Propeller Collective Blog
I failed my midterm.
I failed my exam.
I failed my project.
I failed my paper.
I failed!!! What do I do now?
Whether you failed or got a much lower grade that you expected, the shock that comes with it can stop you in your tracks. You might be thinking, “How can I possibly recover from this?;” “Maybe I should just drop the class;” or “Maybe I should just drop out.”
Don’t worry, you’re nowhere near the end of the road, and you’re certainly not the first person to ever fail an exam or project.
Follow these five steps to recover and get back in the game:
Step 1: Chill
You might be in shock. Maybe you’re freaking out. Maybe you just ate a pint of ice cream.
Stop what you’re doing, clear your mind, and get focused by following one of these 5 ways to get back on track. My favorite recovery tactic is to run through 10 minutes of a workout video on YouTube (I like FitnessBlender and Tone It Up), then run through the mental exercise tapping into the WHY behind your long-term goals.
Step 2: Analyze what went wrong
Now that you have a clear head, take a look at your returned midterm, exam, project, or paper. Read the instructions, then read your response and any comments from your professor or teaching assistant. Does your response match the instructions? Did you do poorly on a particular aspect or section or the entire thing?
Next, think about your overall study strategies and how you prepared for this particular midterm, exam, project, or paper. Did you study enough? If it’s a midterm, did you follow the advice in Prepare for Midterms in 7 Steps and What to Do in the 24 Hours Around Your Midterm or Exam?
Maybe you felt like you did everything right by going to class, taking notes, and completing assignments. Or, maybe you had other stuff going on that influenced your performance on this assignment.
Step 3: Talk with your professor and/or graduate student instructor
Ask for their feedback, share what you learned in Step 2, and tell them how important this class is to you and why. Ask, “What can I do now to do better next time?” You should also ask about how this grade will influence your overall grade in the class, and what grades you’ll need to get on future assignments in order to pass.
It’s worth asking if you can redo the assignment or complete another assignment for extra credit. Not all professors will agree to this, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Step 4: Make a turnaround plan
Now that you have the information you need, bring it home by putting together a turnaround plan. Set a goal for how well you want to do on your next midterm, exam, project, or paper. What strategies can you put in place to achieve that goal?
Step 5: Take action
Choose one thing from your turnaround plan and do it right now! Then, choose something else from your turnaround plan and act on it tomorrow. If you continue the cycle, you’ll find yourself one step closer to your goal with each passing day.
CEO, Propeller Collective
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Share with the community in the comments below!
This is part II of a two-part series on midterms.
Hopefully, by now you’ve been able to institute some of our suggestions from part I of our Midterm series: Prepare for Midterm in 7 Steps
In this article, we’ll walk through tips for the 24 hours around your midterm or exam so that you can put your best foot forward on the big day.
How to Prepare for Midterms part II :
Before you call it a night, pack your bag
In the morning, your focus will be on eating a nutritious, healthy breakfast and mentally preparing and doing a brief review for your exam. Packing your bag the night before will eliminate any additional stress and surprises that you may have not anticipated in the morning. Your bag should include pens, pencils, papers, blue books, calculator, student ID, and anything else that you will need for the exam. It’s better to know the night before, rather than the day of the exam, about any supplies or items that you will need. If you end up needing something, you can make a quick stop at the bookstore in the morning.
Bring a wristwatch
Some professors will not allow mobile phones during the exam and it is important to know how much time has elapsed as you work through the exam.
Double check the location and time of the exam
The thought of walking into an empty lecture hall for an exam is…. Just double check!
Proper rest and sleep will lead to stronger cognition and an overall sharper mind. You know exactly how much sleep you need to be on your A-game. For some, it’s six hours, others ten. Ensure that you are able to sleep the appropriate amount to feel physically rested and mentally refreshed the next morning. That extra hour of studying the night before may actually be better spent resting. Doing a brief review in the morning might be a better use of time.
Get there early
Arrive to the exam ten minutes early and get situated and as comfortable as you can. Do a quick review and some breathing exercises to prepare for the start of the exam.
