Don't get me wrong, syllabus week sucks.
August 28, 2012 12:38 PM   Subscribe

The semester has just started, and I'm feeling extremely overwhelmed. Some advice would be appreciated.

Last semester I switched my major from English to Econ, and half of my current schedule consists of 200-level Math classes.

Basically, over the last few days, I've turned into a total stress case, mainly driven by two things:

1. This my first college semester taking classes that have strictly defined prerequisites. All of the previous upper level classes that I've taken have been in the humanities, for which there is hardly a linear chain of progression (i.e. 300-level lit classes don't build off of 200-level lit classes the same way that, say, Calculus II builds off of Calculus I).

More to the point, I feel extremely unprepared: I have forgotten a lot of what I learned last semester and while I am reviewing old material, I'm still very anxious.

2. I busted my ass last semester to get a 4.0. Likewise, my cumulative GPA right now is pretty damn awesome, and I'm scared to death that taking these unfamiliar Math classes will erase my last three semesters of academic success.

I've tried adopting the mantra, "don't worry about the grades; just work hard -- try your best," but it's gotten me nowhere. I take school super seriously, and to be really honest, there are very few things I care about more than my GPA at this point.

Really, I don't even know what sort of advice I'm looking for here; I've talked to lots of other people over the last few days who have said that they feel the same way -- so I'm sure that I'll be fine in a couple of weeks.

But right now I'm struggling, and anything that you can offer would be so very much appreciated. Thank you!
posted by lobbyist to Education (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Do you need a high GPA for grad school or to keep a scholarship? Because if not, frankly, I don't think it much matters. After college, most people don't ask about your GPA and I'm not sure that a 4.0 has much meaning, unless you plan to go on to grad school. I understand that your self-worth seems to be tied to that number, but you might want to rethink that.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:40 PM on August 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

Keep in mind that Add/Drop exists for a reason - go to the classes the first couple weeks and get a feel for what the workload will be like (talk to the professors about your concerns) and if it seems like too much, then DROP a class (or two) and swap in some other pre-requisite you will need later. Switching majors from humanities to something more technical can be really taxing - it would be better for you to go slowly and take your time (maybe take a semester longer to graduate) than to get overwhelmed and shut down midway through the semester.

I dropped classes in my undergrad when I felt overwhelmed, and every time I was so glad that I did it.
posted by permiechickie at 12:41 PM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Thanks for pointing that out. No scholarship, but grad school has always been somewhat of an end goal.
posted by lobbyist at 12:42 PM on August 28, 2012

Go to your professors' office hours. Ask questions; ask about catch-up materials. Are there TAs for your classes? Go to their office hours. Find a simpatico group of three or four other people for a study and review group.

Make a schedule off your syllabus and build in little chunks of review time for older (like, the previous week's) material each day, even just 10 or 15 minutes. It will help keep things fresh and also help you figure out quicker which concepts you don't understand as well as you thought you did.
posted by rtha at 12:43 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

When I was screwing up in math, it turned out that my college had scheduled "study" periods. It was basically just a classroom with a TA and people would collaborate on whatever they were doing, and the TA was available to assist and explain. We didn't just have these for math, either; a friend of mine TA'd in the English dept, helping people with essays. Check with the econ. dept. if they have such a thing established.

...there are very few things I care about more than my GPA at this point.

This buys you nothing but grief, so my advice is "change your attitude." No matter how hard you try, you will come up against a situation where you will not ace the course. If you take things as seriously as you say you do, that situation is going to be hell on you. Best learn to chill out now than when you're breaking down because you're no longer at 4.0.
posted by griphus at 12:45 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Get a tutor. Maybe your school has an organized tutoring program, which can make it easy to find someone to coach you. Learning with someone else is very effective.
posted by wryly at 12:45 PM on August 28, 2012

Oh, and go take advantage of your school's counseling center and talk to them about your anxiety and (more importantly) listen to what they say and take their advice on how to cope. They're intimately familiar with both the stress and anxiety you're experiencing, and your school's best outlets for it.
posted by griphus at 12:47 PM on August 28, 2012

Try taking a reduced course load. I had loads of friends who were taking less courses, but still considered full time, to make up for some of the more heavy courses they had. Or if possible, take some of your pre-reqs that are not immediately required in the summer. It makes it easier because you have less technical stuff to deal with and a few courses that you might actually enjoy.

