as athletic ability, skills
in the arts, community or volunteer experiences, and so on. Don’t make the mistake of thinking scholarships go only to students with high grades. Many scholarships, for example, honor those with past
leadership or community experience or the promise of future activities. Even the grades and test scores
needed for academic scholarships are relative: a grade point average (GPA) that does not qualify for a
scholarship at one college may earn a scholarship at another. Never assume that you’re not qualified for
any kind of scholarship or grant.
A grant also does not need to be paid back. Most grants are based on demonstrated financial need.
A grant may be offiered by the college, a federal or state program, or a private organization or civic
group. The largest grant program for college students is the federal government’s Pell Grants program
(Figure 11.5). Learn more about Pell Grants and other scholarship and grant programs from your college’s financial aid offlce or the online resources listed later.
FlGURE 11.5 Student Grant ProgramsfromtheFederalGovernment1 3l
2010-11 Grant Programs Fact Sheet
The federalgovernment provides grant funds for students attending colleges,including career colleges and
universities. Grants,unilkeloans,do not have to be repaid.The major federalstudent aid grant programs are briefly
described below.
FederalGrant Program
Program Details
AnnualAward Limits
(subject to <haoge)
Federal Pell Grant
Generally awarded to students with exceptional
Up to $5,550
financialneed who have not earned a bachelor's or
gr<ai.JUdlt: 0•
First Year
Must be eligible for a Pell Grant
Must have graduated from hg
i h schoolafter Jan. 1 , 2006
Must have completed a rigorous secondarv school
llt2iWll of study
Must be enrolled atleast half· time
Second Year
Must be eligible for a Pelt Grant
Must have graduated from high schoolafter Jan. 1, 2005
Must ha ve completed a rigorous secondarv school
Up to $750
Up to $1,300
Q.([email protected]!D of study
Must be enrolled atleast hafl -time
Must have atleast a 3.0 GPA at the end of the first year
of postsecondary study
Federal Supplemental
Opportunity Grant
National Science and
Mathematics Access to
Retain Talent Grant
(NationalSMART Grant)
Awarded to students with exceptionalfinancialneed who
have not earned a bachelor's or graduate degree
Up to $4,000
Federal Petl Grant recipients receive priority
Not all colleges participatein the FSEOG program
Funds depend on availability at the college;you should
apply by your college's deadline
Must be eligibe
l for a PellGrant
Must be enrolled atleast half·time in third or fourth year
(or fifth year of a S·year program)
Up to $4, 000
Must be in an etigible degree prosram majoringin phys cal,
life, or computer sciences, engineering, tech nology, math·
ematics,or a critica-lneed foreign language
Must have a minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA
Teacher Education
Assistance for College
and Higher Education
(TEACH) Grant
For undergraduate, post·baccalaureate,or graduate
students who are/ willbe taking coursework necessary to
become elementary or secondary teachers
Must agree to serve,for a minimum of four years (within
Up to $4,000
eight years of completing academic program), as a fult·time
teacher in a high-need field in a school that serves low·
income students
Must attend a participating college and meet certain
academic achievement requirements
Failure to comp ete the teaching service commitment will
result In the grant funds being converted to a Federal
Olrect Unsubsidized Stafford Loan that must be repaid
For more informat on see the TEACH Grant Fact Sheet.
For additionalinformation on federalstudent aid,call1·800+FED·AID or visit www studentaid ed gov/funding.
June 2010
l tudent Aid,an office of the u.S.Department of £'ducation,ensta'es that au eligible udents <an
bene-fit from fedcratty funded flnMc:iat mistance fOJ' tloo bey¢tld hlih $Ch001.. weconsistently <:ho.rnpSon
promise of postsecondary education and its value to our society.
6.3 Student Loans
Many differenl sludenl loan programs are available ior college sludenls. Because many colleges do nol
have sufficienl iunds Lo offer iull granls Lo sludenls wilh financial need, financial aid packages oilen include a combinalion oi granl and loan money. Ideally, one would like Lo graduale wilhoul having loan
balances Lo repay laler on. However, almosl Lwo-Lhirds oi iull-Lime college sludenls do need sludenl
loans Lo pay ior college. ·The amounl oi money sludenls borrow has risen in recenl years because
subsidized federal Staffiord
A type of federal college
student loan that does not
begin accruing interest until
after graduation.
tuition and fees have risen faster than inflation. The total amount owed now averages over $20,000 for
students at four-year colleges and over $10,000 at two-year colleges.
Unfortunately this is a necessary reality for many students. For most, graduating from college owing some money is preferable to not going to college at all. With smart choices about the type of loan
and a structured repayment program for your working years after graduation, there’s no reason to fear
a loan. Just remember that the money eventually has to be repaid—it’s not “free” money even though it
may feel that way while you’re in school.
All student loans are not the same. Interest terms vary widely, and with most private loans the interest starts building up immediately. The best loan generally is a subsidized federal Staffiord loan.
“Subsidized” in this case means the interest does not begin on the loan until after graduation. If you
borrowed $20,000 over four years and interest accrued during this time, you could owe as much as
$25,000 upon graduation. Be sure to talk with your college financial offlce first about getting a federal
subsidized Staffiord loan. Since the current maximum of this type of loan for most students is over
$30,000, you ideally should not have to consider other types of loans—if you qualify for the Staffiord
with demonstrated financial need.
How Much Should You Borrow?
Many financial analysts urge college students not to borrow more than about $5,000 per year, or about
$10,000 for two years of college, or $20,000 for four years. Even if you qualify for more, that doesn’t
mean you should take it, and in fact, you may want to borrow much less. Think about this seriously before jumping to any conclusions about your future earning potential and how much you may have to
struggle then to pay offi your student loans. During an economic downturn, for example, many students have difflculty finding a job that pays well enough to cover their loan payments without hardship.
First learn the repayment rate for a loan amount. Then research the starting salary you can realistically expect after graduation. You can find this information online at many sites (such as the USNews
salary finder wizard at Assume the starting salary will be at the low end of the salary range for any given career. Finally, make
sure that your loan payments do not total more than 10 percent of your starting salary. If the payment
amount is more than 10 percent, you are setting yourself up for future financial problems. Try to find
ways to cut back on expenses instead. Many experts advise attending a less expensive college, if necessary, rather than risking your future well-being.
6.4 Work Study Programs
Work study programs are the third type of financial aid. They are administered by colleges and are a
common part of the financial aid package for students with financial need. You work for what you
earn, but work study programs often have advantages over outside jobs. The college runs the program,
and you don’t have to spend valuable time looking for a job. Work study students usually work on or
near campus, and work hours are controlled to avoid interfering with classes and study time. Work
study students are more engaged with the academic community than students working offi campus.
Some students who enter college already working or who have special skills or job experience can
make a higher hourly rate than a work study program pays. If so, you might make the same income
working fewer hours, leaving more for studying and other college activities. If this is your situation,
carefully weigh the pros and cons before deciding about a work study program.
Tips for Success: Applying for Financial Aid
Talk to your college’s financial aid offlce early and get the appropriate forms.
Start your application early to ensure you make the deadline.
Do online research to learn about additional private scholarships you may be qualified for.
Evaluate student loans carefully and do not borrow more than you need or can repay without
hardship after graduation.
6.5 Resources
Start with your local college offlces to gather information about financial aid. Do additional research to
make sure you’re considering all available options. Even though this takes some effiort, it will prove
worthwhile if you find other sources of funds for your college years. Start with the online resources listed here.
Additional Resources
Federal government information about federal grants and student loans. See
Federal government scholarship-finding wizard. Click on “Financial Aid and Scholarship Wizard” at See this private information Web site on scholarships, grants, and student loans at See this private information Web site on scholarships, grants, and student loans at
USNews Salary Wizard. To estimate future earning potential, use this tool available at
Many forms of financial aid are available for college students. Apply every year and notify the college
financial aid offlce if you have a significant change in circumstances.
Consider all forms of financial aid—not just the aid managed by your college. Look into private
scholarships and grants.
Carefully consider how much to borrow in student loans.
1. What is the best kind of college financial aid to seek?
2. For each of the following statements, circle T for true or F for false:
T F You don’t need to complete the FAFSA if you are applying only for a federal student loan.
T F If you apply to your college’s financial aid offlce, they will tell you about all possible scholarships for
which you may be qualified.
T F After graduation, you have to begin repaying the money you received in a grant.
T F A work study program job often has advantages over a job you find on your own.
3. As a general rule, your future payments on a student loan should not be more than
you expect to make with your starting salary.
percent of what
Chapter Takeaways
Controlling your finances while in college is important both for your future well-being and for
eliminating stress that can impede your academic success.
