Philadelphia, PA, USA

13 Brutal Truths You Need To Finish College

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When I tell people I finished college within 2 years they automatically always assume I finished my associates, but then I always reply with, “No, I graduated with my Bachelor’s and a minor.” People can’t seem to wrap their heads around it. The possibility, if there even is one, and just how cannot be understood. But I’ve done the math prior to doing it, and I’m living proof that it is possible.
Today I’m going to tell you how, well partially, but this is what you pretty much need to finish college in one piece. Who better to tell you the brutal truth than the girl who did an accelerated degree in 2 years, not 3.

1. A Planner, Bullet Journal, Digital Planner, or something along those lines

I’m going to dive right into it honey, you need to stay accountable. I could have titled number 1 - Accountable, but I didn’t, you know why? Because telling you to be accountable is not as easy as it looks. You need a planner. You need to be on top of your shit. 

Know your busy days. Know your schedule. Know your friends’ schedules. That way you guys can plan something in advance to do instead of skipping, I don’t know, let's say that group project meeting you are supposed to attend. I get it, we want to be able to still have a social life, but if you come to college to just hang out with your friends or be close to your friends you’re going to have a hard time. 

Not being a team player doesn’t fly anymore. Teachers are now grading students separately from their groups. If you don't show up, people will mention it to the teacher. If you didn’t do shit, people will mention it. This isn’t high school or grade school where you can get away with it. It may have worked before but not anymore. No one wants to do your work for you, but they will and will take your grade too. Not only is that on you but also you’re not getting the practice you need to work in a group outside of college.

By the way, if you fail or drop your GPA to a certain point, you can get on academic probation, and it’s a bitch to get out of that. How do I know? I’ve been there but thankfully not at a 4-year college. But I’ve been there and done that, and I’m not playing, it's not a joke. Be accountable. 

“0 Excuses 100% Accountability,” was my motto, my mantra, my affirmation, during my time at college. If I didn’t do something for school or skipped a class because I needed a "me day." I didn’t make up a bogus excuse, I knew how many sick days I could take still, or if I had any left, usually you get 3 per class, and if they asked I was downright honest. But they barely ask, I showed up, stood my ground, knew my worth and value. Knew how much debt was hanging over my head if I fucked up, you still got to pay for it finishing school or not. Might as well be accountable then.

Quick storytime

I heard this from a friend in college who was told the same story by a teacher, it led me to believe it was one of my school’s alumni but don’t hold me to it. 

So, this one person graduated and liked to work alone, and he refused to work in groups in college, back when group projects were graded collectively. He usually made others do the work or if he did anything he was really arrogant about it. Basically, he graduated and got hired by a small-time company that had an IT team, but he lied and said yeah he can work in a group. Not only was he not able to, but he also lied, and refused to. 

Lying on your resume and application is a big no. Resumes are bragging rights and you can fluff things up a bit, but lying to say you have something that you don’t is a no. Especially if you’re not going to put your money where your mouth is, which means get the damn thing you lied about under your belt before they find out, and they will find out. 

He ended up screwing up a project all on his own and costing the company thousands of dollars. Word got out, the company lost trust in the school that he came from, and I don’t know what happened after that. From what I heard they were still in talks about what to do with him. 

So group work is hella important, want to be alone for the rest of your life? Go join a degree you don’t need group work for because the majority of degrees, job fields, and careers require some type of teamwork if not entirely. 

Big tip on group projects!

This is golden!!

The first time you get into your groups, pull out as many sheets of paper as there are group members, including yourself. So if there are around 4 people, including you, pull out 4 sheets. Each person should write their name at the top. Figure out everything that has to be done by the end of the project, the final due date, and have everyone either choose what they want to help with or you assign it to them. Each person signs the bottom and adds their phone number. Now go around taking a picture of each paper, and sending it in the group chat to each person. They are now accountable for that. 

