Students Share Their Best Life Hacks For Surviving School
Let’s face it: being a student is hard. Whether you’re pulling all-nighters to study, trying to stay awake through boring lectures, or cranking out painfully mundane essays, it is truly an exhausting occupation. Even something as simple as finding the time to sleep and eat can end up being the biggest challenge ever. Juggling all of these responsibilities may seem impossible, but there are some things you can do to relieve the pressure.
From color-coded schedules to snagging study buddies, there are plenty of steps you can take to make sure your classes aren’t terrifyingly difficult. While self-care may seem easy to sweep to the side, tending to your mental and physical health even when you’re slammed with work, is completely possible. These college students decided to share some of the tips, tricks, and skills that got them through their years at university!
#1 Come On, Textbooks Cost A Ton
You can Google documents by file type. Use this syntax:
filetype:pdf [Name of the Textbook You Need]
It will often give you downloadable versions of the textbook and save you hundreds of dollars. Plus, being able to CTRL+F a textbook is a lifesaver.
This, of course, can be applied to any other file extension.
#2 Don’t Answer, Just Ask
If you need to participate in group discussions but aren’t confident in the material, ask intelligent questions instead of trying to answer what you don’t get. It’ll buy you time and you’ll still be participating.
See the professor during their office hours if you need extra help understanding something. No one really comes to office hours, so they’re usually really happy to help.
#3 No, You Can’t Survive Without Sleep
Get enough sleep.
Seriously. I know it’s hard. I know there aren’t enough hours in the day. But if you’re gonna cut anything, it shouldn’t be sleep.
#4 There’s Nothing Wrong With A 9-To-5 Day
My classmate took up a strict 9-to-5 school schedule, right from the first semester. Every day, he’d focus on school tasks through eight-hour shifts. He would go to class, immediately do the homework, or then study the upcoming material. At 5 p.m., he’d pack up all his stuff and he’d be done for the day.
He had all his homework done way ahead of schedule and never had to pull all-nighters or waste weekends. He was never stressed out because he’d spent time studying when he wasn’t slammed with homework.
I could never manage to do the same because I’d rather procrastinate and start three hours before something was due, but it seemed like the best way to do it.
#5 Definitely Find A Study-Buddy
If you don’t know how to study, or if you have a hard time getting yourself to do homework, get a friend to do it with you.
Having ADHD means I can’t study to save my life, but if my friend is in the room concentrating on that stuff, I’ll feel like I don’t want to be left out and I’ll buckle down so we’re on the same page.
If you can’t manufacture executive function, peer pressure is fine too.
For all of you saying you don’t have friends, that’s not the point. Grabbing a study partner is the point. It could be a classmate; it could be a sibling; it could even be a guy off the internet that you pay $4 an hour to check in regularly and demand scholastic updates from you during “study time.”
#6 Meal Prep, Meal Prep, Meal Prep!
For all my fellow commuters out there: Meal prep!
You will save so much money by making rice and chicken at home instead of buying food every day. I used to buy food twice a week, as I was at school for long periods on those days. I just started to do meal prep and I feel so much better about not spending that much money anymore.
#7 What’ll Really Break Your Grade?
You’ve got to play the meta-game. If you’re lazy and unorganized like me, you won’t have time to properly study for everything and complete every assignment. That’s when you look at the grade distribution and start with the items that are worth the most.
#8 Yeah, Wikipedia Isn’t A Great Reference
If you want to use Wikipedia when writing an academic essay, just cite the sources that Wikipedia cites. Not only does it reduce your workload a lot, but it makes it look like you’ve done a ton of reading during your research, which your professor will be really impressed by.
#9 Self-Care Is Super Duper Crucial
Make sure to give yourself enough time to sleep every day.
Get a little exercise in when you can. It helps relieve stress and works to counter all the Cup-O-Noodles you’ve been likely chowing down on.
Personal hygiene is huge. Shower every day, brush your teeth and wash your hands. It’ll make you happier and believe me when I say that people can ABSOLUTELY tell when you don’t do these things, regardless of how well you try to mask it with deodorant or gum.