Understand the question
Read each question carefully. Know exactly what the question is asking of you and answer that question. On essay questions, pay close attention to verbs (compare, contrast, give an opinion, provide concrete facts) as your answers should satisfy those question(s). Some essay questions are multi-part and you will need to answer all parts for full credit. If you’re nervous or in a rush, you might accidentally read the question the wrong way or miss a word. Points and credits are usually awarded on answering all of the questions satisfactorily, so be mindful that you are devoting the appropriate amount of time and space to address each question.
Manage your time
Once you’re on the clock, it’s a race against time. For essays, spend about a minute writing an outline and some key points you want to include. From there, begin formulating a thesis sentence and building out an intro paragraph. For multiple choice or non-essay questions, efficiency is key. Obviously, answer the ones you know first. Skip any questions you don’t immediately know the answer to and mark any questions that you want to come back to, as time allows.
Stay the entire time
Once you have completed the exam and there is time left, DO NOT LEAVE! Stay for the entire allotted time. The remaining time is to be devoted to double-checking your answers and/or essay questions. You may just want to double-check that page-long calculus problem you think you answered correctly, sans a simple math error. For essays, re-read your response to confirm that you’ve answered the question and your ideas are succinct, fluid and support your main idea.
Even if you’re just staring at a problem, without a clue, you may find something in the exam to jog your memory. Staying the entire time gives you an opportunity to raise your score by fine-tuning your answers and double-checking your work.
Reflect and take action
Be honest with yourself and identify areas of improvement, whether it’s mastery of a certain subject matter or improving your studying skills and habits. It’s all about studying smart, not necessarily more. Eliminating distractions and creating an environment where you can devote a concentrated amount of time to focused studying should payoff with better comprehension and increased retention. Are you an early bird or a night owl? Do you study best in a quiet environment like a library or a coffee shop with the constant hum and activity? Go with what works best for you. Going to office hours is also an opportunity to recalibrate your studying.
After you receive your grade
Take time to review your exam and process the feedback you’ve received. As you review your exam, you may feel that you should have scored a few points higher on a given question. Your reaction may range from feeling slighted to indignation. Calm down and understand that, more often than not, grades are distributed on a grading curve. The professor or teaching instructor has a better idea of the bigger picture of the class’s performance relative to yours. If there are questions worth addressing, consult your class policy on how to approach your instructor regarding a grade dispute. This article from Dr. Rosen from the University of California, Los Angeles, is a great guide to review if you’re thinking about approaching your professor or instructor about a grade change.
Continue to fine-tune your study habits to achieve your academic goals. Each class can be challenging in its unique way but by taking advantage of the resources available to you and fine-tuning your study habits, you will be able to accomplish your goals in the classroom.
CSO, Propeller Collective
Have other tips for preparing for midterms?
Share with the community in the comments below!
This is part I of a two-part series on midterms.
It’s that time of year: midterms are right around the corner! No need to panic. With the right amount of preparation, you’ll be in great shape. We’re sharing 7 things you can do right away to get started.
How to Prepare for Midterms:
1. Plan to prepare
Planning for studying for a midterm is a must. In anticipation for midterms, you should work backwards from the midterm and block out times to do midterm-specific review for each of your classes. Creating a study schedule for midterms will help you organize how and when you need to study for your exams. You will want to set aside time to review all of your notes, go to office hours, attend review sessions, and take breaks.
2. Get your notes in order
Annotating and clarifying your notes is essential to mastering the material. If there is a gap in your notes or you don’t understand something, attend to it immediately. Find a classmate, go to office hours with the professor or teaching assistant, or consider a tutor. Even if you don’t find a gap in your notes, it’s helpful to compare notes with others in your class to see if you have any gaps.
When you review your notes, do so with the big picture in mind. How do the concepts you learned in week 5 relate to what you learned in week 2? Building connections from one concept to another will strengthen your overall understanding of the material.
Tip: Use flashcards! They’re not fancy, but they work. They offer a straightforward way to jot down important facts, concepts, and details. And, research shows you’ll retain more information if you take notes by hand rather than your laptop.
