Monday, September 05, 2011

How to be a Successful College Student

It's Labor Day and kids are getting ready to go back to school.  The Shrink Rap duck pictured here is getting in his last moments of holiday relaxation, and I am so happy to be up and running on my new Macbook pro.

Here at Shrink Rap, we don't offer medical advice, so this is not medical advice.  It's not based on anything even vaguely resembling evidence-based medicine, but I have treated many college students over the years and I have been impressed by those things that seem to make or break the college experience.  Back-to-School, but none of us treat the under-18 crowd, so my bullet point suggestions are limited to college students.  If you're a parent, feel free to send this to your college student, and if you're a student, feel free to ask "Who are those blogging shrinks with the duck? They must be quacks." 

Here are my quick & dirty pointers for how to succeed in college:

1) Show Up.
Being present in class, on time, in a state that vaguely resembles conscious is most of the battle.
If you don't go to class, with the exception of the unanticipated onset of a febrile or gastrointestinal illness, then you should know well in advance that you're not going to go and have a strategy for how you are going to make up the work.  By these criteria, "I don't want to get out of bed" doesn't work.  But "The professor doesn't speak English and lectures straight from the book, so it's a better use of my time to read the book and get notes from my roommate who takes great notes," may be a valid reason to skip class.

2) Don't smoke weed.
This is a tricky one-- many college students smoke weed (or at least those who end up my office almost all do).  Some people smoke marijuana regularly and still seem to live fully productive lives.  Some people seem to find it very "beneficial" to them even though it appears to be killing their motivation and decreasing their anxiety to the point where they have no ambition, barely move,  and don't do the things it's necessary to do in order to succeed, for example #1 above: Show Up.  Oddly enough, marijuana smokers do not see the connection between their  low motivational level and their low success status and they are absolutely sure their consumption of marijuana has nothing to do with their problems.  They become very skilled at telling others why weed isn't part of the problem and many are quite well versed on the rhetoric of NORML and how the it's a political agenda to keep marijuana illegal.   If you're not successful and you smoke weed, stop and see if your life gets better.  Oh, and by the way, two weeks off is not a 'trial.'  Don't smoke at all, ever, for 6-12 months and see if you're in a better place.  If you are successful and you smoke weed, you're probably not reading this article, but even in the best scenarios, it increases your risk of lung cancer and it causes the munchies which can make you fat, and if you get caught and arrested it's a lot of explaining to do for a very long time.   

3) College Students and Drinking.
This is even trickier because while there are college students who don't smoke weed, the role of alcohol in college life is huge and the pressure to drink is immense.  It's not legal if you're under 21, it seems to lead to all sorts of problems, but it seems to be an impossible sell to college students, so let me make suggestions based on the assumption that there is nothing I can say that would stop anyone from drinking:
--Don't drink on any night when you need to be somewhere the next morning.
--Don't drink enough that you vomit, pass out, or black out.
--Don't drive after you've had anything to drink: being dead is a lot worse than not finishing college.
--Keep your total consumption under 15 drinks a week for a man and 8 drinks a week for a woman.
--If you can't keep abide by the above suggestions, you have a problem and should get help.
NPR had an interesting show on Why College Students Drink So Much and Party So Hard about a book by Thomas Vander.
Add to the How to Stay Alive Issue :  Before you go out drinking, Eat.  If your friends pass out, roll them on their side and don't ever leave someone who is passed out alone.  If they really can't be aroused to at least push you away and groan, call an ambulance.  Don't do shots.  Beer pong is more fun and much safer. Don't drink in settings where you may be sexually vulnerable.

4) Get enough sleep.
If this means not scheduling early classes or taking naps during the day, then consider those things when you set your schedule, but sleep is really important.

5) If you have a psychiatric disorder, don't stop your treatment.
It's not unusual for kids to try this when they go off to college and don't have the 'rents handing them medications or driving them to therapy appointments.  It's a really bad idea.  Particularly bad times to cease treatment are first semester Freshman year and any year during mid-terms or finals.    I'll add: if you have a psychiatric disorder, don't drink, it makes everything worse.

6) Take a large, heavy brick and throw it through your Nintendo/PlayStation/XBox.
  Ditto for online fantasy games.  Anything outside of school work or employment that captures you for more than two hours a day may be a problem.  Reading psychiatry blogs is fine.

7) If you're a sensitive or problem child, don't have a roommate who shares the same bedroom with you, it adds to the stress of college and it's helpful to have space you can escape to.

8) If you're having a rough time, get help.
If you're struggling in class, talk to the professor and consider getting a tutor.  If you're very depressed, call the counseling center.  If you're feeling sick, go to the health center.  College is not the time to suffer alone.

9) Know the final drop date for your classes and if you're failing, drop the class.  Remember to turn in the form.

Anyone want to add to the list?
Best wishes for a happy, fun, and educational school year.


jesse said...

Amen. Particularly #2.

Sarebear said...

I just did a post on having a special needs child start junior high.

I don't even want to think about college.

