How to be a successful English major

I’ve just finished my fifth semester in college with a full course load of thirteen credit hours, and I feel very accomplished. Granted, I did take a long break during this time; I finished my first year back in 2007. I’m an English Major and applying to transfer next fall. I broke up my sophomore English lit courses, and successfully finished one after the other this past spring and summer. I haven’t taken any writing courses since then, but with the fall semester finished, I’m done spending all my time studying for classes I struggle with, like math. I can get back to my true loves, reading and writing, and my purpose for this article. I have talked with a lot of students during my time in a community college. That “sentence” sounds like I was doing time in prison (hmm very similar). I am not always social, but I’ve always been interested in education; so I make it a point to have academic discussions with peers. This gives me a chance to compare myself to other students, and see what is working or is not for their classes. I found it necessary to compile this list of success tips after a discussion that I had today with a fellow student. I find most of this to be common sense, but there is always someone who misses the boat on at least a few of these. It will be helpful for anyone that is a type “A” personality, or for someone that just wants to be a better human being.

This female student (who shall remain anonymous) talked with me today about her experience in her British lit course. I found it very informative, not only because she has a similar interest–writing, but also that she was getting a “D” in the course. She expressed her frustration with her missed opportunity of doing well, and stated that she was mistaken in hearing her professor’s instructions about a paper being optional. I found this very sad, and the fact that she was accepting this low grade is something that could’ve easily been avoided. (This is a classic example of what not to do!) I can tell you why, and give you the five mistakes she made. When she told me that she did write the paper, but didn’t turn it in because she didn’t like the way it sounded, I said to myself right away, “that is her first mistake.” You can’t be a perfectionist with too much pride in college; it will get you into trouble. Accept that you are here to learn and that you will not impress your prof with a perfect paper, anyhow. Mistake number two, not talking with your professor to clarify their instructions. Number three, not making an effort to visit with your prof to see what you can do to get this grade up; instead, she took a zero. Number four; don’t miss your classes and opportunities to begin with. Five; why do you think it is ok to be absent five or more times and still do well? If you have a legitimate excuse, make it known right away!
If you have ever taken a semester, you would know at a community college, especially, they require a really annoying and crappy class called “College Success,” or something equally lame. I was forced into taking this my freshman year, and did well, but that isn’t why I am bringing this up. This class is pointless; I will be frank with you; if you can get around it in any way, do it. It’s a waste of time and money, and will not help you at all; not to mention, that it will not transfer as a class for most degrees, or give you any sort of valuable requirement. If its aim is to make you successful, it does not. People either have the IQ for college at the start, or they must be willing to put in their time and energy. If it were up to me, I would get rid of this class all together. I would then invest in some math readiness courses and a seminar that can help you determine your goals; and if there was enough money left over, real actual counselors that can help you get what you need; to get out of college with a degree. This leads me to my next topic of advice. The school counselors are full of it, and when I say full of it; I mean they don’t even know what they are doing, or how to get the right answers when they try.
My personal experience is this, if you want to do well, you are going to have to invest some time and energy, and do it on your own. No one is going to do this for you, and if you are lucky you will meet some gem people along the way that actually care to see you reach your goals. So, regarding counselors; they usually have the wrong information, won’t take responsibility, and do nothing in guiding decisions for the right classes. Academic counselors, in particular, do not understand degree requirements, and often, just cause more problems than I can count. For example, I have talked with numerous academic counselors; one in particular, led me to believe that my degree plan was offered at a University that I was interested in transferring to. Unfortunately, this was not the case, but after I did some research I was able to avoid this mistake.
I have not met other students exactly like me, or with the same interests and goals for that matter. I can guarantee, though, that there are similar people that experience difficulties, and have hard times outside of their academic life. This is a challenge, I too, have had, and I would like to give you some insights that have helped me in my successes in college up to this point. My hope is that these tips can help you, not only in your English courses, but any other dreaded courses you may have, too.
Here are the top tips that I can give you to do well in your semesters in college; they will make you very successful when you do them regularly. These are not tips that you can do once and be golden; these are repeated behaviors that will help you in the future.

I. Make a point of getting to know people; faculty, administration, financial aid, librarians and students—they will be the best help to you.
II. Try to figure out what you want to get out of college right away; if you don’t know what you like, at least don’t do something you hate for the sake of the money, or status. This almost always goes against you later on.
III. Get a degree plan, and if you can get someone to sign off on the courses you need to take, even better. Pick a degree and stick with it.
IV. Talk to your professors, they are actually paid to teach you. Wow! What innovation. I know many students that refuse to take advantage of office hours. This is vital in doing well in your courses. If you don’t speak up, ask questions, or utter a few words to your professor, why are they supposed to care about you come end of semester? And that letter of recommendation that you wanted—forget about it!
V. Wait to buy your book “new” until the first week of class, try other options first; and if you need to get it wholesale or used try ordering it ASAP.
VI. Take advantage of every opportunity, like seriously, what’s it hurt in asking if you can do a rewrite, or some extra credit to get your grade up? The worst that could happen is a prof says, “No,” and now you will never know, because you didn’t take that opportunity to ask.
VII. Turn in your papers and assignments on time. It doesn’t matter if they are “perfect.” If you turn in nothing, you will get a big fat “0” and this is much harder to recover from.
VIII. Don’t be late, just don’t. It’s rude and disrespectful. Plus, your prof. almost always knows.
IX. Which leads me to the next point of success, always show up prepared, and don’t miss excessive classes. If you do, you will probably only do average, or worse. Strive for an A, why not?
X. Keep your phone and other electronics off and put away. It pisses other students off who are trying to learn, and most professors find it offensive. I suggest taking your notes the old fashioned way, with notebook paper and a pencil, and if you must use a computer, ask first.
XI. Give up your life. No, seriously, this is like the only way that you will do well in college; especially if you are already like the other mediocre community college students. Give up your drug and alcohol habits; these will only hurt you in the long run. Give up your annoying bf that is distracting you from your goals. Give up excessive TV and internet use. Cut back your hours at work or just do less bad things.
XII. Last but not least, invest more time to study, and do important things like cultivating skills that you will actually use. If you want to write, spend more time writing. If you want to be good at math, do more problems. If you want to do something well, you should do it every day. And if you want to be successful, you will be. This is my overall tip for you. If you care, you can succeed at anything that you put your mind to. Most people have low self-esteem to begin with so you are making strives just by being in class and trying. But everything takes practice, and rarely does it come easy the first time around. My method is this, if it sucks the first time, try, try again. And if the writing sucks (which, it usually does), revise, revise, and then edit some more.


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