Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Academic Difficulty

At this point in the semester, you should have a fairly good feel for your class schedule and probably have had a few tests or quizzes.  You have been completing assignments and attending classes for a month at this point.  With all this under your belt, you may be feeling confident about your academic abilities.  However, what do you do if things aren't going so well?

Ask for help:

From your faculty:

The first step you should take if you are struggling in a course is to seek help!  The staff and faculty are all eager to assist you.  Discuss your concerns with your professor.  He or she has likely heard it all before and has seen students succeed and fail many times.  Your professor is an excellent resource for study strategies.  Generally speaking, professors look much more kindly upon the struggling student that seeks help than the student who seems unconcerned about poor academic performance.   When grades are calculated, sometimes it helps if your professor has witnessed you making a genuine effort.

From your advisor:

The advising staff in the CAS Advising Center can often help you troubleshoot your academic difficulties or can help you determine what your next move should be.  We are aware of resources that you can take advantage of and have experience helping freshmen successfully transition to college.  We love talking to students and helping them get on the right track.  Stop by and see us!!!

From CTLE:

The staff of the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence can assist you in a multitude of ways.   They can provide you with tutors or help you to become a better reader.  CTLE is also responsible for providing disability services.  The staff of the Writing Center can review your writing to help you improve your papers.  The students who perform the best at Scranton are usually the ones who avail themselves of these services.  Visit their website to learn how they can help you succeed!!

What if Nothing is Working?!

So what if you have tried all these things and you are still performing badly in a class?  Or what if you hate the class and can't face attending it even one more time?  Come and talk to an academic advisor about your options!  Today, Wednesday, September 24, 2014 is the last day to drop a course without a grade. If you drop a course at this point, it will not appear on your transcript and will not be calculated into your GPA.  If you drop between September 25 and November 10, you will receive a "W" for the course.  An advisor can help you decide what the right option for you is.

If you decide to drop the course, you will have to obtain a drop form from the CAS Advising Center, get the signature of your professor and Mrs. Butler, the Assistant Dean by 4:30 September 24.  This can be a time consuming process so don't delay if you believe you want to drop.

As always, we are here to answer your questions.  Stop in, call or email!

Katie Robinson
CAS Academic Advisor

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


This coming weekend is Family Weekend at the University of Scranton and our city is poised to play host to Scranton family members.  Many students I have spoken to are eagerly anticipating their first reunion with family since move-in weekend.  It’s an exciting time.  However, family weekend can sometimes exacerbate feelings of homesickness which are so common in first year students.  The CAS Advising Center is here to help students navigate those uncomfortable feelings associated with moving away from home!

Everyone else seems fine...

They’re not.  Trust me.  Homesickness is as common as that flu that will inevitably start circulating the dorms in the next few weeks.  Heading off to college means leaving behind the comfort and security of your support network.  It means saying good bye to the family, friends, beloved pets and physical surroundings that contributed to your happiness in a meaningful way for so many years.  It’s natural to miss all of that and to feel a longing for the way things were and it is a very, very common experience.  Also, you are facing new and uncertain challenges that can make you need a support network more than ever. What’s important is how you cope with it.  Just like you will take steps to minimize your risk of getting the flu or to improve your health if you do get it, there are steps you can and should take to protect your emotional wellbeing.

I miss home!  What can I do?

You can develop strategies that can help you wrestle with the negative feelings that come with homesickness:

How have I handled a similar situation in the past?

Has there ever been a time in your past when you have had to cope with homesickness?  What did you do to move through the experience?  Were you successful?  Consider what strategies you may have employed at that time.  Would any of those strategies work today?  For example, when you went off to camp, did you find it helped to keep busy?  Did you bond with other campers?  Did you write letters home?  Focus on your past successes; they can illuminate your present path.

Accept that feeling homesick is normal!

If you berate yourself because you think you shouldn’t feel homesick, you will only feel worse.  Remember that it is normal to feel this way and while you may be experiencing this discomfort, it is better to accept the feeling rather than trying to extinguish it.  Gradually, these feelings will subside.  Trying to bury your feelings with unhealthy coping strategies such as excessive drinking will only make things worse.  

Talk about it!

The Counseling Center provides free and confidential counseling and is a wonderful resource.  They are also running a group for people who are experiencing homesickness.  The Counseling Center is located on the 6th floor of O’Hara Hall.  You can just walk in or you can call them at 570-941-7620.  If you don’t want to call or go alone we will walk you there. You can also talk to your RA, an Academic Advisor, members of Campus Ministry or other students.  It is very likely that all these individuals have had to cope with homesickness at some point and are there to listen and understand.  