3. Watch your professor for clues
Your professor provides the most insight into what will be covered on your midterm exam. It seems obvious, but you’ll have a much better idea about what’s going to be on the midterm if you take notice anytime your professor:
- Talks slowly so you have an easier time taking notes
- Uses an example that highlights a cause / effect, comparison / contrast, or explains the significance or relevance of a particular topic
- Repeats a concept
- Tells a story to help cement your understanding of a concept
These tips will help you filter out the white noise from the real stuff. And, the more frequently you preview class materials before class, you’ll have a better idea about what your professor wants to prioritize.
4. Don’t forget: You are what you eat
It’s so tempting to gobble down that leftover cold pizza or finish off that bag of chips during crunch time, but research shows a correlation between healthier eating and higher performance. Keeping your mind and body sharp when you study - especially during exams - is crucial.
For meals and snacks, try to incorporate a superfood or foods high in antioxidants. Think almonds, oatmeal, Greek yogurt, quinoa, chia seeds, green tea, broccoli, salmon, spinach, eggs, pistachios, beets, beans, pumpkins, apples, cranberries, cauliflower, and lentils.
Studying burns energy because it causes your brain to burn glucose, which explains why you’re always hungry after a study session. Taking a snack break every hour will replenish your energy and keep you fueled.
Again, snacks like nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables are ideal. It’s OK to sneak in your favorite brand of potato chips or those gummy bears you like, but healthier snacks will sustain you for a longer period of time.
5. Go to the review session
It would be a HUGE mistake to skip out on a review session facilitated by your professor or teaching assistant. Review sessions cover the main topics that will be tested and can help prioritize your studying, especially if the course materials are extensive. Usually, the instructor will slip in a few questions that will be on the exam. Review sessions also tend to be smaller than your actual classes, so you’ll likely have an opportunity to ask any questions you have during the session.
6. Participate in study groups
Forming study groups with classmates can offer an immense boost to your exam preparation. Typically, everyone in a study group is assigned with a specific section of the course material, then each group member’s responsibility is to summarize and re-teach main points to everyone else in study group. With a set meeting time and others depending on your input, you’ll be less likely to procrastinate.
Discussion and debate at the study group meeting will help solidify your understanding of the course material, since listening and speaking to others enhances your ability to recall information. You’ll also see how different students approach the same concepts and/or problems from different perspectives, which can help you master the material and even anticipate test questions.
7. Take breaks
Midterms are a marathon; taking breaks and setting aside time to relax are part of the race to the finish line. It’s important to take intermittent breaks during study sessions to eat a small snack, rest your eyes, change up your study location, or get some exercise. Don’t fall into a trap where studying is the only thing you do - you still have to eat, sleep, and shower. Giving yourself time to replenish your energy will help you study longer and more efficiently.
CSO, Propeller Collective
Have other tips for preparing for midterms?
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Colleges offer a number of resources and services for students that are staffed by people who want to help you - it’s their job and passion!
Tapping into the many resources available on campus will help you get the most out of your college experience. Do you know about all of the services that are typically offered at college? You’ll find a list of the top ten campus resources for college students below.
Be proactive and take a minute to check them out on your campus, and make sure to tell your friends.
10 Campus Resources That Have Your Back:
1. Counseling Services
The transition to college can sometimes be challenging. Think about it: you’re living away from home for the first time, you have to make new friends, and you’re likely faced with higher academic demands than you’ve ever experienced before. If the transition is something that is so difficult that it’s starting to affect your mental health and wellness, you may consider counseling services. Counselors and psychologists are trained to help students work through problems like this, and confidentiality is a part of their code of ethics. Being proactive is especially important when considering help from counseling services.
2. Physical Health Services
Have the flu? Need a vaccine or X-ray? Your school most likely has a health service system and doctors that can help you on a walk-in or appointment basis. If not, they’ll be able to refer you somewhere nearby. At four-year schools, a health service fee is typically included in your tuition for clinic visits, so you’ve already paid for these services! Note there may be a co-pay if you need something that’s more specialized (like certain immunizations before you study abroad).
