3 College Tips for Finishing the Semester Strong

Missouri State University
The trees in front of Meyer Library at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri, with Strong Hall in the background.
Photo taken May 2020.

It’s that time again when I share tips from my years in college that helped me get through it with good grades and my sanity intact.

The last few weeks of a semester are always busy and stressful. I remember it well—prepping for finals, freaking out when you see how much material the exams cover, calculating what your overall grade might be based off the lowest score you could possibly get, skimming through piles of books and resources you’ve read throughout the semester, stressing over how many papers you have to write at once, planning classes for the next semester. Just bringing it all to memory now makes me a little anxious and weirdly energized.

Every semester, I was convinced my GPA would drop or that I would barely pass an exam or finish a paper on time, but somehow God carried me through it all. Below are three tips that helped me make it through the roughest moments during the end of a semester and prepare for the next one.

1. Don’t forsake the importance of note-taking!

Now, not every student is a note-taker. There were some classes during which I didn’t see the need or simply failed to take notes. As I advanced through college, however, I realized that note-taking was essential to my success. If a professor spent several minutes discussing an important term or event, I jotted down as many details as I could. Taking notes during classes helped me highlight important terms and information for upcoming tests and papers.

If your professor moves too quickly for you to take a lot of notes, consider recording your lectures. Toward the end of a semester, I recorded many lectures in my history and English classes to catch important details about what might be on the exam and how the exam would be structured. This method is especially helpful in preparing for finals because you can always go back to the recorded lecture and write down more in-depth notes!

2. Talk with your professors regularly.

Don’t be afraid to ask your professor every single question or bring up every single concern you have about the exam or final assignments. Really. Ask questions like, “Will such and such material be on the exam? How long of an essay response do you expect? Can we use notes on the exam?” Ask about the paper’s length, referencing style, and amount of sources. It may seem like you are bombarding your professor, but more often than not, your professor will want to help ease your concerns about the exam and give you guidance for how you should prepare for it and your papers.

It also lets your professor know how determined you are to succeed, which always factors into how they perceive you as a student and into your overall success in class. Constant communication with my professors always helped me determine how prepared I needed to be for finals and final assignments, how difficult the exam would be, and what my professors expected in the paper.

3. Prepare for the next semester.

Before registration for the next semester opened, I spent time looking up desired classes and schedules so that once registration day came, I would already know exactly what kind of schedule I wanted and register for it immediately. Classes usually fill up quickly, so don’t hesitate until the last minute or even a week or two after registration opens to plan the next semester.

Once, because I wasn’t at home when registration opened, I had my father do it for me as I coached him on the phone. Get others involved if you need help!

When you schedule classes, here are 3 things to consider: 1) the professor, 2) the time between classes, and 3) the distance between classes. You can use websites like ratemyprofessors.com to look up professors from your university and find out what to expect from each professor—how they grade, what kind of workload they give to students, and even how friendly they are. If you keep the same professors in classes of the same subjects, you’ll be able to develop a good working relationship with your professors, which will help you do better in classes in the long run!

Pay attention to what time each class you’re scheduling takes place and where they are located. During the fall semester of 2019, I had a scheduling issue after the semester began and quickly had to enroll in another class that took place only 15 minutes after my first class…at the OPPOSITE end of the campus! Needless to say, I was always rushing across campus to get to class in time, making my blood sugar drop constantly! If you schedule your classes in advance, aim for at least 30 minutes between classes that are in different buildings (15 minutes for classes that are close to each other), and try to schedule at least an hour break between a couple of classes if you are on campus all day.

Bonus tip: Do all the extra credit you can! This will help you keep your grade up in the class and keep your GPA stable should you not do as well on a final exam as you has hoped.

Siceluff Hall at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri. Photo taken August 2018.

Preparation and scheduling are the two most important factors to alleviate stress at the end of a semester. If you take notes, communicate with your professor, and prepare for both the finals and the next semester, you will be able to maintain good grades and be successful in college. As you look back in each semester, you may even find that preparation and a proper schedule has boosted your confidence for the next one.

And don’t forget what is perhaps the most important piece of advice regarding finishing each semester strong: when it’s all over, treat yourself to some cupcakes or cookies and take a well-earned nap to celebrate!

Just breathe, pray, and repeat.

3 College Tips for Newbies & Pantsers: Midterm Edition

Strong Hall
Missouri State University
College
Strong Hall on a rainy day at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri.
Picture taken May 2020.

If you’re newer to this blog, you might not be aware that at certain points during the semester, I post some tips for those who are new to college or who tend to fly by the seat of their pants and put things off until the last minute. I believe it is essential that we try our best in every aspect of our work to reflect a godly character and strive toward excellency in all we do. Many of these tips are also applicable to those in high school, and we can even apply the lessons these tips explore to our lives beyond college.

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Midterms are almost here, and so are many big exams and paper due dates. Here are 3 tips I found helpful in preparing for exams and papers throughout my 5-year college experience:

1) Highlight key points & terms in textbooks or sources where you can.

