3 Things I Wish I’d Known Before College

When I went to high school, my goal was to be accepted into a post-secondary program of my choice. Then in university, my goal was to graduate and then enter the workforce. To be honest, I struggled through my first year of university. In reflecting on my experiences, I wonder what my high school teachers could have done differently to better prepare me for the demands of post-secondary education, or if an online learning experience might have made the transition more manageable.

Although I learned many things along the way in my post-secondary career, three key ideas stand out – personal responsibility, study habits, and overcoming failure.

1.  Personal Responsibility

When I started university, I did not know what a syllabus was. Six weeks into my first year biology class, I realized that the syllabus was all-important. . .and that I was six weeks behind in my reading! Surprising, right? I thought so too, but in reflecting on my experience in high school, I was used to my teachers telling me exactly what I needed to do and when. In university, no one was holding me accountable; no one was checking to make sure I had done my reading. It was up to me to ensure my success. Personal responsibility had never been more important.

2.  Study Skills

When I went to university, I realized that I did not know how to study or how I might do so more efficiently. I had studied one way in high school and did not think about changing my study habits to understand concepts and different disciplines better. I am sure I learned about different ways to study in high school, but I never really had to apply them. After receiving a notice of academic probation at the end of my first year of university, I realized I had to take a step back and evaluate how I learned most effectively. I then had to adapt my study strategies to match these new realizations. Through trial and error, I found out what worked best, and by fourth year, I was among the top scholars in my highly competitive program.

3.  Embrace failure to open up the door for new discoveries.

I changed my major twice in the first two years of university. In reflecting on my initial program selection process, my decision-making was cursory at best. I simply chose the first program that caught my eye, without thinking about what I wanted to do or what would help me enter a specific career. When I decided to switch my major to psychology in my third year, I felt discouraged. I had no idea what I was going to do.  By this time, I merely wanted to graduate on time. I entered third year unexcited, but after a few classes, I realized that I was actually interested in psychology. By reflecting on what I had originally perceived as a failure, I was able to focus on a new program and set new goals. My switch to psychology actually helped lead me to my present career!

How can online learning environments help students prepare for post-secondary education?

  1. They encourage students to be accountable for their own success. At Virtual High School, Hekademia’s founding partner, students can register any day and work at their own pace; there are no due dates for assignments. When students have personal deadlines, it will be up to them to ensure that they meet these dates – while VHS teachers are entirely supportive, students are fully responsible if they fall behind.
  2. They can provide multiple opportunities for students to experiment with different study strategies on their own and in doing so, share tips with their peers and study together.
  3. They can help students prepare for the future by connecting skills to career opportunities throughout the courses. Hekademia uses enrichment activities to partner with local organizations. In such ways students can gain experience in working in their fields of interest.
  4. They can learn from failure as part of the process in their education. Students need to embrace failure and adapt their approach in order to learn and make difficult life decisions—it’s one of our most important skills! Ben De Groot wrote a great blog on how competency education removes the stigma  associated with failure.

Although every student’s experience in college or university is unique, these ideas are often stated as common threads. Post-secondary education is a time of immense growth for students, so by taking personal responsibility, practicing study skills, and providing opportunities to embrace failure, students will gain valuable perspectives that will provide them with skills that will last a lifetime.

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