Is it possible to be successful at university and still have fun? Cal Newport, an MIT student and author of ‘How to Win at College‘ certainly thinks so. By taking onboard the advice laid out in his book, you should be able to enjoy university life while also excelling as a student.
Newport was inspired to write the book after meeting a number of exceptional students who seemed to have the best of both worlds. Take Heidi for example, a fun and outgoing student who happened to be a Rhodes Scholar, a published author in the field of mathematics as well as the founder of a community service organization for young girls.
How did she balance all the above? Like numerous “How To” authors, Newport believes that anyone can reach such heights and that you don’t have to be a genius after all. All you really need is some expert guidance from those who have done it before.
The book has a total of 75 rules drawn from the experiences of some of the country’s most successful students. Newport states that you don’t need to follow all of them, though if you choose a group of rules that really captures your attention, and take the time to implement them in your everyday college life, you will notice remarkable results.
Below, I have listed my top 10 favorite rules with a brief description of each;
Depending on your course, you may be given hundreds of journals to read, as well as core and optional textbooks. Newport argues that reading everything is inefficient and that you can make better use of your limited time.
Instead of reading everything, you could read chapter introductions and conclusions fully, and then skim everything else. While skim reading, note only the passages that seem to obviously support the thesis. You are bound to miss some points but your professor won’t. So be sure to follow always go to class (rule 57).
My take on this rule is that you should concentrate your reading on areas to be tested. Once you have mastered these, only then should you set aside some time for supplementary and outside reading in order to further you knowledge beyond what is expected.
You can fend off procrastination by adhering to this rule. You could start off small by for example designing an outline or brainstorming ideas on potential thesis statements. For whatever psychological reason, doing some work the day a project is assigned seems to have a near-miraculous effect on reducing the tendency to delay.
As well as getting sound advice on academic success, they provide letters of recommendation (or references as we call them here in the UK), can help you land internships, be nominated for awards, and, in general, enable you to take advantage of all the opportunities typically offered only to top students.
Newport gives some examples here. An average student sends a letter to the school newspaper; a winning student writes a regular column. So design a non-academic project that moves you closer to a passion filled aspiration. Not only will you stand out as a student, but you will also have an escape (rule 29) from regular University work.
This can help you stay attentive and engaged during lectures. It also helps clarify the material and reinforce you understanding of it. Newport advises that while reading up on areas that are to be covered in a lecture, write down the questions you feel are relevant, and once the opportunity arises during the lecture, ask away.
Avoid doing several hours end on end without breaks. The best thing to do is to work in fifty minute chunks, taking ten-minute breaks in between each chunk of work. Doing this will maximize the amount of material you can successfully learn and remember in a given sitting.
Do you ever feel guilty when relaxing? Worrying that you should be doing some work instead? Schedule your free time and you will avoid such dilemmas. Newport flips the script with a clever suggestion that work time is any time that you are not explicitly relaxing.
Some ways you could schedule your free time include having an end point for the day. For example, you might say that ten P.M. is the end of your work day, and from that point on you will just relax until you go to sleep. You could also schedule other relaxation times during the day.
By reversing the way you think about free time, not only will you work more, but when you relax, you will relax better.
One of the keys to success in anything is consistency. By doing some work everyday, you will stay in the zone. You fall into slumps when you take long breaks from work (as we know from long summer breaks). But by keeping the rhythm going you will create a powerful cycle of reinforcement and productivity, a cycle which will ensure you remain the Tiger Woods of academic achievement.
Sticking to this rule, doesn’t mean you have to lose out on your social life. An an hour of work right after lectures on Friday doesn’t stop you from going out later.
To have energy and focus during the day, be sure to get the sleep you need. Some people need eight hours, others need seven, six or five. Whatever your amount is, figure it out and try to stick to it. Over shooting this figure and sleeping in is a waste and can in fact leave you feeling more tired. Treat your body like a machine; give it exactly what it needs to perform its best, not any more, not any less.
As a student, it is hard to avoid pizza, beer, and heavy alcohol. However, junk food and excessive drinking do not maximize your energy. Fatty foods, refined sugar, and large amounts of refined carbohydrates will all lead you to becoming increasingly sluggish. You will feel much more energized after having a meal consisting of non-fried chicken, vegetables, fruit, and a lot of water.
Since we all have various cravings for junk, Newport suggests that an effective method for managing nutrition could be to designate weekends as a time to eat what you want. But when the school week arrives, be sure to treat your meals as fuel, only taking the premium stuff (fruits, vegetables, water and no junk).
I found this book to be extremely helpful in helping me organize how I will tackle my 3rd year at University. Oh how I wish I had read it before coming to University! I have given a copy to my younger brother who has 2 more years left, hopefully he will find it just as useful, if not more. Overall, a highly recommended read for any student intending to go, or already attending University.
Featured image: Nazareth College