Get Busy!
Don’t ignore you feelings or distract yourself with drugs and alcohol.  However, immersing yourself in campus life can be very helpful.  As you work to get involved, you will develop a connection to those around you and will start to carve out a comfortable place here as well.  Many students I have talked to who are anxious and homesick in the first semester feel a sadness about leaving Scranton behind by the time the spring semester draws to a close.  Be patient and you can make this a comfortable home for yourself!

Avoid going home too much!

When you feel homesick, it seems logical to go home on a regular basis.  However, this can exacerbate your problems.  Going home every weekend will slow your adjustment to campus life.  You will severely limit your opportunities to get to know other people on campus or to get involved with campus activities.  You might not develop a deep connection here if you leave every chance you get.  Additionally, you won’t give yourself an opportunity to move past the worst of your homesickness.  You should avoid going home at all before Fall Break unless it is an emergency.  

There’s a positive side!

Life is made up of transitions.  That uneasy feeling or that feeling of longing for the way things were is likely to be something you experience at many points throughout life, not just at this time.  The way you cope at this point can prepare you to handle similar situations in the future.  It also provides you with an opportunity for personal growth and a chance to stretch yourself. 

The bottom line is that you should remain kind to yourself and try to remain patient with the transition.  Understand you aren’t alone in feeling this way and you don’t have to be alone in handling it.  Stop by the CAS Academic Advising Center to talk or reach out to one of the other resources I mentioned!

Katie Robinson
CAS Academic Advisor

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Time Management Strategies

Last week I blogged about how much work might be required to make a successful academic transition to college.  A lot of students feel daunted when faced with the reality of their new responsibilities.  It’s important to find time to forge relationships on campus, maintain your fitness and health, sleep enough, eat regular meals and to become part of the campus community but all of that can feel difficult to manage if you need to find a way to do class work and attend class more than 40 hours a week, especially if you are also trying to hold down a part-time job.  You may be asking yourself, “how can I handle all of this?!?!”  Never fear—the CAS Advising Center is here to help you manage your time!

Develop a time management plan!

The only way to be certain you can fit in all your responsibilities without sacrificing your sleep or health is to plan ahead.  You can do this in a few ways with some exciting tools.  For example, the website Study Guides and Strategies has an excellent visual tool that starts with a 24 hour circle that fills and deducts remaining hours as you relegate time for your priorities.  It enables you to make adjustments if you find that your original time management expectations were unrealistic.  


Fixed Commitment Schedule

Tools like the time management clock can help you prioritize your commitments but you should also consider developing a Fixed Commitment Schedule.  A fixed commitment schedule is a grid with a space for every hour of every day of the week.  On this schedule you should first fill in your fixed commitments--those commitments that do not change such as class times, work times and sleep.  Then fill in those times that are more flexible like times with your friends or meal times.  Fill in all the times you intend to study.  Again, you should be planning 2 study hours for every credit hour you have this semester.  Finally, makes sure you have adequate time to take care of yourself with relaxation and recreation.  Making time for friends and these activities will make you a better student in the long run.   

You can use this schedule to stay on track.  Stop by the CAS Advising Center or click here to get your own copy to fill out.  Try color coding it and placing it in a prominent location so you can have a clear view of how you have planned to spend your time.  

Plan out your semester as well as your week!

At the start of the semester, each of your professors should have given you a syllabus which lays out not only when your professor intends to cover each topic but also when you can expect quizzes, tests and projects to be due throughout the semester.  If you haven't already, obtain either a monthly calendar or purchase a planner.  Sit down with all your syllabi and write major assignments and examinations in on the calendar and hang it some place prominent.  By doing this, you will see which weeks are the busiest so you can plan accordingly.  In college, it is likely that for several weeks you may not seem to have any work to do.  However, because of the flow of the semester, tests, quizzes and papers tend to be due in many of your classes at the same time.  If you hold off on beginning to do your work until the week before midterms, you are likely to struggle.  If you realize now that you have a difficult week, you can plan accordingly and work ahead.  There is always something on which you can be working!

Any planner will work.  Some people prefer large desk calendars but you can also print free calendar pages off of the internet (or come to the advising center). The planners in the University of Scranton Bookstore have important semester dates listed. 

 Ask for help!

As always, if you need help navigating time management, come to the CAS Academic Advising Center to get help!  Additionally, the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence has created a video to help students understand how to plan their time.  Click here to watch!