3. Academic Advising
It is so important to see your academic advisor regularly – at least once per term. In many ways, your academic advisor can be a lifeline to a successful college experience. Advisors are like Swiss army knives - they can help you make connections on campus; answer questions about student employment, grad school, or how to get involved in student organizations; and ensure you’re on track to graduate. Your advisor will also know about relevant campus resources that could be beneficial to you, academically and otherwise. If you have a question and don’t know who to ask—start with your academic advisor! If you have a question that’s time sensitive and you can’t meet you advisor in time, stop by “walk-in” advising hours.
4. Writing Help / Tutoring
It’s normal to get to college and feel like your writing skills could use a little extra help. In reality, most students need some level of assistance with college-level writing. Most schools have a writing center where peer and/or college employees are available to help you for free. You can meet with a tutor in person to talk about what questions and concerns you have, and sometimes you can submit work online. You can get help no matter what stage of writing you’re in, whether you’re brainstorming, writing an outline, working on your first draft, or reviewing a graded paper. Tutors at the writing center will also be able to help you prepare for written midterms and exams. Visiting the writing center and taking advantage of its resources will undoubtedly help you become a better writer.
5. Math Help / Tutoring
One of the most important keys to doing well in college is not getting behind! If you feel like you’re getting behind in your math class (whether that be algebra, calculus, statistics, etc.) or you need some extra assistance because a big exam is coming up, get the help you need from math tutors offered by your class or the Math Department. Sometimes tutors work out of a “math lab,” which is a classroom dedicated to math tutoring. Make sure to ask your professor or instructor where you can find more information.
6. Career Center
The campus career center offers help with job and internship searches as well as resume and cover letter review. What do you want to do after you graduate? It’s a question that haunts many students! If you’re unsure but want to start exploring, make an appointment with a career center advisor.
The career center is not only for juniors and seniors, but also for underclassmen looking to map out the transition from academic to professional career. Looking for internships, exploring potential careers, learning about your interests, and connecting with alumni are all things that a career center can help you with.
There is no one except you that will manage your post-graduation career, so starting early will help you think about your post-college plans in a concrete way. With a better understanding of post-college opportunities, you will also develop a sharper focus on your studies.
7. Study Abroad Office
Is it your dream to go abroad? Make that dream possible by talking to someone from a study abroad office. It is highly encouraged for students to have an abroad experience while they are in college (and if money is an issue don’t worry – there are many scholarships, need- and merit-based, available)! Going abroad will allow you to learn more about other cultures and experience life in a new place. Many students will go abroad in the summer but others may go for a fall or winter semester. You can talk to a study abroad advisor about where you want to go and when – and how you can fund it. If your school doesn’t have a study abroad office, talk with your academic advisor about opportunities to go abroad.
8. Research Opportunities
Along with encouraging students to go abroad, many 4-year colleges encourage students to get involved in research. Doing research, whether it’s in the sciences or liberal arts, will allow you develop skills that will be useful to you in your career. For example, you may learn to analyze data and write a report based upon that data. Eventually, you may even have the chance to present your research. Conducting research also allows you to develop professional relationships with faculty members by working with them on a regular basis. To find research opportunities, reach out to faculty who research topics you’re interested in and ask about working with them. Your academic advisor may also have some leads.
9. Financial Aid Office
Your college has grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study funds available for students. You can learn more about different types of funding and your individual financial aid package from staff at the financial aid office. Financial aid advisors have worked with thousands of students from all walks of life and are well-equipped to answer any questions you have. If you run into an unexpected financial crisis - even during summer break - they can help you come up with solutions. Some colleges have small grants or loans specifically for student financial emergencies. They can also help you complete the FAFSA. Don’t let any financial aid issues become a burden for you. Ask a financial aid advisor today!
