Friday, January 28, 2011

Transition Tips: From Homeschooling to College

Photo by Max Wolfe on Flickr
I'll be honest.  The last couple years of my homeschooling were half-hearted, at best.  I was bored.  I skimped on the work, especially if it involved further boredom, any assignment that involved writing (dislike plus boredom), or math (dislike plus difficulty plus boredom).  My mother was in despair.  She was convinced that college would be incredibly difficult for me, and feared failure on my part.  I lacked discipline, motivation and focus.  I lacked study skills.  Did I even know how to take notes?  To her intense relief, (and surprise), I excelled in college.  It was a much better fit for me, and being able to take classes that I was truly interested in made a huge difference.

It was completely different from what I was used to, of course, but homeschooling, even the half-hearted kind, actually prepared me more than we realized.  I also got some very helpful tips from friends that I am passing on here:

Photo by velkr0 on Flickr
* Sit front and center.  Really.  When this was first suggested to me, I struggled not to respond rudely.  That sounded like the last thing I wanted.  A nice, inconspicuous corner near the door was much more what I had in mind.  However, I soon began to see the wisdom in the advice.  I am deplorably distractable.  If I sat anywhere else, within seconds I was paying more attention to the other students around me than I was to the instructor.  It was amazing how much easier it was to concentrate when I was directly in front of the instructor.  It also had the nice bonus of making the instructor think I was serious about wanting to learn.  And, I discovered to my amusement that if you actually fell asleep in class, the instructor was less likely to notice, since they were trying to make eye contact more with the center of the room.  (*Note: I never fell asleep in class [although in a few classes I wanted to], but a friend whom I shall call Mateo did regularly, and the rather grumpy instructor who used his little red laser penlight to humiliate other slumbering students [it was a widespread problem in this particular class] never caught on).

Photo by jimmiehomeschoolmom on Flickr
* Take thorough notes.  Then, go back and rewrite them.  This was my best study secret.  My first version of the notes was always messy--scribbles, doodles, etc.  I would go back and rewrite them, filling in any missing details, making it actually legible, color-coding, etc--essentially creating my own study guide--and it was amazing how much it solidified the information in my mind.

*  Meditation.  I made it my habit to meditate on Scripture in the first few moments of each class while everyone was getting their books or notes out and shuffling stuff around.   One of the things that I retained from the Gothard stuff was that meditation on Scripture would be blessed with success.  Even if you are not a believer, I think that a couple of minutes of quiet meditation will center you, clear your mind, reset your emotions and enable you to fully focus on the lesson.

* Get help.  I hated writing with a dark and deadly passion.  In particular, the time-honored formulas of outlining and editing didn't fit me at all.  I did much better with the spider-web approach, but after throwing together a rough draft, I was usually sick of it and didn't want to work with it anymore.  I would take it to our writing lab at college, and they would go over it with me, making suggestions here and there to polish it.  Having a fresh eye always helped tremendously, and got me over the boredom hump.

* Consider a community college, at least for the first couple of years.  Class sizes are much smaller, you get more individualized attention, it is cheaper, and you can live at home.  It makes for a much less abrupt transition if you can study in peace and quiet at home and sleep when you want instead of navigating dorms and a roommate.  While those are certainly worthwhile experiences, it can be easier to make those adjustments once you have already adapted well to the academic side of college life.

* Work study programs may be for you!  I needed money, of course.  Who doesn't?  Working at the international language lab at my school was absolutely perfect for me.  Not only did it supplement my income, but it was convenient, they worked around my classes, I was able to study on the job, and got to meet the coolest people ever.  It was an ideal stepping-stone in many ways, and especially in making friends and exploring the social side of college in a way that complemented rather than detracted from the academic side.

* The basics like attend class, do the assignments, talk to the instructors.  I threw them in just to acknowledge them, but really, if you aren't doing that, then you should probably rethink your reasons for being in college in the first place.  There are cheaper ways to goof off.  (That said, I quickly discovered the delicious joy of cutting the occasional class.  Timing, however, is everything).

As I mentioned in this post, homeschooling equipped me far beyond what I realized at the time.  Help from amazing instructors and wonderful friends propelled me the rest of the way.  Transitions are tough, whether you are two or twenty, but they can also be full of fun and excitement.  I hope that if you are making the switch to college from homeschooling that it will be a time of joy and growth!

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