Now that the first week of classes has started and you’ve gathered all of your course syllabi, placed critical dates in your calendar, and identified the crunch weeks, it’s important to make connections on campus. What underlies this advice is research by Vincent Tinto and others that finds that successful students are more academically and socially integrated into the campus environment. In other words these students are connected with faculty beyond just the classroom (academic integration) and also have high-quality relationships with their peers (social integration). I call these vertical and horizontal connections.

I’ve previously posted about how to get to know faculty and to utilize study groups as part of the Connectional Shift in the Working Smarter series (see links below). Following these tips will enrich your college learning experience. Trust me.

Meet with your professors to understand the course learning objectives and curriculum plan

When I was in college, I wanted to know the big picture before I got into the minutia of the course material. If I didn’t understand where the course was going, I got lost until the midterm or the final when I was forced to synthesize weeks or months worth of material over just a few precious days. Seeing the overview was like riding the sky ride at an amusement park before doing anything else. You get to see the lay of the land, enabling you to map out your ride strategy for the day.

Getting the big picture helped me understand how concepts or ideas strung together, and anticipate where the professor was going. It turns out that there’s some brain science behind this phenomenon. If an overview of a course or subject is introduced first, you’re more likely and accurately able to recall the material than if you’re first assaulted with the parts or the details. [1] Our minds better remember or “encode” information when we connect concepts into a global understanding. By seeing the big picture, you prime your brain so that when you see the material again, you’re more likely to experience that “aha moment” when it all comes together.

Review the syllabus then take advantage of your professor’s office hours prior to getting your first grade to ask about the course and how to maximize your learning. By meeting with the professor early in the semester as I suggested in a previous post (, you’ll speed up those aha moments and increase your recall.

Form study groups

I recommend that you form a study group early in the semester, not when you need it! Previously, I wrote about how important study groups are and how to utilize them for maximum impact ( Here it is important that you understand that they should be formed early in the semester; reach out to classmates within the first two weeks before the first assignments are due.

I recommend that you set specific start and end times and a location for your study group at least two days before assignments are due. Scheduling these meetings at least two days prior gives the group members enough time to review and complete their work on their own and see a teaching assistant (TA) if necessary well before the deadline of the assignment.

Your group should have no more than 4 or 5 students so each can be assured to do the work, and you minimize distractions and scheduling difficulty.

For study groups to be effective, you should pay attention to what happens before and after the meeting. Study groups should be one part of a three-step learning process toward mastering the subject. The three steps go like this:

Individual work –> Group work (study group)–> Individual work
Think of it like a sandwich. Working individually before and after the study group meets is the bread, and the study group is the meat (or peanut butter and jelly, for those of you who are vegans).

To be effective, everyone in the group must be prepared to do work on his or her own. The working group should not be where you get most of your work done. You’ll never learn the material that way.

For specific tips on how to get to know faculty and utilize study groups, go to the links below.

Good luck with Week 2.

Getting to Know Faculty Even (or Especially) if Your Shy

How to Utilize Study Groups

[1] Jensen, Eric. (2005). Teaching with the Brain in Mind. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development: Alexandria. VA.

To be effective, everyone in the group must be prepared to do work on his or her own. The working group should not be where you get most of your work done. You’ll never learn the material that way.