Meeting your financial goals while in college may require some financial sacrifice but need not result
in hardship.
The best student jobs offier benefits beyond just the money.
There are many ways to reduce expenditures while in college. Tracking your spending with an
effiective budget is the first step toward taking control of your finances.
Understanding your own spending habits and practicing a few simple principles for spending less
help prevent unnecessary debt. Make and use a budget to take control of your financial life.
Credit card spending is the leading cause of out-of-control debt in America today. Use credit cards
minimally and wisely.
Protect your financial identity by maintaining good records and preventing criminals from obtaining
your personal or financial information.
Look into all forms of financial aid and apply for all aid for which you may be qualified. Do not take
more in student loans than you really need.
1. Why is it necessary to track all your expenditures if your goal is to spend less to avoid financial problems
while in college?
2. Imagine several situations in which a friend asks you to join some activity that would break your budget.
Write down positive, upbeat things you can say in these situations instead of glumly saying “I can’t affiord
3. List as many ways as you can think of to locate job openings for which you might apply.
4. Who should you talk to if you are having difflculty paying for college or meeting your expenses?
1. Although you may not need a résumé until you seek full-time employment after graduation, go online to
learn what kinds of experience are typically listed in a résumé. Make a list of your experiences,
qualifications, and references that you will put on your future résumé. What areas seem weak to you?
What kind of job, internship, or other experience could you potentially have now in your college years that
will strengthen your résumé?
2. Choose a friend you enjoy spending time with and see if he or she will help you with an “experiment.”
Together, make a list of fun free things to do over the next two weeks. For example, look for free concerts
and other campus activities. Make it your goal to spend as little as possible for two weeks, cooking meals
together if practical, taking lunches and snacks to classes, and finding new ways to enjoy your free time
inexpensively. At the end of this experiment, compare what you spent with your past habits. How
successful were you? Think about how you can continue saving in the future.
3. Make a budget as described in this chapter, based on realistic estimates of your daily and monthly
expenditures. Choose two or three categories of expenses and pay special attention to these for a month.
For every $10 less that you spend in these categories during the month, put $3 in a new category to
reward yourself. Then at the end of the month, use this new fund to celebrate your success with
something special.
4. It’s never too early to think about summer jobs. Go online to check out summer jobs and internships you
might find interesting. Check out the application process and deadlines and write these on your calendar
for the winter or spring to remind yourself to apply early.
5. Go to the following Web site and take the “Finance Quiz To Test Knowledge Of College Students”—then
check other resources on this site for more financial information you may need:
For a more comprehensive analysis of your spending habits and financial knowledge, try this quiz:
I spend too much money every week on
My action plan to spend less includes the following:
The area of my lifestyle where I know I spend more than most other college students is
I can make these adjustments in my lifestyle to reduce this expenditure:
Job in College
Ideally, I’d like to work no more than
hours a week.
What I’d most enjoy doing is
I can learn more about possible jobs close to my ideal by
Saving Money
I believe I can realistically save this amount of money a month if I watch my spending:
This is where I will put my savings:
I will allow myself to spend this money only for something major like:
Budgeting and Tracking Spending
Here’s how I have kept track of what I spent in the past:
So that I can maintain a budget now and in the future, I know I need to record every expenditure. I will do this
Credit Card Use
In the past, I usually used my credit card to buy things like
If you have not always been able to pay offi your balance every month: I will try to avoid using my credit card as
much by taking these steps:
Federal Student Aid, “Budget Calculator,” Federal Student Aid Direct Loans, (accessed
July 13, 2010).
American DataBank,
Report,” (accessed July 15, 2010).
Federal Student Aid, “Federal Student Aid Grant Programs Fact Sheet,”
Grant_Programs_Fact_Sheet_04_2009.pdf (accessed July 13, 2010).
Taking Control of Your
FI G U RE 1 2 . 1
© Thinkstock
Where Are You Now?
Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.
Yes Unsure No
1. I have a good understanding of my career options.
2. I have a good understanding of the work-related skills I will need in my chosen career
and a plan to get them.
3. I know where I can get useful information about careers.
4. I have created a transferable skills inventory.
5. I have a written up-to-date résumé.
6. I know how to prepare an effiective cover letter.
7. I have both professional and social networks.
8. I have discussed my career objectives with my academic advisor.
9. I am comfortable in interviews.
10. I have chosen my major based on the job market.
11. I have chosen my major based on my personal interests.
Where Do You Want to Go?
Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself. On a scale of 1 to 10, how
would you rate your preparation for your future at this time?
I’m adrift (no idea)
I have a clear direction
and plan to get there
In the following list, circle the three most important areas in which you think you can improve:
Following my dreams to successful employment
Networking for employment
Completing informational interviews
Completing employment interviews
Writing résumés
Researching potential employers
Writing effiective cover letters
Researching and choosing a college major
Researching potential careers
Understanding the financial implications of career choices
Defining short-, medium-, and long-term plans for career development
Discovering my transferable skills
Addressing required work-based skills
Are there other areas in which you can improve your career planning? Write down other things you feel you
need to work on.
How to Get There
Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:
Learning how the employment market has changed over the past ten years and what that
means to you
Discovering your roles and your dreams
Choosing a major
Working with your faculty advisor
Learning the diffierence between jobs and careers (there is a diffierence)
Exploring career options
Learning what work-based skills and transferable skills you really need
Transferring to a four-year college
Building your experience base
Writing résumés
Writing cover letters
Completing informational interviews
Interviewing for a job
Networking for employment
Preparing your life-work plan
If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.
- Yogi Berra
This popular saying attributed to Yogi Berra suggests that we should have a pretty clear picture of
where we are headed. And college, for most of us, is the last step toward a fulfilling and exciting career.
But the fact is that the employment market and job-seeking techniques have changed significantly over
the past ten years and will continue to change; it is not as easy as it once was to map out a clear career
path. However, a clear direction can still provide enough flexibility to respond to the changing needs of
today’s job market. In fact, building flexibility into your career plans is a requirement for achieving a
successful career.
Consider the ways in which the job market has changed—and what it may mean to your planning:
You will likely be employed by many organizations in your lifetime. The idea of working for a
single employer is no longer the rule but rather the exception. In fact, the U.S. Department of
Labor found that on average, people hold close to eleven jobs between the ages of eighteen and
forty-two.[1] This trend means today’s graduates need to be very flexible in their career plans and
that they should make an effiort to identify and develop transferable skills in order to navigate the
changing employment market.
< Five years from now, you may be working in a job that doesn’t even exist in the present. As new
technology accelerates and national and global priorities (such as going green or national
security) take on a new sense of urgency, new needs are identified and new jobs will be created to
fill those needs. Think about this: five years ago, a search engine optimization (SEO) specialist
was a job in only a handful of Web-centric companies. With the meteoric growth of Google, SEO
is now a common role in just about any marketing department—and a job in relatively high
demand. In the same way, the aging population has created new opportunities in elder care, the
events of 9/11 has created a whole new category of jobs in homeland security, and new
discoveries and approaches in science have created fields like biotechnology and nanotechnology.
Today’s students and job hunters must become lifetime learners to keep up with new trends.
< The physical location of a job is no longer as important as it once was. Other than jobs that
require you to serve customers in a specific location or region or jobs that require specialized
equipment (as in manufacturing facilities), companies increasingly have offi-site employees who
stay connected via the Internet. This means that students and job hunters should be able to
demonstrate the ability to work independently and produce results without consistent, direct
personal supervision.
< The growth of job posting sites online has created a glut of applicants for most posted positions.
You have access to millions of job opportunities via the Web, but so do hundreds or thousands of
other job seekers. Each employer must cull through hundreds of résumés received for each job
posted on the Web. Strategies for standing out in this crowded field become very important.
These factors combine to create a job environment that is diffierent from what most people might expect. The way you prepare for a career needs to be more flexible and more personalized. Technology
will play an important role in your career development. Linking your demonstrable skills to the needs
of a job will be a key to your success. This chapter will help set you up for this challenging
1. Use your life mission to inform career decisions.
2. Understand how you are already on your way to fulfilling your dream.
3. Work with changing life objectives and goals.
Throughout this book, we have covered many techniques for how to get things done effiectively: how to
study, how to read, how to take notes, how to manage your personal finances or your social life. This
last chapter challenges you to really think about the why. Why did you decide to attend college? Why is
it important to you?
We all have life goals or objectives—some are clearer than others, but they are there. You may
think of your objectives in terms of finances (to hold a job that allows you to be financially independent, for example), or perhaps your goals are more personal (to be married and have a family). They
might be specific (pay offi my student loans within three years of leaving college) or very general (to do
good). Regardless of what they may be, they are all important because they influence the decisions you
are making today about your future.