For example, one history professor I had always provided us with a master list of terms we would need to know before each exam to properly define and describe them in paragraph form. Of course, we had no way of knowing which terms she would choose, and the list included some 60 terms out of which she would choose only a handful. Now, I felt she was pulling a Satan move on us, but after freaking out, I was determined to do well on the exam.

I searched through every document and page of every source we’d read thus far, highlighted each term, and wrote everything down about each term that I could find. The areas I focused on were the following: who, what, where, why, when, and how. Then, I wrote down the significance of each term. Doing so helped me prepare and pass my professor’s rigorous exams.

As you read your sources, any term or definition you come across is always worth highlighting and remembering just in case it comes up again later.

2) Plan your essays.

Do it. Even if you tend to be a pantser. A brief outline that simply states your essay’s topic and supporting points will go a long way in helping you create an organized paper that may earn you a good grade.

Brainstorm your ideas. Do some freewriting. Write down ideas for your essay’s intro paragraph and support for your main points. Write down the sources you’ll use to support each main point. Write down ideas for the significance of your essay’s topic that you will reflect on in the conclusion.

If you plan your research and an outline at least seven days before your paper’s due date, then you’ll have at least five to six days to write a page or two each day and finish just in time.

Pro tip: if you prepare two weeks in advance, you’ll have time to send your draft to your professor to get his or her tips on what you should change before the due date.

3) Take time every day to relax.

My ethics professor once explained how he never allowed himself to study so much in college that he couldn’t make time for his social life or to relax throughout the week. This was one of the best pieces of advice any professor had ever given me. I found that through applying his advice, I managed to enjoy my life even when I was juggling several papers and exams due at the same time.

College is stressful. You should be responsible and do your work on time. However, you should also take the time to be around your family and friends and (most importantly) spend time with God. If you study well and prepare for your papers, you’ll find you have more time during the week to relax for an hour or two each evening.

Read a book. Chat with your family. Spend more time in prayer. Take a nap.

Just breathe, pray, repeat, and relax, and you will get through it.

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The above are tips that apply to far more than just college experiences. Preparing for important projects in the workforce and adult world is essential for success. Taking the time out to enjoy your life with family and friends is essential for your mental and emotional health. Prioritizing your time with God is essential for your spiritual health.

We must never let ourselves become too lazy or too stressed or too busy that we don’t approach our work and relationships wisely and seriously.

If you know someone in college or even high school who’s struggling, share these tips with them as an encouragement. College is not forever, but the lessons one learns in college will help them get through the rest of life.

3 Ways to Create Healthy Relationships and Reduce Stress This Semester

A light rain falls in front of Siceluff Hall at Missouri State University in August 2018.

The new semester is underway for many college students, and many who are new to college or who tend to leave assignments and studying to the last minute may be feeling stressed already about the busy weeks to come. As a recent college grad who spent five years taking both online and seated classes, I acquired many tips and tricks to help me get through each semester as smoothly as possible. One of the biggest components to reducing stress and finding success in college concerns your working relationships with classmates and professors. Here are just a few tips to get you started on the right track this semester and connect better with others.

1. Get to know your professors.

Having a good working relationship with your professor is essential to controlling your level of stress and having a firm grasp on your workload. Meet with your professors early this semester to talk about their expectations for the class, to ask questions about the course material and upcoming assignments, and to simply chat and let them know with what assignment-related issues you tend to struggle.

Over my five years in college, I met with my professors regularly and quickly learned that meeting with them early helped me make a positive impression on them. Meeting with them to ask questions and inform them of my major and intellectual interests helped open a dialogue that would continue throughout the semester. Because I initiated and continued an open dialogue with my professors, they knew I was serious about doing well in class and was open to suggestions and advice from them in order to meet (and sometimes exceed) their expectations. Meeting with your professors will also help you gain an understanding of how well they think you’re doing in the class and in which areas you may need to improve.

2. Be open to other listening to other viewpoints, but don’t be afraid to explain your own.

You’ll hear a lot of different ideas and points of view in college—something for which I was not quite prepared when I entered college in 2015. I knew what I believed (an essential component to maintaining your Christian lifestyle while in college), but I didn’t realize how open others would be with viewpoints that directly opposed and challenged my own beliefs. There were many (many) times during class discussions that my classmates would discuss (and argue) about atheism, their perceptions of Christianity, capitalism, and other issues regarding history, race, and identity.

Now, I’m quite the polite introvert during public discussion and rarely engage in debate, but there were a few times when I (being the only Apostolic conservative in the room) took it upon myself to explain (and sometimes defend) a religious ideal or conservative principle that another student had difficulty understanding. Instead of berating the student or becoming engulfed in my emotions about the topic, I carefully worded my response and maintained a calm composure, often asking a follow-up question to the confused or frustrated student. What I learned was that a friendly and thoughtful response and dialogue with students of other backgrounds and belief systems often calmed tension in the room and helped the class further our discussion without arguments breaking out.

