Students adjust study habits to Dartmouth climate
So many pamphlets, websites, lectures and discussions are made available to high school students to prepare them for college’s intense social transition that it’s easy for Dartmouth students to forget that they are at the College to receive an education.
Engaging with Dartmouth’s higher level learning could certainly be a shock to first-year students who are accustomed to high school learning methods and grading.
Nora “Gus” Guszkowski ’22 quickly learned the difficulty of maintaining high grades at the College. They are willing to admit how simple high school was in comparison to Dartmouth.
“[I always received] As and A-pluses,” Guszkowzki said. “If I got an 89, I’d be horrified.”
Not all Dartmouth students have this background of excelling in high school.
“I got a 2.3 GPA [in high school], which was one of the reasons I joined the Army,” Ian Littau ’22 said. “I barely went to class.”
Littau had to step up his studying upon entering the United States Army; he learned to use flashcards as his method of choice, a studying strategy which he has continued at Dartmouth.
“When you get promoted, you have to go to a board and you have to memorize all this stuff,” Littau said. “You get quizzed by a Sergeant Major and other higher-ups in the unit.”
While ’22s are still adjusting, seniors have had time to acclimate to Dartmouth’s studying environment. The biggest change Alexis Colbert ’19 has experienced is the inclusion of others in her studying.
“[In high school] there wasn’t really the kind of culture of getting together and studying with other people to prepare for an exam,” Colbert said. “Rather, everyone studied on their own and we all complained about the exam together but none of us actually studied for it together.”
Colbert sees the Dartmouth academic culture much differently.
“It’s a lot more collaborative, but that might have to do just with my major — I’m an anthropology major with a minor in women’s, gender and sexuality studies, so I definitely think I study something that’s a lot more conducive to conversation,” Colbert said. “But there does tend to be a lot more of a camaraderie that we’re going through this struggle together and can help each other out.”
Guskowzski first witnessed this benevolence in Dartmouth’s academic community while preparing for their multivariable calculus midterm.
“No one I spoke to was anything but supportive and a little bit nervous,” Guszkowski said.
Guszkowski was nervous for their test because of their history of minimal studying.
“I didn’t have to do a lot of hard, well-planned, multi-week studying endeavors [before], so it felt very foreign having to do that here,” Guszkowski said. “It made for more of a jarring transition for me.”
Guszkowski soon discovered that some Dartmouth professors are willing to make studying an easier job for their students.
“[Some professors] were nice enough to provide us with a lot of resources like practice midterms and previous years’ midterms,” Guszkowski said. “I did use a lot of resources that had been provided for me, which is good, because otherwise I would not have really known where to begin.”
Despite their trouble in adjusting to college and new study habits, Guszkowski’s first midterm did not go badly.
“I thought I planned pretty well: I started pretty early, I did a nice mix of working with other people and working alone, and I did all the practice midterms,” Guszkowski said. “I still didn’t do as well as [I’d] hoped, but I did about as well as I could’ve expected to do, so I’m okay with that.”
Guszkowski’s transition was jarring due to the increased necessity for studying, but Littau’s transition was entirely different.
“I would say being here is just as challenging as the Army in different ways,” Littau said. “The Army was a lot more physically challenging and … [it’s about] getting over how terrible things are sometimes. Here, it’s more academic and more mental.”
Littau has a straightforward approach to studying.
“You just kinda grind it out,” Littau said. “You just kinda gotta do it.”
Colbert pays more attention to certain environments and situations that are conducive to productivity for her.
“Freshman year I felt a little bit of the pressure to study in the library or pull all-nighters and these sorts of things that seemed like they were normal for Dartmouth or just normal for a college student,” Colbert reflected. “Throughout my time here I’ve really been able to learn more about what helps me actually work and be productive.”
Colbert found that she didn’t work well in the library, where it was too quiet, or in “Blobby,” the lobby of Baker-Berry Library, where it was too social.
“I work better when I go to Starbucks,” Colbert said. “There are people talking around me but a lot of them are working or I have my headphones in and it’s not silent. I still have that sense of noise without it being too distracting.”
Much of the time, however, Colbert is studying with her classmates. Because many of her courses are writing-heavy, she enjoys having others take a look at her essays.
“I like to have larger group discussions before I start writing and then, from there, move more into a peer review,” Colbert said. “I’ve been pretty lucky to have friends who are willing to read the stuff that I write, whether or not they’re in that class.”
Colbert has figured out what kinds of studying work for her, and advised incoming Dartmouth students to notice their own study habits sooner than she did.
“Pay attention to when you actually get work done,” she said. “[You can be] spending five hours on an assignment and talking most of the time and barely finishing it versus sitting down and actually getting it done in an hour and a half. What’s different in those situations and those environments that could be causing the procrastination?”
Now that he has adjusted to Dartmouth’s academic rigor, Littau advised veterans to follow in his somewhat unconventional footsteps.
“A lot of veterans don’t really seek higher education because they don’t believe they can do it or it’s not for them, but I would say just go for it,” Littau said. “It’s been challenging but also really rewarding — I’m using muscles I haven’t used before.”
Although these Dartmouth students are all too familiar with late nights of stressful studying, their overall enjoyment of the intellectual reward makes the effort worth it. Specifically for Colbert, personal agency when it comes to choosing classes is integral to her enjoyment.
“There’s a lot more flexibility and choice on my part of being able to decide what I’m taking,” Colbert said. “Even if it is something I don’t normally do and is academically challenging because of that, it’s still something that I’m interested in … so I’m still having fun and enjoying myself as I learn.”