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30 Pointers on How to Succeed in College

[updated 6/18/19]

With a new academic year just a few months away, I thought I would share some thoughts about succeeding in college I go over a lot of these the first day of class with my new students. Some listen.

I've gathered these during my 28 years of teaching and advising, with input from colleagues and current and former students. I've also spent some time looking at the current research on best practices for college students. Generally, they fall into two categories, "classes" and the "college experience".


1. Walk into your first class, sit in the front row, put your phone away and smile. You are paying a king's ransom for this experience, so enjoy it and get the most out of it. And, at the end of class, introduce yourself to your professor and shake their hand. They will remember it.

2. Pay attention as the professor introduces the class and discusses the syllabus. There really is no excuse for not being aware of test dates and assignments. And pay attention to your professor's attendance policy as it can impact your grade. Also, you don't have to buy all the books before the first class. Often a professor will have a suggestion about buying earlier, inexpensive editions of textbooks.

3. If a professor has an insane number of rules, about every little thing, from cellphones, to bathroom breaks, to eating in class, you may want to consider dropping the class. I know these folks and I wouldn't take their classes.

4. Make friends with your fellow students. Find a group of like-minded peers who are in your major and interact with them outside of class. At some point you will miss a lecture and need a copy of class notes. And you may want to form a study group. Hint: For a variety of reasons, students in study groups generally do better on tests.

5. Read each assignment before you get to class, or, at the very least, scan it. Understand what's going to be discussed, highlight your text and make some notes.

6. Take great notes every class. This is college, so don't expect your professor to provide a study guide or conduct a lengthy review before tests. Your notes are your study guide! And remember, paying attention in class means less time spent on homework.

7. Engage. Pay attention, ask and answer questions, disagree, offer a different perspective. The best college classes are interactive and your participation will enhance that experience for you and your peers. And professors recognize those students immediately.

8. Stay up to date by reading about the issues that impact your field of study. Get online subscriptions to the New York Times, Economist or Washington Post and the journals that publish articles about your major. And read them.

9. Create a structure to studying, and do it early in the morning if you can. The research is clear; we retain more when we aren't tired.

10. Never leave a question blank on a test. Yes, we recognize BS when we see it, but we also want a way to give you partial credit if we can. And we do enjoy those little side notes and pictures some of you write on tests.

11. Last-minute cramming is better than nothing, but don't stake your grade on that alone.

12. Stay on top of your work. Make a calendar for the semester with all the due dates for papers, tests and assignments. Try not to procrastinate.

13. If you enjoy a course, let the professor know. We appreciate it, and it will help us to remember you. You never know when you’ll need a letter of recommendation or a reference for an internship, a job, or graduate school.

14. Turn in all assignments. It’s better to hand something in late than not at all because a zero can destroy your grade.

15. Work on improving your writing. If you are having some trouble, tutoring services and the writing center are included in your tuition. And consider taking a creative writing class.

16. On a similar note, also take a public speaking course. Many professors require oral presentations and it's a skill that will serve you well during and after college.

17. When professors write you letters of recommendation, send them a thank you note. An email is fine. Remember, you may need their assistance again.

18. Keep in touch with your academic adviser. Make sure that you are taking the correct classes. They are also a wonderful resource when it comes to career planning. And remember, many students change majors. Your academic adviser can help you through that process.

19. In addition to your adviser, find a mentor if possible. The vast majority of professors really love teaching and would be pleased to provide a little extra guidance along the way.

20. Some instructors assign group papers and presentations. Don't trust anyone when it comes to group assignments. Stay on top of what each member has accomplished and, yes, sometimes you may have to help them get their part done in order to get a good grade.

21. Do an internship related to your major. Employers value experience and it's good to get a taste of what your field is really about.

22. Enjoy those Gen Eds. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge is wonderful.

The College Experience:

21. Stay healthy. Eat well and get enough sleep. Go to the gym 3 times a week if you can. Nothing reduces stress like a good workout. And every once in a while reward yourself with some "Insomnia Cookies" after finishing an assignment or paper....or for a good grade on an exam.

22. Stay in touch with those that care about you and your well-being. Write or call home a couple of times a week. They care and a little nagging is good for you.

23. Go out and make lots of friends, but ditch the ones that just want to bitch about their lot in life, or the dorm food, or every professor they have ever had, or about how hard their life is. Your college experience is too short for that. Find fun, positive friends who make you laugh. They just might be the friends that you keep for the rest of your life.

24. Take advantage of a variety of university experiences. Join a club, play a sport, attend a student protest, go see a play or art exhibit. Put that gaming console away and get out and meet folks. Be open to new experiences.

25. Be you, or, if you prefer, reinvent yourself. Be what and who you have always wanted to be. But always, always, be true to your core values .

26. Be kind to everyone. Be the kind of friend that you are looking for.

27. Don't pass up the opportunity to spend a semester abroad. It will broaden your perspective on life and traveling becomes more difficult once you have a career and a family.

28. Learn the art of moderation. Socialize but be the one to make the wise decision about when to say, "enough".

29. Don't drink the stuff they call "punch" at frat parties. Someone's underwear was floating in it several hours before you arrived. Don't do it.

30. Relax, you got this.

By: Don Lam


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