What does it take to be successful in college?

Most college bound students went back to class this week.  For some, a huge change from last year’s COVID college experience or for some, it is their first-time leaving home, moving out, etc.  Lots of changes, emotions, responsibilities, shifts to dorm rooms, attending classes, managing time, homework, and for some, sports, clubs and work.

I have taught at the college level for almost 10 years between working at Purdue University and Ancilla College (now Ancilla College of Marian University, ACMU), and college students have changed dramatically over the years in both positive and non-positive ways.   Having the opportunity to teach for a large D-1 school and now for the past 6 years, a small private school (the best of both worlds) and the student needs and dynamics are different at both a small and large school but no matter where you are going to college, there are some key abilities or skills you need to be successful.

I have a lot of experience of attending college as well. I spent 14 years in college and lived abroad one summer in England.  I spent 4.5 years attaining a BS, 4 years attaining my MA and another 6 years attaining my PhD in Agriculture (while working full-time and raising children).  At the end of the day, no matter how strong you are academically, being academically successful in college takes hard work, time management, true grit, self-discipline, resilience to bounce back from critical encounters of your work, writing, papers, other’s points of view, etc., and tremendous determination. 

Here are my perspectives of what college students need to do to be successful in college.  This content comes from a handout that I created and went over with my students in all the classes that I teach. 

How to be Successful in College

This academic journey is yours, it is all up to you.  The amount of time, effort, and focus you put into your education is what you will get out of it and also earn (academically).  There are skills, abilities, etc. that you can strengthen or further develop to help you achieve a great GPA while also taking advantage of your time to grow in your academics, faith and friendships here on campus.  See the recommendations below:

  • Read the Syllabus (read it twice), print it out, and keep it on-hand all semester.
  • Buy a date book, planner, calendar, etc.  Get the syllabus and in the first week of class, write down all due dates, test, etc. 
  • Read the textbook.  Use the textbook.  Review with the textbook. BUY (or rent) THE TEXTBOOK.
  • Engage in class.  Ask questions, see the professor after class, talk to other students, etc. 
  • Test: start studying and reviewing (on your own or in a group) 7 days prior to the test.  This will help reduce anxiety and is better time management.  If you review one chapter a night, then do that.  If you need to make flash cards with vocab, do that. 
  • DO NOT PROCRASTINATE!  Not studying and not doing homework and then claiming stress, sports obligations, work obligations, anxiety, etc. is not how the real world works.  It is your job to be prepared and to manage your time. 
  • Your grade is earned, not given.  You must work hard, put in the time, etc. to achieve a good grade in the course.  Simply showing up to class does not earn you a good grade.  Do the work.
  • If you play a sport, it is your job to discuss me with your academics or your challenges academically. 
  • Emails or texts to the professor: most professors and instructors have families and lives outside of their work. BE FAIR in expecting a turnaround of instant communication at 11 or 12 am at night.  I will return your communication in 12 hours of less.  If during the day, it will be returned more quicker but don’t expect immediate communication in the evenings or through the night.
  • Use the library and the resources provided to you.  These academic supports will help you grow in your learning and education.  
  • Keep up with your work.  TIME MANAGEMENT is key here.  It is not your professor’s fault that you are overwhelmed or having issues with stress and anxiety if you keep putting off work. 
  • Difference between normal or common stress/anxiety and an anxiety disorder.  Stress and anxiety are normal experiences.  EVERYONE gets stressed for a test or for a presentation or before a game.  This does not mean you have a disorder.  Dealing with stress and anxiety is part of life and will help determine your ability to be successful in the professional world, on the field and in the classroom. 

None of this rocket science however, I see and hear students feeling defeated in college or overwhelmed but not doing any of these actions nor taking accountability for their academic journey or experience. 

My hope for ALL students is that they able to make the most of their college experience.  That they are successful and understand that most faculty and staff are here to help them and support them but they have to do the work.  Regardless, students need to “own” their academic journey.  This is something that a parent cannot do for their child (this is where many fail and return home, to their parents.) Students need to show up, work hard and be engaged.  Welcome to your college journey, it is what you make of it.

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