Even if someone steps up to be the leader, just get this part done. You have proof, you can use it if they don’t do it or any of it. Show it to your teacher etc. Do not let anyone leave until you get through the requirements of each person. The people who usually want to leave without talking are usually the ones who don’t want to do anything and expect everyone to do the work for them.

Get everything written to paper, like a contract, have a paper trail. It’s another benefit to you getting your own grade. It shows that you tried, and they just didn’t care.

2. The right mindset

It’s going to get hard before it gets easy. 

There will be people who expect you to do all the work in your group projects, but you know what, tell the teacher they didn’t do shit. You may think that’s childish, but honestly value yourself enough to put down your foot. This type of shit doesn’t fly, trust me, please trust me.

Once upon a time this girl legit said she had a full schedule and had “no time” to help me do anything in the group project. Mind you, she also got the three other girls to not do anything at all. This was my first time dealing with such bogusness! How many classes did she have, you may be wondering. She had 5. I had 8, and I didn’t complain about the load I took on. I knew what I was getting into BUT I didn’t sign up to do other people’s work for them. I did it once, told the teacher, they got a failing mark, and for the rest of the semester, I was allowed to work solo. Eventually, anyone else who had problems with their group’s joined my self-formed group. It was such a happy ending. 

If the teacher stands for this type of laziness, go to whoever is above them. I’ve done it before. You’re paying too much money for this shit to be taken lightly. And those teachers have gotten reprimanded until their behavior was changed. If nothing changed, then here’s my next piece of advice.

Take group projects with a grain of salt. It’s job security for you if you do the work and they don’t. Keep saying “I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care.” Do your work, don’t teach them. If it’s someone that really looks like they’re struggling, yes try to reach out once to help them, if they still don’t get it tell them to go to the teacher for help. It’s not your problem to teach them. If they still don’t do the work, you tried, don’t care about them. Value yourself. Respect yourself. Pretend you’re working in the zone and do it yourself. They won’t get a grade for it if they don’t make the same effort. They won’t get a job. Have fun with it.

Never have expectations for anything or anyone. 

life never throws anything at you it believes you cannot handle quote made in canva, the background is an image of a girl, the girl in the photo is me, i'm looking over a balcony over the delaware river into the philadelphia skyline during sunset. the graphic was made in canva free version

Beyond that, I really wanted to talk about also the fact you will have days where you’re going to meltdown, break down, cry, and want to drop out. Trust me I’ve been there, what I also know is the school guidance counselor is there for you and anyone who needs help or someone to talk to. There are teachers who genuinely care about you, and when I’ve hit these moments it was their words that helped me get out of what pit I fell into.

Lastly, you have to be a go-getter or proactive in some way, shape, or form. You don’t have to be extroverted, or like people, but things aren’t just going to fall into your lap one day. You need to work for it. Fake it till you make it. 

3. Know how to communicate with teachers, faculty, and staff through email

Please never ever ever EVER write an email with the intention of an expectation to anyone. It is ignorant. 

Be kind, courteous, have manners, and remember their name, if you don’t know their name look it up in your school’s directory. 

If you don’t know if they’re a Mrs. or Ms., usually just go for Ms. Most people don’t mind Ms. I’ve been told. If they do, they’ll let you know politely. 

If on the directory page it says “, Ph.D.” you HAVE to address them as Dr. They earned that title; they are NOT Mrs., Ms., or Mr. if they have a Ph.D in their directory page name.

Subject line examples

For a class you’re in or want to ask about:

  • Class name-section (if available)-Last name

    • For example:

      ENGL202D-002-Sienkiewicz

For a staff member:

The idea is to keep the subject line simple. So make it whatever you’re emailing them about. Is it financial help, a finance question, an opportunity you saw on the bulletin board? Be clear, direct, and keep it simple. So for the opportunity you saw, was it a club, a job, a study abroad trip? Be specific. 

For example, when I was reaching out about a study abroad opportunity to Japan my subject line said: Study Abroad Japan Opportunity. 

