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Articles / Preparing for College / Are You A "Successful" Student?

Are You A "Successful" Student?

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | June 20, 2013
For those of you high school students dreaming about going to college, what are your criteria for success? Do you have some kind of special mental image of yourself prospering academically, socially, and possibly athletically during your years behind the ivy walls? Visualization can be an important part of your preparation for college. You may even know someone who is currently in college whom you fancy as your collegiate success role model. That's good. It always helps to have a role model.

Unless you have had close contact with current college students or have a brother or sister in college, you may not be aware of what it takes to be successful in college. It's a matter of discipline and planning, mostly … an attitude, if you will. Don't be misled, though. You don't have to maintain a 4.0 GPA and be editor of the campus newspaper (or even class president) to qualify for the moniker of “successful." It would be cool, then, if someone would come up with a specification for how to rise to and conquer the challenges of four (or more) years of undergraduate (and possibly onto graduate) education.

Our cool friends at Campus Grotto have delivered exactly that kind of specification. Their article 12 Habits of Successful Students covers a lot of ground and may be able to help you generate that mental image of yourself becoming a model, successful college student. Let's take a look at some of those 12 habits. You'll also have to endure my comments about them.

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. …

When I was in college, one of my main short-term goals was to be on time for meals. For me, a long-term goal was to survive until the weekend, so I could sleep in. Those 8 o'clock morning 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 weekly study schedule demanded that three times per week my regimen would include a one-hour timeout so that I could walk across the street to the Hilltop Sub Shop and get one of their world-famous cheese steaks. One needs protein to think properly, and red meat filled the bill for me. Since I started out in Business Administration my first term freshman year, I could always do those accounting balance sheets better once I had some grease, mayonnaise, and chocolate milk surging through my veins and brain. Of course, as they say, your mileage may vary.

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 varsity tennis in college and found that a vigorous practice session stimulated my thinking and brought my senses alive, which came in handy for studying. The downside of being a varsity athlete was those long road trips we had to make for away matches. Don't kid yourself; you're not going to get a lot of reading or writing done on the team bus. Most times, you'll either be sleeping or scanning the passing environment for outstanding representatives of the opposite sex. Belonging to college clubs has its advantages, since you may be able to meet new friends who have experience in areas that could advance your academic progress. For example, if you are involved in campus politics, such as the 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 (1) no idea what I wanted to do in life, thus my default choice of a completely mismatched Business Administration major. Plus, (2) my class scheduling was done for me by an academic advisor with whom I had fleeting contact. The whole scheduling process was a mystery to me. Today, things are much different. Class registration can sometimes be done remotely by computer, plus today's incoming college students appear to be much better informed about how to go about the registration process. An added bonus is the availability of such resources as Rate My Professors, which is a kind of college consumer sounding board that gives (admittedly somewhat subjective) opinions of professors' pros and cons, written by students who have actually had classes with these teachers. 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 contribute. …

If you have ever seen the classic movie, The Paper Chase, you'll note how 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 extroverted personality but, rather, 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 him or her sometimes. If you are a participating type, be careful not to overdo it. A couple of negative consequences could result: (1) you could get a reputation as a class brown-noser, which isn't the most sought after label you want. Plus, (2) some professors view with cynicism those students who speak too often, emitting an impression of arrogance. Better to be selective in your participation. Quality responses and questions are much better than constant blabbering.

– 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. It seems to me that the majority of college students only get the “proper" amount of sleep when they're home for the summer or on holiday break. As a father, I know this to be true. My son and daughter would get four-to-five hours sleep (max) per night when they were in college. I often wondered why they sounded like zombies on the phone when we would speak. Fortunately, there was no Facetime or Skype back then. Otherwise, Mom and Dad would have wanted to call 911, based on the pale, worn out faces of our children. Health is another issue. If you're a parent reading this, trust me. Your child will be awash in a sea of collegiate germs. You won't be there with your trusty spray can of Lysol to eradicate every germ-laden microbe that lies in your son's or daughter's path. Thus, that phrase above, “When it comes to college, you need to be well-rested, healthy, and mentally ready" is a bit laughable. “Sure, Mom. I'm getting plenty of rest and I'm eating my veggies every day." Right.


So, there's a half dozen of Campus Grotto's dutiful dozen ways to college success. Do you have any to add to the list? If so, let us know in the comments section below. In the meantime, I'm heading to Hilltop Sub Shop. Maybe I can get Gus to throw some green beans on that steak sandwich.


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.

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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