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College Success

How To Be Successful in College

12.21.2022 • 12 min read

Jennifer Rivera

Subject Matter Expert

Learn how to be successful in college. We’ll go over what success looks like, why it looks different for everyone, and tips to help you achieve it.

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In This Article

  1. What Does Success Look Like in College?

  2. Tip 1 - Go to Class

  3. Tip 2 - Engage and Participate in Class

  4. Tip 3 - Stay Organized

  5. Tip 4 - Learn Time Management Strategies

  6. Tip 5 - Attend Office Hours

  7. Tip 6 - Identify Your College Resources

  8. Tip 7 - Create a Study Group

  9. Tip 8 - Visit Your Advisor

  10. Tip 9 - Set Goals

  11. Tip 10 - Know When You Need Help and Ask For It

  12. Tip 11 - Build Your Skills Outside the Classroom

  13. Tip 12 - Beat Procrastination

  14. Tip 13 - Pay Attention to Physical Self-Care

  15. Tip 14 - Be Confident in Yourself

  16. Tip 15 - Follow Your Passion

When college is the topic, things like costs, the value, and your major usually pop up first. But what about how to be successful in college?

No one plans to fail at college, but it happens. About 40% of undergraduate students drop out, with 26% being freshmen. Yikes. Scary, right?

Students have many reasons for leaving school, like finances or illness. But some people experience pitfalls that were preventable.

To help you prevent failure and get the most out of your college experience, here are some practical tips.

What Does Success Look Like in College?

When most people think of college success, they think of grades. Like those who get all A’s. That can be a part of success, but not entirely. College is a place where people go to learn and to grow in many ways.

College students begin to figure out who they want to be in the world. Just doing this is a success. When really broken down, there’s an endless list of things that college students learn to do successfully.

Here are just a few:

  • Manage time

  • Learn new and difficult concepts

  • Meet new people

  • Overcome challenges

  • Work with a team

  • Interpret information and present it to others

These college skills help a student become successful not only in college but also in life. In fact, people who earn a college degree make 84% more money than those with a high school diploma and also report higher job satisfaction and lead healthier lives.

By having the goal of going to college and seeing it through, you are on your way to fulfilling the vision of what you want your life to look like. While college is not the only way to get there, you will come out further ahead than when you started.

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15 Tips for a Successful College Career

Here are 15 tips for college success that stretch across most people’s goals and experiences.

1. Go to Class

This is probably the most obvious tip. It’s easy at the beginning of the semester but sometimes becomes harder as you go further along.

Many factors can affect your attendance. The difficulty may be because you’re a night owl with an early class. You have anxiety over a subject. Or worse, you have a less-than-animated professor who reads their slide presentations word for word. Whatever the reason, going to class is very important.

Some classes count attendance and then deduct from your grade if you miss too many classes. Some might have pop quizzes or in-class assignments that are unannounced. Then some professors test on material that is both in class and in the book.

Either way, attending class is an essential first step to your success in college.

2. Engage and Participate in Class

Attending class is important, but to truly gain success in college, you need to take the next step: being engaged in class. Ask questions. Answer questions. Do your work.

This is essential for several reasons. First, the more engaged you are in your courses, the more likely you are to remember the material and get better grades. Second, if you participate in class, it is more likely that the professor will see, remember, and appreciate you. This can make the professor seem more approachable if you need a question answered on a class assignment or in a study session.

3. Stay Organized

Staying organized is an important aspect of your college success. It’s kind of like greasing the runners of a sled. It makes you faster and more efficient.

When you’re organized, you don’t spend time wandering and wondering what you should do next.

Here are 3 tips for staying organized:

Keep Your Study Materials in Order

Have a physical or virtual notebook for each course. Keep everything in one place for easy reference, such as the syllabus, class resources, paper, pencils, laptop, etc. Having a designated study area where you can keep these items is important as well.

Plan on Fridays

People are the least stressed and the least productive on Friday afternoons.

So instead of going through the motions, spend that time outlining the next week. Don’t plan every minute. It’s not realistic. But create time blocks for tasks related to work, school, and home life.

