How on Earth did I make a complete 180 in less than a year? If you’re reading this, you’re probably desperate or nearly there. I raised my college career from the dead and so can you. Here’s how it went down:
No one likes to talk about how they’re doing in college unless they’ve got a 4.0 and they’re kicking ass in every way possible. I am not that person. I never was, but that doesn’t mean I couldn't be.
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By the end of my freshman year at the University of Florida, I had done so terribly that I lost all of my Bright Futures scholarship (for you out-of-staters, Bright Futures is a scholarship that a large majority of Florida student are eligible for – you only really need a name and a pulse to get funding) and an additional grant from the University valued at about $1000 per semester.
That was the first time in my life I’d ever failed a class – not one, but two classes at the same time. I also withdrew from another course because I was flunking that one, too. Not only did I lose all of my scholarship money and more, but I earned looming disappoint from my family and a nearly-failing GPA, which made me ineligible for many scholarships, student jobs and any club I wanted to join. It’s not like I was too busy – I wasn’t involved, and I certainly didn’t have a job of any kind.
Fast forward to the start of my junior year - I’m crushing my classes. I’m pumped about my major and updating my resume is one of my favorite things to do. My GPA also now qualifies for the grad program I have an eye on, I have leadership positions with multiple student organizations, and I'm doing a really exciting internship. On top of all that, I just started my own company and I’m working on putting together a new club at school.
STEP 1: Realize something’s wrong and address the problem.
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Admit to yourself that everything you’re doing sucks. It’s ok – it happens, and you can only go up from here. Whenever I went home to visit my family, my dad noticed that I would dodge any questions about school, which he knew meant my grades were trash. I was in denial because I graduated Summa Cum Laude from the IB Program in high school and my GPA never fell below a 3.7.
As a college freshman, I was on that ‘I’m such a freakin' genius because I’m at a University’ high horse – so I thought I was doing just fine. The problem wasn’t boys, drugs, or parties – I was just plain lazy. I just didn’t realize it until my dad showed me the math behind my GPA.
STEP 2: Realize what’s at stake and get pissed.
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When your GPA is too embarrassing to say out loud, many doors will shut in your face. You lose funding and other scholarship opportunities, a chance at internships/student jobs and you won’t qualify for many graduate programs. My parents were starting to think college just wasn’t for me and were ready to bring me home because I wasn’t smart enough.
Everyone around me was doing awesome and making their parents proud, but I wasn't. That hurts. Quitting school wasn't an option -- I knew I was meant to be here, so something definitely needed to change. Earning my degree means so much to me and allowing my parents to think that I’m too dumb for school sounded like a nightmare, especially as their first child to go to college. You care more about something when you know what you have to lose.
STEP 3: Set long-term goals.
You’re a twenty-something now, and you probably have no idea what you’ll be doing later in life. And that's ok. You may not know for certain where you'll be, but I'm sure you have dreams or goals that you want to achieve. What are they? What lifestyle do see for yourself in five years? Ten? For me, I’d want to settle down and have a family after I’m financially stable and I’ve had a successful career. Get specific.
Do you wear a suit, scrubs, or a T-shirt and jeans to work? Do you work for someone else or are you the boss? How much do you want to make a year? Figuring what you want can help you do your research and sort out what steps you have to take to get there. It doesn't have to be set in stone, but having a goal to work toward is incredibly motivating, even on the days you don't want to get out of bed.
STEP 4: Set short-term goals.
Now that you have a long-term goal to work toward, move backward from finish to start. Trace those steps all the way back to what you’re doing right now and ask yourself what you could be doing differently. You want to be an engineer? It’s a Wednesday night, you have a physics exam in a few days and you need an "A- " to keep a "B" in the class.
I don’t care if it’s Ladies Night, put that beer down and get to the library. Outline what needs to get done in order to move from one step to the next. For me, my GPA needed to pick up. In order to get my GPA back up to qualify for scholarships again, I needed an A/B average. That means actually studying for tests several days in advance and not waiting until the day of to start my assignments.
STEP 5: Get organized and start a routine.
The best habit I’ve picked up in college is putting all deadlines for all my classes on the same calendar every month, as well as any other important dates or events. I even like to color code. It sounds like common sense, but sticking with it religiously can really make a difference. The next thing you know, you’re on top of all your classes because you didn’t get blind-sided by deadlines or pop quizzes.
STEP 6: Do what you have to do.
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Now that you know what you need to do and what you will lose if you don’t, swallow your pride and do what you gotta do. Even if it means you have to stay at the library until 5 a.m. or do homework while everyone else is out partying, you’ll do it because you know it will be worth it and what the consequences will be if you don’t. Buckle down and get it done.
My "comeback" year was defined by my lack of sleep, frequent colds and a shrinking circle of friends. It sounds miserable, but I had "A’s," extra credit, homemade study guides and resume builders to show for it. One thing that definitely helps is making to-do lists every day. Even if you don’t finish all of them, just crossing off a few still shows that you did more than sit around like you were doing before.
STEP 7: Don’t stay too comfortable...
Once you’ve been hitting the books hard for a while, you may start to feel comfortable. Once you do, go back to your calendar and look at the holes. What could you be doing in that free time? Try getting involved with a club that sparks your interest, apply for an internship, join an intramural team or anything that employs your talents. Even if it has nothing to do with your major, look for any opportunities just to remind yourself that the college experience should be more than just sitting at the library or getting plastered every weekend.
STEP 8: ...But know your limits.
Once I started to feel comfortable with how my grades were looking, I started to branch out a little more. I started looking for internships and got involved with a few clubs and student publications, but all at once. I was trying so hard to compensate for everything I didn't do in the past and I ended up running myself into the ground. I hardly slept, I got sick often and I stretched myself out way too thin. It's great to look for new things to do and branch out, but know your limits and remember to keep some free time for yourself.
STEP 9: Don't forget to let loose from time to time.
I'm not saying you should barricade yourself in the library every chance you get. Just do it when you know you need it. Busting your ass in college is only temporary. You just need to hold it together long enough to where you aren't sucking anymore and you aren't being crushed by looming disappointment anymore. Be proud of yourself and the work you've done. Spend time with your friends. Sleep that extra hour. It's ok. You dug yourself into a hole and you have the power to get yourself back out.