It may be tempting to relax first and wait to do projects right before they are due, but if you do the opposite, you will find that there is WAY less stress involved.
#10 Don’t You Dare Skim The Syllabi
Paste your syllabi in a very visible location in your home and write down all of your major due dates on a whiteboard.
There are a lot of things that go on in college, so it’s really easy to forget what readings you have to do or papers you have to write. This is especially the case for non-math courses—your assignments will be due in spurts, so they’re definitely not as easy to remember as a weekly problem set.
It’s best to just have all your assignments easily visible. It pays dividends.
#11 You’re Not Just Paying For The Classes…
Throw yourself into the course. Network like a maniac. Help out on projects that are tied to professional businesses. Volunteer. Long gone are the days of being paid to start the best band in the world. You are paying for a service, so get the most out of it.
#12 You’re All In The Same Boat
If you’re nervous about presenting something or speaking out loud because you’re forced to, just know that the majority of students around you feel the same way as you, if not worse! That always helped me get over the fear of talking out loud.
#13 Need A Little Extra “Fluff”?
Say you have an eight-page paper due, but you’ve only written about seven pages.
Use the find-and-replace function in your word processor to replace all periods with slightly larger ones. For example, if your paper specifies 12-point font, change the periods to 14-point. This will likely get you to your eight pages and it is very hard to detect in a hard-copy.
#14 Please, God, Go To Your Classes
As someone who just graduated college, do yourself a favor and actually go to class. You’re paying for one of those chairs in the classroom and there is research on a correlation between greater absences and a greater likelihood to fail a course. I know you hate going to class, but go.
#15 It’s All About Being Prepared
Read your syllabus. It’ll tell you what the assignments for the course are and how much they’re worth for your total grade. So, if you’re in a situation where you’re in a time crunch and have to choose between doing two assignments, you can do the one that’s worth a larger percentage of your grade. Not that I advise skipping homework, but if you have to, you have to.
Get a calendar and plan ahead. At the beginning of the term, you should write down when all the tests are, but also the due dates of the larger projects. Then, working backward, set milestones about how far you should be on a project so you don’t procrastinate and try to cram it all in at the end. Once you have a plan set up, follow it.
#16 The Vending Machine Accepted… What?
This is an unethical and very specific loophole, but it worked wonders. One of the vending machines at school accepted Yu-Gi-Oh! cards as dollar bills.
#17 Make Sure You Hit The Gym
Find time to get some exercise in.
All of that grab-and-go fast food catches up to you fast.
I got fat in college and have since lost all that weight. I wish I made time to at least squeeze in a 30-minute workout every other day.
#18 It Doesn’t Hurt To Hear It Again
Record lectures on your phone, then listen to them while studying for tests.
So many times in lectures you get so caught up with taking notes that you completely miss things the professor says. I’ve picked up on so many things that I totally missed in the notes but heard the professor say in the recording.
It also takes off the pressure to take crazy fast notes.
#19 Memorizing Won’t Save You Now
Before an exam, make a copy of all the material you have to know, but change it to a way you would explain it. It helps A LOT with learning the subject.
#20 Find Your Bathroom Paradise
Your goal is to find the bathroom on campus that’s used infrequently and to find out when they clean it. When you find the perfect time and location, don’t tell anyone until you graduate.
#21 Being A “Friendly Face” Pays Off
I’m pretty sure you get a 5 to 10% grade bump if the professor recognizes your name and face in a positive context. Show up to class, preferably in the front row, and ask questions during lectures. Also, go to office hours.
I kept good track of my scores in each of my classes through school, and I had some pretty big unexplained bumps (e.g. A to A+), specifically from professors who knew me by name. Professors almost universally like students who put in an extra effort and show they care. They’ll often let that bias seep into their final grade calculations. Take advantage of that.
#22 Trim A Little Time Off Your Day
Coordinate with your friends to make “pack up noises” 10 minutes before the end of class. If you get enough people to do it, you’ll reach critical mass. Everyone will start packing up and you’ll get out of class 10 minutes early.