Understanding what motivates your goals and aspirations is essential because you are then better
able to prioritize your thoughts about the future and identify new options that you may not have
thought of before that will bring you fulfillment. Beware of accepting dreams others may have for you
as your own (“I want to finish college to make my parents proud” or “I want to complete my associate’s
degree because my boyfriend says I can get a better job”). These are not necessarily bad dreams to pursue, but they will lead to genuine fulfillment only if they are your dreams.
1 :
In the table that follows, list the four or five most important dreams you have for your future. Include your personal, professional, and economic goals. Now take some time to think about why these dreams are important
to you. Revisit your answers frequently over the next week or two and fine-tune them. What do they tell you
about what is important to you? How are they linked to each other?
My dreams for the future
Why they are important to me
Since you were a child and first definitively stated, “When I grow up I want to be a
you have been making decisions in order to fulfill your dreams. Most likely you are in college today as a
step toward fulfilling a lifetime goal. But very few of us are still passionate about our childhood dream.
As we grew up, we discovered new options; were influenced by people we met; or perhaps even learned
that being a fireman, nurse, circus clown, pro baseball player, or princess is not all we thought it might
be. Your evolving life dreams may continue even today and should be embraced. But for most people,
the motivators behind the dreams—the answers to “Why they are important to me” in Exercise
1—change very little over time. If as a child you wanted to be a princess so your kingdom would have a
kind ruler, today you may want to be a teacher to help children learn—and both of these dreams, at
their core, are motivated by the desire to help others.
Take a close look at your “importance” statements in Exercise 1. What do they tell you about the
direction you want to take in your life? What are your priorities? Will some dreams need to be put on
the back burner while you pursue others? Using your dream statements as a guide, write a two- or
three-sentence mission for yourself. You don’t need to share it with anyone, but you should refer to it a
few times a year and ask yourself, “Am I living up to my mission?” and “Am I taking the right steps toward this mission?” You may also want to fine-tune it as you progress.
The world is changing quickly around you, but your dreams and aspirations may provide a sense of
direction in unknown territory.
The reasons dreams or aspirations are important to you are as important as the dreams themselves and are
likely to be more consistent than your literal dreams.
A mission statement can be very useful in helping you to make important personal decisions, but it needs
to be considered often and fine-tuned as needed.
1. Define the diffierence between a job and a career.
2. Identify the primary types of work and which you are best suited for.
3. Learn how to explore work options.
A job: yes, it’s something you would like to have, especially if you want to pay your bills. A job lets you
enjoy a minimal level of financial security. A job requires you to show up and do what is required of
you; in exchange, you get paid. A career involves holding jobs, but it is more a means of achieving personal fulfillment. In a career, your jobs follow a sequence that leads to increasing mastery, professional
development, and personal and financial satisfaction. A career requires planning, knowledge, and skills.
If it is to be a fulfilling career, it requires that you bring into play your full set of analytical, critical, and
creative thinking skills to make informed decisions that will affiect your life in both the short term and
the long term.
3.1 What Do You Want to Do When You “Grow Up”?
The Department of Labor defines 840 occupations in its Standard Occupation Classification system[2]
—and new occupations are being created at an ever-faster rate. Just ten years ago, would anyone have
imagined the job of a social media marketing specialist? How about the concept of a competitive chef?
As new careers develop and old careers morph into almost unrecognizable versions of their original,
it’s OK if you aren’t able to pinpoint exactly what occupation or career will be your lifetime passion.
However, it is important to define as best you can what field you will want to develop your career in,
because that will help dictate your major and your course selections.
The process of career exploration can be a lot of fun, as it allows you to discover a world of possibilities. Even those students who have a pretty clear idea of what they want to do should go through this
process because they will discover new options as backups and occasionally a new direction even more
attractive than their original choice. The career exploration process involves four phases.
Phase A: Who Am I?
Getting to know who you are—who you really are—is the first step. As in Exercise 1, be careful to base
your self-discovery on what you think, not what Auntie Ethel always said about you or the hopes that
Dad had for you to join in the family business. This is all about you.
You are a unique individual with a distinct combination of likes, dislikes, personality traits, and
skills. But you are not so diffierent that you can’t be identified with certain personality types, and those
types may help you narrow your career choices. Visit your campus career guidance or placement offlce.
They will likely be able to offier you a variety of tests to define your personality type; you can also find
tests online at Web sites such as SuccessHawk ( or many of the job board
Many of these tests are based on the career theory developed by Dr. John Holland. Holland defined
six categories of people based on personality, interests, and skills:
1. Realistic. These people describe themselves as honest, loyal, and practical. They are doers more
than thinkers. They have strong mechanical, motor, and athletic abilities; like the outdoors; and
prefer working with machines, tools, plants, and animals.
2. Investigative. These people love problem solving and analytical skills. They are intellectually
stimulated and often mathematically or scientifically inclined; like to observe, learn, and evaluate;
prefer working alone; and are reserved.
3. Artistic. These people are the “free spirits.” They are creative, emotional, intuitive, and idealistic;
have a flair for communicating ideas; dislike structure and prefer working independently; and like
to sing, write, act, paint, and think creatively. They are similar to the investigative type but are
interested in the artistic and aesthetic aspects of things more than the scientific.
4. Social. These are “people” people. They are friendly and outgoing; love to help others, make a
diffierence, or both; have strong verbal and personal skills and teaching abilities; and are less likely
to engage in intellectual or physical activity.
Routine work done for an
agreed price.
An occupation or profession
requiring special skills or
training; a progression of jobs
followed as one’s life pursuit.
5. Enterprising. These people are confident, assertive risk takers. They are sociable; enjoy speaking
and leadership; like to persuade rather than guide; like to use their influence; have strong
interpersonal skills; and are status conscious.
6. Conventional. These people are dependable, detail oriented, disciplined, precise, persistent, and
practical; value order; and are good at clerical and numerical tasks. They work well with people
and data, so they are good organizers, schedulers, and project managers.
2 :
W H A T ’ S
T Y P E ?
Using the descriptions above, choose the three types that most closely describe you and list them in order in
the following table. Most people are combinations of two or sometimes three types. Then list the specific
words or attributes that made you think you fit in that type description.
Words and attributes that closely
describe me
Primary type (the one I identify with most
Secondary type
Tertiary type
Note: Your Holland occupational code is made up of the initials of the three personality types you selected, in
Phase B: What’s Out There?
Once you have determined your occupational type, you can begin to explore what types of careers
might be best suited to you. Exercise 2 is a rough beginning to find your occupational type, but you
should still seek out more detailed results through your career guidance or placement offlce or by taking the Self-Directed Search (SDS) online through sites such as SuccessHawk
The SDS will provide you with a profile of careers you might want to consider, but if you have not
taken the SDS, your career guidance or placement offlce is the best place to start, as is the Department
of Labor’s Occupation Exploration site at
The SDS and other career guidance tests are based on Holland’s work. Holland studied people who
were successful and happy in many occupations and matched their occupations to their occupational
type, creating a description of the types of occupations that are best suited to each personality type. Just
as many individuals are more than one personality type, many jobs show a strong correlation to more
than one occupational type.
TABL E 1 2 . 1 Occupational Options by Type
Clear lines of authority
Work with things and tools
Casual dress
Focus on tangible results or well-thought-out
Research oriented
Work with ideas and data
Rewards unconventional and aesthetic
Creation of products and ideas
Work with people and on people-related
Work as a team or community
Typical business environment
Results oriented
Work with people and data
Power focused
Clear rules and policies
Consistent processes
Work with systems to manipulate and organize
Control and handling of money
Emergency medical
technician (EMT)
Military career
Packaging engineer
Lab technician
College professor
Advertising career
Geriatric counselor
Correctional offlcer
Sales manager
Business owner
Restaurant manager
Insurance underwriter
Bank teller
Offlce manager
Database manager
Use the occupational code you defined in Exercise 2 to identify careers you might want to consider.
Your career guidance or placement offlce should be a good resource for this activity, or you can check
out Gottfredson and Holland’s Dictionary of Holland Occupational Codes in the reference section of
your library.
Use the Department of Labor’s O*Net ( to get a deeper understanding of your occupation. For each occupation, O*Net lists the type of work, the work environment,
the skills and education required, and the job outlook for that occupation. This is a truly rich resource
that you should get to know.
Phase C: What Factors Might Affect My Choice?
You may now have a list of careers you want to explore. But there are other factors you will need to
take into consideration as well. It is important to use your creative thinking skills to come up with alternative “right” answers to factors that may present an obstacle to pursuing the right career.
