How To Be Successful In College

how to be successful in collegeFor many students, going away to college is a shock to the system. For the first times in our lives, we are on our own and have complete freedom. Unfortunately, this can easily lead to disaster. Since college is such an important part in life – not just with helping you land a decent paying job, but also with learning about who you really are – it goes without saying that you need to treat college with respect. In this post, I am going to outline how to be successful in college. Use this as your manual to not only graduate, but to get the most out of college.

Your Guide For How To Be Successful In College

I can’t stress enough the importance college plays in our lives. I was a completely different person when I graduated college than I was when I started. I learned so much about myself and grew into an adult in those 4 short years. The fact that I got an degree was almost like a bonus.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen many good people fall victim to the freedom that college offers. They don’t know how to be on their own and they make some bad choices. I’ve seen friends not go to class and eventually drop out. I’ve seen the valedictorian of their high school class fail out freshman year.

If you don’t treat college with respect, you are doomed for failure. The good news is that the steps below for how to be successful in college are rather easy to follow. But they are just as easy to forget. That is why it is important that you take each one to heart. Let’s get started with the 11 tips.

How To Be Successful In College – 11 Tips

Understand You Are In Control

If you are doing poorly in class or don’t like your major, know that you are in control. You can change majors. You can seek help to start doing better in class. It is all within your control. Note that I didn’t say it will be easy. Depending on the issue, it could be very difficult to fix, but it can be done.

To take this one step further, don’t lay blame on others or something else when it lies squarely on you. During my sophomore year, I had a tough time making it to a Tuesday morning class. I blamed everyone else for this except myself. The reason I couldn’t get to class was because I stayed up late the night before watching Monday Night Football.

I chose to stay up late and had to deal with the consequences. Unfortunately that consequence was me getting a D in class because I rarely went. Remember that life is full of choices and the consequences that happen are a direct result of your choices.

Learn To Adjust Your Attention Span

I was lucky that I went to college before all this new technology came about. Because of things like Twitter, Instagram and Vine we now have the attention span of approximately 3 seconds. This is a problem when you get to college.

Most classes are an hour long, at least. In some cases a class can stretch to 2 hours. During this time, you will be sitting there, listening to your professor give a lecture. It is going to be hard to pay attention for the entire time.

Because of this, you need to make sure you can pay attention for longer periods of time. Get enough sleep and eat healthy. These two moves alone will help you greatly. From there, don’t be afraid to get up and use the restroom now and then. Note I am not saying multiple times a class or even every class, but rather once in a while. Even if you don’t have to go, getting up to stretch can help you refocus.

Connect With Your Professor

Your professor has office hours and you should make it a point to go and get to know them. Be sure you go with a purpose though. Ask questions about the assignment or the textbook. Ask about other books you should read outside of class if it is of interest to you. Just don’t waste their time trying to make small talk with them. They are just as busy as everyone else.

You might be wondering why you need to connect with your professor. It’s not just for how to be successful in college, but also in life. You never know when you are going to need a recommendation or a reference for a job. Having someone that knows you and can help you out is a great thing to have.

You might even land an internship because of your relationship. I had a friend who reached out with his professor. Senior year, the professor reached out to him to apply for an internship when the professor’s friend at a local CPA firm needed someone to help out.

Stay On Top Of Your Work

It can be so easy to put off a reading assignment or not even do the assignment if it doesn’t need to be turned in. Trust me, I know from experience. But once you start doing this, you are putting yourself on a path to failure.

While your friends might be out at the bar partying it up, make it a point to dedicate some time every night – yes, every night (OK, maybe an afternoon on the weekends) – to study. You will not regret it.

It does not make sense, or even work to cram. Your best bet is to study consistently every day. Think of studying like a plane trying to fly. It is going to have a hard time staying in the air if it does nothing for periods of time and then uses all of its energy to get off the ground, only to do nothing again shortly thereafter.

Instead, if it takes off and slowly uses its energy to stay in the air, it will be much more successful. I can’t repeat this one enough – stay on top of your work if you want to be successful in college.

Turn In All Of Your Assignments

I’ve seen many people skip handing in an assignment. Many professors will allow an assignment to be turned in late, though it will get a reduced grade. Many students see this as a reason to not even bother. They clearly don’t understand math.