And something I said the other day made HER say, Oh, I wonder if my autism will interfere with me being a mom, maybe I shouldn't have kids, and then I felt like HELL.

What I'd said wasn't anything to do w/kids it just I was trying to explain something but . . .

Anyway. I liked your recommendations, although I think my therapist might disagree with the psych blogs being ok if you are spending too much time doing it. He actually thinks I'm too psych oriented, do ya think? lol. Anyway.

Charpcherl said...

Good advice. Now if you could only get me psyched for internet classes.

Kelly Anne said...

Just wanted to add

1) Don't be afraid to stand out and be deviant in a good way. Try NOT drinking. Try NOT smoking week. Try being present in all your activities in order to soak up all the positive experiences that the university offers!! (ie: be mindful in your university experience.)

2) Have healthy FUN.

Oh-- P.S.--

"The munchies" is a cultural phenomenon experienced in North America. In France and other European countries it is almost non existent. (At least this is what I read...)

Anonymous said...

I would say that videogames in moderation can actually be rather healthy - however, lots of people can't do the "moderation" part of that equation. I was a casual gamer all through undergrad and found it to be a good way to relax from studying, especially when it was too hot/cold to do much else.

Anonymous said...

Dinah is right about everything but the video games. I understand one should avoid doing things for hours regularly that takes him/her away from social interactions and work, but video games have advanced to something more than just brainless entertainment. I think one's imagination and creativity can be sparked by gaming and it can be a very social form of entertainment. Safe, too.

jesse said...

Have any Shrink Rappers ever played Braid? Brilliant videogame, with gorgeous art, interesting plot, clever puzzles, surprising ending.

Dinah said...

If it's working for you, then it's not broken. The post was written with the assumption that things are not going well. So if you're playing 3 hours a day of video games and doing well, ignore me. If you're playing hours a day of videogames, are unemployed, limping through college (or failing out), with no direction and no real plan, then break the XBox.
I don't mean to put down videogames, I'm just making observations about what things seem to correlate with difficulties and not showing up, binge drinking, smoking weed and playing videogames while all the geeks with A averages are at the library...well...

Anonymous said...

I would add--Always make time for exercise. Take a hike, shoot some hoops, ride a bike, take a run or even a leisurely stroll. Anything to get you outdoors and moving.

Battle Weary said...

10) If you foresee any potential problem you may have with a class, actually have a problem, intend to go into ANY specific educational program, intend to apply for a scholarship, internship, or job in the future, go to your professors' (for each class) office hours and meet them early in the semester. If this part of the educational process is missed/skipped, there will be no one to write letters when you need them... and you WILL need those letters at some point, regardless of your intended goal.

jesse said...

Dinah! Unfair answer above! Your post was giving general advice, not advice especially for those in trouble or seeking psychiatric help. The warning about video games applies to those for whom it is a problem. In general, throwing a brick at the Xbox is no more needed than advising "do not go out for team sports." Good advice for some, but many students can well handle a team sport and relaxing with a video game.

But the point you are making is correct (or at least I agree with you, as I usually do): Our patients are not cross sections of all students. If a student is in academic difficulty and he is smoking pot or staying up all night with a video game, he needs to change that. Or reconsider his dating habits, or the football team, or.... anything else that interferes with his getting his work done.

Dr. Psychobabble said...

I completely agree with the "don't smoke weed" tip. However, I also appreciate that my opinion is somewhat biased since the vast majority of the psychotic patients I see are smoking weed. While I know that smoking weed does not = psychosis, it certainly seems that way from my limited viewpoint.

I also agree with the tip about not playing video games. While there have been some studies, which have demonstrated the positive effects of playing video games, I still firmly believe that unless you are physically handicapped, going outside to play, enjoy life and experience the "real world" is always healthier than sitting in front of a screen, moving nothing but your fingers (I acknowledge the wii exception), and having minimal interactions with others.

Wait, what am I doing right now? Okay, well at least I get some points for interaction, and I did just run 5 miles... :)

Anonymous said...

"Minimal interactions with others" is not necessarily true either. Whole communities exist within massive online games, and not just cliche nerdy/shallow relationships. I recently attended penny arcade expo where child psychiatrist Tyler Black discussed the benefits (and also the harm) of young people playing games. On the one hand, there are people who play games too much and can't control themselves. On the other hand, you have guild get together in real life, marriages, and lifelong friendships spurred through interactive gaming. I know several people, including myself, who would no be the same without the friends we made through gaming. It's not always just about the pixels.

I guess what I'm saying is all things in moderation. Balance is key.

Anonymous said...

so, dear, i so rarely say anything positive here. and that pains me more than it does you. but this is really your best post on shrink rap. maybe ever. the book was okay, but it was really for a very young crowd or a very unsophisticated mental health crowd...and it wasn't really marketed that way...

here's what you need to do to be happy in your life: put together a presentation based on this post (and I don't know if what you said was it out so it's accurate and science-based) and go to freshman college orientations around the country and give 30 minute talks about going to college and mental health. this will be helpful and you will be vindicated from all your bad posts if you do this. it's your chance at righteousness. take it.