Monday, September 05, 2011

How to be a Successful College Student

It's Labor Day and kids are getting ready to go back to school.  The Shrink Rap duck pictured here is getting in his last moments of holiday relaxation, and I am so happy to be up and running on my new Macbook pro.

Here at Shrink Rap, we don't offer medical advice, so this is not medical advice.  It's not based on anything even vaguely resembling evidence-based medicine, but I have treated many college students over the years and I have been impressed by those things that seem to make or break the college experience.  Back-to-School, but none of us treat the under-18 crowd, so my bullet point suggestions are limited to college students.  If you're a parent, feel free to send this to your college student, and if you're a student, feel free to ask "Who are those blogging shrinks with the duck? They must be quacks." 

Here are my quick & dirty pointers for how to succeed in college:

1) Show Up.
Being present in class, on time, in a state that vaguely resembles conscious is most of the battle.
If you don't go to class, with the exception of the unanticipated onset of a febrile or gastrointestinal illness, then you should know well in advance that you're not going to go and have a strategy for how you are going to make up the work.  By these criteria, "I don't want to get out of bed" doesn't work.  But "The professor doesn't speak English and lectures straight from the book, so it's a better use of my time to read the book and get notes from my roommate who takes great notes," may be a valid reason to skip class.

2) Don't smoke weed.
This is a tricky one-- many college students smoke weed (or at least those who end up my office almost all do).  Some people smoke marijuana regularly and still seem to live fully productive lives.  Some people seem to find it very "beneficial" to them even though it appears to be killing their motivation and decreasing their anxiety to the point where they have no ambition, barely move,  and don't do the things it's necessary to do in order to succeed, for example #1 above: Show Up.  Oddly enough, marijuana smokers do not see the connection between their  low motivational level and their low success status and they are absolutely sure their consumption of marijuana has nothing to do with their problems.  They become very skilled at telling others why weed isn't part of the problem and many are quite well versed on the rhetoric of NORML and how the it's a political agenda to keep marijuana illegal.   If you're not successful and you smoke weed, stop and see if your life gets better.  Oh, and by the way, two weeks off is not a 'trial.'  Don't smoke at all, ever, for 6-12 months and see if you're in a better place.  If you are successful and you smoke weed, you're probably not reading this article, but even in the best scenarios, it increases your risk of lung cancer and it causes the munchies which can make you fat, and if you get caught and arrested it's a lot of explaining to do for a very long time.   

3) College Students and Drinking.
This is even trickier because while there are college students who don't smoke weed, the role of alcohol in college life is huge and the pressure to drink is immense.  It's not legal if you're under 21, it seems to lead to all sorts of problems, but it seems to be an impossible sell to college students, so let me make suggestions based on the assumption that there is nothing I can say that would stop anyone from drinking:
--Don't drink on any night when you need to be somewhere the next morning.
--Don't drink enough that you vomit, pass out, or black out.
--Don't drive after you've had anything to drink: being dead is a lot worse than not finishing college.
--Keep your total consumption under 15 drinks a week for a man and 8 drinks a week for a woman.
--If you can't keep abide by the above suggestions, you have a problem and should get help.
NPR had an interesting show on Why College Students Drink So Much and Party So Hard about a book by Thomas Vander.
Add to the How to Stay Alive Issue :  Before you go out drinking, Eat.  If your friends pass out, roll them on their side and don't ever leave someone who is passed out alone.  If they really can't be aroused to at least push you away and groan, call an ambulance.  Don't do shots.  Beer pong is more fun and much safer. Don't drink in settings where you may be sexually vulnerable.

4) Get enough sleep.
If this means not scheduling early classes or taking naps during the day, then consider those things when you set your schedule, but sleep is really important.

5) If you have a psychiatric disorder, don't stop your treatment.
It's not unusual for kids to try this when they go off to college and don't have the 'rents handing them medications or driving them to therapy appointments.  It's a really bad idea.  Particularly bad times to cease treatment are first semester Freshman year and any year during mid-terms or finals.    I'll add: if you have a psychiatric disorder, don't drink, it makes everything worse.

6) Take a large, heavy brick and throw it through your Nintendo/PlayStation/XBox.
  Ditto for online fantasy games.  Anything outside of school work or employment that captures you for more than two hours a day may be a problem.  Reading psychiatry blogs is fine.

7) If you're a sensitive or problem child, don't have a roommate who shares the same bedroom with you, it adds to the stress of college and it's helpful to have space you can escape to.

8) If you're having a rough time, get help.
If you're struggling in class, talk to the professor and consider getting a tutor.  If you're very depressed, call the counseling center.  If you're feeling sick, go to the health center.  College is not the time to suffer alone.

9) Know the final drop date for your classes and if you're failing, drop the class.  Remember to turn in the form.

Anyone want to add to the list?
Best wishes for a happy, fun, and educational school year.