Study Skills

for First-Year College Students

Tech Tools


Setting up a professional email address. A professional email address is crucial to communication in college. Your university will assign you an email address under their domain, but it is important to have a separate one for yourself as well. Nowadays, a Gmail account is your best bet, but a Yahoo, AOL, or Hotmail account will work just fine. Choose a professional email address that clearly displays your name with either your full name or initials, like,,

Email etiquette. Writing a clear, professional email lets professors, colleagues, and school officials know that you are a serious student. Go through each of these steps when writing an email:

  1. Write a short and informative subject line.

  2. Open emails the same way you would a letter, with “Dear ___,”. If you do not know to whom the email is going, open it with “To Whom It May Concern,”.

  3. Introduce yourself, and give the reason why you are sending the email. Keep your sentences clean and concise, and use proper grammar and punctuation.

  4. If you are waiting for a response from the recipient, you can finish the email with “Please get back to me as soon as possible/when you have the time. Thank you!”.

  5. Always close the email with “Sincerely, Your Name.”

Here is an in-depth video on how to write a proper email.

Transferring email accounts. Transferring email accounts can seem like a difficult and tedious process, and it is different for every email system. Fortunately, many email companies have online tips and tools to help you out.

Utilizing these services makes it simple to change email addresses without losing out on all of your important contacts or messages. It is also worthwhile to send notice to important contacts when you ultimately make the switch to your school email address.

Using labels, categories, and priority inboxes. These tools are a useful way to organize email by importance and subject. Priority inbox is helpful to assign to email addresses that you view as the most important; often this will be used for employers or professors. Labels and categories can help you streamline your email to make finding what you need more efficient. These tools can be used to sort incoming emails by their topic or purpose. For example, you can group all emails relating to a certain class together, or all emails from a certain organization in the same place.

CC and BCC. These are two important email features that ought to be used by students everywhere. CC, or Carbon Copy, sends a copy of the conversation to a specified recipient each time an email is sent back or forth between the people in the email conversation. BCC, or Blind Carbon Copy, is the same as CC except the address of the recipients specified in this field do not appear in the received message header and the recipients in the To or CC fields will not know that a copy was sent to those address.

Utilizing Listserv. Listserv is a tool that sends one email to every given recipient on a list. This is an important tool to understand because almost every club, group or organization on your campus to which you belong will utilize listserv. Listserv can be incredibly useful for anything ranging from surveys to coordinating events.        
Email Security. Many email companies will ask for a two-step verification. These are important to complete because it means your emails will be backed up in case your passwords are stolen. It may ask you to link your account to another account or your mobile number.

Digital Calendar

Online Calendar. Google Calendar and other online calendar resources can help you manage your time greatly. You can use them to set one-time or recurring events, to set the time frame of these events, and to send a notification to your phone or email minutes, hours, or days before the event occurs.

Syncing calendars across all devices. Google Sync can sync up to 25 calendars across all your devices with the Google Calendar app on an iOS (Apple) device. To do so, follow these steps:

  1. Open either Chrome or Safari on your chosen iOS device and open

  2. Select “Sync”.

  3. Sign in with your account and select your device from the list of devices you’ve set up at Google Sync.

  4. Select the calendars you want to sync and press save.

Taking Notes On Your Laptop

Microsoft Word and other options. Microsoft Word is the most popular word processor for both Mac and PC users. Word has a handy feature that allows you to set up your notes “notebook style” (see below). Notebook view allows you to sort your notes into different tabs, and makes it easy to create outlines and bullets.

Another option is to write your notes online in Google Docs. Google Docs is a nice alternative because the documents automatically save as you type, and you can share them with other Google users.

Another option is to write your notes online in Google Docs. Google Docs is a nice alternative because the documents automatically save as you type, and you can share them with other Google users.

Remember, taking notes on your laptop can be a great study tool, but many students (even the most tech-savvy) still prefer to take notes by hand. There is no "best" way of taking notes; do what works best for you.

Group Projects

Online “hangouts” for brainstorming. Every group project starts with an idea. The best way to share your ideas with group members in real time is an online hangout. Both Skype and Google Hangout are perfect for this. 

Organizing meeting times. Websites like and are super useful for seeing when your group members are available to work.