Remember how to start your message, which I mentioned above.
Hi Dr./Ms./Mrs./Mr. (THEIR NAME HERE)
Here’s a template of how I formally would write out emails to anyone, it will always get you a nice response back.
I hope you’re doing well. My name is (YOUR NAME HERE), and I’m contacting you today about (YOUR SUBJECT/CAUSE HERE) because I wanted to (ASK A QUESTION/GET MORE INFORMATION ABOUT IT/LET YOU KNOW I’M INTERESTED IN IT, etc.) I’m not sure what my next steps should be, let me know if you are the right person to contact for this type of situation or if you could point me in the right direction. I greatly appreciate it. 

Best regards,
(YOUR NAME HERE)
For example that study abroad Japan opportunity I saw was written something like this:
Hi Dr. Brin, 

I hope you are doing well. My name is Diana Sienkiewicz, and I’m contacting you today because I saw the Japan study abroad trip opportunity on one of the bulletin boards. I had a question in regards to it. I was wondering if you could point me in the right direction on how to get involved because I’m interested. 

Please let me know. Thank you.

Best regards,
Diana Sienkiewicz
Any time I emailed my teachers or staff with this type of template always received the best results and answers. 

Do NOT use slang or shortened words in your email. 

4. A basic idea of how to read your “what if report”, academic plan, or audit

This is really straight forward, you really need to know or have a general understanding of it. If you don’t, you’ll get told to take classes you don’t need or want, but if you have a general understanding of it you will get the most out of your college days. 

I had to take 2 math classes, for example, one was Math 23 which I took, and the other one was supposed to be Math 24. What happened was, because I had a general understanding of it, plus I went over it with the head of my major, I was told that specific math class didn’t need to be Math 24 for me, in my major, that I could take Math of Money which is substantially easier. 

Another example, I had to take 3 science type classes, 2 of which I took were Biological Science. They were dope classes with a dope ass teacher, Shelly Grinar-Boyd I’m looking at you! And the last one I took was the Science of Music. 

I took some really dope classes to fill in requirements I needed to fill, none of which I would have known about if I didn’t have a general understanding of my audit. For a while, I was even a peer advisor, and I still help some people I know understand theirs. It’s not common knowledge, but really, you should be asking a teacher you trust. I know they say to use the advisor they assigned you with, but my advisor was ass, is ass, and she led me down a very wrong path or tried to. Her advice felt fishy, and I’m so glad I double checked things out with a teacher I trusted instead.

5. Understanding the user interface of Canvas (or your school’s educational infrastructure of choice)

This is something I can’t really help you with but depending on what you have, there are YouTube videos to help you get a better understanding of what is where. 

You can also go to the computer lab, at your school, and ask one of the teachers or students who work there if they can show you how. I know that may sound weird, but not everyone is tech-savvy and most people understand that. I used to volunteer to help teachers learn their way around Canvas. It’s not as simple if you’re not tech-savvy or are just lost and need a better understanding. Nothing to be ashamed about.

6. Understanding the user interface of your school’s information system that allows you to accept financial aid, enroll in classes, pay your bill, and much more

This is much more personal, you can definitely, I remember, ask the school’s IT team to help you. Or go to the computer lab, at your school, and ask one of the students/teachers working there if they can show you. Those people are usually IT/IST majors so they know their way around these websites to help you.

7. An understanding of your strengths and weaknesses

Ask yourself the following questions and write down your responses:
  • What am I good at?
  • What do I struggle with?
  • What do people come to me for advice for?
  • Am I good at pointing out details (detail-oriented)?
  • Am I better at looking at the big picture?
  • What do I know about myself, that needs to be worked on?
    • Can be something that you think is trivial like overthinking too much or obsessing over the wrong things. 

      These can correlate to other aspects in your life where you studied for a test so hard but you second guess yourself too much. When you obsess over something too much, you expect nothing less than perfection. But sometimes the stress isn’t worth it, and you just need to be done. But these are 2 weaknesses that seem so trivial and personal in your own life, that may seem like they can’t possibly affect your school life, but they really can. 

