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Articles / Applying to College / These Tips Can Help You Achieve Success in College

These Tips Can Help You Achieve Success in College

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Sept. 1, 2020
These Tips Can Help You Achieve Success in College


A question for college-bound students: Can we put the COVID-19 pandemic aside for a moment and focus on classes, tests, grades and papers? Although a classical college experience may not be possible for some time, you'll want to make the very best of what you encounter so you can achieve your life goals. My column today is centered on how to be successful in college.

You don't have to be obsessive-compulsive to be successful. Planning and discipline are two key ingredients. You may be laughing at "discipline," especially in light of all the reports we've gotten over the past weeks about undisciplined college students breaking safety protocols, resulting in numerous outbreaks. But we're not talking about the coronavirus, right?

A second, more pertinent question for you is: What are your criteria for success in college and how do you plan to meet them? Do you see yourself prospering academically, socially, and possibly athletically during your years on campus? Visualization can be an important part of your preparation for college. You may even know someone who is currently in college whom you consider to be a success role model. If so, keep that example in mind.

Check These Habits for Success

Unless you've had close contact with college students or have a brother or sister in college, you may not know what it takes to be successful in college. You don't have to be class president, maintain a 4.0 GPA, or be editor of the campus newspaper to qualify as a success. What you really need is a set of guidelines to help you negotiate the challenges of higher education and come out prepared with all you need for your life's work.

Those guidelines are available. Campus Grotto, with its 12 Habits of Successful Students, covers a lot of ground and may be able to help you see yourself as a successful college student. Here are six of those dozen habits you should consider, along with some lighter but truthful perspectives about my college days.

  • Successful students set short-term and long-term goals. Setting goals and reaching them really gets the momentum going on success. Having goals gives you a sense of direction in your college journey and pushes you to go forward when you're not sure what lies ahead

Revealing an unflattering aspect of my character, one of my main short-term goals in college was to be on time for meals. My long-term goal was to make it to the weekend so I could sleep in. Eight a.m. classes were the pits.

  • Successful students stick to a weekly study schedule. College is all about mastering the art of multitasking. To do this, you need to create some sort of schedule to follow and have a study plan.

My nightly study schedule included a one-hour timeout on Tuesdays and Thursdays so I could walk across the street to Hilltop Sub Shop for one of their famous cheesesteaks. One needs protein to think properly, and Hilltop fed my brain. I started out in Business Administration, and those accounting balance sheets always seemed easier once I had some beef, grease, mayonnaise and chocolate milk helping me think.

  • Successful students are active in activities outside the classroom, being involved in things like college clubs and intramural sports. Contrary to popular belief, extracurricular activities do not detract from academic performance; instead, they increase students' overall satisfaction with their college experience and contribute to learning.

I played tennis in college and found that a vigorous practice session stimulated my thinking, which came in handy for studying. The downside of being a varsity athlete includes those long road trips to away matches. There's not a lot of reading, writing or studying happening on the team bus. Most times, you'll either be sleeping or playing with your phone.

Belonging to college clubs has its advantages since you can meet new friends who have experience in areas that could support your academic progress. For example, if you're involved in campus politics, such as Young Republicans or Young Democrats, you might befriend someone who could aid you in your approach to a political science major, if that happens to be your academic focus.

  • Successful students take on a balanced course load. They choose classes that vary in both size and difficulty.

When I entered college, I had no idea what I wanted to do in life, thus my default choice of a mismatched Business Administration major. My class scheduling was done for me by an academic advisor with whom I had fleeting contact. The scheduling process was a mystery to me. Today things are much different. Class registration can be done remotely online, plus new college students are much better informed about registration.

An added bonus is the availability of such resources as Rate My Professors, a kind of college-consumer sounding board that publishes subjective opinions of specific professors' pros and cons, written by students who have actually had classes with them. Tools like this can be a big help when trying to achieve that elusive, balanced course load.

  • Successful students go to class and participate. The most successful students sit in front and are involved in classroom discussions. Ask questions and contributeclass participation molds you into a better student (and gets you better grades).

If you've ever seen the classic movie The Paper Chase, you'll see that where students sit in the classroom can affect their performance and impress (or not) their professor. I tended to be a participant, not because I was an extrovert but because I was curious about facts and opinions. I didn't always believe what the professor was saying, or at least I didn't agree with them sometimes.

If you are a participating type, be careful not to overdo it. Be selective in your participation, because quality responses and questions are much better than constant low-quality comments.

  • Successful students get proper sleep. When it comes to college, you need to be well rested, healthy, and mentally ready. The amount of sleep you get has a major impact on your academic performance

Right. The majority of college students get the "proper" amount of sleep only when they're home for the summer or on holiday break. As a father, I know this to be true. Our son and daughter got four-to-five hours sleep (max) per night when they were in college. Fortunately, there was no FaceTime or Skype back then. Otherwise, Mom and Dad would have wanted to call the campus health center to report the pale, worn out faces of our children.

That's a half-dozen of Campus Grotto's dutiful dozen ways to achieve college success. Others have also posted thoughts on having a positive, productive college experience. They include:

Now you have some great guidelines for becoming a successful college student. Even if you've already been a successful high school student, these can help you enhance your level of achievement.

Share Your Thoughts

We'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Check out our forum to contribute to the conversation!

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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