Screen-sharing and document collaboration in the cloud. Utilizing the cloud and screensharing make group projects more easily accomplished. Both parties are able to see the other’s screen, which makes sharing notes, creating Powerpoints, studying and writing essays almost effortless.                                                                                                                                                                              
Tracking changes and adding comments. Microsoft Word and other word processors allow users to “track changes” in a document, showing what has been added and what has been deleted. To track changes in Word, click the Track Changes image in the Tracking group under the Review tab. Google Docs has tracking changes as well, but it is called “Suggesting.” You will find Suggesting on the upper right hand corner, in the drop down menu where the first option is Editing.  

Online Studying Resources

Videos. The internet has plenty of review material online, and some of your best resources will be YouTube channels and Khan Academy. Khan Academy is an organization that provides topic review videos in nearly every math topic through Calculus, the basics in economics and science, and more. There are also many YouTube channels that provide great videos for multiple subjects. These include:

This website will bring you to a list of 197 online educational video resources besides the ones listed above.                                                    
Making flashcards and timelines. Just like your regular notes, you can take your flashcards and timelines from paper to the virtual world. is a great resource for making your own flashcards and finding pre-made sets, and can help you make clear visual timelines to study historical events.

Social Media

Online avatar: Take a professional picture. Your email, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media accounts will often ask for a “profile picture” so you can show those looking at your page who you are. The most professional profile pictures are taken indoors with ample lighting. It should be a picture of you from the waist up in respectable attire against a solid color background.

What is LinkedIn? LinkedIn is a social media site which is designed to establish business connections and allow employers to easily see your previous work history. It is important that your profile is highly professional, as the sole purpose of this site is networking.

How to maximize privacy on social media sites. Websites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram should be made private only to those whom you accept.                                                                                                                                                                                     
What do people see when they Google me? It is almost a guarantee that future employers will Google you when you apply for a job. This can either be beneficial or harmful, and it's important to be aware of your Google presence.

Backing Up Your Work

Dropbox. Dropbox is an online tool that downloads to your hard drive. It acts as a folder to which you can save documents and projects to, and anything you save to it is also accessible on the Dropbox website in case your hard drive crashes.                                                             
Flash drives. Flash drives, also known as junk drives or USB drives, are small external hard drives to which you can save your work and eject from your computer when needed. It is important to save your work to a flash drive in case anything goes wrong with your computer; this way, all your documents will be safe. When using a flash drive, make sure to save documents to the flash drive’s folder and always check that all documents are closed before you remove it from your computer.

Managing Online Assignments

Plagiarism and using Turnitin. Turnitin is a website that teachers and professors use to check for plagiarism. Turnitin cross-references all relevant online sources and other submissions on its site for plagiarism, and it is very accurate. It also creates a deadline to submit the assignment, so that all students that submit work late are locked out. Plagiarizing essays is a one-way ticket to failing, so make sure to always cite your sources if you use material that is not your own.

Webassign, Google Classroom, and Blackboard. These three websites are all used by professors to post assignments, syllabi, and messages.

  1. Webassign is often used for physics and math work. Students enter their answers and the site automatically grades it based on the answer the teacher has input on the other end.

  2. Google Classroom, accessible through a Google account, is used by teachers to post messages and assignments. Similar to Turnitin, it allows professors to create a closing date and time, so that students who try to submit work late are locked out. 

  3. Blackboard is a tool that allows faculty to add resources for students to access online. Powerpoint, video, audio, animation, and other applications are created outside of Blackboard and added into Blackboard courses for students to enhance teaching and learning efforts.

Offline Study Skills

Taking Notes On Paper

Using binders. The best way to organize your notes in college is to have a different binder for each class. Binders with three rings on the inside allow you to put your notes inside. Each binder should have dividers (so you can sort your notes within the binder), a folder for loose papers, lots of extra loose leaf, and graph paper (for math-related classes). Here are different ways to sort notes within your binder:

  1. Sort by topic. For each topic, a new divider.

  2. Sort chronologically. For each month, a new divider.

  3. Sort in reverse chronologically. Same as sorting chronologically, except backwards.

  4. Sort by nature of document. Notes can go in one section, tests in another, essays in another, and so on.

Save your notes. Once your binder has become full with notes or the course is over, you’re going to want to move your notes to another location. Accordion folders are perfect for storing old notes, and many of them have up to 30 tabs for filing your documents.                           
Different ways to take notes. Everyone takes notes differently. Some prefer to write in full paragraphs, while others use bullets and outlines. Some annotate the textbook while others write down just the main points. In a lecture-style scenario, the Cornell Method is one of the best ways to take notes (see below).

