1. Take a basic course in philosophy.
Take a basic course in philosophy, but take it during a semester when you can dedicate a great deal of time to the subject. Many people are misinformed about studying philosophy—they think it’s about asking enormous questions that have no real use for everyday life. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Studying philosophy is about learning how to think. (But I know how to do that already! Do you really?) Philosophy teaches how to approach a problem in the most efficient way. It teaches how to order one’s thoughts, how to pursue a problem to make sure all factors have been considered, how to select the most appropriate answer, and how to check said answer for mistakes. Studying philosophy will benefit every area of study because every subject requires advanced thought. It also helps learn how to read dense, long texts without losing focus. I do not know how I was able to think efficiently before I studied philosophy, and this is the most important piece of advice that I give all of my students. If you are unable to take a basic course in philosophy, then at least read Sophie’s World.
2. Read the footnotes.
Also, read the captions. This is where authors put all the tiny bits of information that are of lesser importance, so they could disrupt the flow of the full text, but for students, this information is vital. When reading literature, the footnotes contain all of the cultural details for making sense of the text. In sciences, captions are a quick reference for information. I’ve had professors who make sure to put footnote/caption information on the quizzes to train us to read them. It adds more time to the homework, but footnotes are there for a reason.
3. Take the early classes.
College students are stereotyped as lazy and as refusing to wake before noon. This stereotype has much truth to it. However, taking the early classes will train you to order your life. Arriving to an early class fully prepared takes discipline, so maintaining such a schedule is good training. Once morning classes are completed, the rest of the day remains for doing homework and engaging in recreation. Most of my friends who swore to rise early and complete homework before class rarely did so. Taking the early classes will also prepare you for when you have finished your degree and must begin rising early for your job.
4. Buy the bilingual edition.
When offered a choice between a work in translation and a facing-page bilingual edition, I always choose the bilingual, even if I don’t read the language. When studying literature and history, having access to the original is vital. Since bilingual editions usually have numbered lines, it provides the reader with an efficient way to compare lines and look up words for translation even if he is not familiar with the original language. A glossed text is usually superior to a bilingual edition, but unless one is working with Middle English, a bilingual edition will be the most advantageous. Try to find these even if the class doesn’t require it.
5. Purchase mirrored sunglasses and headphones.
The quad can be an obnoxious place. A stroll through on the way to class results in dozens of people trying to get you to join/buy/sign something. If you wear mirrored sunglasses and headphones, most people leave you alone because they assume you can’t hear them and they cannot make eye contact for your attention. Since you cannot make eye contact and cannot be heard, nobody will perceive you as rude because you are blatantly ignoring their advances. Since quads are always outdoors and headphones are commonplace among college students, neither item will be remarkable. The headphones don’t have to be plugged into anything—as long as they were in my ears, I was always safely ignored. Those living in rainy climates may have a harder time getting away with the sunglasses, but I still recommend them. Even if it’s dark out, you’ll just look extra-cool, right?