      On the flip side you may think you’re too stubborn, but being stubborn can mean you don’t give up. That is a strength. It means you value and respect yourself. 
Saying that you’re bad at a subject is not a weakness. I used to say, “I suck at math,” all the time. What that really does is it fucks with your mindset (brutal truth number 2) and tells you you’re only capable of this extent, this bar, this level you created for yourself, and that’s entirely untrue.

As soon as you stop saying, “I suck at ....,” or “I’m not good enough,” or “I’m not good at…,” you’ll start to overcome the criticism you put on yourself and start to see yourself progressing. In general, you’ll start to have a healthier mindset about everything else in your life.

So for math, for example, I showed up to class, I sat in the front row, and asked every single question I needed to be explained. I didn’t care if people were in the class that understood it, I’m just as much a paying student as they are. I deserved to have the experience that I needed. 

Also, as someone who is a visual learner and super detail-oriented, I found that I was missing steps when everything was done in pencil. As soon as I whipped out all my color pens and made each step its own color, guess what happened?! My grades and aptitude for math changed. Completely. I passed math for the first time with flying colors, literally, an A. Well my final exam was an A, but my final grade was a B+. But this just shows I was setting myself up for defeat the first time. 

You may be thinking, “Diana you don’t get it, you still passed.” I do get. I failed my very first math class after re-entering college. 

I failed.

Read that again.

It was Fall 2015, I took the math class I needed. It was with a so-so professor, which I’ll get into this a little down the list, and I was barely passing all class. I had hope that I would finish with at least a C. Final exam day came and nothing, it was a joke. I failed that class and cried for a full week straight. 

I thought to myself, “This was it, this was as far as I could go. I suck at math. There’s no way I can get through this, it’s all over for me.” This was before I had a planner. This was literally reality slapping me in the face with these 13 brutal truths that I fucking learned the hard way. So please, yes, I do understand fully and I still made it out alive. 

I picked myself up, got into bullet journaling, and the rest I’m clearly writing about.

This all ties back to brutal truth number 2, the right mindset, but also valuing yourself enough to stop with the negative self-talk. You can do it. You have the grit; you just have to tap into it by stop talking down on yourself. If I can do it at my lowest point, so can you. I believe in you.

Think twice about what you write as your weakness, it may not be a weakness at all or you may be selling yourself short. Be honest.


8. Don’t expect people to hold your hand or do things for you

You’re legally an adult now. You need to be able to know how to grasp things yourself. Doesn’t matter if you go home and your parents do things for you. Staff, faculty, teachers, etc. expect you to know how to do things on your own. 

That doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers, of course, if you need help asking for it, ask questions, but don’t expect things to fall into your lap or them doing it for you. They won’t. 

So if you hate the class you’re in and stop showing up, it doesn’t mean the teacher will get the hint and will drop the class for you. It means you’ll get an F for not ever showing up. You have to go online or go to the admissions room and have the class dropped. No one will judge you. 

If you want to drop the class you’re in and change it to one, and that class has room, do not email your teacher about it. Go online, drop the class you’re in, and add the one you want. If you can’t do it online, do it in person in the admissions room. They won’t bite your head off about it. They’re generally very understanding. 

Beyond that, you need to have some independent thinking. I cannot tell you how many times someone asked me what they should Google. It’s mind-blowing. 

I legit google everything, every combination of words I can think of. If it’s for a project, and there’s something you don’t understand about it. Type in the thing you don’t understand, so say you don’t understand javascript, type in “javascript made easy.” Even if you don’t type the words out correctly, it will still return you some type of results. If it’s not what you’re looking for, try a different combination of words, “Javascript tutorial, javascript for dummies, free javascript classes, etc.,” the possibilities are endless! But again you need to have some free thought in that department, let your mind be curious.

On the flip side

Being on top of your shit is absolutely vital to not being screwed over by a school. I've been there, I've had classes dropped for no reason. I've been barred from adding classes for a completely contradictory set of rules, that were later abolished a semester later. It's all about staying on top of your shit and a combination of brutal truth number 12, you need to make friends with higher-ups in the school. At least a few to get a better footing. If people who work at the school know that you know other people or whatever, your influential, etc, it's such a different experience. 