10. Housing Office
At many 4-year schools, students live in dorms their first year. Usually it goes well, but if you have any issues with your dorm or your roommate, make sure you reach out to your hall director. Many students choose to live off campus after their first year, and renting an apartment for the first time or moving to campus after commuting can be stressful. You can reach out to the housing office for more information, and staff there should also be able help to you review a lease agreement so you understand it before you sign.
College is a unique time in your life where you want to maximize your experiences so that you’re better positioned to achieve your long-term goals. Colleges and universities want to set you up for success - in and out of the classroom - and have created many resources to help you achieve your goals. Avoid unnecessary stress down the line by taking the time to check them out now!
Academic Advisor, University of Michigan
Have other tips for utilizing resources on campus?
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The thought of having an entire class devoted to “discussion” can seem daunting, especially if you didn’t have elaborate class discussions during high school.
In this article, we provide an overview of discussion classes: what to expect and what’s in it for you. We also share tips for participating in discussion classes: how to prepare before class, what to do in class, and how to wrap it up after class.
OVERVIEW OF DISCUSSION CLASSES
What is a discussion class?
Discussion classes, or sections, are typically a required component of a large lecture class. They offer a time when smaller groups of students (typically less than 30) meet with a graduate student instructor, teaching assistant, or professor to review class content, go over questions, discuss the readings, and do some additional work. Discussion classes also offer an opportunity to connect with classmates about the larger course, which is hard to do in a lecture hall of 200+ students.
What do you do in a discussion class?
Depending on the course you’re in, discussion classes can take different forms. For example, in a science or math course, you’ll likely use discussion class time to complete problem sets. In a liberal arts course like English or political science, you’ll be more likely to use that time to review lectures and discuss the readings.
What your instructor is thinking
From the perspective of your instructor, discussion classes provide an opportunity to discuss and teach, in more detail, the materials that were taught during lecture and assigned in the readings. Discussion sections are designed to provide you and your classmates with a greater understanding of the materials and overall subject of the course.
What’s in it for you
From your perspective, a discussion section is a beneficial time to engage with the course material, gain a better grasp of what you’re studying, and show your instructor you’re on top of it. Discussion section allows the instructor to put a name with your face, which can be invaluable, especially if you are attending office hours or planning on it. Further, it allows you to differentiate yourself in a smaller pool of students. A discussion is only as good as its participants. If students are unprepared, tired, or disinterested, the discussion will suffer. Over time, your instructor will recognize and remember the students who contribute. Whether you’re one of them or not, you’ll see that reflected in the grade you receive at the end of the semester.
Do I have to participate in my discussion class?
Check your syllabus, but participation in your discussion class is almost always factored into your course grade for overall class participation. Discussion is usually taken into account with other things like attendance, turning in assignments on time, and completing online discussion prompts.
HOW DO I PARTICIPATE IN MY DISCUSSION CLASS?
CSO, Propeller Collective
Have other tips for participating in discussion classes?
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...have a question about class.
...think your paper is going to be late.
...found an article you want to share.
...want to start building a professional relationship with your professor.
As a college student, sending an email to your professor can be stressful if you’re not sure what to say or how to phrase your request, but we’ve got you covered!
In this article, we share:
What you need to know about writing an email to your professor
A 5-step template for composing your email
4 sample emails that you can adjust for your needs
What You Need to Know About Writing an Email to Your Professor
Before you start writing...
Can you find the answer to your question elsewhere?
Check out the syllabus, ask Google, see if you can get more info from other students in class, and talk to your teaching assistant at section before reaching out.
Is email the best way to communicate about this subject?
Can you check-in with your professor after class or during office hours? If so, usually you can get more info on the spot. For topics that are sensitive in nature (e.g., grades or a late paper), mention the topic you’d like to discuss in your email (or when you check-in after class) and ask for a time that you could talk in person. When you show up, you open the door to two-way communication and you can get into the details of your situation. If you only send an email, it’s a lot easier for someone to reject a request.
Writing the email...
Make sure your email is concise!
Emails are meant to be short-form communication. Your email should be one paragraph or less. Anything larger, chances are the subject is better suited for an in-person convo (we have a sample email for this scenario below).
Check the tone of your message.
