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The Greyhound

The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

The Greyhound

Crash Course in Cartography: How to Map Our Your Time at Loyola

Travel Trip Map Direction Exploration Planning Concept

To all the slacker students: yes I’m talking to you. I’d like you to walk with me through an extended metaphor—one that will show you how to get out of whatever rut you’re in and back on track.

Imagine you’re at a high stakes poker game. Effort and work ethic aren’t some intangible, elusive commodity: they’re casino chips with a real, concrete value. The more hands you’re going to play, the more you plan on bringing with you.

So what’s the point of this analogy? What the hell does college and work ethic have to do with poker?

To put it simply, Loyola is a casino. It’s a place where, if you play your cards right, you can walk away with a windfall profit: an invaluable college education and a unique set of life experiences that will shape and prepare you for the rest of your adult life. However, if you play the game carelessly, you might walk away with regret.

I think this is something most people can relate to. It’s very easy to lose sight of why you’re here. Some days, you might feel like skipping class to take a three-day weekend. Maybe an essay is due and you figure the professor will let you turn it in a day late if you don’t show up. Maybe there’s a class with endless daily responses, so many that on some days you just don’t bother.

A common misconception is that a majority of students who are failing or are marginally passing their classes “just aren’t getting it.” These cases certainly exist, but they’re far less common that people assume.

According to the National Research Council, upwards of 40 percent of high school students are chronically disengaged from school, meaning students are frequently missing assignments, not studying, skipping classes, and experiencing a general apathy toward schoolwork.

While this number focuses on high school students, it is still staggering. And when it’s viewed from the perspective of a college education, far more damning.

In high school, most of us saw college as a given—the obvious next step. Our futures were still charted for us in advance. Unfortunately, there is no obvious next step after Loyola. And let’s face it, our disengaged habits and work ethic didn’t magically switch to “adult professional” mode when we graduated—we’re human after all.

What we do here is going to shape our futures for years to come, with the most obvious effect being the size of your resume. Additionally, failing to find meaning in schoolwork when you’re at college specifically to do schoolwork is a nasty recipe for depression. So the question remains: for those of us with this aptly-named “chronic disengagement,” what is the cause?

One likely explanation is accountability. There are three sources of accountability in an educational atmosphere: family, proctor, and self. In high school, those of us with overly-involved parents can recall painful nights of endless flashcards with mom, algebra help from the big bro, or essay revisions with dad. They all want what’s best for us, and they’re going to be sure we’re trying our absolute best.

Second we have the proctor, also known as the teacher or the professor. These two words, while often associated with the same people, have two vastly different implications (for the sake of simplicity, let’s assume that teacher refers to a high school instructor and professor to a college instructor). A high school education is more or less mandatory in the United States—only avoided by turning 18, dropping out, or taking the GED. In the case of high school, a teacher’s responsibility stems from you passing their class and graduating, as their job security will suffer if many students fail their courses. You’re their responsibility.

In contrast, a college professor is not directly accountable for your success. In fact, college courses more closely mimic a contractual agreement, the contract being the course syllabus. You (or your parents) are paying for you to attend the course, and a professor will provide the material and grading system in return.

I’m sure we’ve all heard the mantra of too many professors: “What you do with your time and money is up to you. If you don’t want to show up to class, feel free. Just know that your grade will suffer, etc.” This is a harsh reality, but it is reality nonetheless. Your professor will always be willing to work with you, but it is on you ask for assistance. This segues us into the final form of accountability, and that is the self.

Self-accountability is by far the most elusive and difficult form of accountability to produce. If students are used to relying on family and proctors, a sudden shift to a college atmosphere can be painfully overwhelming.

If you’re not constantly reminding yourself why you’re at college, it’s surprisingly easy to ignore schoolwork entirely. You won’t find an email from your professor asking for that essay you forgot to turn in last class. You won’t come home to your dorm each evening to find your parents sitting at the kitchen table, asking you to lay out tonight’s homework.

Instead you’ll find an open campus on the outskirts of a busy city with countless things to do (or for the more introverted, maybe you’ll find countless hours of free time you can pour into computer games). When you get back to your dorm you’ll find your friends, asking if you want to go out tonight.

To put it simply, there’s countless ways to fail when it comes to self-accountability, and there are very few ways to succeed. You could always take a workshop in time management, but ironically you’d first have to manage a time to actually attend one. Hardly a solution for the apathetic individual. So if forced, artificial workshops aren’t the solution, what is?

First let’s go back to our casino metaphor. We need to learn to stay away from our vices. It may be hard to turn down that complementary drink the cocktail waitress has been parading around, but if you’re gonna win big tonight, you’ve gotta keep a clear head. Second, you need to be willing to put up the big bucks. You can’t win big if you’re only throwing in one or two chips each hand. Lastly, play the games you’re good at. If you’re a blackjack savant and craps has always mystified you, maybe you shouldn’t be spending your whole night shooting dice.

Bringing this advice back to reality, you need to identify and minimize what has been distracting you from schoolwork in the past. There’s a time and a place to indulge, and the first step in time management is to never cross downtime with work. Second, fill up your schedule as much as possible. This may sound counter-intuitive, but if you are invested in more classes and activities, sitting around and distracting yourself with vices no longer presents itself as an option.

Finally (and this ties into the second point), only invest your time in the things you’re good at and that you care about. Seriously, if you don’t find enjoyment in your major, talk to your advisor and consider another career path. The choice will be obvious when the time comes.

Humans aren’t machines—you may be able to manage a major you despise, but you’ll be needlessly challenging yourself—constantly wasting effort just to achieve the bare minimum, forcing yourself to do an activity you actively hate. By focusing your efforts on what you find enjoyable, you’ll tap into your self-accountability even if you were previously unable to. You’ll be able to judge for yourself if you’ve put in your best effort, and soon you’ll find gratification in knowing you tried your absolute best.

Now then, you know what you need to do, but only you can make the decision for yourself. Is tonight going to be when you lose it all? Or are you going to walk out of here with millions in the bank?  Play your hand carefully, and always give your best effort. The results will speak for themselves.

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Crash Course in Cartography: How to Map Our Your Time at Loyola