The battle against burnout has already begun, and when it comes to graduation, there are many forces warring against students.
Despite the challenges that students face, Educational Psychology professor Dr. Sandra Deemer says self-efficiency is essential to academic success.
Freshman accounting student, Tyler Durante, believes that if you set your heart for what you want, you will get the A. “Just knowing that I don’t want to be here longer than needed pushes me,” says Durante.
Still, how students translate their desire for success into favorable outcomes can prove difficult. According to MU’s College Portrait, 95 percent of seniors who participated in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), reported working harder than they thought they could to meet an instructor’s standards and expectations.
Finding success in most of her classes, sophomore Nichole Buddendorf was pleased to get above a 3.0 her first semester in college, which was better than her cumulative high school grade point average. However, there were instances when she did worse than she expected. Having taken AP psychology in high school, she expected an “easy A” but found she had trouble understanding what the professor wanted on tests, and, although she worked hard in World Oceans, she only attained a C.
“When something is not working go to the professors,” says Deemer. While they might not give the specific study strategies, Deemer believes in meeting professors, students will better understand the instructor’s position. “I think it shows initiative,” says Deemer. “And first thing I say is, ‘how do you study,’ and then we get into the conversation about study strategies.”
Attending to her hardest classes first, and then the easiest, Freshman Jess Marcus reads her textbooks, highlights notes, and reviews for the tests. For Marcus, she plans to work to understand the new words in lecture in context to the reading.
Little strategies Deemer promotes include scanning notes after class and having familiarity with the readings before class, so students will be able to store more information because it is not all new.
Buddendorf says, “My best advice for academic success is time management, but I’d say, do as I say not as I do. Time management is not my strong suit.” Involved with WIXQ, and working 15 hours a week, Buddendorf is trying to change her habits of procrastination, which can cause stress.
Deemer says self-efficacy “is not just important for getting the grade you want or the outcomes that you want, but I also think it is important in types of planning, because what we know about individuals who have high self-efficacy is these are the students who are getting things done.”
Each student faces tough courses in college, and, the reality is many students are not going to be on a four-year plan. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) shows the rate of attaining a bachelor’s degree in four years was only 36 percent in 2003.
Driven by finances to transfer after two years at Eastern University, Charles Hackett still plans to graduate in the spring, maintaining a 3.5 thus far. Even after losing 15 credits and changing his major twice, having always taken 18 credit semesters since he began as a double major in accounting and finance at EU, Hackett will be completing his degree in four years.
Hackett says, “If you do the work you will get the good grade.” Recalling a course at Eastern, he found himself with a D mid-semester, but was able to raise it to a B.
Hackett, who works about ten hours a week, says he does a lot of planning, and “I do fun things whenever I don’t have anything else planned.”
Dr. Aimee Miller of the Chemistry department says “we all struggle with time management.” Ever since Miller was a college student, except for grad school, she has used Microsoft Excel to organize deadlines and exams for the entire year, so that she was always aware.
Furthermore, she also blocks out her weekly schedule, and designates times for what she needs and wants to do.
Balancing responsibilities is the elusive goal of students. Freshman Olivia Synbracki uses Icalendar to balance her weekly schedule. Synbracki says, “If it becomes too busy I will skip a meeting or something because my studies come first.”
Part of Millersville’s Academic Survival Kit found on the website includes a four-year graduation guide that gives students suggestions on how to succeed in college life.
Working approximately 24 hours a week at the library, Ramie Millar is in his fifth year at Millersville, and looks to finish sometime within the next year. Millar loves his job, but admitted having to work through school means less time for studying.
Millar and other student workers join an estimated 3,000 MU students with off-campus jobs, according to the 2010 Community Impact Report.
Balancing time with work and major classes became difficult when Millar took Physics I and Calculus II simultaneously.
“I would emphasize each student is doing their own journey in terms of your academics, and there is not one path that is right for everyone, and it is really important that you find the pace and the path that works for you,” says Miller.
At times, students need to withdraw from a class, and drop to 12-credit semester to maintain their grade point average, or some students, like Buddendorf, need a smaller course load to improve their grade point averages.
Director of Academic Advisement, Dr. Michelle M. White says, “The best strategy that a student can use to graduate in four years is to work with their academic advisor and faculty here.”
While 79 percent of seniors believed that the staff was helpful, flexible, or accessible, White encourages students to change their advisor if they do not mesh with the one that that they were assigned. Forms are available online and on the second floor of Lyle.
Buddendorf, now majoring in English Education, changed her major second semester of her freshman year, because “An interaction with my first advisor made it scary to change majors,” says Buddendorf. “I changed my advisor because I didn’t think that he would be right for me. I like who I have now.”
Miller, who works with freshman chemistry students to develop four – year plans, says “In laying out a four year plan and understanding how your classes fit together is kind of like a having a road map for taking a trip, because you have your goal, and you may be able to get some place lots of different ways, but if you want to get there efficiently, you need to have a plan for how you are going to take the shortest route.”
Dr. White pointed out that students should make sure they know how to read a Degree Audit Report, “If you understand how to read that, and you use that as your road map, it makes it easier to graduate in four years,” and use the Undergraduate Catalogue so students can take advantages of electives.
Miller also says “One of the mistakes that students make is thinking that advisors will tell them exactly what they need to take or somehow it’s going to magically fall together.”
Students often get set back by not taking prerequisite classes, or failing a required class in a sequence. Other times, when they come in undeclared, decide to change majors, or transfer into MU, not all the classes that students have taken apply to their major.
Seizing opportunities such as Study Abroad and taking classes which interest you, Miller believes is important. She says, “While four years is a nice goal, people should not feel it’s the end all be all.”
Nevertheless, academic success is the quickest way to accomplishing the goal of four-year graduation.