#23 Need To Write A Good Essay?
Avoid anything unnecessary. Does that sentence need to go there? No? Get rid of it or move it. Students tend to write stupid, irrelevant material in a futile attempt to pad their essays. If you follow a specific set of guidelines, you won’t need to pad your essays because there will already be enough padding in them! If it is truly relevant but can be expressed in a single sentence, consider exploring it further. It may fan itself out into an entire paragraph.
No “I” or “me” statements unless requested by the professor. Third person only. Need a feel for this? Read a few academic articles on the subject of your choosing. Notice how things are written. It’s rather dry, unfortunately, but it gets A’s.
Correct formatting is a must. Thankfully, templates are available online for all major academic formatting styles, meaning you can focus on typing and then slap it into the template document at the end. Citation Machine is a must. Cite your works as you go. Keep a copy of cited works for yourself if you can. Purdue Owl is also a must. Your professor is going to make you buy the APA/MLA/Chicago Tribune book. You’ll likely never read it, because all the information in that book is concisely written on the Internet, and, more specifically, on Purdue Owl, with nicely formatted sample text so you can figure out how to cite a page in your own essay and move on with your life.
Run your work by your teacher at least once, preferably twice, when half to three-quarters of the work is done. They can prevent catastrophic mistakes. Nothing is worse than having to rewrite a paper in three days.
Understand that this process takes time. You will still fail horribly if you try this in one night. Pace it out over two weeks, though three is best if you can afford the time. This way, you can muse on the work and get some nice, solid ideas for analysis. Half of my decent ideas came at the bus stop or while walking home from class. You can’t squeeze out really good ideas like that if it’s 3 a.m. and you’re in the library.
#24 Have A Sense Of What The Heck Is Going On
Browse the textbook before the lecture, or at least skim the introduction and the section headings. It’s a lot easier to remember information if you walk into the classroom with a little bit of context.
#25 Color Coding Is No Joke, People
I spend an afternoon at the beginning of the semester putting every single assignment on a calendar and color coding by class so that if I’m overwhelmed later in the semester, I can prioritize based on the weight of the assignment on my grade. I’m ALWAYS a week ahead of schedule and NEVER get surprised at the last minute that I need to work on something. It has gotten me from C’s to A’s, despite having severe ADHD.
#26 Your Phone Can Live Without You, Man
Put your phone away completely when studying. The biggest issue I had in school was getting distracted by Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, text messages, emails, etc. There was always something going off. I’d spent 10 minutes on my phone, put it down, get a notification, and waste another 10 minutes.
#27 Your Professor Won’t Bite
Here are some nuggets of knowledge I’ve learned from being an aerospace engineering major…
Make friends with your teachers. I swear to God, you will gain nothing by antagonizing the guy in charge of your grades. Professors are there to help you. Treat them like people.
Sign up for tutoring in the first few weeks. Seriously, if you wait until the day before your first exam to do it, then congratulations: you and half the school all want the time and attention of a handful of busy people. You’re not going to get the help you need. Go early, set up appointments, meet the people helping you, and get help as soon as you run into something you don’t understand.
#28 I Mean, Tuition Is Expensive…
Set up email forwards for university emails. This allows you to get student discounts with a valid university email way after you finish and they stop you accessing your account.
#29 Don’t Waste A Single Second
Don’t underestimate the small chunks of time littered throughout the day. Got an hour before your lecture? Do some studying. Did you miss the bus that was scheduled literally one minute after your lecture? That’s 20 minutes of study time you can use if you don’t spend it sitting at the bus stop staring at your phone. It especially helps if you’re like me and have the attention span of a child with ADHD. If you use these “in between” times, they’ll add up to a couple hours a day, which is massive in the long run.
#30 You Can Never Practice Too Much Math
For math and physics majors: get a group of your fellow students and do your homework together for one or two hours every week.
You can ask stupid questions, and if someone gets stuck, the others can help.
Also, pro tip: you can never do enough math exercises.
