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With finals fast approaching, I can’t help but wonder how first semester can be over. Next week marks the beginning of a long week of finals, but it also marks an important milestone; the training wheels are coming off. We’re about to go into the real world of college, official GPAs and all. With a semester of covered grades behind us, we are officially expected to do well. We’re expected to be able to handle all of it — the exciting part is, I think we’re ready. It’s daunting for sure, but I know that I’m ready for the spring.

Covered grades provide the perfect opportunity to figure out the right way to study and find a balance between homework, studying, clubs, activities, and friends. Covered grades by no means give freshmen the opportunity to slack off and take a break, but they provide an excellent cushion for trial and error. Studying for college is nothing like it was in high school.

If you’re anything like I was in high school, you probably take every AP course you’re allowed to sign up for in a given year, and you study for every exam you have because you feel an obligation to both your teachers and yourself. The definition of studying in high school changes pretty drastically in college though. It’s based on the same principles, but it takes a lot more to achieve the same result. For me, being well prepared in high school meant studying for about an hour for a normal test. A really hard test warranted maybe three hours or two days, and at the time, that was strenuous. That’s not how college works though, and time management is just as important as people say it is.

Class time is cut in half and study time is doubled or tripled depending on the class. I’m grateful for covered grades because I think I’ve finally found the key to studying successfully here. The end result is not always that perfect 100% the way it was in high school, but it’s usually worth much more than that. A mastery of the material and confidence that you’re learning something critical to mastering your field of study are the true benefits of learning what studying really means. I thought that I knew what it was in high school, but now I’m sure.

It works differently for everyone, but the key to my success is usually outlining the textbook, doing practice problems, and then working in a small group once I can pinpoint what I’m still struggling with. It’s not magical or revolutionary and it sounds simple, but it took me nearly the entire semester to figure out. Armed with this knowledge, I think I’m ready to take on finals. (As I’m typing that, I’m knocking on wood because I don’t want to jinx it, but I really do feel ready.)

So with that, we’re on to the real world of college. It’s exciting, terrifying, and I feel like I’m growing up a little bit too fast, but the good outweighs the bad, and I’m eager to move in to the spring semester. For me, that means a new dorm, new friends, and the opportunity to focus on my engineering degree without a commute and a voice degree. It’s uncharted territory, but being equipped with the tools to study right and be successful in my classes, I know that everything else will be just fine.