Is it respectful? Is there a line that could be interpreted the wrong way? You’re asking for your professor’s time, so your email should reflect a tone of gratitude.
Is “urgent” really urgent?
Reserve the term “urgent” for “urgent” situations (i.e., you broke your foot four hours before the exam and you’re stuck at the hospital).
Err on the side of formality!
Don’t use emoticons, slang, or abbreviations. Always address your professor as “Professor [Last Name]” and start your emails with “Dear Professor [Last Name]”
Double-check your grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
Most email services have built-in spell check, but if yours doesn’t, you can spell check for free in a new browser window with the Hemingway Editor.
Use professional fonts.
Arial, Helvetica, and Times New Roman in black 12-point font are go-tos. Above all, your message should be easily readable.
5 Steps to Writing an Email to Your Professor
Email subject line
Include your class and section # (if applicable)
Include the subject of your message
Sample subject lines:
POL101 / Section 5: Question about essay
Senior thesis on African-American History
Start emails to professors with “Dear Professor [last name]:” (Your professor may or may not have a Ph.D., so use “Dr. [last name]” only if you know that’s what they prefer.)
Never start the email off with “Hey” or address your professor by their first name (unless your professor has explicitly invited your class to be on a first-name basis).
Dear Professor Fiji:
Dear Professor Williams:
Dear Dr. Jones:
Mention how they know you or how you know them. This line is especially important for large introductory-level courses or if you’re emailing a professor you haven’t met personally.
Sample background info:
I am a student in your Introduction to Political Science class (POL101).
Professor Fiji suggested I reach out to you because the topic of my senior thesis is African-American history.
Purpose of your message
What’s the reason for your email? Get to the point and make the ask, share the info, or give the update.
If the purpose of your email is to make a request, note that larger requests should be preceded by a conversation with your professor (e.g., you’d like them to write you a letter of recommendation or you’d like them to be your thesis advisor). If you haven’t had that conversation yet, the purpose of your email should be about finding a time to talk.
I have a question about the essay due next Thursday and I was not able to find the answer on the syllabus. Should our essay draw only on readings listed on the syllabus or can I incorporate scholarly articles I read on my own, as long as it fits with the subject of the assignment?
I know you have done extensive research in this area, and I think meeting with you before I start my thesis would help me get started in the right direction. Would you be available for a short meeting next week?
Start your sign-off with “I look forward to hearing from you” or “I look forward to your reply.”
Follow that up with “Best regards.” A Propeller Collective favorite, “Best regards” has just the right amount of formality. “Sincerely” is a good option for more formal situations, while “Best” or “Regards” is slightly less formal than “Best regards.”
A popular sign-off that we do not recommend: Don’t sign off with “Thanks” or “Thank you!” Premature gratitude can make it seem like you’re making a demand and that you’re not actually grateful. Save “Thank you” for times when you want to express gratitude for something someone has already done.
Sign off with your full name, followed by your major and grad year.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Political Science, Class of 20xx
I look forward to your reply.
History, Class of 20xx
After you hit send…
Don’t be afraid to follow up!
Professors typically receive 100+ emails each day. If you don’t hear back from your professor, it’s a good idea to follow up. How long should you wait before following up?
If you sent an email to your professor about a class-related issue, send a follow-up email in 2 business days (for example, if you sent an email Monday morning, follow up Wednesday morning). If you see them in class before 2 business days, it might be appropriate to stop by the podium after class and mention that you sent them an email.
If you sent an email to your professor that’s not about a class-related issue, or it was addressed to a professor you don’t know personally, send a follow-up email in 3-4 business days.
Note: follow-up emails should be sent from the original email thread.
See our sample follow-up email below!
After your professor writes back...
Say “Thank You” and confirm that you received their email
Even if no follow up is required, a short “Thank you. I appreciate your reply” or “Thank you for your help” can go a long way.
4 Sample Emails
Sample Email #1: Question about essay
Sample Email #2: Senior thesis request
Sample Email #3: Request an in-person meeting
Sample Email #4: Follow-up email
CEO, Propeller Collective
Did you find the info above helpful? Have questions?