Do the assigned homework, then do the rest of the exercises. Browse the end of the book for additional exercises and do those as well. Then, borrow a 30-year-old exercise book from the library and do those problems.
Solving problems will become second nature to you.
#31 Crock-Pots Are Total Lifesavers
Buy a Crock-Pot and find some cheap recipes online. It saves time, money, and you get more nutrients than cheap ramen soup. Also, depending on how big it is, you might be set for at least a week’s worth of food.
#32 Sometimes, Damage Control Is Best
If you have four classes on your plate and you work eight hours a day, maybe you need to skip an assignment. The question is, what’s worth the least?
Maybe you’ve got a math quiz that’ll take 10 minutes to do online. Do that.
Maybe you’ve got an English assignment that’s worth five points but takes two hours to do. Don’t do that.
I don’t advocate skipping assignments, but there is a thing called “damage control”.
#33 Don’t Try To Just “Stick It Out”
Go and get help immediately. There’s nothing worse than struggling through one class and then having twice as much trouble when your next semester is built off of that class. Your professors are paid to help you. When they suck, most schools provide free tutoring services, so take advantage of that.
#34 Parking Permits Cost Far Too Much
For parking spots, give yourself a $100 budget for parking tickets and find a parking zone that’s never enforced.
Parking there saves you A TON of money. They ticket you maybe twice a term.
Never. Disclose. Your. Spot.
#35 The Syllabi Are Your Best Friend
As soon as I received all of my syllabi, I would sit down and make a four-month calendar with every assignment and exam. Each subject was a different color.
This helped me to see right from the beginning when the heavy weeks were so I could use my lighter weeks more wisely.
I was always done with assignments early and had plenty of time to finish them. I never had to stay up late cramming or hand in something subpar.
I honestly don’t know how people go through university without doing something like this.
#36 Get Involved
Get involved in your department as soon as possible! I can’t emphasize this enough and I wish I had done this earlier when I was in school. Your professors likely still work/do research in what they teach. Find a professor or two that you like and ask them how you can help, if they have any opportunities to do research with them or other things, depending on your major.
They are wonderful connections to have and they will love that you actually care about what you’re studying and want to get involved. I wish I had done this earlier, I could have been one of the students going to awesome conferences and co-writing papers.
#37 Laptops Are Overrated
Go to class, take notes with a pen and paper, not a laptop. Laptops will distract you, pay attention and it’ll pay off later. When you’re in class, actually be in class. I assure you, you’ll absorb the material better if you pay thorough attention during the lecture, so less time spent studying later.
#38 Become One With Change
Get used to the shift in academic landscape when starting college. You will probably see a massive jump from a 30 hour timetable in school to an 8 hour timetable of lectures. This doesn’t mean you have 22 extra hours per week for Call of Duty and drinking, it means you are now in control of your own education, and it’ll be what you make of it. My rule of thumb is, for every 2 hour lecture I deliver, you as a student should go away and do 8 hours of independent study based on the lecture topic – and that’s a pretty good ratio to live by.
I would say that 95% of those who flunk and drop out fail to adjust to this shift. Everything American college films have taught you is a lie. A worrying portion of students legitimately go to university expecting to party for 7 months, then spend 2 weeks revising (probably as part of a Rocky-style training montage) to pass with flying colors, ending in motivational speeches from their professors telling them that they didn’t think they’d do it, but they really turned it around. If you don’t adjust to this, and if you don’t self-motivate, you’ll simply fail. The best advice I can give you is to treat university like a job and put in a 9-5, every day.
Those who do well in high school seem to be especially prone to failing in this way; complacency is the death of university education – raw intellect will only see you so far as an undergraduate. I’d say that success is at most 30% intelligence and raw ability, and the remaining 70% is effort and motivation. Getting into this mindset quickly is more important than anything else you can do.
#39 Save That Money
Don’t buy your books at the bookstore! Always buy from Amazon, Chegg, or some other source. The bookstore is WAY overpriced, and never worth your time.
#40 Sound Advice
Go to class. Do the reading the day you get. Start that paper today. GO TO CLASS