Foundation for a college education being learned in an old school building.

How to build a foundation for a college education that really works

College is worth it on several levels, so it definitely helps to prepare. You’ve already taken your requisite courses and achieved the grade point average you need for an acceptance, but you need a different set of tools to succeed once you get there. Follow this outline to build a solid foundation for a college education, including time management strategies to get all of your work done quickly.


Use scientific memory techniques for studying

It sounds silly and even condescending, but most of us go through primary school and high school without actually understanding how we learn most effectively.

The research shows that most students simply don’t study effectively, but that’s just because they don’t take advantage of these different study techniques and methods, all of which are backed by research.

So how do you prepare to learn better for college courses? Follow 

  1. Take notes by hand. Writing things down by hand reinforces ideas in your brain, but typing them doesn’t, even if the searchability function is nice to have. Type them up later if needed.
  2. Take practice tests. Practicing test questions forces you to engage in active learning because your brain creates connections between concepts. Information becomes a means to an end instead of just random facts to be memorized.
  3. Review notes every few days. This is called “distributed practice,” and it works by waiting a day or more in between practicing or studying something. Do this and you won’t need to cram for exams.
  4. Explain the concept to others. The more you do explain, the better you get at it, boiling down concepts to their essential components using simple language. It’s called the Feynman technique, and it’s a powerful learning technique.
  5. Keep asking why. As an extension of the Feynman technique, you can keep asking why every time you explain a concept or one of its components. This forces you to verbalize the connections between multiple related concepts forwards and backwards.

These learning techniques are backed by science, so they’re pretty reliable. They’ll also serve you well in high school if you’re still looking to get the grades needed for an acceptance. You have more to gain by trying them out sooner than later!


4 scientifically backed study techniques that work in college, including taking notes by hand, practice testing, distributed practice, and the Feynman technique.


Time management underpins every foundation for a college education

Why is time management important in college? Sticking to your schedule is one of easiest and effective ways to stay on top of your workload. Even if you can’t finish everything in a given session, you’ll be involved enough with every reading and assignment to know the gist of it for quizzes and class discussions.

And that, dear friends, is half the battle.

Here’s the thing: most classes only consume 3 hours per week. If you’re taking 5 courses per semester, then you’re spending 15 hours per week in class, not counting transportation to and from campus. When you subtract 15 hours from a 40-hour work week, you’re still left with 25 hours per week to dedicate to reading, studying, and assignments.

Even if some of that time goes toward part-time work to pay the bills, you should still be able to scrounge together another 15 hours per week. That’s not an accusation about Gen Z or Millennials being lazy—it’s just the baseline time investment to make the most of the time and money you spend to attend college in the first place. Part of building a foundation for a college education is becoming more ruthless with your time management skills, plain and simple.

There are some time management statistics about college students how it correlates to success. Research shows that just the perception of being in control of your schedule accounts for 14% of the variability determining your grade point average. That’s significant when 0.2% of your grade average could make or break a scholarship qualification.

If your college didn’t provide one already, create a visualized weekly schedule so that you can visualize it all. I just made a simple version in Excel.

When I looked at the large spans of time I’d been wasting between classes (in my third year), I realized that I could cut down my evening workload by a truckload if I avoided hanging out with friends in the popular section of the library. My productivity shot through the roof when I buckled down for quiet reading and studying elsewhere in the library.

4 time management strategies for college, including using visualized schedules, reserving consistent study time, finding quiet library spots to avoid socializing, and taking strategic breaks to avoid burnout.

I didn’t have this figured out until late in my third year. My first 2.5 years could have gone a lot smoother if I’d thought of it earlier. Breaks are important too, but use them strategically:

  • After a long 3-hour lecture.
  • In time slots between classes that are too short to focus on something.
  • After intense reading or studying.

Your mind still needs breaks, but it’s all too easy to get into the habit of just chatting with friends at the library.

Take advantage of downtime between classes. Stick to your schedule. Come out ahead.


Create a basic budget

Budgets are underrated (but super important) elements of a foundation for a college education. No one’s around to keep an eye on your spending habits, so it pays to be smart about your money, literally.

Plan how much money you’re going to have for the year and break into chunks by:

  • Semester
  • Month
  • Week

This gives you an idea of how much money you can spend in each time frame. Sometimes big purchases eat into weekly or monthly budgets, and that’s where having budgets for longer time frames can show you how to adapt by spending less in the following week or month.

Most common college expenses and their amounts. Includes tuition, books, rent (or residence fees), transportation, activity fees, and groceries.

Just create each version of your budget with columns for “income” and “expenses,” labeling each expense as it goes down the list. It’s easy to know how much you can spend on coffee or a few drinks when all of your recurring expenses are set. 

Yes, basic stuff takes up most of your budget. It’s going to be like that for several years after college, too. Live within your means and you’ll be golden.


Utilize the full extent of college resources

College can be overwhelming. It’s kind of supposed to feel that way when you never miss a class, do all the readings, and study diligently in the library.

That’s why there are resources to help you, and they include:

  • Academic counselling
  • Career counselling
  • Writing tutors
  • Professors’ office hours
  • Health center

Health services is probably the most overlooked service of them all. Depending on your school, you might even have access to medical services paid for by activity fees.

The 4 most underutilized college resources, including writing assistance, career counselling, healthcare services, and office hours.

The kicker is that hardly any students use them. I didn’t when I was in college—keeping up with every reading, assignment, and exam had me too busy to think about “all that extra stuff.” And it was my loss. I could have had a lot more guidance and structure to alleviate my stress at the time.


Preparing for a college education isn’t just about grades and extracurriculars—it’s about knowing yourself and your resources to get as much done with the time and energy at your disposal.

Andrew Webb

Andrew Webb

Andrew Webb is on a mission to show liberal arts graduates how to land jobs and build careers. He turned a history degree into a fulfilling career in digital marketing and UX, then founded Employed Historian to show others how to do it for themselves, too.

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