If that's not an option, in my experience, things seem easier as the semester goes by. You mentioned that you just started, and after a summer of not doing much, it might seem a lot. I always spend my first couple of weeks in absolute panic over how much work I have, the piles of exams and assignments that seem to be coming my way, but as the semester goes by, I'm dealing with everything just fine. You probably will too!

Good luck!
posted by cyml at 12:48 PM on August 28, 2012

For classes where I really had to be 100% responsible for the knowledge in each class (ie, not humanities), I always rewrote my notes after class, either right after or that evening. The act of rewriting them, and also in the process making them clearer and including anything that I would have forgotten days later, really solidified everything into my memory. With just a brief re-skim before the next class, I'd find myself feeling like a total boss, remembering stuff that everyone else had forgotten. And it would save me from that agonizing feeling before a class when I'd be looking over notes taken days previous, not remembering anything or even understanding what I'd written.
posted by thebazilist at 12:49 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

When I was an undergrad, my university did an internal study and found that a B in the natural/physical sciences was equivalent to a B+/A- in the social sciences, and to an A in the humanities. I suspect it's easier for professors to give out some C's in a large math or science class, and harder in a 20-person literature seminar. So give yourself credit for doing as well as you are in some very challenging classes, and try to focus a little less on the exact grade.

Also, it might be worth talking to some grad students in your chosen field to find out what kind of grades are necessary to get in to grad school. For example, do you have any grad student T.A.'s? If not, call the admissions office of one or two schools you might someday consider applying to, and ask what they look for in an application. Disciplines vary, but in many cases, research experience and strong recommendations far outweigh GPA in admissions decisions. Knowing this might help you take off some of the pressure to be perfect.
posted by pompelmo at 12:50 PM on August 28, 2012

Pardon me for asking, but if the math is overwhelming, why would you change your major to Econ?

Econ is extremely competitive, especially at the graduate level, and strong math is a MUST for this major.

Unless you're a math whiz, and the stuff intrigues and delights you, you might want to reassess your major again.

Hie thee to thy advisor and have an earnest chat about what you really, really want, in life and in your education.

Econ kicked my ass in grad school, and I was taking an MBA! That's pussy level Econ. Seriously, the charts, the graphs....GAH!

English to Econ is rather a leap. I went English undergrad and MBA for graduate school. My mind bends funny.

What is it about Econ that rings your bell? What do you see happening when you get your Econ degree?

School can be stressful in periods, but you should not be overwhelmed to the point of freak out. You should be overwhelmed to the point of pizza at midnight.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:50 PM on August 28, 2012

I think you might want to form a study group with your classmates. Meet once a week to discuss problems you've had with the homework. You may also want to hire a tutor; the tutor can either meet with you one-on-one OR come to your group study sessions OR do both.
posted by semaphore at 1:19 PM on August 28, 2012

Last semester I switched my major from English to Econ, and half of my current schedule consists of 200-level Math classes.

This is part of why people who switch majors often delay their graduation, so they don't have to take all their hard courses at once. You might also consider taking some of these classes during the summer. For instance, many pre-med students do that with organic chemistry so that they can have additional attentional space to spread out their moth difficult courses.
posted by Jahaza at 1:20 PM on August 28, 2012

When you say that Math classes are half your schedule, how many classes is that? Two, three? Are they related? Sometimes having more than one math class actually helps reinforce concepts for you in both.

Go to office hours. I'd suggest not talking about grades, but focusing on how you can best learn and understand the information in class. Ask about any problem areas you know of: how to best remember information, or any material that would help you get up to speed.

Joining a study group might help. I found it extremely helpful to talk about the ideas covered in class and in the textbook with others. If you have one that is not governed by a TA, make sure to check your professors' policies on discussing assignments. I had a professor who encouraged collaboration, as long as you went by the Iron Chef rule: discuss as much as you like, but don't right anything down. Then go watch Iron Chef (or do something else for an hour), then anything you remember and understand is yours.