Let us know in the comments below!
Dinner at Taco Bell and a double feature at the dollar theater was a typical night out with friends in my two-square-mile hometown near Detroit. I was ready to create new memories that would last a lifetime when I started my freshman year of college at the University of Michigan with my student loan refund and the $400 I saved from a summer job, but was in for a shock when it seemed like everyone else had access to monthly allowances and credit cards from their parents. This become an obstacle I wasn’t at all prepared for. Dinner, parties, shopping, and everything that involved money I didn’t have became a source of stress.
How was I supposed to make friends on campus if I couldn’t afford to do any of the things they did on a regular basis?
Coming from a background where spare cash was a rarity, I started to feel like an outsider. No one else seemed to have that problem. When your new friends have a seemingly unlimited income for all kinds of food, drinks, and clothes, it's hard to have to explain to them that you don't.
We know that money isn't everything, and you don't need it for people to like you. But every time I said "no" to going out with friends on campus, I knew I had let them down and I ended up feeling left out. While it’s hard to feel involved when you don’t have a lot of money to go out, it doesn’t have to be a source of stress.
There are a number of ways to be mindful of your budget without sacrificing your social life:
Get used to saying no
I had a friend in college who wanted to go parasailing one Saturday and invited me to go. I knew it was out of my budget and I was nervous about telling her. When I worked up the courage to tell her I couldn’t afford it, her face was visibly confused, she asked if I could just use my dad’s credit card, and I became more uncomfortable. Then I realized, for some people, the sky's the limit financially, but that’s not the world I (or most people) live in. There’s no shame in telling someone you can’t afford certain activities because that’s a true reflection of your reality. When you bring that authenticity into a relationship, you’ll build stronger friendships in the long run. Like most of life, honesty is usually the best policy.
Flex your financial muscle
Having a limited budget is an opportunity to flex your resourcefulness and come up with creative ways to spend less money. When going out to eat, get a smaller dish at the restaurant and prepare by eating a snack at home before you go to dinner. You don’t have to announce it to the table, just tell people you aren’t as hungry. A similar tactic would be to eat a full dinner at home and not order anything at the restaurant. You could always sneak a couple of french fries from your friend’s plate if you feel awkward. Another way to save on dinner is to avoid ordering alcohol and just spend money on food. Finally, you could skip dinner entirely and meet up with your friends after they eat for coffee or dessert.
Be proactive in making plans
If you feel like you’re missing a lot of opportunities due to your limited budget, come up with some alternative plans for you and your friends. Suggest meeting up at a dorm for dinner instead of going out. Hop through new recruit meetings for clubs, Greek Week or even dorm mixers - they always have free pizza. If you have a kitchen or know someone who does, offer to cook for everyone and have a movie marathon. People will usually turn up for food. (Pro tip: the best investment I ever made was a $20 toaster over for my dorm room. I’d buy pre-made cookie dough, toss them in and serve warm cookies while we watched TV cramped in the bunk beds.)
Get familiar with the student or local newspapers and see what events are happening around town. There is usually a movie screening, play, concert, speaker, art show, museum or something else happening that’s free or discounted for students. Even something as simple as a walk, run or bike ride to explore your college town is a great way to spend time with others. You have no idea how many seemingly boring adventures turn into great stories later.
Try new things with new people
Unless you are an extremely outgoing person, the first people you get to know will probably be “proximity friends:” roommates, people in your dorm, some particularly chatty classmates. Don’t limit yourself to spending time only with people where it’s convenient. Get involved in something that interests you, even if you have to go it alone. Join the newspaper, sign up to volunteer at a local animal shelter, try out for a play or a capella group, go to political rallies.
There is usually a club or organization for everything you can possibly think of on campus, and if you find one that speaks to you, that’s where you will find your people. Talk to strangers in classes to start study groups, even if you don’t think you need the help. That boring Spanish lit lecture is a lot less boring when you have friends to commiserate with, and the more friendships you make the less you feel like to have to be a part of one group all the time.