Let’s say you have a mid-term, a final and a term paper due during the course of the semester. All are weighted equally. If you get an 85% on your mid-term and don’t hand in your term paper, going into the final your grade is a 43%. You are failing the class. You have to get a 100% just to eek out a 61% which is barely passing and in some math and science courses, that is still failing.

If on the other hand, you turn in that paper and get a reduced grade of a 65% on it, you have a 75% going into the final. Anything higher than that will improve your grade or guarantee you easily pass the course. Talk about a lot less stress!

I hope you see that no matter the grade you get from turning in something late, it is always better than a not turning it in at all and getting a 0%.

Use Pass/Fail To Your Advantage

Most colleges allow for students to pass/fail a course. This is done so that you don’t have to worry about a low grade hurting your overall GPA. Because of this, you need to be certain to use it to your advantage.

Take a course in something you have an interest in, but may not know much about. There is no risk to you. As long as you pass the course, you get the “pass” and credit for the course without it hurting your GPA.

Choose Your Friends Wisely

As I mentioned above, college is all about finding yourself. You will make lots of new friends. You just have to make sure you hang out with the right ones. What do I mean by this?

At the end of my freshman year, I had the chance to live with a buddy of mine that was on the baseball team and a great student or my friends that I would go out to parties and drink with. I chose the drinking buddies. Lesson learned. I almost failed out of college my sophomore year.

I was put on academic probation and really had to work hard my last 2 years. Those last 2 years I lived with my baseball friend and I did much better.

I still hung out with my drinking buddies, but I limited the time I spent with them. Sadly, by senior year, only one besides me was left as the rest failed out of school.

You Don’t Need To Declare A Major Immediately

There is a lot of pressure to declare a major. I say don’t worry about it. You need to give it the time it deserves. After all, you are going to be choosing a field of study that you could potentially be working in for the next 40 years of your life. If you get it wrong, you could easily be looking at going back to college for another degree, which means a lot more money spent.

Understand The Impact of Student Loans

I took out student loans and didn’t realize what I was getting into. Luckily, I was able to pay them off in a relative short time. Others are not so fortunate. They are struggling to get by financially with huge amounts of student loan debt weighing over their heads.

While I don’t think anyone can truly understand the full impact of student loans, you have to have a basic understanding of them. Know how much you are potentially taking out. Then figure out how much your potential monthly payment will be.

Compare that to an average salary in your chosen field of study. Don’t assume you will earn the maximum salary, look at the average. Compare the two. If you are making $30,000 a year out of college and your student loans will cost you $800 a month, finances are going to be tight for you.

Find a way to take out fewer loans. Go to community college for a year or two and then transfer. Do whatever you have to in order to avoid going deep into student loan debt.

Use College Services To Your Advantage

All colleges have a writing center, a career center and a library. Learn to use them to your advantage. The writing center can help you improve on your writing skills. It might just be a few tweaks that make the difference.

As for the career center, you can get help looking for internships and even get help writing your resume. This can be invaluable as you enter the workforce and start competing with all of the other recent grads.

Lastly, there is the library. It will help you with your research, be a quiet place to study and can even be a great place for referencing grad school and other things. Don’t be afraid to use it.

Final Thoughts

So there are your 11 tips for how to be successful in college. While college is a fun time, you have to make sure you handle your time there wisely. It can set you up for many great things down the road and many of the skills you embrace there and turn into habits will help you or inhibit you throughout the rest of your life.

Readers, what are your thoughts on how to be successful in college? What would you add to the list?

[Photo Credit: Ambro]

1 thought on “How To Be Successful In College”

  1. Great list there, Don!

    I’ll add only one tip: Be yourself.

    It seems to me, based from experience, that high school is the place where one eventually “knows” him/herself, or just “be” themselves. I have seen that with a lot of my friends. And I’ve also seen a lot who became “serious” by the time we got to college.

    I was more “serious” when I was in high school. I was more of “myself” in college.

    But regardless of the case, college could be the last place one has to go thru before finally facing the real world. College could be the last stage where one could actually experience freedom in its truest essence. You’re right, college is where one literally decides what they’d be doing for the rest of their lives.

    But they shouldn’t be too stiff about it. They have a lifetime of rules to follow after that.

    By being yourself, you will attract the right degree, because that degree will call for your real passions. That’s what’s great about college–freedom, indeed. But freedom has a bigger scope beyond any degree.

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