3. Pray before class each day.

This one seems like a no-brainer, but praying before class each day, whether it’s in your car or walking onto the campus, is essential for maintaining focus on God and giving Him control over your day. When I started college, I attended a smaller community college in my hometown and had classes as early as seven in the morning. There were many moments when I’d arrive on campus at half past six, and as I watched the sun rise, I’d pray over the day. They were often simple prayers, but I noticed that when I failed to do so (due to getting around and arriving late), my days were out of focus. Stress about upcoming assignments and my busy to-do list cluttered my mind and soured my mood as I shuffled from class to class. Praying over your day, your coursework, and your classmates ensures that you start your day with Jesus and surrender control over your work and relationships with others to Him.

If you apply the above tips to your lifestyle while in college, you will not only form meaningful connections with others, but you will also develop stress-reducing habits that will help you move forward with confidence during college and into the adult world.

Happy spring semester to all the students out there! If you know someone already struggling with school-related stress, share this post with them to give them encouragement and motivation.

Why Things Happen

Why?

This may be the question we ask God the most. Why did “x” have to happen? Why couldn’t I have gotten that job? Why did you let me fail that test when I studied so hard? Why did so-and-so have to die? Why are you letting bad things happen to me? Why, why, why?

We wonder, we fret, we pity ourselves, and we ask “why, God?” until our eyes are swollen, and depression consumes our spirit. We see through a glass darkly, so we sometimes cannot see that there is always a purpose behind our pain. Ah, yes—the statement no one wants to hear when they’re going through something, but we humans often only learn things the hard way, especially young adults, and our struggles exist to make us stronger if for no other reason.

Physical pain can be a good thing. It tells us that something is wrong and that we may need medical attention. When I was diagnosed with diabetes, I never felt a literal pain as in aching bones, but I felt a mental pain. I was fatigued and nauseous (among other things), and the very sight of my weary self signaled to others, like the receptionist at urgent care, that something was wrong with me. Miserable is the word I typically use to describe how I felt then, but if I hadn’t felt that way, I might not have known for quite some time that I had diabetes. My pain served a purpose, but it’s often emotional pain that is the hardest to see through and understand.

During and after the spring semester in 2018, I felt an emotional and spiritual exhaustion that threw me out of sorts, and it set me on a path to realign my focus. I had just entered a four-year university to get my bachelor’s degree, and the shift in the atmosphere from a small community college to a very liberal university was palpable. All semester, I was stressed from classwork that involved treating subjective, liberal studies as legitimate, evidence-based coursework, which greatly conflicted with my conservative and Christian beliefs. But I felt an exhaustion deeper than simple stress due to papers and exams, and it escalated that summer.

Never before had I been tired literally every day. It is an understatement to say that I slept a lot. Practically all I wanted to do was sleep, and when I wasn’t sleeping, I was tired and disturbed in my spirit. I loathed college—loathed it—for the atmosphere and for its inefficient system, and I knew I simply couldn’t continue college past a bachelor’s degree to get two master’s degrees (long story there, but that’s where I was headed) in order to teach college English and write professionally. I was done. I was miserable. I was lost. It’s only now after having finally finished college that I have come to truly appreciate the experience for what it taught me and how it helped me grow.

After realizing I didn’t want to continue the path to becoming a full-time English professor in this liberal society, I prayed (a lot), and I looked to different avenues. I made an alternate plan to apply for work at a local publishing company after graduation, but then COVID happened. The company went on a hiring freeze. Great. I scoured the internet for job openings in editing, tutoring, and copywriting, and by the grace of God, I found a company that was hiring part-time tutors. The future is still uncertain, but all of my searching and pain and misery and growth has helped me grasp a simple concept that I hadn’t realized I didn’t truly “get” until I went through something difficult: trust God.

Sometimes, we don’t truly understand a concept or truth until we have no other choice but to embrace it head on. C.S. Lewis once said that “God allows us to experience the low points of life in order to teach us lessons that we could learn in no other way.” Of course, having grown up in church, I’ve always known we should trust in God to guide us through life, but somehow, I’d formed my own contingency plans for everything to get where I wanted and expected everything to work out as I planned—until it didn’t. I can look back now at all those moments I was worried and miserable and exhausted to my core and understand that God let me go through those things to teach me that no matter what happens in my life, I still need to trust in Him and let Him take the reigns of my life, that I need to believe it’s okay when things don’t go my way, that if something tragic happens, I am going to make it as long as I trust in Him.

I still wonder why things happen sometimes. But now I understand that I am not alone in whatever trial I’m going through. Whatever happens—no matter what happens—I can rest in the assurance I have in Jesus. It’s okay to be not okay. It’s okay to wonder about why things happen, because in those moments, God fills me with His Peace and whispers, “trust me,” and He draws me closer to Him than I’ve been before.