Know when to splurge and don’t feel guilty about it
Adjusting to college is hard and sometimes you deserve to treat yourself. Be mindful of your bank account and get familiar with the bank website or app to keep track of your money the best you can. Yes, sometimes you may have to spend a week eating peanut butter, but it can be worth it for a great night with good people. Pick the things that are the most important to you and see if you can work it into your budget. You may never get another opportunity to see that band you love in concert, and you only turn 21 once. Enjoy those times so you don’t feel bad when you have to pass on the next outing.
Fail-safe excuse when you need it
If you don’t want to play the “I don’t have any money” card all the time you have an excellent, never-fail excuse: college. There is literally no end to the reading, studying, writing, practicing or cramming that needs to be done for classes. While it’s far less glamorous than a five course meal, it’s much cheaper and more productive. Eat a pack of Ramen, feel good that you got some real work done and reward yourself with ice cream with your pals once you’re done.
Sometimes college can feel like culture shock, and for me, not having as much money as my friends had a lot to do with that. It’s easy to assume you have nothing in common with people who live a different kind of life than you, and to close yourself off from them when it seems like those differences are dictating your social life. That doesn’t have to be the case.
Don’t feel obligated to do everything and be honest with your new friends about what you can and cannot do with them. Remember that it’s actually spending time with friends that builds relationships, not how much you’re spending in that time. We can’t all go parasailing on the weekend or go out to a $20 per entree dinner, but you can always find something else much more economical to do if you are willing to put in a little work.
I know a number of college students who feel uneasy about going to office hours. I felt the same way. I wasn’t sure about how the process worked, didn’t know what to say once I got there, and wasn’t clear on why I should go in the first place. As an undergrad, I only went to office hours for two of my classes, but those two professors ended up having an immense influence on my studies and my life.
I’m certain I could have performed better academically and learned valuable life lessons had I gone to office hours for more of my classes.
Similar to your first-ever job interview, meetings like this are less intimidating when you have a good idea of what to expect, which is why I went behind the scenes with someone who hosts office hours; Professor David Gatchell at the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University. Professor Gatchell offered his top recommendations for getting the most out of office hours while building strong professional relationships with professors.
Why go to office hours?
The primary reason to go to office hours, according to Professor Gatchell, is to establish a professional relationship with your professor that’s not solely based on academic help. Office hour meetings are a great opportunity to connect with your professor, explore your interests in the field, and uncover related campus and professional opportunities.
You’ll also make yourself known to the professor so that you’re able to follow up for a recommendation letter down the line. It’s much easier to ask a professor for a recommendation, and easier for them to write one for you, when you have a long, established working relationship. Professor Gatchell says, “you want your name to stand out and put a smile of recognition on your professor’s face when they think of you.” Building this kind of rapport with your professor brings them into your network, which also makes it easier for them to make a job connection for you.
Office hours are just one part of the overall class
“Know that office hours are one component of your overall experience in the class,” says Professor Gatchell. “You can prepare for office hours by making sure you’re on top of your classroom presence. Show your professionalism by arriving to class in a timely manner and show your commitment to doing well in the course by being prepared for class sessions.” Be an active participant in the class. Contribute to the learning environment. While you don’t have to raise your hand all the time, don’t escape it all together. Further, be willing to approach your professors before or after class with a question. While some of these may seem like small, insignificant interactions, doing them will make visiting office hours more approachable for you and your professor.
Office hours can be professional without being stuffy:
Keep in mind
If your professor doesn’t write back right away regarding an office hours appointment...
...it doesn’t mean they don’t care. “Professors have many responsibilities outside of your class, in addition to their home life,” says Professor Gatchell. If they don’t get back to you via email or can’t meet right away, many times they have a good reason. On the other hand, if you haven’t heard back in a few days, send a follow up email. Some professors get hundreds of emails each day, so you might have to email them two or three times. Regardless, it doesn’t mean they’re ignoring you, so don’t take it personally.
CEO, Propeller Collective
Do you have other tips for going to office hours?
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