Life at Smith V: Academics | The Geneva Convention: Life at Smith V: Academics

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Life at Smith V: Academics

This will be the last in the Life at Smith series, but it is arguably the most important. After all, why do we go to college in the first place? Once again, the advice and insights in this post probably apply to most top liberal arts colleges, not just Smith.

Smith is one of the best colleges in the country, and it shows (for the most part) in the quality of instruction. As anywhere, there are a few duds, but I have never had a professor that I felt was either inept or an intentionally poor teacher. There are a few that lean toward the crazy side, but they always teach the most fun classes.

Surviving the academics here isn't easy. Writing well (even better, writing well quickly) is one of the skills I have been most thankful for, especially with degrees in social science and the arts. Smith writes across the curriculum, though, so even science and math majors will have papers to hand in from time to time. Almost as important for success here are reading speed and comprehension. The sheer volume of reading assignments can become quite overwhelming if allowed to accumulate.

The most important tools I have, though, are organization and prioritization. Organization is key to keeping track of what will inevitably be a busy four years. Prioritization will allow you to survive them, but it is also the trickiest skill to implement. Basically, it is important to understand the difference between work you must do, work you should do, and work you shouldn't do, and prioritize them accordingly.

I'm sure my parents and professors will be shocked and angry to hear this, but I earned a cumulative GPA well over 3.5 without doing all the homework assigned to me. There are a whole slew of factors that determined how I have divided my time over the last few years here, but some of the bigger ones include the kind of class (academic classes trump exercise and performance classes), the kind of material (I have now been assigned Plato, Aristotle, and Adam Smith multiple times; it isn't worth my time to read them all more than once if I understand their ideas), how it would be addressed in class (if the lecture will cover everything in an article, it is less important), and whether I would eventually be tested or required to write a paper on it, among others. This should not be interpreted as a pass to skip all homework and tune into Netflix. It is simply a way to make a workload that is at times insurmountable something a real student can scale. Similarly, it isn't always necessary to attend class. I can count on one hand the number of times I chose not to attend a class I could physically have gotten myself to, and although it isn't something I advise, it can be useful. Don't expect to blow off all classes and homework and get a good grade anyway, but recognize that time to sleep and preserve your sanity is also crucial to earning decent grades at college. It's about balance.

One last note about academics at Smith: we have the best professors. I've mentioned before how great it has been to form personal relationships with the people who taught me over my four years here. When I marched out of commencement on Sunday, I got hugs and high fives from most of them along the way. These are people I know will be life-long resources and friends to me as an alumna, and that is one aspect of my education that was certainly worth it.

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