Professor weighs in on back-to-school success
If you’re wondering how to handle the stresses of the upcoming semester, you’re not alone. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 80 percent of college students report having occasional to frequent daily stress. UH psychology professor Donald Foss recently published a book titled “Your Complete Guide to College Success: How to Study Smart, Meet Your Goals and Enjoy Campus Life,” which may be able to help students cope with some of the daily stresses associated with college.
The Daily Cougar: When a person is in school, what should be their top priority?
Donald Foss: This is a “duh” response, I know, but — aside from a child if a student has children — my answer is simple: Learning the material that will get you through school on time.
TDC: Do you have any tips for students who are struggling financially?
DF: Don’t borrow money (or even use a so-called credit card — they should really be called “loan cards”) to support a lifestyle. Here is a simple test: will you still be paying for the tempting item after it is gone? For example, a concert ticket or a double-iced latté with cinnamon-whipped chocolate on top. If so, you are needlessly going into expensive debt.
But the best advice I know is to study smart and graduate on time. When you postpone graduation, you lose the money you would have earned that year or years. That is huge. It overwhelms almost any other factor in college costs.
TDC: What should a student do when they are given several important opportunities at once? How can they choose between each opportunity and know what is best for them? What can happen if they overload their schedule?
DF: Get into the habit of time management by making a master calendar and putting every obligation and due date on it: classes, time needed to research that term paper and the day you are going to finish the first draft, off-campus work hours, recurring time you’ll need to do the math homework, regular social meetings, even time to do the laundry. This is highly sobering and will probably give you a sense of time urgency in the very first week of classes. That’s a good thing. Then you won’t be tempted to accept an invitation to do something that will shatter your schedule.
TDC: What are some polite ways that students can refuse extra offers that they don’t have time for (one more internship this semester, tutoring another student, coming into work when another employee can’t) without being rude or breaking bridges?
DF: “I’m sorry, but much as I’d like to help, I’m overbooked (or I have another obligation, or I promised X I’d do Y) right now.”
TDC: How should a student balance a romantic relationship with school, extracurricular activities, work, and personal time?
DF: We have to have balance in our lives, and romance is definitely a good thing. But take a look at that calendar I talked about and go for real balance. After all, you won’t be such a desirable romantic partner as a dropout!
TDC: What is the best way to study?
DF: First of all, amount of time studying does not predict grades. There are a number of proven ways to study better. One really important one is to be totally honest with yourself about what you know and what you don’t know about the subject matter. That requires self-assessment or self testing — or working with other students to test each other. If you don’t do that, you may be fooling yourself — students are notoriously over-optimistic about how they are going to perform — and, really, who wants to live like that?
TDC: How do you break it to your parents that you’re a young adult?
DF: Probably the best way is to act like one.
TDC: How can commuters feel connected to the campus?
DF: Get involved in some on-campus activities or clubs. That has been shown to help commuter students persist in their college work, which is a key to success.