Helen Lami, managing director of summer school specialist Academic Summer, shares her tips for getting the best out of your years at college.
So you landed your place at uni, loaded all your stuff into your parents' car and squeezed it into a tiny room in Halls. The first few weeks of fun Freshers events are out of the way and now it looks like you might actually have to do some work. It's time to get into the habit of some healthy study techniques that will hopefully carry you right through your time at uni and out the other side, a good degree in hand.
Here are my five tips for keeping on top of college work;
Develop a regular weekly schedule and stick to it.
At school teachers and your parents helped to enforce the structure of your learning. But now it's down to you, so it's your responsibility to get disciplined about setting a routine for yourself. This will vary with your lecture schedule and what you are studying but, broadly, you need to juggle coursework with preparing for seminars/workshops and lecture notes. And then of course there's all the exam preparation. So the key is to look at what's ahead of you throughout the term and make a weekly plan to cover it. Think realistically about the time you have available for independent study and don't forget to plan for eating, shopping, socialising and regular study breaks.
Consider mindfulness meditation
There's a reason why it seems that everyone meditates these days – it works. Researchers have discovered that just ten minutes of meditating each day improves people's concentration and working memory. Like the study routine though, this is something that will take time for you to get into the swing of. Pick a time each day that fits in with your schedule and commit to it. There are a variety of apps that can help you meditate – Headspace is a good one – but perhaps the simplest way is just to find a quiet place you won't be disturbed and spend ten minutes just focusing on your breath coming in and out of your nostrils. There is no particular aim, don't 'try' to be calm, just get into the habit of observing what is happening without judgement.
Be aware of how your diet affects your concentration
It's easy to forget the impact nutrition has on your ability to study, particularly if you are short of money or time. But the fact is that the typical sugar/carb rich diet of the average student will be making it much harder to focus consistently as you lurch between sugar lows and highs. Try to build in more fruit and veg by making it easy for yourself. Buy a nice fruit bowl to fill with your favourite fruit and put on your desk for snacking. And one of the simplest nutritious meals you can make for yourself is roasted vegetables. Its ideal for fitting in with studying - once you've put the veggies in the oven you are free to get on with your work.
Anxiety and depression – look out for the warning signs
Student life is stressful. You may have just left home, you are making new friends, and you are faced with a number of new challenges including taking responsibility for finances, a home and studying. It's no wonder that for some, this becomes overwhelming. It's often difficult to work out when the general stresses of life tip over into something more serious. But the key is respecting your own experience and knowing when to seek help. There are a number of emotional, phyfsical and cognitive symptoms of depression and anxiety – this website explains more, and gives some good sources of support for students.
Strike the right balance between work and play
One of the most effective ways of protecting your mental and physical health and getting good grades at college is to find ways to retain balance between fun and study. Too much of either isn't helpful over the long term. So think about the kind of breaks from study that suit you best, whether it's half an hour in front of Netflix, or a jog around the block. Joining a sports team in your first term might be a great way to ensure you get regular exercise and make some new friends.
Starting university is an exciting time. By taking some time to think about how you can protect yourself and work harder you are potentially setting up healthy habits for life.
About Academic Summer
Aimed at UK and international students wanting to get ahead with their studies, summer camp specialists Academic Summer aims to mix learning, with a big dose of fun. Alongside discos, trips to Harry Potter studios, learning to punt or play drums, students can choose from over 25 academic subjects including all the core GCSE/A level/IB Diploma curriculum topics. Programmes preparing students for Oxbridge, entry to medical school or the eleven plus are also available. Meanwhile, Academic Camp Canada based in Vancouver Island or New Brunswick offers a similar blend of learning and fun in stunning locations. For more info go to Academic Summer's website.