Help Your Child with These Study Tips for College Students

If you're the parent of a college student, it can be heart-wrenching to watch them struggle from afar. While it's easy to send your child a care package when they're feeling homesick, if you've ever gotten an agitated phone call because they got a D on their first mid-term, you know that helping academically can be more complicated.

Develop Study Skills in College

In such a situation, it's natural to want to help your college student with study tips, says Esther Gonzalez Freeman, director of the Odyssey Program at Elon University in Elon, North Carolina. This program supports first-generation college students and those from diverse backgrounds or with financial need.

"All parents want to help their students succeed," she said. "I think it's second nature to offer tips for success. As parents, their job is to guide and teach."

Unsure what kind of study tips for college students will help? Use this list as a guide.

1. Suggest a Time Management System

Ever checked in on your child when they were supposed to be studying only to find them watching animal videos on YouTube? Time management is the key to help your child study smarter and make sure that they don't fall down an animal video rabbit hole.

Ron Radaker, director of student success at Clarion University in Clarion, Pennsylvania, recommends taking frequent breaks.

"During intense study sessions, a clear time frame and goal should be set so that studying is focused," he said. "Once that session is over, it's important to take a stretch break — get a drink, snack or take a five minute meditation break to clear your mind."

You might recommend your child use the Pomodoro Technique, where after 25 minutes of uninterrupted work they can reward themselves with a five minute break. Each set is one Pomodoro, and four equals a longer break (this can last 30 minutes to 1 hour). Remind your college student that long periods of studying without breaks may actually counteract quality preparation. Since our brains can't focus on a task for long periods of time, forcing them to do so diminishes the quality of the study session, according to a University of Illinois study.

2. Emphasize Finding a Productive Study Environment

Remember when your child was a toddler and every time you tried to read something, they would start banging on their toys and make you reread the same sentence five times? Campus life — especially college dorms — can be distracting, which could compromise your child's ability to study.

That's why Gonzalez Freeman said that finding the right location is one of the best study tips for college students.

"Most libraries have study desks, study rooms, lounges or labs," she said. "Many residence halls have study rooms, classrooms or lounges. Every campus has little nooks hidden in buildings people don't even realize exist!"

Talk to your college student about distraction and how to find an environment where they can be the most productive. Remind your student to switch up the study environment because a new setting could help maintain better focus. Studies have shown that changing locations increases retention because your brain then connects the materials you are learning to several different settings, thus creating more associations to that information, according to a New York Times study.

3. Encourage Organizing Class Notes

If you type or write down everything that leaves the professors lips, you're going to have a hard time studying come exam time. Encourage your child to go through their notes after class and highlight the most salient points so that they know what to focus on as test day approaches.

Gonzalez Freeman also recommended that your child start studying right after they learn the material.

"They should sit down after class with the material fresh in mind and find ways to organize and rewrite their notes," she said. "If they do this 20 to 40 minutes a day, they are more likely to retain and understand the information and then they won't need to cram or stress."

4. Encourage Them to Reach Out for Help

College professors might seem intimidating, but they're there to help. If your child gets a bad grade, or is confused by something in class, one of the best study tips for college students is to reach out and attend office hours.

"The professor is an expert in their class, therefore seeking them out during office hours is very valuable in getting a clearer understanding of a particular concept or idea," said Radaker. "Talking to professors also gives the student an opportunity to get to know the professor better and to get a better sense of the professor's expectations."

"Campuses have a ton of amazing resources and often at no additional cost," said Gonzalez Freeman. In addition to their professors, she suggested students reach out to their network of support, including: academic advisers, tutoring services, writing center, math center, disability services, teaching assistants, peer advisers, mentors, older students and counselors.

Students don't always take advantage of these services, even though they should. Many of these resources can help them with study tips or other kinds of help if their grades are slipping.

"Many students feel ashamed or uncomfortable asking for help so they don't seek out the resources available to them," said Gonzalez Freeman. "It's helpful for parents to become familiar with the services offered on their student's campus so they can encourage them to take advantage of the offerings."

Try Not to Worry

Many students stumble when they first start college, but these struggles and figuring out how to overcome them can be an important part of the experience.

"Be a guide for your child, but allow your child to experience college themselves," said Radaker. "The reality is that we may have a moment where we may fail, but that is okay as long as we learn from the failure, and use it to be successful the next time."

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