Before coming to Cornell, I felt terrified as I contemplated the workload that would be thrown my way. Visions of complex statistics problems and 500-page research papers rapidly bounced around my brain. I remember feeling unprepared and incapable—I’m not smart enough. I just can’t do it. They made a mistake in accepting me.
Of course, they did not make a mistake in accepting me, I am smart enough, and I certainly can do it. But it took me a couple semesters before I felt completely sure of this. My first couple of weeks of classes at Cornell were indeed a little shocking. First of all, I am absolutely terrible with directions, so getting to my classes was stressful in itself. To avoid unnecessarily added stress, I suggest walking to all of your classes and finding the specific rooms your lectures and discussions will be held in the week before classes start. This way, you’ll know where you’re going and what to expect when you get there.
Once classes started, there were a few more surprises. Having gone to a relatively small high school, used to classroom environments where I knew my teachers and all the students in my classes personally, the sheer size of my lectures took me aback. On my first day, I shyly found a seat among the sea of college students towards the back of the lecture hall. I struggled as I squinted to see the chalk board at the front of the room and to hear over all of the students chatting and texting next to me. I soon learned that sitting at the front of the room was a far better option—while it at first seemed intimidating, it allowed me to make eye-contact with my professor, to hear him clearly, and see what he was writing on the board with ease. Sitting at the front of the room will force you to pay attention which, come exams, will put you far ahead of your peers fooling around on FaceBook in the back of the classroom. As intimidating as it might seem, I encourage you to sit at the front of your lectures. If there is something you don’t quite understand, find out your professor’s office hours or a time that works for them to meet with you. Your professors are there to teach you and to help you—take advantage of this.
The workload itself was intense, but not unmanageable. As I took mostly sociology, psychology, English, and Law related courses, I was assigned hundreds of pages of reading a week. During the first few weeks of classes, I did all of my readings thoroughly, took comprehensive reading notes, and was fully prepared for every lecture. This made studying for the first round of exams a piece of cake. It was all review, because I had already learned and ensured that I understood the material. However, the more time that passed, the more comfortable I got. I started skipping some readings and often let myself get distracted during lectures. Because of this, my second round of exams was hell. I stayed up countless hours cramming, trying frantically to understand lecture slides that I hadn’t listened to and to speed read hundreds of text book pages and research articles. My face felt hot, my heart thudded against the walls of my chest—I felt anxious and terrified. Do not let this happen to you! Go to your classes, pay close attention, and keep up with your homework. No one is going to force you to do this, but you will thank yourself later.
Summary of my (Sarah’s) academic tips
1. Remember that you are capable and that your college accepted you for a reason.
2. Find your classrooms the week before classes start.
3. Sit towards the front of the room in your lectures.
4. Go to office hours when you are confused.
5. Go to class and pay attention.
6.Do your homework when it is assigned.