Dear 100 Hour Board,
I'm in a major that uses a lot of math. I've heard a few comments in classes and study groups lately that have gotten me thinking about study skills, and I've come to realize the competition among students seems pretty intense. Examples would be students saying things like, "I almost never actually refer to the textbook," or "I don't like going for TA help unless absolutely necessary, so like once a semester."
In contrast, I spent most of last semester in what felt like a state of constant overwhelm and stress, admidst many a late-night study session, and many office-hours conferences with professors and TAs, and feeling like I never look up from my books and take a break. So far, it's looking like this semester is going to be more of the same. So, how do I figure out whether I'm just not cut out for my major, or if it's just a matter of buckling down with some better study habits?
Now, this is a story all about how
My life got flipped turned upside down
And I liked to take a minute
Just sit right there
I'll tell you how I became a genealogy major.
At first, I was a pre-business major. Now to be fair, I never had someone sit down with me and talk about what classes I needed to take since I was a transfer student from BYUI. I was dating Carl at the time and I needed to take Finance, Accounting, and Economics before applying by a certain time. Stupid me decided to take all of these all at the same time while PLANNING MY WEDDING. I didn't want to wait an entire year since technically I was already a sophomore or junior(?) with how many credits I already had. Long story short, I was not doing well in any of those classes. I wasn't watching Netflix, I was studying really hard, but I just wasn't getting it. I wasn't happy and I was wondering if becoming a wedding planner was right for me (which I had dreamed of since I was like 12.)
I talked to Brother Brau and cried to him in his office and he thought what was best for me was to drop some classes since I was already eliminating all other distractions. He said something to me that kind of stuck with me. He told me that there are a lot of BYU students out there who are just naturally smart. Things come to them really easily and they don't have to struggle. But just because I wasn't one of those students doesn't mean that I wasn't cut out for the program. It just meant that I had to work harder and spend more time on my assignments. (Honestly, I never thought I was cut out for BYU, I almost didn't graduate high school.) Additionally, we have all of the high schoolers who got straight As, and now they're not at the top of the class or considered special. It's pretty cutthroat at BYU trying to be at the top of the class. So in the end, I decided that I would never pass those classes, and becoming a wedding planner was too overwhelming to me after I thought about all of the details.
I thought about majoring in Family Life and becoming a social worker. I was called to be the Family History Sunday School teacher with Carl so I took the Introduction to Family History class alongside my family life classes. I learned in my Intro to Family Life that I would need a master's degree to become a social worker, and I was already DONE with school and didn't want that. I tried to figure out what kind of career I could have with this degree. But by the end of two semesters taking family history and family life classes together, I realized NONE of the jobs I could do with this degree sounded interesting to me. I ended up spending so much more time on family history classes and enjoyed them so much more.
When I finally got to my harder family history classes, I struggled. Advanced family history isn't for the faint of heart, and I needed a lot of perseverance to continue even though I was coming up empty-handed. I talked to my TAs and professors a lot when I had questions or if I hit a brick wall. The nice thing about my major is that it's pretty small. I think only a dozen or so students graduated with me (if that). It was commonplace to visit with our professors in their office and to get one on one help from them about our individual projects. When I was a TA I also saw that the students that really cared about their grades and wanted to do well came to talk to me. I wouldn't focus so much on your peers but focus on how you're doing.
So, in the end, the question I have for you is the one I had for myself. Do you see yourself being genuinely happy with the future career you'll have with your degree? If so, I think that's one of the most important things out of them all.
It's okay to have to work to be good at something! Intelligence and ability are things we can cultivate. I majored in Applied Math (ACME) at BYU, and something the professors really emphasized was that being able to succeed wasn't about how smart we were; it was about how hard we would work. Personally, I had to put in a lot of extra work into learning how to code. I can't say for sure, but I'm pretty certain I was the absolute worst person at coding out of my entire cohort when we first started the ACME core. But after working my butt off to get better at it, I got to be pretty decent at it. I'm not a software engineer (I would have needed to take more CS classes for that), but I can easily and competently do all the coding that's required for data science at a real job (which is what I was aiming for).
Everyone has a point for every subject where they need to put in more effort and time. Reaching that point doesn't mean you should just give up. It means you should evaluate whether the work required is worth the expected benefits. Maybe getting a degree in the major you're currently in isn't worth all the studying and effort you're having to pour into it. But whether it is worth it or not is NOT dependent on the amount of work another person is devoting. It doesn't matter if you have to work harder than your peers.
Finally, I want to point out that hearing other people say they don't take advantage of their given resources is not an indicator they're doing better than people who do take advantage of those resources. I worked as an Econ TA for a couple of semesters, and it was generally the best students who came to me the most often. On the flip side as a student I often would go to TAs, professors, grad students, and read my textbooks religiously. And considering I got multiple awards for academic achievement in math, got academic scholarships for every year of my undergrad, was on the Dean's list, and ended up being selected to speak at my graduation, I think it's pretty safe to say I was a good student and good at my major. Despite having to rely heavily on resources like TAs and professors.
Whatever you decide, I wish you the best of luck.
Do you enjoy it? Are you getting good grades? If you weren't comparing yourself to the other students, would you feel like you are cut out for your major?
I'd also echo the advice of talking to your professors. Not only will they want to help you, they've seen hundreds of students and they can help you understand how much time and effort their classes should be requiring on average. Not only that, but they might have tips and tricks to help save some of your time and effort. Also, trust your gut instinct.
Anyway, I'm a believer that just because it's harder for you than it is for others, doesn't mean you aren't cut out for it. I think it means you are going to keep doing well throughout the major and some of the other kids will lose motivation when classes get harder.
-Sunday Night Banter
I would highly suggest talking to your professors about this. I know there are some professors who don't seem to care about their students, but many will be happy to help you and figure out what will be best for you. You can also talk to your major advisor or the department advisors. I've had a lot of good luck when I talked with my professors and other advisors.
Best of luck!
I don't know what you're studying, but in my major (Mechanical Engineering) we all desperately rely on TA hours and working with other students. I have never scored higher than a B in an engineering class without getting help from others. Everyone I knew who got A's spent a lot of time in the TA labs, and everyone I know that didn't go to the TA's ended up with B's and C's. So I would argue that the single most important study skill is asking for help and helping others. Sometimes I feel incompetent because I always need TA help, but I bet you that 80-90% of people in any major need at least some help from TAs once they hit the 200-300 level courses.