Timing. How much time must I invest before I actually start making money in this career? Will I
need to spend additional time in school? Is there a certification process that requires a specific
amount of experience? If so, can I affiord to wait?
Finances. Will this career provide me with the kind of income I need in the short term and the
security I’ll want in the longer term? What investment will I need to make to be successful in this
field (education, tools, franchise fees, etc.)?
< Location. Does this career require me to relocate? Is the ideal location for this career somewhere
I would like to live? Is it somewhere my family would like to live?
< Family/personal. How will this career affiect my personal and family life? Do friends and family
members who know me well feel strongly (for or against) about this career choice? How
important is their input?
Phase D: Where Do I Go from Here?
It may seem odd to be thinking about life after school if you are just getting started. But you will soon
be making decisions about your future, and regardless of the direction you may choose, there is a lot
you can do while still in college. You will need to focus your studies by choosing a major. You should
find opportunities to explore the careers that interest you. You can ensure that you are building the
right kind of experience on which to base a successful career. These steps will make your dreams come
to life and make them achievable.
Start by developing a relationship with the counselors in the career guidance or placement offlce.
All too often students engage these counselors only near the end of their college days, when the pressure is just on getting a job—any job—after having completed a degree. But these counselors can be of
great help in matching your interests to a career and in ensuring you are gathering the right kind of experience to put you at the top of the recruiting heap.
Keep in mind that deciding on and pursuing a career is an ongoing process. The more you learn
about yourself and the career options that best suit you, the more you will need to fine-tune your career
plan. Don’t be afraid to consider new ideas, but don’t make changes without careful consideration. Career planning is exciting: learning about yourself and about career opportunities, and considering the
factors that can affiect your decision, should be a core part of your thoughts while in college.
The right career for you depends on your interests, your personality, and your skills.
Defining your occupational type may confirm career choices you have already made and open entirely
new options for you.
Career planning is an ongoing process involving knowing yourself, knowing about career options, and
understanding the context in which your decisions will be made.
1. Using your occupational type, identify a career opportunity you might be suited for that you have not yet
considered. Now write a paragraph on what life might be like if you were to pursue that career.
2. Name the six Holland occupational types, and then circle what each type likes to work with:
data ideas people process tools
data ideas people process tools
data ideas people process tools
data ideas people process tools
data ideas people process tools
data ideas people process tools
3. Visit O*Net ( and look up one of the careers you may be considering.
What kinds of things does O*Net tell you about a career?
1. Understand how your major is important to your career.
2. Understand why majors are not important to a career.
3. Practice skills for selecting a good major.
Choosing a college major can have a big impact on your career choices, especially if you are following a
technical or vocational program of study. After all, it’s hard to become a pharmacist if you study computer networking. But students often get too anxious about choosing a major or program of studies.
Certainly many two-year students have a very clear idea of what they are studying and the job they expect to land after completing their degree, and you probably feel confident enough in your choice of
program of study to make the investment for tuition in that program. But there is no need to panic
over your choice of major or program of studies:
Your choice of major or program will be important only for your first job after college; most
people change careers (not just jobs, but careers) five times or more in their lifetime, so there is
no possible major that will cover that level of flexibility.
< Many majors and programs share foundation courses with other majors, so you can usually
change your major without having wasted your time in courses that will be unrelated to your new
major. Chances are that if you change your major, it will be to something similar, especially if you
have completed an occupational interest survey as recommended earlier in this chapter.
< Most students change their major at least once, and many will change majors two or three times
before they graduate.
< If a change in major does cause a delay in completing your degree, it may be a good investment of
time to follow a career path you are truly happy with. Before making a decision, consider the
factors outlined in phase C of Chapter 10, Section 3. Use your creative thinking skills to find a
second right answer to any dilemmas a delay like this may cause.
While these thoughts might remove some of the stress of making the choice, there is no doubt that it is
not always easy to make your choice. The following tips may make it a little easier<and perhaps fun!
Follow your dreams. Your first instinct in choosing a field of study is probably based on your
dreams and life experience. Make sure you base your choice on your own dreams and interests
and not those of a parent, spouse, or friend.
< Make it fun. What do you like to do for fun? What kinds of magazines do you read? What Web
sites are bookmarked on your computer? What kinds of volunteer work have you done? What do
the answers to these questions tell you about the kind of career you would enjoy?
< Build on your skills. A good choice of a program of study is not based exclusively on your likes; it
should also consider your skills. What courses did you “ace” in high school? Consider also
courses that you found challenging in which you learned a lot (it’s hard to keep a level of
determination to tackle a tough subject if you don’t enjoy it). What do these courses tell you
about what you are skilled at studying?
< Ask around. Find people who are following the courses of studies you are considering. Ask them
what they like and dislike about their majors. If you can find recent graduates with that major,
ask them about the value of their major.
< Two is better than one. Talk to your faculty advisor about a double major or a combined
program; that is an effiective way of preparing yourself for the uncertainties and options of future
employment. Think about declaring a minor if your college allows it.
< What makes you unique? If you have a major that you’d like to pursue that is not offiered at your
college, find out if you can plan your own major. This option is especially attractive if you want to
combine two seemingly diffierent disciplines into a major (Dance and athletics? Sociology and
film? Women’s studies and economics?).
< Be open to change. Once you have selected a major, don’t panic if it turns out to be the wrong
choice; consider it a step toward finding the right program for you. Repeat the major selection
process, but carefully consider what you learned from your original major choice. Why was it not
the right major? (Did it not match your interests? Was the workload too heavy? Were the courses
too tough?) What do you know now that you didn’t know when you made your first selection
that you should consider in making a new choice?
There is no need to panic over the choice of a major or program of studies.
Most students will change their major during their college years.
Many people work and have successful careers in disciplines they did not major in.
1. How is your choice of major important? Why do you want to be sure you do a good job selecting one?
2. What are some of the reasons you should not panic over the choice of major?
1. Explore the benefits of a four-year college education.
2. Understand the diffierence between work-based skills and transferable skills.
3. Learn how to use jobs, internships, and volunteering.
What do you need to launch a good career? Employers will look at your education, skills, and experience. Making sure you have the “right stuffi” in these three areas is what you should focus on in your
college experience.
5.1 The Transfer Ticket
Are you in a two-year program or community college? Perhaps you decided to attend your college to
save some money or to be able to explore a career before committing to a four-year program. Now you
may find that a bachelor’s degree is worth pursuing because it appears to be a requirement for the kind
of career you want or because you will be able to boost your income opportunities. If you are thinking
about transferring to a four-year program, be sure to follow these steps:
articulation agreement
An agreement between a
community college and
four-year institution that
allows for seamless transfer
into a four-year bachelor’s
1. Find out about the transfer program at your college. Most two-year colleges have a program
designed to make sure you have the right kind of general education courses, electives, and courses
related to your major so that you can transfer seamlessly into a junior year at a four-year
2. Make sure your credits are transferable. Each four-year college or university has its own policies
about what kind of credits it accepts. If you are considering one or two particular four-year
colleges, find out about their transfer policies as you lay out your plan of studies. These policies
are typically described in the college catalogs. Read them carefully to ensure you can transfer
most if not all of your credits.
3. Talk to your advisor. Now. If you haven’t met with your advisor to discuss your ideas about
transferring, do so soon. Your advisor will be a great help in formulating a plan of studies that
meets your requirements for your associate’s degree and maximizes your transferable credits.
4. Does your college have articulation agreements? These agreements between your college and
four-year institutions define specific requirements for transferring and make it easier for you to
transfer from your college to the bachelor’s program in a four-year school.
If you are in a four-year college already but think your career objectives might be better filled in a program at another college, you should also go through steps two and three as soon as possible. It can save
you a great deal of time, money, and heartbreak.
5.2 Skilled Labor
The second requirement for employment is skills. Many of the skills you will need are career specific:
we call those work-based skills. These include knowing how to use equipment that is specific to your
career and mastering processes that are used in your field. While some of these skills are learned and
perfected on the job, you may be in a vocational track program (such as for homeland security offlcers,
nurses aides, or paralegals) where you are learning your work-based skills.
These are not the only skills you will need to be successful. The second set of skills you must have
are called transferable skills because they can be used in almost all occupations. These include thinking skills, communication skills, listening skills—in fact, most of the skills for college success we have
been stressing throughout this book are transferable skills because they are also key to success in life.
This skill set is very broad, and your extent of mastery will vary from skill to skill; therefore, you should
identify those skills that are most important to your career objective and develop and master them.
