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My First Weeks of the College Rollercoaster

October 7, 2015

I was incredibly excited for classes to start: I walked to all the buildings a day before,
read up on the professor and browsed the course material, and glanced at Blackboard's photo roster to see who my peers would be. From seeing a few unexpected familiar faces and glancing at class assignments, I was completely ready to throw myself into academics.

My first class was Chinese 101. As I taught myself Chinese starting when I was twelve (however, I forgot a lot of it in high school), I expected to be able to coast a little bit in the first couple weeks—even months—of class. It's true the first few days of material were easy review for me: I had a Chinese name I could write and say, I knew basic greetings, and I still remembered basic nouns and their characters. I didn't understand the formatting of the homework and what was being asked of me on the syllabus, but since I knew what was going on in class, I ignored that. (Spoiler: that was a mistake!)

My next class was Music Theory 1, a required conservatory course. As I had extremely
minimal music theory in high school, on the first day I followed about 75% of what was being said. But even so, in certain areas, I felt I could coast a little. When the first homework came around, I nearly forgot about it because there was so much going on. I ended up staying up a couple extra hours the night before finishing it. If I had questions, which I did, it was too late: I missed my chance to go to tutoring or get help from the professor before I did the assignment. It was yet again an issue of not quite understanding what I had to do, and also one of time management.

My next homework heavy class was Aural Skills 1, another required conservatory course. This class taught skills I was markedly bad at, which were sight-singing, conducting, and and thinking in terms of scale degrees (steps between notes). The class will teach us to do these simultaneously. I was most unprepared for this class's assignments, which were somewhat open-ended and focused on practice and slow-learning. So for the most part, I didn't do much at all for the first week. Again, I was unsure of what was being asked of me and how to go about my assignments, and I ignored this. (Are we seeing a theme?)

Suddenly, I was swamped. There were assignments stacking up, due dates rapidly approaching, and I was almost fully immersed in material I had never learned before in most of my classes. The fact that I didn't understand the basic format of some of my classes' weekly (or daily) assignments meant I was going to fall behind, and fast. The college rollercoaster had become a drop tower and I had no idea how to get back up.

I was encountering classic College 101 issues of Time Management and Organization.

So what was the solution?

  1. First, I took a breath. Panicking wasn't going to solve the problem. I gave myself space to calm down and break down the problem.
  2. I got two calendars: one digital for classes and events, another for assignments. By color-coding and taking meticulous note of every commitment, everything felt way more possible.
  3. I talked to professors! Oberlin professors care about students! I went to a few professors' office hours in classes where I was struggling. By addressing the problem early and personally with the professor, I finished assignments on time and studied appropriately.

I learned that I needed to go and get help as soon as I needed it, because my classes were only going to get harder. After taking time to talk to professors and alums of these courses, as well as sit down and sift through everything I had to do and systematically organize it, I felt totally equipped to get everything done.

In every experience there is something to be learned. I would say to all incoming freshmen: ask questions, stay organized, make mistakes, think critically. Most of all, blossom. Thrive in everything you want to get involved in, because that's what college is about!

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