It's no big secret that if you want to make the most of yourself, you're going to need some kind of education beyond high school. Talking heads on the TV mouth the mantra that the necessary work to be done in the digital age has grown ever more specialized and knowledge-based.
They also warn that work is no longer a strictly local, regional, or national affair; employers have an entire planet's worth the talent to draw from, thanks to information technology, telecommuting, and work visas. If you don't want to find yourself languishing among the wretched of the earth, you must find a way to engross your value on an ultracompetitive globalized job market.
The readiest way to engross you job-market value is through higher education. Recently, many newspaper headlines have warned of a student-loan trap miring college grads in onerous debt. Though there may be something to these warnings, the danger, when you get right down to it, is overstated. A college education remains one of the best investments you can make, because it is an investment in yourself. Once you successfully complete your studies and receive that hallowed sheepskin, you'll have an asset that will belong solely to you. Think about it: a car can be repossessed, a house foreclosed upon; but no one can ever put a lien on the contents of your mind.
Another virtue of this asset is that it's portable. Unlike a house, an education you can take with you anywhere - Texas or Tierra del Fuego, Seattle or Siberia. With a higher education as your feature asset, you signal that you are the very sort of workers today's employers need - one who's mobile, flexible, and adaptable.
Indeed, a higher education is something that's impossible to oversell. It remains essential to upward mobility. It is one of the last remaining conduits to the American dream.
Realizing your dream begins at ... well ... the beginning. Before you ever set foot in your first university lecture hall or log in to your first online college course, you need to set yourself straight on the fundamentals of academic success. Always remember: Getting good grades depends as much on organization and self-discipline as it does on raw smarts. Genius can carry you a good way down the road to an "A," but it can't bring you all the way. In fact, it often proves that in college the race goes not always to the swiftest. A strong work ethic, when coupled with a sound approach, proves every bit as potent as genius when it comes to making the grade.
Offered here are three basic tenets to a sound approach. These tenets have been field-tested and proven. They're hardnosed, clear-eyed, and no-nonsense - which is important, because it's otherwise very easy to get lulled into complacency. Compared to the rest of your life, college will seem like a veritable Shangri-la. If you're not careful, though, "Paradise Lost" will become not just something you read in an English lit. class; it will become your own sad tale. Avoiding any unhappy academic endings, then, requires taking these tenets to heart. Learn them and live them, and in time you'll grow to love them as you discover the big dividends they pay in terms of scholarly success:
1. Stay organized. The critical importance of keeping your stuff orderly while you're a student cannot be emphasized enough. Organization in this context indicates not only proper time management (which is also very important) but also clerical organization. By this is meant proper handling of the various materials relevant to your courses.
As the semester wears on you'll inevitably receive a lot of incidental material - syllabi, supplemental readings, graded exams, and various handouts. These you should consider as carrying as much importance as any assigned textbooks. This means you should not only keep them all, but also keep them all handy.
The best way to keep your course material handy is to purchase an inch-and-a-half three-ring binder, a package binder dividers, and a ream of loose-leaf paper, and a three-hole paper punch. Put the dividers in the binder, devoting one to each course. Label each and arrange them in alphabet order according to course title. Divide the ream of loose-leaf into equal amounts and place them between the dividers (these you will use for any notes you need to take). Whenever you receive any handouts, immediately upon returning home punch holes in them with your paper punch and insert them in your binder between the appropriate divider and your notes. Do this every single time and you'll see how much difference it makes in terms of staying on top of your schoolwork. But always remember to bring the binder to campus or to have it near you when logging in to your online class.
2. Never use poor instruction as an excuse for poor academic performance. Like everyone else, university instructors are people: they have their faults, flaws, and quirks. Unlike elementary and high school teachers, many university instructors have little formal pedagogical training. They instead ascended to their position as a result of their research accomplishments. This means that in terms of charisma, presence, delivery, and even attractiveness, university instructors are a mixed bag. You shouldn't go into the situation thinking that it's the instructor's responsibility to pour information into your passively waiting head. And you should never transform in your mind the situation into a personality contest or a battle of wills.
You should instead look at the situation practically, that is, as a mechanism for information delivery. The method of delivery may not be the most elegant or efficient, but, in the final analysis, content is getting delivered. It's up to you to see that this delivery makes it to its final destination, which is an exam or paper. If an instructor stinks as a teacher, simply accept it and devise a workaround. Make a point of relying on your textbook more heavily in that instructor's course, or reach out to other individuals in the class who may be as dissatisfied as you. Form a study group with them for the express purpose of making up for the instructor's shortcomings.
3. Always act on facts instead of impressions. It's natural to like some courses more than others. It's likewise natural to absolutely despise a course. Some courses are brain-buoyingly brilliant, while others are brain-batteringly boring. As with the existence of poor instructors, you have to accept that this is the case. OK, so your course on the music of reed instruments of neolithic Asia Minor has you reaching for the No-Doz. Is this any excuse to let it wreck your transcript, which it will do if you should mentally disengage from it? Always remain mindful of the bigger picture: such courses are a means to an end, that end being a high G.P.A. The fact is that for one reason or another you must take the course, and the course grade counts toward your G.P.A. Though it may seem an eternity while you're in the lecture hall, the fact is that this music history course claims only three hours of your week from you, and that for only sixteen weeks of your life. It's courses like this that serve to remind you of two things: 1) the critical importance of taking an entrepreneurial toward your studies (you're mobilizing a given set of resources against a given set of constraints in a manner intended to bring about an optimal outcome); 2) the critical importance of adhering to the other two tenets listed above.
Spiritual teachers of all stripes often tell eager acolytes that the knowledge they search for has been with them all along. Becoming your own good grade guru is simply a matter of discovering that which lies in your power to control - which as it turns out is quite a lot. For instance, you have no control over the instructor's grading, but you do have control over what you give her to grade. You have no control over what material an instructor will expect you to be responsible for, but you do have control over how well you discharge this responsibility. Indeed, of all the things you learn while enrolled in a residential or online university, those things which best prepare you for the rigors of the working world will serve you best in your postcollegiate career. After all, better than making mistakes and learning from them is never making them in the first place.