Review your occupation profile on O*Net ( to determine which skills
you need to prove to potential employers you have mastered.
work-based skills
Skills that are specific to a
single occupation but are not
likely to be used for others.
transferable skills
Skills that contribute to
success in any number of
3 :
In the list of forty transferable skills that follows, underline five skills you believe you have mastered and then
describe specific ways in which you have used each skill successfully. Then circle five skills you think are important to your career that you have not mastered yet. Describe specific steps you plan to take to master
those skills.
Active listening Decision making
Active learning
Speaking a second language
Perceiving Feelings Supervising
Goal setting
Communicating Handling a crisis
Problem solving
Time management
Handling details
Creative thinking Manipulating numbers Public speaking
Critical thinking Mentoring
Customer service Motivating
Skills I have mastered
Examples of how I used them
Skills I still need to master
How I will master them
Going over the list in Exercise 3, you will find that you have at least some experience in many of them,
but you probably haven’t thought that much about them because you use them in so many ways that
you take them for granted. It is important to think about all your activities and consider the skills you
have applied successfully; your transferable skills inventory is larger than you may think. For example,
if you volunteer as a big brother or big sister, you have skills in active listening, mentoring, time management, and probably coaching. If you have written a college paper, you have skills in visualizing, researching, communicating, and writing.
Be aware of the ways you develop and master transferable skills. Keep a list of them, and update it
every month or two. That will be a valuable tool for you as you work with your career development and
ultimately with job applications.
5.3 Are You Ready for a Test Drive?
Are you frustrated by the fact that even entry-level jobs require some experience? Experience is the
third set of qualifications employers look for, and it’s the one that often stumps students. Relevant experience is not only important as a job qualification; it can also provide you with a means to explore or
test out occupational options and build a contact list that will be valuable when networking for your
But how can you gain relevant experience without experience to begin with? You should consider
three options: volunteering, internships, and part-time employment.
Volunteering is especially good for students looking to work in social and artistic occupations, but
students looking for work in other occupation types should not shy away from this option. You can
master many transferable skills through volunteering! Certainly it is easy to understand that if you
want to be in an artistic field, volunteering at a museum or performance center can provide you with
relevant experience. But what if you want to work in an engineering field? Volunteering for an organization promoting green energy would be helpful. Looking for a career in homeland security? Do volunteer work with the Red Cross or the Coast Guard Auxiliary. With a little brainstorming and an understanding of your career field, you should be able to come up with relevant volunteer experiences for
just about any career.
Internships focus on gaining practical experience related to a course or program of study. Interns
work for an organization or company for a reduced wage or stipend or volunteer in exchange for practical experience. A successful internship program should create a win-win situation: the intern should
add value to the company’s effiorts, and the company should provide a structured program in which the
student can learn or practice work-related skills. Internships are typically held during summers or
school vacation periods, though on occasion they can be scheduled for a set block of time each week
during the course of a regular school term.
Once you secure an internship (usually through a normal job application process aided by a faculty member or the career guidance or placement offlce), it is important to have a written agreement
with the employer in which the following is stated:
1. The learning objective for the internship
2. The time commitment you will invest (including work hours)
3. The work the company expects you to do
4. The work your supervisor will do for the college and for the student (internship progress reports,
evaluations, etc.)
This written agreement may seem like overkill, but it is critical to ensure that the internship experience
doesn’t degrade into unsatisfying tasks such as photocopying and filing.
Remember that a key objective of your internship is to develop relationships you can use for mentoring and networking during your career. Befriend people, ask questions, go the extra mile in terms of
what is expected of you, and generally participate in the enterprise. The extra effiort will pay dividends
in the future.
Part-time employment may be an option if your study schedule provides enough free time. If so,
be sure to investigate opportunities in your field of study. Ask your instructors and the career guidance
or placement offlce to help you generate job leads, even if they are not specifically in the area you want
to be working in. It is valuable and relevant to hold a job designing Web sites for an advertising agency,
for example, if your specific job objective is to produce event marketing. The understanding of how an
advertising agency works and the contacts you make will make the experience worthwhile.
If you are lucky enough to have a job in your field of study already and are using your college experience to enhance your career opportunities, be sure to link what you are learning to what you do on
the job—and what you do on the job to what you are learning. Ask your supervisor and employer
about ideas you have picked up in class, and ask your instructors about the practices you apply at work.
This cross-linking will make you a much stronger candidate for future opportunities and a much better
student in the short term.
Employers look at candidates who have the right education, the right skills, and the right experience.
Progress in many career opportunities is enhanced by more advanced education; you should work,
however, to make sure the education you are already getting counts.
Be sure you can identify and show mastery in transferable skills as well as work-related skills.
Experience through volunteering, internships, and part-time jobs will illustrate to potential employers that
you can work in your chosen field, but it is also instrumental to help create a network of colleagues to
enhance your career development.
1. Read the famous “fence whitewashing” story in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
( What transferable skills does Tom
demonstrate? What work-related skills does he demonstrate?
2. Why is having a written internship agreement important?
1. Understand that career development is not a process that occurs only when you are searching
for a job.
2. Know how to get organized for career development.
3. Use resources for career development.
Think of developing your career as if you were working in a start-up venture, because in a sense, you
are. The product you are developing is yourself as a professional. While you are focused primarily on
product development during your college years, you need to “seed” the market during this period as
well so that when the product is ready (when you get your degree), the market will be ready to accept
you. If launching a career means getting your first postcollege job, the time to start preparing is now,
not six months (or six weeks) before you graduate.
Start by organizing yourself. Set aside some physical space dedicated exclusively to career development and job hunt work. It can be as small as a corner on your desk or an accordion file, but it should
be a place where you can keep and access your records whenever you need them. Organize some digital
space as well. Create a file for all your career-related documents on your computer. Make sure you have
a backup using an online service or at least a thumb drive or other external storage device.
Get and keep two notebooks to use during your career exploration. One is for recording and tracking phone calls, and the other is for general notes. Similarly, on your computer, create a folder in your
browser’s bookmark menu to use exclusively for keeping track of Web sites of good resources, interesting companies, and leading ideas from your targeted occupation. In your contact management system
or personal directory, flag those individuals who may be of use to you in your exploration and search.
Create group folders for them in your social networking sites. There may not be many people in those
groups and directories now, but as you go through the processes described in the rest of the chapter,
those numbers will multiply, so it will pay to have a system in place to identify your key professional
contacts starting now.
A second step in getting organized is understanding your financial picture. If you think of yourself
as a business, you are investing both time and money in your college degree, and you should have a
clear picture of how and when your investment will begin to pay offi. Project your cash flow and
prepare a personal budget and live within it (see Chapter 11). Paying offi student loans on an entry-level
salary can be a challenge without the discipline of following a budget.
Start identifying resources that you can use to explore and select an occupation and to help land
that first (or next) job in your career. Every student will have his or her own list of favored resources.
For some it may be a Web site like the Department of Labor’s site or SuccessHawk
( Others may want to include a counselor at the college career guidance
or placement offlce or their faculty advisor. You may want to add an alumnus who has been helpful or
a relative who already practices in your target occupation. Most important, identify these resources and
record them in your “notes” notebook, creating your own personalized reference guide.
Set goals for yourself to guide you in your process. Especially since career planning is an ongoing,
long-term process, it is important to set short-term, attainable goals to keep making progress toward a
fulfilling occupation. The goals should be simple, everyday steps that keep you moving in the right direction, such as “investigate metallic arts sculpture as a business by Friday” or “make an appointment to
see a counselor at the guidance offlce by Tuesday.” As you proceed through the process of investigation, decision making, networking, selection, and application, these goals will become even more
Career exploration and job hunting are not short-term projects but processes that continue over time.
Organization is key to an effiective process and sets you up for success.
Setting goals will keep your actions organized and keep you moving forward in a long-term process.
1. What are three things you should do to get organized for the process of career development?
2. Why is it valuable to have two notebooks to work with instead of just one?
3. Why is setting a goal important in this process?
1. Learn how to develop a network.
2. Keep track of your contacts.
3. Attend conferences and trade shows.
There is some wisdom in the saying that it’s who you know that brings success in getting a job. Consider the following:
It is estimated that only 20 percent of new jobs and vacancies are advertised or posted.
< A Web posting for a job typically yields over 150 applicants for a position.
< Sixty to eighty percent of jobs are found through personal contact and networking.
The process of engaging
others in helping reach an
What exactly is networking? In its simplest terms, it is the process of engaging others in helping you
reach an objective. Three words in this definition deserve a closer look:
1. Process. Networking is something that doesn’t happen casually but requires thought, planning,
and deliberate activity.
2. Engaging. You are looking to have others do something for you—give you information,
guidance, other contacts, or perhaps a recommendation.
3. Objective. You need to be clear about your purpose for networking—it is not merely to collect
people’s contact information but to further your career development.
