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Work & School A freshman’s guide to surviving and thriving in your studies

Dec. 17, 2018
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Illustrated by Hannah Kang

Before I left for college, my older brother shared with me some of his wisdom:

“Everyone thinks they were the shit in high school, and when you get to college, you’ll realize that everyone was the shit from their high school.”

It didn’t take long for me to see what he meant.

Many of my friends spent their entire high school career being bent over backward in order to secure a spot at a good university. They pulled all-nighters for the perfect grade, and dedicated their weekends to participating in competitions and convention. In the end, when they arrived at college, the time and effort they’d invested in the last four years didn’t feel special—rather, it was a common denominator on everyone’s college applications. 

I didn’t do particularly well academically in high school, so when I was fortunate enough to get into a good university, I grasped on graciously. To make sure I could successfully finish my education in three years per my parents’ wishes, I put all of my extra time into school starting first term. My afternoons were spent flipping through notes, rewatching lectures, and highlighting everything and anything I could in the textbook. 

I thought I had it all under control. I thought by replicating my study methods from high school, I would be able to survive college easily.

Unfortunately, university is not as simple as it seems.

It’s hard to admit your shortcomings when you are constantly under the assumption that you are talented. In high school, I succeeded in academic and research writing, so I felt extremely confident about it when I arrived at university. That didn’t last long.

When I saw my first ever college grade online, the scarlet red six (the equivalent of a “C”) on my phone screen left me frozen in the middle of the street. 

Teary-eyed, I sent my best friend Hannah a three-minute voice recording.

“...I’m not good at a lot of things, and that’s okay, but I thought I’d be good at this, at this one thing, and I can’t even do this right,” I said, choking up. “I don’t understand.”

I started the first term on a rough note. My grades weren’t looking up, and the comments on my paper weren’t looking the brightest. I wanted to admit defeat. 

“Maybe I’m not cut out for this,” I thought to myself. 

Perhaps because of how terrified I was of my mother’s potential reaction to my grades, I began studying harder than ever. I put my ego aside and asked classmates who’d scored higher than me for samples of their writing, comparing their work with mine to figure out what I could do better. I created my own study guide while referencing past quizzes and exams, trying to determine my strengths and weaknesses. I then made my own mock exam, timing and testing myself. Most of these activities ended up being on paper, as I found myself constantly getting distracted on my computer, and using websites like Quizlet made checking the answer without properly thinking way too easy.

When it was time for exams, I didn’t feel so scared. I knew I had done everything in my power to study, and that everything from the second I opened the exam booklet would be out of my control.

Two hours of testing flew by. When the time was up, I had barely finished the exam.

It took two full weeks for our tests to be graded, and by the time it arrived I had long forgotten that it even happened. I was in the middle of a candle store when I got the email notifying me that grades had been posted. 

When the page finally loaded, I scrolled to the bottom and saw a scarlet red 7.6 (the equivalent of an “A”). A sigh of relief escaped me.

You don’t have to be a born genius to survive and thrive in your studies, but you do have to admit your shortcomings and combat them directly.

Still a freshman,

Wen Hsiao