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Self-Studying: What’s the Benefit and How to Do It

High school student making her own ranked list of colleges.

With an increasing number of new technologies and an expanding global population, self-studying is on the rise. Education is no longer confined to just the classroom, and some would argue that the classroom model is outdated and does not meet the intellectual needs of individuals in such an interconnected society. 

Being an autodidact, or self-teacher, has become increasingly feasible due to MOOCs (massive open online courses), Internet encyclopedias, and more colleges and universities offering courses online. Learning a new language or obtaining a certificate for career advancement can occur from the comfort of your home, on your own time, and at your own pace. At low costs, these methods of education are encroaching upon traditional educational institutions. 

Self-Studying for College Admissions 

For high school students, self-studying can help improve transcripts. In the context of Advanced Placement exams, self-learning gives students whose high schools do not offer certain AP courses the opportunity to still take AP exams. While it is hard work, independently studying for and taking AP exams can allow students to receive college credit before college even begins. Additionally, high school students benefit from self-studying habits to prepare for a more independent learning environment in college. 

Self-studying for AP exams and taking courses online can help a student’s chances of college admission. Admissions officers like to see students take initiative and go beyond their high school curriculum by exploring academic interests on their own. If a student takes an AP exam that isn’t offered at their high school and scores a 4 or a 5, that will show how the student has gone above and beyond to learn that subject in depth. For example, if a student is interested in engineering, but their school does not offer AP Physics, they can study for and take the AP exam on their own to showcase this specific interest and dedication to colleges.  

Online classes, like those offered through edX and other MOOCs, can be added to resumes, and studying for subjects independently can be written about in application essays about how academic interests developed. Self-studying is an excellent way to highlight personal drive and intellectual curiosity when applying to schools. 

Self-Studying Complements Classroom Learning 

In higher education, some argue that it is especially important for students to be assigned projects and material suitable for self-learning, so that they may exercise and develop intellectual independence and explore subject matter they personally find interesting. Self-study and traditional classroom learning complement one another. When used together, they help students learn and retain information better; however, the world is becoming more accustomed to the benefits of solely self-learning. 

The Internet is an optimal resource for aspiring autodidacts. With more sites geared specifically towards learning anytime and anywhere, individuals all over the world have access to a cost-efficient and customizable education. Udacity, edX, Coursera, and Academic Earth are just a few of the low-cost or free education providers available through the web. Classes covering physics, law, business, engineering, politics, history, and more are available, and many contain lectures, quizzes, and tests that students complete at their own pace.  

While it is unlikely that the classroom as an educational forum will ever be entirely replaced — as the benefits of a physical space for collaboration with intellectual and social growth is undeniable — self-learning will likely become increasingly integrated into traditional educational institutions. Students of all ages may find exploring a subject matter of interest or learning a new skill on their own time, and at a low cost, to be highly rewarding. After all, a sense of freedom and self-determination can come with being your own teacher, as it is believed that if people begin with learning what they really want to, then that thirst for knowledge will spread to other subjects. 

Self-learning does take a lot of discipline and can be difficult at first, but like any endeavor, with time it becomes easier. Self-study, when done correctly, is a very effective learning tool, so it can be helpful when used to prepare for a test or learn an entirely new subject matter on your own.  

10 Self-Study Tips to Make Your Learning More Productive  

  • Set a realistic goal. Setting work goals for yourself, ones that realistically fit in with your life and other commitments, is important when creating self-study habits. You can set yourself up for success by assigning only a certain number of chapters to read each night, adjusting your workload according to how hectic your schedule is in any given week, and giving yourself a mental break each week to let your mind rest. 
  • Study in a way that works for you. There are many ways to learn, and it is important to adjust studying techniques to find what works for your brain. Some students find reading aloud helpful, others like taking handwritten notes rather than typing. Discover whatever works best for you and stick with it. 
  • Review material the same day you learn it. After taking notes in an online course, or reading the next chapter in your textbook, review all the new material by typing up your notes, practicing your new skill, or reading over a chapter again to help it resonate. While this may seem tedious, it only takes a short amount of time. Reviewing can help with long-term absorption of material, so it decreases the need of cramming in the future. 
  • Study in short, frequent sessions. Instead of treating your study session like a marathon, break up your material by topic into a series of short sessions, separated by short breaks. That way, you won’t be staring at your books or computer for too long while wearing on your focus, and your brain can absorb the material more easily. While cramming may seem like a great way to cover a lot of material in a condensed amount of time, studying in short, frequent sessions is a more effective way to learn subject matter and self-study. 
  • Test yourself regularly. Testing yourself helps you understand what you’ve learned and what areas still need work. You can use an online resource like Quizlet to help you convert your notes into flashcards and generate essay questions. This will help you better prepare for quizzes and tests you may need to take as part of the course.   
  • Explore additional resources. You can find a variety of additional resources that can enhance your understanding of the subject you’re studying. Look for videos, podcasts, books, and articles that can help you dive deeper into the subject. If the course you’re taking recommends resources for further study, check those out, too. 
  • Be consistent. Self-studying requires discipline, so it can be helpful to stick to a schedule. Designate a study time — preferably the same time each day — and commit to it. Add a reminder to your phone, so you’re prompted to study at the designated time. Before too long, it will develop into a habit.  
  • Create a personalized study space. When learning remotely, it is important to create a study space for yourself. By setting aside a desk or table that is a designated environment for self-studying or completing an online course, you will know to be mentally prepared to learn when you enter that space. 
  • Stay organized: Keep your study materials organized. Create a system for notes, assignments, and resources. This will make it easier to review and locate information when needed.
  • Reflect and adjust: Regularly assess your study methods and adjust them as needed. If something is not working, be open to trying new approaches. Reflect on your progress and make changes to optimize your learning experience.

Self-studying is a useful tool to enhance any learning experience, and when mastered, students young and old reap the benefits. Whether applied to studying for an AP exam or exploring new material independently due to sheer curiosity, self-studying can lead to new opportunities academically and professionally. Remember to utilize the world around you! Technology has put knowledge at your fingertips, so take advantage of all the easily accessible and low-cost tools at your disposal. 

Can’t decide which self-study courses are best for you? IvyWise counselors are experts at helping high school students find relevant ways to enhance their learning outside of the classroom. Schedule an Initial Consultation to learn how we can help you with college prep.   

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