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As a freshman in the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Corps of Cadets (otherwise known as a fish), you may be wondering, “what have I gotten myself into?” especially if your major is engineering. Being in a Navy/Marine Corps outfit as both a fish and an upperclassman, I know that being an engineer in the Corps is challenging. Thus, here are some tips I used for engineering academic success as a cadet.
1. Visualize Your Time
Online calendars are amazing. Filling out my calendar with classes, office hours and tutoring sessions was critical to find underutilized time. These openings were often early: right after morning training. Once found, I designated those periods to study a specific subject. Although I did not want to study after a grueling calisthenics session, you need every free hour you can get.
2. Aggressively Get Help
If you are struggling, be assertive about getting help. TutorHub, Texas A&M’s free peer tutoring service, was a lifesaver for my fish year, especially with ENG 102. They have free tutors in every freshman engineering class, and they are great for homework help. Also utilize office hours, Corps-specific OR Simpson tutoring, and Buzbee LLC’s test bank. I cannot emphasize doing multiple (3-4) practice tests for your STEM courses enough.
3. Cut the Fluff
Do not spend time on academic fluff. You simply don’t have the time. This can often happen with online learning platforms. Although practice problems are beneficial, many times the online assignments can be excessively long. My advice: Cut out the unnecessary work and do more important things (including sleeping). Sacrificing an insignificant percent of your grade to get an extra hour of sleep is worth it.
4. Track Productivity
Tracking study hours also helped me. PCQ (personal call to quarters) is an academic study log where you track your personal study hours each week. Some cadets like them; others hate them. I found PCQs helpful since I could evaluate how much I truly studied compared to what I thought I was doing. The log can also motivate you to reach weekly study goals.
5. Strategize Re-bags
For my second semester as a fish, I had an 8 a.m. class (PHYS 206) every day except Thursday. That eliminated my opportunities to re-bag (take a nap). This forced me to quickly shower, put my uniform on and begin to be productive, leading to a more effective use of my mornings. This is not to say that re-bagging is bad — sometimes it is essential — but being strategic with re-bags is crucial.
6. Learn When to Q-drop
Sometimes you still fail; welcome to being a fish. This was the case with MATH 152 for me. Outside the exhaustion and stress from the Corps, it was a hard class, and I had a difficult professor. I got a 70% on my first exam and a 47% on the second. Oof! Q-drops are there to be used sparingly, and — of all times — freshman year is a good place to use one. Although the Q-drop set me back with the Entry-to-a-Major process, it saved my GPA. I came back next semester and aced the class.
7. Fight the Good Fight
Although you should never undermine the severity of the current situation, you determine how you respond to it. Academically, my final hurdle was CHEM 107. I needed a 92% on the final to get a B in the class. Luckily, my chemistry final was the last one of finals week. I dedicated my time to studying, and I made the grade. Although things may seem insurmountable, it’s never over until it’s truly over. I fought hard and ended with a 3.77 GPA as a freshman cadet.
Fish year is challenging in many ways, but that’s what makes overcoming it so rewarding. It is something not everyone is able to do. Arduous military training will teach you invaluable lessons other Aggies will (sadly) not learn. Many of these insights have been more valuable than my academic knowledge. If you are in a tough spot right now as a fish, stay motivated. You can do well.
Just remember, hardly anything worthwhile is easy.