Confession: I got bad grades during my freshman year at a competitive state university. And I mean really bad. My parents? Oh yeah, they were going to revoke my EZ pass on the Gravy Train.
I’d always been a good student, and it seemed like I was still spending most of my time studying. What was I doing wrong?
The answer: I was wasting my time by studying in places where I couldn’t focus. Hopefully you’ll learn from my mistakes—and avoid these common study locales like the plague.
Coffee shops and deep thinking seem to go together. There are the obvious attractions—caffeine and free WiFi. And did I mention the scones? The moist ones, with vanilla beans and blueberries, and a drizzle of sugary frosting on top? Yeah, those.
Then there’s the ambience. Is there any better way to read than seated in a plush, oversized armchair next to a stone fireplace? It’s like some renowned university library, only with espresso. Right?
Wrong. Every time I try to study in a coffee shop, it’s a disaster. There are too many distractions—yuppies haggling over the correct amount of steam milk in a café mocha, and neglected children screaming and throwing toys at each other while their parents relax.
Then there’s the music. If you overstay your welcome, you can bet you’ll be subjected to the best mellow rock of 1983, on repeat, for hours. It’s like pest control, only for people.
It’s a beautiful September afternoon. Blue sky and not a cloud to be seen. You go out to the quad with your books and a blanket to spread out on the ground. It looks just like the brochures the school sent to your house with the application materials.
Look, there are some cute guys throwing a football around! Wow, they’re looking at you looking at them. Maybe you could get a date out of this? That guy with the Adidas shirt is hot.
Oh, how sweet, someone brought a dog! It reminds you of old Rex back home. God you miss that dog! Wait a minute. Uh oh. Someone better clean up that mess.
Did you really think classwork could compete with this scene? If you’re anything like me, you should lock yourself away in a carrel in the library and try to forget about how much fun you could be having.
I’m always late—late to class, late to work-study (but never late for a party). So I used to play catch-up on bus rides. But as a passenger, you have to be attuned to a complex set of social dynamics. You have to remember to clutch your smartphone (while pretending to be cavalier); listen to music (without playing it too loud); and protect purses and backpacks (without looking vulnerable). These emotionally exhausting pretenses take up most of the ride—there’s no time to study.
Then there’s the people-watching. I’ll give you one example—a completely true story. I was sitting on the bus, on my way back to my dorm from the grocery store. Sitting there, minding my own business, and—you guessed it—trying to cram in some Willa Cather for my American Lit class. Then an approximately six foot three, four hundred pound woman boarded. Even if she’d been smaller, she would have been hard to miss, what with the Mohawk hairdo and the floor-length denim duster with profanities handwritten all over it in magic marker.
She immediately attacked the bus driver, and he fled. I shrunk down in my seat and hid until the police came. By the time I finally got home, I realized I’d lost Willa Cather. I never did find out what happens to My Antonia.
Moral of the story? Study in places where there aren’t going to be distractions, either good or bad, to derail your study plan. Pour some coffee in a thermos or travel mug, pack your headphones, and go to the library. There aren’t any luxurious fireplaces or decadent sweets, but it’s free, children aren’t allowed, and criminals have other places to be.
And who knows? You might meet that football player after all!
About the Author
Tara Jackson is an education and career prep enthusiast. When she’s not writing about or researching colleges and careers for www.EduTrek.com, she enjoys reading classic literature, hiking in the mountains, and traveling. @tjatedutrek