I've taken classes at community colleges during summertime to finish up faster, and I knew no one at those colleges. The shit they tried to pull versus the experience I had at my home school, two substantial differences! It's insane, but I really do chalk it up to the fact I knew the director of finances at my campus. I befriended the head of the registrar during my last year, which helped me out a lot. Going in, I became close with the head of my major, and also the person who is the head of my major now. As well as, the head of my minor. At any given time if I needed a major or minor class to fill a requirement, and it's not being offered, I could go to either or and get that settled. Any questions I had about my loans, I went directly to the person I knew in finances because I somehow helped her out pretty early on, and then I just kept going to her instead of her staff. 

Usually the people in the Bursar office and finances office are the bitchiest people ever. You don't need as many people as I know, but it helps. 

When I'm done receiving assistance, I always make sure to thank people. If it's something big that they help me out with, I usually come back with a box of Polish chocolates for them or a well-written thank you card. You don't have to, but it shows you're grateful for the time they took out of their day to help you. Normally going to the head or the director kinda doesn't happen. You're usually supposed to go to their staff, but I've noticed that things get done quicker, effectively, and efficiently when I go straight to the head of the source. 

It also helps if you either volunteer at school, contribute in some way, partake in events that they know you from seeing you around. If you do work-study, you can make connections that way. Whatever it is, you need to be on top of your shit. If I didn't know people, if I didn't put myself out there, if I didn't make the effort, if I didn't work my ass off, if I didn't stay on top of my shit, it probably would have taken me 3-5 years to finish my degree and my accelerated degree wouldn't have been possible. I barely slept, barely had a life, but I got a lot out of it and experienced a lot more that I can now share with others. 

9. Drop a class ASAP within that first week if possible.

This goes along with the above. 

Do not wait, if you don’t like the teacher when you first meet them. They will NOT transfer you for you. They will not drop it for you. YOU have to do it yourself. No one will judge you, so stop judging yourself. 

Sometimes it’s better to waitlist yourself in a class with a teacher you want and then hope people drop or get dropped due to not paying their tuition, than suffering through a shitty teacher. 

What classifies as a shitty teacher:

  • No matter what you ask, they never answer your question or somehow reword your question as an answer but it’s not an answer at all.

  • You never understand them or understand what they’re saying

  • If they have a thick accent and you just can’t understand them
    • I know this sounds bad, but I don’t expect anyone to suffer because of it. If you think people should, maybe you should be paying that person’s tuition for them to sit in that class.

      I’ve taken classes with professors who had broken English, and I could still understand them.. My parents have broken English. But I once dropped a professor who I couldn’t even make out if he was even speaking English. I’m sorry, but no. Not in my book. I value my time too much, and the debt on my head. 

  • If they teach by the book and are lecture heavy, but you know there are other teachers who teach the class in a fun way. 

    • Learning should be fun, enough said. You won’t always get lucky, but you should try to push for the best of the best anyway. It makes your college experience a good one.

    • Usually, lecture heavy teachers are tough graders, and I just don’t have it in me to suck up to a teacher that has a bone to pick. Good-bye! 

  • A really strict teacher, grumpy teacher all the time, etc.

10.  Plan classes in advance!

See what classes you need for the next semester. You do this by having a general understanding of your audit (brutal truth number 4). You can figure it out on your own, if you already have a general idea, or set up an appointment with a trusted teacher to go over it together and plan your next semester. 

Write what those classes, that you can take, down. I would suggest to write down as many options as possible so you can see how everything fits into your schedule. 

After figuring out your options, take those online, and see what will be available next semester. Remember, not every class is offered every semester. For example, there was this History of Rock & Roll class I wanted to take, but it was only offered during Spring semesters, and I needed to get it done ASAP according to my plan of finishing within 2 years. So it didn't fit into my schedule. Therefore, go online to see what's available, what will fit your schedule.

