Common mistakes in college and how to overcome them

Many students go to college with enthusiastic attitudes toward better future. They know that the time in college is the best time of their lives where they learn new things, get educated, meet new friends, and have high hope that when graduate they will get good jobs, start their own families, and have comfortable lives. However, after spending time in college, some lost their motivations, became frustrated, and even wanted to quit school.

There are several reasons for this problem. The most obvious mistake is many students do not understand their priorities so they do not manage their time wisely. As they first taste the feeling of independence, away from family they begin to enjoy their extra time with new friends and other activities. They keep putting off course work assignments for later date, cut classes, not finish what they must do. As a result, many do not do well in school. This lead to feelings of guilt, inadequacy, depression, and self-doubt about their capabilities.

The second common mistake is they do not know how to organize their works. College program has a lot of works that must be done on a daily basis. By delay them to later date, they are overwhelmed with so many things to do. They get panic, they afraid of getting a failing grade. As a result, they spend a great deal of time worrying about their tests and homeworks, rather than completing them. Before each test, they stay up all night to cram and end up not doing well. This give them the feeling of failure and they begin to develop negative beliefs that they are “not smart enough”, “Cannot succeed in anything:, “Do not have the skills” then they consider quit school.

The third common mistake is many students are easily being distracted by other things and cannot concentrate. When they sit at class, they find themselves daydreaming, looking into empty space, looking at pictures of their boyfriend or girlfriend instead of listening to the lectures. Some check their emails, read online newspapers, check Facebook accounts, go to chat rooms and send text messages to friends instead of studying, etc. They sit in library but their minds are somewhere else. They lay on their beds to study then fall asleep. These activities waste most of their time and they cannot catch up with classes. When they are behind, they feel lost and eventually lose their motivation to learn.

The fourth common mistake is having personal problems. Many experience financial difficulties, some have problems with boyfriend or girlfriend in college. These problems are difficult to solve and consume a lot of their energies, take away many valuable efforts. Without some helps, many will end up quitting school.

The best way to solve these common mistakes is to recognize them. Once you understand that others are facing the same problems such as fear, difficult to concentrate, poor time management, indecisiveness, personal issues and they are very common among college students, then you can overcome them.

The first thing is to identify study goals, and set your own priorities by discipline yourself to use your time wisely. You must set a strict schedule to study. For every one hour in class, you must have at least two hours of independent study. However, you must study in small block of time instead of long time periods to let your brain rest. You will be more successful if you study in 60 minute blocks and take frequent 15 minute breaks in between, than study for 3 hours straight, without breaks. If you can accomplish this, you have a very high chance to overcome the first two common mistakes.

The second thing is to motivate yourself to study. It is difficult to do it by yourself so try to form a study group. Select the group members carefully and set realistic study goals. Break large assignments into small tasks and assign to each team members. Change your study environment by eliminate other sources of distraction. Stop using laptop, emails, chat room or mobile phone test during study time. Do not get comfortable when studying. Sit in a desk, not lay in bed when studying and sleep well at night (7 hours) to avoid day dreaming in class. Keep a strict schedule and follow it accordingly. This will help you to build a good study habit and if you can follow it in 3 weeks straight without any deviation, then you have a good study habit already. However, each time you deviate from it, you must repeat another 3 weeks to rebuild the habit. If you can do this, you will overcome the third common mistake.

If you have personal problems, talk to school counselors or discuss it honestly with your family. Some personal problems cannot be solved easily. Please remember that who else can give you better advices than the one that love you the most. Many students consider that they are grown-up and do not want to ask parents to help. This is another common mistake. You must know that you are still in school and study is your first priority. If you cannot solve personal problem, your study may be impacted.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University
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