The process of networking involves three basic phases: prospect identification and management, making contact, and follow-up.
Student FAQs
I won’t graduate and be in the job market for a couple years. Do I need to work on résumés and
networking now? Yes, absolutely! Even though you aren’t yet graduating from college, there are
many benefits to starting now. As a student, you are likely to be applying for part-time jobs,
internships, and even volunteer positions. Networking is a process of building relationships, and the
strongest relationships are built over time. Having a good network will help identify interesting and
relevant opportunities. Having a résumé that summarizes your strengths and skills will give you an
advantage over other candidates who apply without a résumé, because job application forms rarely
give the opportunity to highlight your strengths. Furthermore, a résumé is an updated record of your
skills and experience; it makes sense to capture your accomplishments as they happen and will save
you a lot of time in the future.
I don’t have any work experience. How can I write a résumé? You may not have any work
experience, but you do have experience and skills. Focus on your transferable skills, and list examples
of how you have used them. Think of organizations you have been involved in and volunteer work
you have done. It is OK to include high school accomplishments; you can replace them with college
accomplishments as you gain them. It is also OK to include your GPA, particularly if it is over 3.0,
because that helps show you are disciplined and organized.
7.1 All Contacts Are Equal, but Some Are More So Than Others
The first phase involves identifying whom you should be speaking to and pinpointing the people who
can introduce you to them. This is like the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon applied to your own life.
Whom do you need to speak to? That really depends on your objectives. If you are trying to learn about
an occupation, it can be just about anyone involved with that field. If you are in the process of trying to
land an internship or a job, you want to reach the person who will make the hiring decision.
Your objective also defines how you get started with your networking. In the first case, you might
want to start with people you met at an industry conference; in the job-specific case, you’ll want to
think about whom you know in that company or who might know someone in that company. If you
don’t have any contacts who fit that description, whom do you know who lives in the town in which
the company is based or in a nearby town?
Your success in this phase of networking will be driven by the quality of the candidates (those who
can directly influence your ability to reach your objectives) as well as the quantity (those who will lead
you to the most contacts). This is why there is no such thing as a bad contact.
As important as having contacts is your ability to access those contacts when you need to. That is
where contact management comes into play. Don’t be caught wishing you could call someone you met
three weeks ago<if you could only remember what you did with their business card! There are countless ways to keep track of contacts, from writing names in an address book, to keeping a Rolodex, to using a computer-based contact management system. Choose a system you feel comfortable
with—comfortable enough to use regularly. A sophisticated system that has all the bells and whistles is
no good to you if you can’t use it.
Let technology help you in this endeavor. Your computer, PDA, or smartphone probably has features for capturing contact information and retrieving it based on keywords, and most will even connect with your calendar for scheduling and reminders. Consider Web-based applications such as those
offiered by SuccessHawk ( and networking sites focused on professional
networking, such as LinkedIn. Whatever your choices, invest the time to learn to use them well; you’ll
be very glad you did.
Building a network requires consistent work, and a strong network will take time to achieve. That
is why we recommend you start building your professional network now—even early in your college
career. Your network should include anyone who might have a connection that will help: family,
friends, neighbors, past and present coworkers, bosses, people you met through associations and clubs
(especially business associations), alumni from your college, and acquaintances you have met via online networking.
When you capture your contact data, use relevant keywords to help you search your database and
shape your contact activity. One of the most overlooked pieces of information that you should be sure
to capture is the source of the contact. That’s what turns a “cold call” into a “warm call”—and it helps
engage the prospect. If a friend introduced you, be sure to note that friend’s name; if you met at a party,
note the name of the host and the occasion; if you met at a conference, note the conference and date.
You should also use other keywords so that you can quickly find the contacts that will be most effiective
for each of your objectives; keywords might describe the area of specialization, organization membership, or type of contact (family, friend, colleague, etc.).
Personal Contact
Being in the right place at the right time has much less to do with luck than with the art of personal contact.
Contacts are everywhere, and you don’t know when you might turn one to your advantage. You may feel a
little awkward following these tips at first, but with practice you will become quite adept at meeting new
people and adding them to your network.
Be prepared. If you are going to a conference, a party, or even a class, know ahead of time which
people or kinds of people you want to meet. Be prepared with topics you can steer your contact
toward so you don’t spend two minutes awkwardly talking about the weather and then slink away.
Be confident. Prepare and learn a short introduction for yourself. Be factual, don’t brag, and give
enough information about yourself to prompt your contact to ask questions.
Be curious. The best way to get contacts to want to know you is to show you want to know them.
Observe them before you step up to them. Is there something unique about them, the way they are
dressed, or perhaps what you may have overheard that you can ask about? “I couldn’t help but notice
that lovely necklace; is that from a local designer?” or “You have such an interesting accent; do you
mind if I ask where you’re from?” After you ask the question, listen actively to keep the conversation
Be prepared (part 2). Have a good supply of personal cards to give out to contacts; that will prompt
them to give you their contact information, too. You don’t have to be in business to have “business
Be courteous. If someone you know comes up to you while you are speaking with a contact,
introduce them; if you see that the contact is getting antsy, tell them you enjoyed meeting them and
then move on. Don’t trap them!
Be prepared (part 3). Set yourself up for networking success by discreetly writing a word or two on
the back of their card to jog your memory in the future. “World-class rodeo clown” will certainly help
you remember who Jack Smith at Triangle Financial was.
7.2 Make the Call
What you say in your networking calls or e-mails will depend largely on the objective of your networking effiort. (Is it to learn about an occupation or industry? Seek a job-shadowing opportunity? Ask for a
job?) But some networking basics and elements of etiquette apply to all contacts:
Be mindful of your contact’s time. Keep your calls and e-mails courteous but brief. If you are
calling, ask if it is a good time to talk.
< If this is a first contact, tell the contact where you got his or her name. “I was referred to you by
our friend Janet Smith” or “My colleague Richard Stewart suggested I call you” or “I heard you
speak at the International Genius Conference” (remember the contact source information in your
contact database?). This turns an interrupting cold call into a warm call with an interested
< Be specific about how the contact can help you. Know what you are asking for and do so
directly. Don’t be shy.
< Use your network for more than just asking for jobs. It is a great vehicle for learning about new
trends in the industry, for launching “trial balloons” for ideas or concepts you are developing,
and for seeking advice on practical aspects of your occupation.
< Help others in your network. Networking is not a one-way endeavor. Be willing to offier your
assistance whenever you can; the fact that you are still in college doesn’t mean you can’t be of
value. You may be able to get an introduction to an instructor for a person in the industry or help
that person’s daughter learn about your college.
7.3 Care and Feeding of Your Network
Much of the success of your networking effiorts depends on what you do after you’ve hung up after a
call or received an e-mail reply. The first step is to thank your contact for his or her help. Do this right
away; any thank-you after twenty-four hours of your contact can be considered late. Find a reason (not
just an excuse) to keep in touch with people in your network. If you read an article people in your network would be interested in, send them the link. If you run across a problem one of your contacts
might help you with, don’t be shy—give him or her a call to ask for help. If you meet someone you
think a contact would like, make introductions. Send a follow-up note of thanks to a person who gave
you a particularly productive lead. Let him or her know what you were able to accomplish. People like
to know they are on a successful team. Finally, if a person in your network asks you for help, do what
you say you will do.
Networking is an ongoing process that involves identifying and managing prospects, making contact, and
following up.
All contacts are good contacts.
Common courtesy and follow-through are the catalysts of good networking.
1. Give yourself twenty minutes to list one hundred people you know. (Remember the idea of grouping
items to commit them to memory in Chapter 4? You may want to think of groups first and then see how
quickly you can draw up the list.) Now give yourself another twenty minutes to write one or two words
next to each name to describe how he or she could help you network.
2. List three things you should do whenever you contact someone for the first time.
3. Describe two things you can do to overcome shyness and network effiectively in a person-to-person
1. Understand the purpose of a résumé.
2. Describe the elements of successful résumés.
3. Know how to prepare a good cover letter.
A document used to
summarize the experience of
a person.
A résumé is basically a summary of your experience. Just as an advertiser will invest a lot of resources
to condense the essence of his or her product into a thirty-second ad for the Super Bowl, condensing
the essence of your experience onto one or two pages can be a challenging task. Fine-tuning, updating,
and rewriting your résumé will become an ongoing process as you move through your career, and it is
not too early to prepare one now. The purpose of a résumé is to get you invited for an interview. Unfortunately, too often a résumé is a reason to exclude a candidate. Poor grammar, misspelled words,
lengthy listings of irrelevant experience, and messy formatting motivate hiring managers to move
quickly to the next candidate.