Citing Your Sources

MLA vs. APA format. MLA and APA are two different formats used to cite one’s sources in an essay. MLA is more often used with English and history papers, while APA is more appropriate for citing scientific journals. Here is a chart showing the similarities and differences between the two:

Additionally, there are plenty of websites that will help you with citing your sources. has all the rules for proper citation written down, and websites like KnightCite and EasyBib let you plug in the information and generate the correct citation. Your university may also have a writing center that can help you with any and all questions you have about citations and essay-writing.


Finding a study environment. Having the perfect study environment is key to maximizing productivity, and everyone’s ideal study environment is different. Here are some tips for creating your own best place to study.

  • Your dorm room. You may find that your dorm room is the best place for you to study. Maybe you enjoy having your roommate around to chat with while studying--total silence is not everyone’s cup of tea. Studying in your dorm room may be right for you if you need to have all your materials in one place and would prefer to have access to the comforts of your dorm (bed, a large desk, fan) with you as you study.

  • The Library. The school library is full of fantastic resources to help you get ahead, including tons of books, online databases, printers, and shared study spaces. Usually colleges will have different floors for different noise levels of study--some even have a “no talking” floor, for those who need 100% silence while studying.

  • A local cafe, restaurant, coffee shop....Some people prefer to study in a dynamic environment. For many, studying with a latte in hand at a corner table in a big coffee shop helps them focus far better than a quiet library.

Whichever location you choose, make sure to study often and don’t freak out about finding the perfect seat. You’re there to study!

Reducing distraction. You want to buckle down and write that paper, but it’s so hard to focus! These tips will help you reduce distractions:

  • Turn off your phone! Candy Crush Saga can wait. Shut your phone down and put it in your bag or a desk drawer nearby. If you’re worried about missing an important call, apps like Forest or Focus Lock allow you to keep your phone on while preventing you from opening other apps.

  • Alternatively, you could put your phone on Airplane Mode. This allows you to use your phone for basic features like music and calculator, but shuts down wifi, messaging, phone calls, and other features that require cell service.

  • Don’t get sucked into procrastinating. Keep in mind that right now, studying is the most important thing you need to do. Your room might be messy, but taking time to clean it all up is taking time away from that research paper. Have your priorities straight, and you’ll be done sooner than you know it.

  • Close down Facebook. Social media can take up more time than we expect. Computer applications like Self-Control ban time-wasting websites like Facebook or Instagram for a specified period of time, which makes it impossible for you to have internet distractions.

Time management. In college you will have more free time than ever before, even if you’re taking five classes, and participating in clubs, and have plans every weekend. So how do you get work done in between?

  • If you have a lot of time, do the hard stuff first. That problem set may seem looming, but if you have four hours ahead of free time ahead of you then all you have between you and finishing that problem set is yourself. Doing the hard work first also means that you’re not wasting any energy on the easy stuff.

  • If you don’t have a lot of time, get done what you can. Even if you only have twenty minutes, fit whatever you can into that time period. Don’t wait until later to write that email to your professor, finish reading that chapter, or completing those last five math questions.

Studying Resources at Your College

Tutoring. More likely than not, a tutoring club at your university is available to help incoming freshmen like you with their studies. Many tutors supported through the university can even tutor you for free. A huge bonus is that these students often took the courses you are taking now, so the material is fresh in their minds.                                                                                                                                       
Office Hours. One of the most valuable resources you may find in college are office hours. Your professors will most likely hold office hours a few times a week, where you can work one-on-one with them or in a small group. For larger classes, the Teacher’s Assistants (TA’s) hold office hours, which is just as good (or even better) as an office hour with the professor. Especially for humanities classes, it can be very helpful to have the professor or TA of the class review an outline or thesis statement before you dive into writing the paper. What this means, of course, is that you have to plan ahead and not start the paper the night before the deadline!

Buying Textbooks and Other Materials Secondhand

Chegg, Amazon, and Ebay. Textbooks are super expensive, and the worst part is you may only need to use it a few times per semester. So what do you do with it when you’re done? Many people will put their textbooks for sale on websites like Chegg (created solely for that purpose), Amazon, or Ebay. You can buy your textbooks at a discount price, or rent them so that they don’t collect dust later on.

Your College’s Bookstore. All colleges have bookstores, and all college bookstores have a “Used Books” section. When you arrive on campus, go to the bookstore and look through these Used Books to see if you can find the one you need for your course--you will probably be able to get it at a discounted price.