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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Train Early

Myth #1

"I'll get started studying when school starts."
"Hey, I just finished 4 years of high school, and I need a rest."
"I went to a good school. I'm ready for college."
" Summer is for fun, not school."
"I got A's and B's in my college prep courses."
"September is for school, not July."
"Enough already with the studying."
"I need a break or my head will explode."

Reality #1

Start training now, like an athlete.

Can you imagine an athlete who wanted to qualify for the Olympics but absolutely refused to train for three months before the Olympic trials?

Outrageous.

No one would take such an athlete seriously. However, that's what most students who graduate from high school do to prepare for the biggest academic event of their lives thus far: College. They work very hard for four years: Study, take tests, take PSAT's, take SAT's, even expensive preparation courses. They take gifted and talented and AP courses, visit and apply to a number of universities, sweat out the acceptance process, get accepted, and graduate from high school. Then they promptly quit training for three or four months. Some students have been known to quit studying when they get accepted to a college. They take on the I'm-on-board attitude, the I-don't-have-to-sweat-it-now attitude. Wrong.

Getting in shape and staying in shape is as vital to your academic fitness as it is to your physical fitness. You can't just turn it off and on like a switch. A slow and steady pace wins this race.

This is about the toughest suggestion to self impose. It requires the most personal discipline, and frankly, not all students can or will do this. But I will guarantee that those who have the fortitude to do so will succeed.

Survival Tips:

Set up regular study hours. By now you may be saying to yourself, "This guy is nuts if he thinks I'm studying regularly in the summer, when I didn't even do that during the year." OK. But if you would take even as little as 1 hour a day and devote it to keeping the blade sharpened, it would yield great results. In fact, this is a great idea to remember: Small changes can result in big wins. Look at pro golfers and pro athletes in general. The person who loses a tournament is not dramatically worse, just a small fraction, but that makes a huge difference.

Read-choose anything, but read something. There's an ad that occasionally shows on TV that says, "Reading is fundamental." Remember that ad and act accordingly. Your reading will determine much of your success or failure in college. Many students don't enjoy reading; so, they do less and less of it. Learn to enjoy it, and you'll read more and increase your reading effectiveness. It's a simple but inevitable, progressive process. Start by reading whatever you like. I don't care if it's soup labels, comic books, short stories or cowboy novels: Read. As you read more, your interests will broaden; the progressive process will happen naturally-trust me.

Start keeping a daily calendar. Poor time management causes some of the worst problems students have in college. During class discussions my students always stress this one. Here's the problem: In college you'll have what seems like loads of time. You may only average 3 or 4 hours of class a day. So it seems like there's time to burn. Also, it's unstructured time-the type that slips through your fingers like sand. However, the projects and homework assigned in college are much more substantial than those in high school, with virtually no oversight by teachers or parents. The combination of unstructured time and larger projects proves disastrous for the first-year students who don't keep a calendar and schedule their work. This problem is not limited to students in college. In fact, one of the hottest professions in the workforce is project management. Buy yourself a monthly calendar. Monthly ones work best because you can "see" one month ahead. Weekly calendars are too short-sighted. I suggest you practice setting up milestones and timelines for simple projects this summer. Write them on the calendar. Just get used to using it before you're in the middle of the first semester wondering how in the world you'll ever survive.

Write constantly. Runners know that to make it through a race, they have to develop their wind. Simply put, they have to practice running to be ready for the race. So it is with writing. If you don't write regularly, you lose the edge, the confidence, the fluency. Start by keeping a daily journal. Buy yourself a spiral notebook or my personal favorite, one of those black-and-white marble covered composition books you used in elementary school. But begin writing. Start with your random thoughts. What you think about what's going on around you: Your hopes, fears, and dreams. Like reading, it does not matter what you write but that you do write regularly. Like reading, writing is a fundamental of college life. You'll get far more writing assigned in college than you did in high school. The other effect of keeping a journal is that if you read what you've written, you'll find it a great way to sort out where you're headed. Your writing will reveal what's going on inside your head. Writing can be sounding board, like a friend who listens to your innermost thoughts. The journal is the best way I know to build up your writing wind.
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