The lady in registration looked at me like I was some kind of a maniac.
I kind of agreed but I tried not to let my face show it.
I had just requested permission to take a double course load (including a class and its prerequisite simultaneously.) The look soon turned into a bit of down-talking to me. She was a bit insulting. I knew allowing myself to react would just hurt my chances of convincing her.
Eventually, she told me, “no…”
Well… fortunately… I don’t take no very well. The next day I asked again. At that point she probably realized that it would be a whole lot easier to let me fall flat on my face. She gave me the okay.
Before my sophomore year in college, I skipped a semester to save up some money. I wanted to stay on schedule to graduate when I got back.
Using a little bit of creativity and a little bit of full-blown stubbornness. I was able to catch back up.
Here were my 5 main approaches to ensuring I graduated on schedule:
1. Stay sane
The fundamental problem with catching up in college or high school is staying sane.
What do I mean by sane?
1. Realistic Expectations
When you’re increasing your course load above the usual amount you have to choose between increasing your effort or decreasing your expectations.
I know… everyone wants to think they can just work harder to succeed. After years of experimenting, I say, screw that!
Working harder is an unrealistic expectation for any long period of time. Most people fail at it. Sure… you may succeed but odds are, any successes you have will come as a bit of a surprise. Make your life as easy as possible. Don’t force yourself to work harder. It’s easier to…
Lower your expectations.
Turning an A into an A+ is dramatically harder than turning a B into a B+. This is the perfect test score problem. Higher grades don’t require a linear amount of effort more. They require significantly more effort.
If you typically get B’s in your classes but have to take extra courses, accept that you will get a few C’s. The world doesn’t end. If you typically get A’s then settle for B’s. If you typically get C’s then you may want to put a bit more effort in but honestly, it may be worth accepting you’ll get a D somewhere.
If that bothers you a little then plan to try to improve it but accept that getting a few lower grades is acceptable. It will simplify your whole learning process.
2. Practical course loads
I would never recommend trying to catch up while you’re in a super hard course load like medicine. It’s possible but it’s a high risk scenario.
When you decide to push yourself to catch up, you’re taking a risk. If you fail, there is a good chance you’re going to fail badly. It will sting when you realize you’re struggling to pass multiple classes. It’s massively demotivating.
If you have multiple semesters to catch up then consider pushing your hardest courses to a later semester when you can take it slower.
2. Cut the extracurriculars
You can’t do everything.
You only have so much time in the day.
Accept that you have to give up a big chunk of the things you want to do outside of your regular classes. You don’t have to immediately stop them but know that they may have to go as you’re trying to keep up later on. Whenever the challenges start showing up, you need to know what you stop doing first.
Extracurriculars aren’t only sports and clubs. I mean everything outside of school should prepared for the chopping block:
- Movie night
- Anything that’s not super important for school
Odds are, you won’t have to cut everything but be prepared to cut stuff because it’s likely going to happen.
Oh… and if you’re afraid cutting your extracurricular will hurt your college application then be sure to read The Secret To Impressive Extracurriculars (Without Sacrificing Your Free Time)
Hint Hint: Finals time sucks.
3. Maximize your course load (even if they don’t want you to)
If you need to sign up for extra classes then do it.
You might need to get permission from someone in registration to take more than 1 or 2 extra classes. Do what you have to do to gain that permission.
If they look at your record and don’t think you can do it, prove to them that they’re wrong. Be polite but stubborn. You don’t want to make them mad but you do want to keep pushing as long as there is hope.
If the don’t trust your past then tell them how your “past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results” (as investing commercials like to tell people.) What you did in the past doesn’t have to be what you do in the future! Tell them why you’re not going to fail. Stuff like:
- You’re scared you won’t graduate without doing it
- You struggled to stay motivated in the past but now you’re revved up and ready to go.
- You got past some tough problem
Keeping up with your schedule isn’t everything. They’ll tell you that. Be prepared to tell them why you need to do it anyway.
4. Constantly prioritize
Once you’re in the classes you need to pass, find the most important work you need to do.
When you’re taking tons of classes, priorities are super important.
You only have so much time in the world. By figuring out which assignments have the most impact on your grade you can maximize your points while minimizing your efforts. If 90% of your points come from one area in the class then focus on that area. If almost no points come from some aspect of your grade then skip those areas when required.
By knowing what’s most important, you can easily decipher which assignments are required and which are just good to do.
Most of this can be done using your syllabus.
5. Stay ahead
Is taking your current classes tough? Well… it’s just going to get tougher.
Classes tend to throw important assignments at you around the same time in the year. Finals are all around the same time. Midterms are all around the same time. Big final assignments are in the same month. Really… near the end of the year, be prepared to use everything you learned:
- Throw out low point assignments
- Finish high impact assignments
- Skip some of the fun things you do for a few weeks.
The best way to make this time less stressful is to keep your grades high early in the semester.
Grades you get earlier in the year will usually be easier than later assignments. So…
It’s easier to average an A by getting A+’s in the beginning and a A-’s in the end than to get A-’s early and A+’s late. Those later A+’s would be much more challenging because they’re based on more material you need to know.
Take advantage of this discrepancy to stay ahead in all of your classes.
If you do it right then it won’t matter what you get on your finals because you’ll still get a reasonable grade. (Know if your class is an exception.)
You can catch back up to graduate on time. You’ll be facing a ton of challenges but with a little planning, reasonable expectations, and a kick butt attitude you’ll be surprised how many good grades you can still pump out. (You might even want to take more classes next chance you get!)
How far behind are you? Do you think you’ll be able to catch up? Tell your story in the comments below.
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