Reina Olivas: Making the grade

This is part of a blog series written by current Dell Scholars Program Ambassador, Reina Olivas. Reina discusses her experiences as a first-generation college student and describes what it’s like for her to both give and receive help. Read the entire series here.

I received my first C in a class during my first semester in college. It was a math course. I studied late. I studied weekends. I studied until I thought I had the material engraved in my brain. Despite all of that studying, I continued to receive Cs on my exams.

I quickly realized that the way I studied in high school was not going to get me the grades I needed in college. I had to change my study habits and figure out what else I needed to do to excel in my classes.  I had always been a straight A student, so this was frustrating at times, but it helped me realize where I could improve.

My advice to incoming college students

Every course is different in college and every professor is different, so there’s no magic bullet for getting good grades in a class.  It will be important to figure out how the class is structured by looking at the syllabus before the first day of class.

A few other important lessons I learned:

  • Start strong. The first semester is critical to getting a good start. It establishes your initial grade point average (GPA) and gives you a good starting point.  If you work extremely hard and take advantage of the resources provided, you can gain a sense of confidence and belonging. It also gives you reassurance that you didn’t just get lucky by getting into college; rather you earned your way there and are continuing to prove it to yourself and others.
  • Stay organized. I keep a planner to help me keep myself organized. I learned that filling in my due dates, such as exams and papers, at the beginning of the semester helps me know what’s coming in the weeks ahead and helps me to prepare.
  • Attend office hours. Professors notice which students ask questions, and which students make time to clarify material that isn’t understood.
  • Find the right resources on campus. For first-generation students like myself, it’s a matter of finding out how prepared the university is for first-generation students and what resources they offer.
  • Know your own study habits. I found that I study better in a bright, quiet room, and that making flashcards helps me retain the information I’m studying. Also, reviewing course material in groups helps me prepare for an exam as some of my classmates have a clearer way of explaining certain concepts.

My takeaway

I don’t have a perfect GPA, but I try to continually improve.  For me, having a mentor my freshmen year and having the support of the Dell Scholars Program both played a major role helping me succeed in my academics.

Having a plan, finding the areas where I can improve and having good time management skills are the things that have helped me get closer to graduation.   And knowing that I will never really stop learning.  Along with the things I learn in class each day, I am constantly still learning how to be a successful college student. That doesn’t end.