There is no such thing as a perfect format for a résumé, though hiring managers and recruiters
generally agree on the following principles:
A short résumé is generally better than a long one. One page should usually be enough—two
pages if you have a lot of experience.
< Focus on your accomplishments, not just the positions you held. Your résumé should point out
your strengths. Use dynamic verbs (see “101 Action Verbs” below).
< Include numbers. Be sure to include dollar amounts and percentages that support achievements.
For example, you might write “Reduced costs by 20 percent.” Keep track of your
accomplishments in your “notes” notebook so that you don’t have to go back and recreate history
when you are revising your résumé.
< Use keywords. Most recruiters and hiring managers look for résumés online and review
submitted résumés with software that looks for keywords.
< Keep information easy to find. Use the standard convention of a reverse chronological listing of
experience, starting with your current or most recent job and moving backward in time, unless
there is a valid reason for following a diffierent format (a function-based résumé might be
appropriate if you need to cover two or more long periods of unemployment).
Deciding what to include in your résumé is where most of the work comes in, because it is in the careful wording of the body of your résumé that you can really sell yourself for a position. Ideally, you
should review your résumé for each position you are applying for, particularly to include any accomplishments that you would not include in your “general résumé” but that are relevant to that particular
job. Your résumé should include these elements:
Header. Include your full name and complete contact information. Be sure that you use personal
(home) phone number and e-mail address, not your work contact information.
< Objective. Include a short one- or two-sentence summary of the kind of position you are looking
for. Some résumé writers now recommend replacing or following the objective with a listing of
skills, particularly when you are going to post the résumé online, because that provides a great
opportunity to include keywords. Look to your list of transferable skills to populate this kind of
< Résumé body. Starting with your current or most recent job, internship, or volunteer position,
list your experience in reverse chronological order. Each entry should include the title, the name
and location of the company, and the dates you held the position. This should be followed by
your major achievements in that position. Use strong action verbs and a quantitative measure for
achievements. Look for things that will show that you are a better candidate than others.
Consider accomplishments such as the following:
Being promoted
< Gaining expanded responsibilities
< eing recruited by a former employer or boss, or being asked to follow him or her to
another company
< Having your accomplishment copied by other departments or, even better, by other
< Recruiting and training others
< Receiving awards and recognitions, including speaking at conferences, writing, or being
written about (if these are easily found online and you are short on space, omit these
types of accomplishments, because you will be googled)
101 Action Verbs
Here are the kinds of verbs that help “sell” you to potential employers. Expand on this list to find good verbs
specific to your accomplishments by doing an Internet search for “action verbs for résumés.”
demonstrated improved
implemented persuaded
investigated revitalized
set goals
communicated facilitated
conceptualized founded
8.1 The Finishing Touches
Once you have written the body of your résumé, review and discuss it with people you respect. Ask
them what stands out, what puts them to sleep, what turns them offi, and whether anything is missing.
Make sure your résumé is “short and sweet” and that it demonstrates your strengths. Be sure you can
support every point you make on your résumé during an interview.
Great résumés are a combination of a business document, marketing piece, and personal preferences. Expect conflicting opinions from others and don’t get hung up on them; the final decision is
Finally, here are some tips on format. Name your résumé file clearly. Don’t give the file the name
“résumé” or “My Résumé.” Include your name, abbreviated job title, and company name in the file
name. For example, if Victor Smith applies for a marketing project manager job at XYZ Company, his
résumé file might be named VictorSmith-MktPM-XYZ.doc.
Choose your document formatting wisely. Use a readable font! You have approximately thirty
seconds to make an impact on the person reading your résumé, and nothing turns offi a reader faster
than a résumé that is difflcult to read.
Serif fonts, such as Times New Roman, should be no smaller than eleven points, and sans-serif
fonts, like Arial, should be no smaller than ten points.
< Try to keep margins at one inch all the way around.
< Print your résumé on a high-grade, bright white paper. Do not use cream-colored paper or paper
with visible fibers, as these papers can confuse scanners and optical character recognition
software that employers may use to digitally store and search résumés.
8.2 Cover Letters
The purpose of a cover letter is to entice the recipient to read your résumé. There is no better way to
entice someone to read further than to demonstrate that you fit his or her needs. A successful cover letter should emphasize how your knowledge, skills, or experiences make you an ideal candidate.
When writing a cover letter, look over the job posting carefully. What are the keywords in the
posting? Underline or highlight them. Think about how your experience and skills are related to those
keywords. What examples can you give in short sentences? Now you can begin to write.
Be sure to state what job you are applying for and why in your opening paragraph. If you don’t
hook the reader here, you will not be considered for the job. This is where you begin to show that you
are a unique and qualified candidate. This, in marketing terms, is your selling proposition. Write this
paragraph two or three diffierent ways and then choose the best. When you are happy with your opening paragraph, add one or two paragraphs that illustrate your proposition from the opening paragraph.
Remember that your cover letter also demonstrates your communication skills. Be clear, be concise, and be careful. You won’t have another opportunity to make a first impression. Be sure your
spelling and grammar are correct. Did you double-check the spelling of the company name? Read the
document; look for mistakes your spellchecker won’t catch (like the word “you” instead of “your”). Put
it down for a while and then reread it again.
Keep your formatting simple. Often you will have to copy and paste your letter and résumé into a
predetermined form on a company’s Web site. You are likely to lose formatting conventions such as
tabbing, tables, and bulleted lists.
The purpose of a résumé is to secure an interview.
A good résumé is action based and focused on accomplishments.
The purpose of a cover letter is to entice the recipient to read your résumé.
1. Explain some of the ways a résumé could block consideration of a candidate. What are some strategies for
ensuring this doesn’t happen?
2. List your top three accomplishments to date. What were the key transferable skills you used in achieving
them? Do both the accomplishments and the skills play a prominent role in your résumé?
Transferable skills
3. Write your résumé. Everyone should have one. They are useful not only to apply for jobs, but also to secure
internships and to explain who you are to your network. If you are a student who has no work experience,
what kinds of accomplishments can you use to illustrate your skills?
cover letter
A letter to potential
employers to entice them to
read a résumé.
1. Learn the types of interviews.
2. Know how to prepare for an interview.
3. Be successful in an interview.
In a job search, nothing is more exciting or more intimidating than an interview. Reaching the interview stage means that you are in serious consideration for the position, and the pressure feels cranked
up. In this section, you will learn how to prepare yourself to “ace” this process.
9.1 Types of Interviews
In the process of exploring occupations and landing a job, you will likely participate in a variety of interviews. They are defined by their objective:
informational or
networking interviews
helping you explore career options. This is an interview that you have requested to learn about a
particular job, company, or industry and how best to present yourself to potential hiring
managers. An informational interview also gives you an opportunity to create a positive
impression. Be sure to get referrals, leads, and recommendations for other networking contacts.
An interview you request to
learn more about a job,
company, or industry.
screening interview
Screening interviews. Generally conducted by a representative of the company’s human
resources department or a recruiter, a screening interview is used to determine whether you are
qualified or overqualified to do the job. This initial interview is often conducted via telephone. As
the name implies, the objective of this interview is to find reasons to remove, not include, people
in a candidate pool. Do not consider it lightly just because someone other than the hiring
manager is conducting it.
An interview used to confirm
qualification and narrow the
pool of candidates down to a
small group of “finalists.”
one-on-one interview
An interview or series of
interviews with hiring
managers to get to know
candidates and determine
their fit with the organization.
Hiring decisions are largely
based on these interviews.
Informational or networking interviews. Informational interviewing is particularly useful in
One-on-one interviews. In a one-on-one interview, the interviewer asks a set of questions to
learn if you have the knowledge and skills to handle the job for which you have applied. The
hiring manager conducting the one-on-one interview also wants to get a sense of what it would
be like working with you and how you would fit in the organization. It is also used to learn how
you behaved in past situations as a predictor of how you are likely to behave in the future. Expect
to be asked “Tell me about a time when<” or “Give me an example<” questions. This interview
is the one a hiring decision is based on.
9.2 Preparing for Interviews
Just as preparation is important for exams in college, preparation is key to success in interviews. Many
of the principles are the same, but in an employment interview, the subject is you. Just as in an exam,
the first step in preparation is to know your material.
Learn about the organization. In almost every interview situation, you’ll be asked, “What can you
do for this company?” Practice your answer. Research press releases, stories in the Wall Street Journal,
annual reports, blogs, Web sites, the news, and so on. Know the company’s philosophies, goals, plans,
new products, targeted customers, new executives, and major directional changes.