Before you get excited and add them to your shopping cart, or whatever your school calls it, check RateMyProfessors ahead of time. This will help you determine who is a good teacher, and who is a shitty one. 

Then write the class name down, the section number, with their special code. Each class will have a unique code for them that’s like a 4-6 digit number. Make sure you are writing it down somewhere you will see it, remember it, and not lose it. Or if you already can, add it to your shopping cart. That way when enrollment starts to open up, you already have them in your shopping cart or you can add them to prior to your enrollment date before it’s your turn to actually click enroll. 

Which leads me to my next tip!

11. Do not wait to add classes!

Get on prior to midnight of your opening, have all the classes you want saved in your shopping cart, or whatever it’s called, that way when midnight hits all you have to do is push them through! It’s nerve-wracking and stressful, but it’s so worth it when you know you’re getting the classes you want.

That means you get it with the teacher you want etc.

12. Befriend your teachers, they're humans too!

My teachers became my confidants, my mentors, and my advisors for which classes to take. They helped me find an internship, monitor my internship; they helped me with my resume. Till this day, they ask about me; we still keep in touch. 

I give them gifts after big things they’ve done for me. For example, recently two of my teachers wrote really big recommendation letters for my grad school application, and it was so huge such a big deal, and so meaningful that they took the time out of their day, for that, for me. You never know when you will need connections like that or that type of help. So I gifted one with a wine and spirits gift card, and the other a bottle of authentic Polish wine.

It’s also just fun to talk to these people. People automatically think “teacher’s pet.” I’m not saying suck up to them. I am saying converse with them, communicate with them, have an open conversation. Get to know them! You might be surprised!

When you’re a grown adult, this is being professional. The one teacher, I got along well with because we both love planners. Therefore, I would always send cool planners I found to her or I’d ask what planner she’s currently using because I’m genuinely interested. I loved my yoga teacher; I loved a lot of my IST teachers. They’re all so dope! And get this, a lot of them remember me and still ask about me. If it weren't for COVID, I was going to visit them again, but can’t really do that now. 

13. Rent your textbooks from Chegg

Last tip! Rent your textbooks.

The bookstore always upcharges you. Also, always check the internet first to see if a PDF of the book is available for free or not. 

Sometimes you may buy or rent a book before the class starts, and find out you don’t need it. Chegg saves your ass by giving you 30 days to return the book with free shipping, in any box, for a full refund. 

If you already bought a textbook(s), you can try selling it to Chegg for a fraction of the price. You’d at least get something back rather than keeping a book you don’t need. This is what I did in general with any old books I had, or textbooks my parents bought for my sisters. I was the only one who knew how to rent textbooks or find free PDF versions, and I saved a lot of money.

Always go for whatever is cheapest, eBook or physical textbook, it doesn’t really matter. Personally, I wanted to save money so I did what was best for my wallet, but I usually preferred an eBook because it doesn’t break my back if they’re expecting us to bring it every class.

Wrapping it up!

And that is a wrap, people! I will be coming back with another few college edition posts. This won’t be the last as I definitely have more insight into how I did what I did. These are the basics. I nailed it down to 13. Follow these and you’ll be set. You are absolutely capable of anything you put your mind to. 

Learn from me, because so many people questioned me, doubted me, and I still showed up to the finish line like BAM! 

Well, not exactly... I actually cried during my graduation, and I could not stop bawling, but you get the point. 

It was exhausting, it tested my limits, there was no one supporting me, there were very few people rooting for me, and I had to figure it all out on my own. These 13 brutal truths are coming from my back pocket, and I would not be here right now if it weren’t for all of them. I’m literally giving you the tools to get to the finish line. 

Most people literally will expect you to just figure it out on your own, like survival of the fittest. I can’t go through your journey for you, but I can give you a headstart on how to show up for yourself. 

 

Question of the Day

Which is your favorite truth out of all of these?

13 brutal truths you need to finish college in one piece

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