In terms of your GPA, while I'd agree focusing more on doing your best is wise, understanding how the grading is done might help with your fears. How are you assessed? Homework, quizzes, exams? When will you 1) complete your first assessment? and 2) get feedback on that first assessment? It's highly likely that you'll have some sort of small assessment soon. Use that feedback to track your progress and identify and problem areas.

Also, I've found that being aware of common problems/errors that student make sometimes helps me avoid them. Here's a good listing:

Paul's Online Math Notes are a good resource for Calc I - Diff Eq, along with some Algebra/Trig review:

Also, how often is homework assigned? Staying on top of homework, especially starting early, really helps. For example, read over all the questions the same night you get the assignment. Make a quick note of which ones look hard and which ones you could tackle right now. Do some work on the assignment every day until you get it done.

Good luck! You can do it!
posted by wiskunde at 1:21 PM on August 28, 2012

You described yourself as having:
anxiety, depression, and (pretty severe) OCD
So while everyone is giving great advice for dealing with classes and stress, professional intervention, preferably with health care professionals and counselors familiar with the inner workings of your university, are going to be your best resource here.

I've talked to lots of other people over the last few days who have said that they feel the same way

yes, this. I went through a lot of lectures not understanding any of the material, and I would have to re-read and take copious notes on the chapter every night to understand it. I thought it was because I was an idiot. In fact, most everyone else in the class was facing the same thing.
posted by deanc at 1:38 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Spend some time on Study Hacks.
posted by the foreground at 1:48 PM on August 28, 2012

As an econ prof I recommend reading the chapter before class and taking notes, taking good notes, and reviewing your lecture notes and the chapter again after class. 2 hours of studying for each hour of class (one before and one after class was my trick) Try to come up with your own problems to anticipate what will be on the test. The same principles can be applied to math class.

With B/A-s in Math, As in Econ you can go to decent econ grad school or you could go to a very good public policy school if your interest is more applied. Depends on your undergrads rep, but I didn't have a 4.0 can't remember my GPA but 3.5 was about it.

Also +++ for Ruthless Bunny. Feel free to PM me if you have more ?s
posted by akabobo at 3:05 PM on August 28, 2012

I was exactly in your boat last year. What saved me was taking my courses off-track. This saved me. Take courses off-track. Seriously, I can't stress it enough. I got the same percentage in the first quarter as one of my friends did. I took it in the fall, she took it over the summer--I got a 3.8, she got a 4.0. Line yourself up with those who have to take remedial math, even if it means taking the class over the summer. The curve will be amazing.

Also, try de-vilifying math in your head. Math is a language designed to express the real world, which is why it is so important to economics. For someone coming out of broader English classes, taking a math class might be refreshing.

I disagree with those telling you to take grades less seriously. It is okay to set high goals; you just have to make sure you don't beat yourself up when you don't reach them. Moving on after "failure" is a good skill to have in the real world, anyways.

Finally, most universities are familiar with the problem you have. My school has two study centers for math--one for only the first year of calculus, and one for all courses. Use them. Ask questions. Don't worry if you don't understand lecture--if you can do the homework (with a little help) you'll be fine. I honestly stopped going to lecture.

Good luck!
posted by obviousresistance at 2:17 PM on August 29, 2012

Study help should he available, as the others have said. Add/drop too! I had the same experience with an advanced math course. I was avoiding my tutor and spacing out when faced with elementary algebra, so I elected to drop it. Now, I still have residual anxiety about math, since I, like you, have forgotten last year's concepts. So I take it sloooooow with revision - sample the easy questions from the problems or tests, then move on to medium and hard ones.

About grade anxiety: I think your academic advisor may be able to give better answers wrt grad school, but I've tried to see grades as part of a constructive journey, not potential points of failure in themselves. So every test I take isn't something that will potentially mar my pristine record, but part of the sometimes-wrinkly journey. Admittedly, it is hard. But at the very least, learn to move on after falling short. I hope things get better soon for you.
posted by undue influence at 7:24 AM on August 31, 2012

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