Use your network. Do you know anyone who works for or has worked for this company or organization? Call or have lunch with him or her before your interview to learn more. Your competition
likely won’t have done their homework as well as you have. Your prospective employer will notice.
Review the job description. Be prepared to explain how your background qualifies you for the job.
Did you find the job posting online? Be sure to have printed a copy, and bring it with you to the interview. Some companies take weeks to start calling people in for interviews, and by then the job description may have been removed from the site where you saw it.
Review your résumé. Think of examples that describe or illustrate your accomplishments. You
will be asked about items on your résumé, and you need to be able to support them and go into more
Use your study guide. Employment interviews, especially screening interviews, do not stray far
from a standard list of questions. Find a quiet one to two hours to review the interview study guide
provided here, prepare your answers, and actually practice them. Your answers should be short but
Interview Study Guide
The following questions[3] are typical in many employment interviews. If you prepare answers for them ahead
of time, you will not be caught offi guard during an interview.
Tell me about yourself. Remember that one-minute elevator introduction you worked on for
networking? Here’s your starting place.
What can you offer us? Why should we hire you? Make a list of your qualifications for the job.
Include years of experience, education, special training, technical skills, inside knowledge of a product
or market, and so on. Are you a customer of this product or service?
Use your list of transferable skills like communication, leadership, organization, attention to
detail, and work ethic. Review the list objectively. Which items are most valuable to the employer?
Use this information to write a brief “sales pitch” that describes your qualifications for the job.
Structure the information in a logical fashion and then practice saying it aloud until your delivery is
smooth, natural, and confident.
What are your strengths? Provide context and scope when answering this question. By elaborating
on your strengths, it’s easier for the employer to see where and how you excel.
Think about your noteworthy and unusual achievements or experiences. What did you do to
accomplish them? What kind of preparation did they require? Why are they unique?
Think about performance reviews you have received in a job. Have you won awards or received
positive feedback from others in the organization or from a happy customer? What were the reasons
for the positive attention?
If you are a student or recent graduate with limited professional experience, think about your
papers, reports, projects, or group assignments. Think about the assignment and what you did to
complete it. The same strengths that helped you academically will also help you succeed
What are your weaknesses? Remember that employers are human and appreciate honesty. It’s OK
to acknowledge your weaknesses and explain steps you’ve taken to address them. It’s also fair to
point out how you’ve turned a weakness into a strength.
Where do you see yourself three to five years from now? Think about your personal goals and
answer as genuinely as possible. This is a good opportunity to ask the interviewer about the
opportunities available to a person who succeeds in this job.
What attracted you to our company? Draw from your research and personal knowledge of the
company to answer this question. Keep in mind that this interview is about what you can do for
them, so answering that you’re attracted to the free snacks in the break room won’t score any points.
Tell me about a time you were under pressure to meet a deadline and what you did. When did you
find pressure at school or work because something was due? Describe the problem, the actions you
took, and the outcome. Choose examples in which you received positive feedback.
What will former employers say about you? Be honest. Think about the positive things they will say
about you.
What salary are you expecting? This is a land-mine question and one you’ll almost certainly face.
Typically a company has budgeted a certain salary range for a position and will do their best to stay
within it. A general rule for salary discussions is that he or she who says the first number loses. Ask
what the salary range is and where the interviewer sees you fitting into that range.
You owe it to yourself to find out before the interview what the salary range is for a comparable
position in the geographical region. You can learn this through your network or an online salary
What questions do you have for me? Before the interview, think of questions you would like
answered about the company, the job, or the industry. Having good questions will tell the
interviewer a lot about your listening skills and your degree of preparation. If you can, tie your
questions back to something the interviewer said earlier. Remember, an interview is not just the
company checking you out, it’s also you checking out the company.
Trick Questions in Interviews
These happen to the best of interviewees. The only wrong answer to an impossible question is “I don’t know.”
Hiring managers are looking for employees who think through tough challenges. They want to know if you
keep your cool under pressure, if you can think on your feet, whether you BS or maintain your credibility, and
how you respond to the unfamiliar. So show them: think aloud.
Talk about what you know about the problem; work out the process in front of them. You are being judged
not only on your ability to solve problems but also on your intelligence and potential. There is no potential in
“I don’t know.”
Prepare yourself physically. Like a final exam, an interview can cause anxiety, and too much anxiety
can result in a poor interview. Make sure you eat well and get a good night’s sleep before the interview.
Hunger, use of energy drinks, and lack of sleep all contribute to interview anxiety.
Dress to impress. Research indicates many job applicants have unsuccessful interviews because
they didn’t dress professionally. If you’re not sure, ask the person who schedules you for an interview
what the dress code is. A suit or jacket, dress slacks, dress shirt, and a tie are usually fine for men. A suit
or blouse and a skirt or slacks are fine for women. The rule of thumb is to dress one notch above that
group’s normal attire. If in doubt, a suit is never inappropriate for men or women. Remember, you’re
going to a job interview, not a casual event.
Punctuality counts. Confirm the date and time of the interview a day or two before. Make sure
you know how to get there and how long it takes. Arrive at least ten to fifteen minutes before your interview. You may be asked to complete an application or other form when you arrive. If not, it’s a good
time to do some relaxation exercises.
9.3 Tips for Success during the Interview
Now is the time to demonstrate your listening, thinking, and communication skills. Avoid unexpected
distractions, and turn offi your cell phone before you even enter the building. Know whom you will be
interviewing with and what his or her role is in the company; if possible, get something in writing from
the interview coordinator so you can get the names spelled correctly (for follow-up purposes). Once
you are face-to-face with the interviewer, do the following:
Relax, take a deep breath, and smile. You should be genuinely pleased to be there, as you were
selected from a pool of many other candidates.
< Be yourself. That’s whom you want them to hire, not someone you’re trying to act like.
< Keep your tone conversational but not too informal. Avoid slang and expletives.
< Make eye contact but don’t stare.
< When answering questions, keep your answers focused on your skills and knowledge.
< Avoid one-word answers, but be succinct and direct; don’t ramble.
< Be truthful. Any statements discovered to be untrue are grounds for not hiring you.
< If you don’t understand a question, ask for clarification.
< If you don’t have the exact fact an interviewer is asking for, offier to find out and get back to them.
< At the end of the interview, thank the interviewer and tell him or her you enjoyed your
conversation. If the interviewer hasn’t already told you, it is appropriate to ask about the next
9.4 After the Interview
Be sure to send a thank-you note to each person you interviewed with. It is also courteous to send a
short note of thanks to the person who coordinated your schedule with the company, even if he or she
didn’t interview you. This person is often asked for his or her impressions of you. Keep your notes
short but personal; refer to a comment or question from the interview that you found significant. An email is usually acceptable, especially if the employer required you to submit an electronic application or
résumé. Be sure to send it within twenty-four hours.
Successful interviewing depends on careful preparation.
Most interview questions can be anticipated and prepared for.
An interview is as important for you to evaluate the company and its working environment as it is for the
company to evaluate your skills and “fit.”
1. Practice, even with phone interviews, will make you more comfortable in any interview situation. Set up
and complete three informational interviews about a field or industry you are interested in. Write about
what you learned about yourself and your approach to interviews.
2. Practice, even with mock interviews, will make you more comfortable in any interview situation. Invite a
friend to conduct a mock employment interview with you for a job you select from an Internet posting.
Then switch roles. Write about what you learned about yourself and your approach to interviews.
1. Explain the diffierence between a job and a career.
2. List three ways in which the employment environment is changing. What does this mean to you?
3. What is your life’s mission?
4. What is your Holland occupational type? What kinds of occupations should you explore based on your
5. List two work-related skills and five transferable skills you have.
6. What are some ways you can gain experience and explore career options before you get your degree?
7. What are some of the factors you should consider when choosing a major or field of study?
8. Why is networking so important?
9. List four or five qualities of successful networking.
10. Many people are shy about networking. How would you recommend they overcome this?
11. What is the primary purpose of a résumé?
12. What should the body of a résumé focus on?
13. What is the purpose of a cover letter?
14. What are the three types of interviews and what are their objectives?
15. List three things you should do to prepare for an interview.
Two things I will do to further Actions
my career exploration in…
The next two weeks
The next two months
The next two years
How I will know I accomplished each action
COLLEGE SUCCESS (accessed July
13, 2010).
U.S. Census Bureau, “Table 597. Average Number of Jobs Held From Ages 18 to 42:
1978 to 2006,” U.S. Department of Labor: National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 2007,
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor: Standard Occupational
Classification User Guide 2010,
(accessed July 13, 2010).
SuccessHawk, “Interview Questions to Anticipate,”
Interviewing/Interview-Questions-to-Anticipate (accessed July 13, 2010).
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