Responding to Academic Challenges at Barnard
This feature identifies some common academic challenges students often face during their time at Barnard. Elizabeth Kim, a rising junior majoring in psychology at Barnard, reflects on her own experiences and offers advice, strategies, and suggestions for overcoming potential obstacles. Elizabeth Kim is interested in studying the social influences on behavior and understanding the causes and treatments for mental illnesses.
8 Academic Challenges
At college, there are different forms of learning that students need to adjust to whether it is a lab, lecture, or seminar. For me, taking a seminar class during my first year at Barnard was challenging because there were more writing assignments. I realized I was struggling with writing because I wasn’t performing well on my assignments. Most professors know that students arrive at Barnard with different levels of experience in writing, and it’s okay if you’re not familiar with academic writing in your first semester.
What really helped me was meeting with my professor. Regardless of what stage I was in the writing process, their feedback was a great source of guidance and it helped me to more effectively convey my ideas. Usually when they read my essays, they first asked me what I needed help on; most of the time, I ask if my thesis and body paragraphs make sense together and how I could make my arguments stronger. In response, they typically recommend to list out my ideas and explain why they are relevant to my argument; they also help me figure out whether what I want to write about is related to the concepts discussed in class and find supporting text for my arguments. Furthermore, I recognized that the writing process is a part of all academic disciplines, which helped me to remind myself that I don’t need to rush myself to get it perfect the first time I write. Rather, writing is a process; it takes multiple attempts.
Going to a professor’s office hours can be quite intimidating, especially if it’s a one-on-one session. Regardless if you're struggling in the class or not, you can go to their office hours just to introduce yourself, and they’ll appreciate you for taking the time to come. It’s also okay if you don’t know what exactly you want to talk about because they are there to walk you through each step. For example, you can come in and talk about why you’re interested in that class. If the class is related to your major, you can also ask more about their research and what opportunities to look out for. I always found it helpful when professors created a signup to meet with them; they are wonderful listeners and they do genuinely want to get to know you.
This is an academic challenge I’m having in my second year. I’m taking a required course for my major, and it is one of the hardest classes I’ve ever taken. It’s a large lecture with a heavy workload that pays attention to detail and I felt overwhelmed by the constant assignments. I also felt unmotivated because I didn’t enjoy the subject. If possible, try taking this type of class with a friend because there’s comfort in struggling and improving together. I’m fortunate to have a friend in a class, and we make the time to study together before exams, which is helpful as I learn content that I may have missed during class. Another helpful resource is to go to individual or group tutoring sessions offered by Barnard because the tutors are students who have taken the class before. They are able to break down key concepts and work with you on reviewing material for a class.
For most students, adjusting to college is especially difficult during the first year. It was hard for me because I had trouble making friends, not knowing where I belonged, and I felt uncomfortable in my own skin. I felt very stuck and I couldn’t enjoy the things I used to like. During these times, it is so important to know when and how to ask for help for your physical and mental well-being. I looked into the available mental health resources on campus and I went to my first counseling session at Furman. Knowing that my feelings were normal was a relief to me because I felt less alone. Also, attending club affairs helped me get out of my comfort zone, which I eventually found friends who had similar experiences that I had. Although it may feel like things won’t get better, it really does; be patient with yourself and utilize what you have.
It is typical in high school to study by yourself. I have always done things on my own, and I was confident in it too. However, this changed once I entered college. I found myself struggling in my statistics class where information seemed to pass over my head and I could not do the problem sets on my own. I just started making a friend in that class, so I decided to ask if we could study together. I am so glad I did because I learned new strategies from her and we exchanged different ideas. While there are times when you can better concentrate by studying on your own, studying with other people is helpful because it helps you recognize what you need to work on and reminds you that studying can also be fun and social. Be open-minded about your study habits: form study groups, go to office hours, attend tutor sessions, etc.
I was devastated when I received my first midterm grade back from my intro to psychology class, especially since I was interested in majoring the subject. I think with many students we were proud to be at the top of the class with high marks in high school, yet college can shatter this confidence as well as your identity when you thought school was something you were “good” at.
I felt like I was not fulfilling the expectations of myself, which was emotionally exhausting because I was comparing myself to others and I was trapped. However, this changed when I learned new test taking strategies from my peers and found ways to remember content efficiently. For example, before attending a lecture, you should be expected to do the readings. It makes it easier to pay attention in class because there are key terms that you will recognize when the professor is speaking. After class, set some time aside to read through your notes. Wait a few days to read them again and you will be able to better remember the material since you have spaced it out instead of cramming.
Time management is so critical in college but also in everyday life. While academics may feel like your main priority as a student, be open to new experiences and take care of yourself. If you are only focused on school, you might miss out on other opportunities and experience burn out. It is important to be mindful of your mental and physical well-being too. In order to manage your time, it’s helpful to use a planner or some kind of calendar to keep track of important dates. When I receive a syllabus for a class, I always jot down exams and due dates to be mindful of my schedule.
Additionally, write a checklist or set goals for the week that are organized from low to high priority. It is also helpful to plan things to look forward to (i.e. watch an episode of your favorite TV show, go out to eat with friends) which can help motivate you to complete tasks that you’re dreading. Making plans ahead of time helps you balance academics with your social life, and you can set aside time to have fun with your friends, try new things, and meet new people.
After my first year of college, I felt more comfortable in a college environment as I finally settled in. On the other hand, I was experiencing burnout or what some people call a “sophomore slump.” It wasn’t that I did not enjoy my classes, but I could not find the motivation to do anything and I found myself slipping into old habits that I had worked hard to change. This ultimately affected my learning and my relationships with others. I knew something had to change. Luckily, a great source of comfort was my friends who helped me move forward and suggested making small changes in my routine. I started to take walks in the park, take a nap for 30 minutes, make myself tea, occasionally cook for my friends, and look for new music to listen to while studying. These were not groundbreaking changes, but they helped me feel at ease and keep myself clear-minded when life seemed to be overwhelming.