Katie Robinson
CAS Academic Advisor

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Developing Your Study Attitude

 As you move through your first few weeks of college, it’s likely that one of your most crucial adjustments will involve studying.  There are a lot of high quality resources out there to assist you in the development of study skills and I will touch on some of those in the coming weeks.  However, I would like to focus today on developing a healthy study attitude and plan. 
I was good at this in high school...will I really have to study that hard?
If there are two monumental mistakes I see students make in their transition to their academic life at Scranton, it’s thinking that even intensive study of any subject in high school will render it unnecessary to study smart, hard and often in college or that the level of rigor of high school coursework at even more competitive high schools is comparable to what can be expected in college work.  These are usually both very costly fallacies.  
Examining this view critically, remember, you are paying a lot for college and possibly more importantly, you are investing four years of your youth in your higher education...would you really want to do that if college was a rerun of high school?  Otherwise, you would just be paying for a diploma, not investing in an education.  Don’t get me wrong--a good education should make you marketable to employers and help secure a successful future for you but it should do so much should shake up the way you see the world and leave you not only with the ability to know what questions to ask and how to find the answers but also the passion to do so.  It should prepare you to embark on a lifetime of continued learning and the intellectual ability to find the truth.  It should prepare you to lead yourself and others in your discipline and in your life.  That’s a tall order for four years so you have a lot of work to do.  
How much should I study?
Educational experts suggest that you should be studying 2-3 hours a week for every hour you spend in class.  That means that the average freshman who is carrying around 15 credits should be finding 30-45 hours a week to study, read for class, do practice problems and otherwise engage the material.  I know that may seem unrealistic at first but remember that you spent around 36 hours a week in class in high school and now you are committed to less than half of that time.  To learn more than you learned in high school, you will need to invest more time and effort.
Anyone can do anything...but most things probably won’t come naturally to you so you will have to work very hard.  Sometimes it might seem like your peers don’t have to work as hard as you to achieve better grades and that might very well be true.  In college you will encounter many people with different levels of aptitude and background.  Don’t allow this to discourage you.  Your job is to figure out if you want to succeed in a specific major/field badly enough to invest the effort required.  If you start feeling like your effort is not matching the result, talk to your faculty members, come see us in the advising center and consider signing up for a tutor!
How do I prepare for class?
Ben Franklin is credited with saying, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”  By now you should have a syllabus for each class that outlines not only the dates for tests and quizzes but also what you can expect to cover each day and what reading or problem sets you should familiarize yourself with prior to class.  The lecture should not be your first exposure to new material; it should be your opportunity to gain a deeper understanding and get your questions answered.  You may not always have time to read every last word before you come to class but you should at the very least look through the chapters, familiarize yourself with key terms, study important diagrams and study the chapter overview.  The deeper you can delve into the material ahead of time, the more productive your time in class will be.
Revisit the Material
At some point shortly after class, you should reread your notes.  Does what you wrote make sense or is it a disorganized jumble?  Do you feel clear on the topics or do you need to seek your professor’s assistance?  Are there key terms you can put on index cards to study or do you need to work on some practice problems?  Doing these things shortly after learning new material will deepen your understanding and save you time and effort later.

Developing a Study Zone
The where, when, how and how long you study is tremendously important and will be dependent upon what works best for you but there are some key things to consider.  Most students, whether they want to admit it or not, study better in a distraction free environment—usually a dorm room is not conducive to productive study.  Having your roommate traipsing in and out, your friends knocking and texting and having constant access to the distractions of social media and television can keep you from focusing and what’s worse, can make you feel like you spend all of your time with your face in a book without accomplishing anything.  Going to a quiet study room or the library can help you eliminate distractions.  You should make time in your life for socializing and relaxing as well as for studying but you should try to keep these times separate.
Consider your most productive time.  Many students benefit from developing an 8-5 attitude about college.  For the next four years, college will be your full time job; it can help to schedule it that way.  If you establish that the daytime is dedicated to classwork, you will have more free time in the evening to socialize or pursue entertainment.  You will also decrease the chances of too many late night cram sessions. 
Be sure to take breaks for meals and stretching.  Most people can only be productive for around 45 minutes at a time.  You shouldn’t expect yourself to hunch over a textbook for hours at a time.  Frequent breaks will help you maintain focus.
What if I am overwhelmed?
These adjustments can be a lot to take in and incorporate into your life.  There are so many supportive resources on campus to help you do just that.  Remember that your faculty were in your shoes once too.  Your biology teacher had to figure out how to study for biology at one point and they obviously managed to adapt to the subject successfully.  Who would be better to assist you in doing the same?  You can also come to the CAS Advising Center, go to the CTLE or the Counseling Center!  It would be our pleasure to help!
 Katie Robinson
CAS Academic Advisor