Put Your Syllabus in Your Calendar

Once you get your syllabus, put the due dates for your assignments in your calendar of choice. This way, you will always know what is coming up and can make a plan to get it do

ne. Estimate how long you think assignments will take, and plan out time now for when to work on it.

For example, let’s say your first day of class is September 1. You find you have a final project due December 15. If you schedule an hour every week to work on that project, finishing it will feel like a breeze.

Scheduling is especially useful if you’re taking online courses. By marking your calendar, you won’t miss your online work that can be easily overlooked because you aren’t going to a physical classroom.

4. Learn Time Management Strategies

Time management is a big key to seeing college success.

Time is the one thing you can’t get more of, so making the most of what you have is vital. There are a wide variety of resources and tips for time management.

Here are three ideas you can implement for managing your time:

Have a Morning Routine and an Evening Routine

Having these two routines each day can make sure you are well-prepped for the rest of your day.

According to a Cinch Home Services study, 92% of highly productive people have morning routines. In the morning, you may make lunch for yourself, which will help you save money on campus. Then your evening routine can remind you to see what books or other materials you might need for the next day. You can pack those up and have your bag ready by the door when it’s time to go.

Schedule What You Will Study

It’s not enough just to schedule study time. Know what you are going to study when you schedule the time. Even then, just knowing the subject isn’t enough.

On your Friday scheduling session, write down exactly what you are going to study during each period of study time. For example, don’t just write down that you are going to study Spanish. Include more details. Instead, plan to study the vocabulary in Chapter 3 to prepare for the quiz next week.

Making these decisions ahead of time will save you both time and energy so you don’t have to figure out “what” to study.

Schedule Your Social Media Time Too

Do you find yourself sitting down to study and then scrolling through social media? You're not alone. Social media is built to draw your attention and keep you scrolling.

Here are some great ways to still enjoy social media without letting it mess with your college success:

  • Schedule time for social media

  • Use site blockers so that your social media basically doesn’t work during the times you are studying. That way you won’t be tempted!

  • Put your phone on “Do Not Disturb.” If you have important people you can’t miss a message from, you can put them on a VIP list. They will get through despite the “Do Not Disturb” setting.

5. Attend Office Hours

Most students don’t attend office hours, but that can be a great way to boost your college success.

Professors can come across as intimidating, but the overwhelming majority of them focus on helping students succeed. Make it a goal to meet with each of your professors early on in the semester. You can usually find their contact information on the syllabus.

Even students enrolled in online coursework can attend office hours. In the Degrees+ program, powered by Outlier.org, students who are working toward their online associate degree can attend regular office hours. Their actual Golden Gate University professor is available to meet virtually.

If you meet with your professors, this can increase your college success because professors will often give you tips and ideas for studying for their classes. It also helps if the professor knows who you are because eventually, you may want to get a letter of recommendation from them. The better they know you, the better that letter will be.

6. Identify Your College Resources

College comes with many resources designed to help students succeed.

Here is a list of some of the most common resources you should take advantage of:

Financial Aid

This office will help you apply for financial aid to pay for college, including grants, federal financial aid, loans, and scholarships you might be eligible for. It’s important to know what kind of student aid is best for you.

Career Center

Here is an office that will help you develop professional skills and the skills to find a job. Much more on this later.

Athletic Center

Keeping your body healthy will absolutely help make you a successful college student. Most athletic centers are free or charge a very low cost to students. If you’re attending a physical campus, go visit yours and schedule time to keep your body healthy and increase your overall well-being.

Health and Counseling

In 2020-21, one study showed more than 60% of college students met the qualifications for at least one mental health problem. It’s important to know where these resources are before you are in great need. Visit online or talk with counselors in the office to know what services they offer and how long a wait time for services may be.

Academic Success and Tutoring

This office can be a top tool for students looking to be successful in college. They often have tips for students on studying skills and test-taking strategies.

Online colleges want their students to achieve all their collegiate goals as well. When you evaluate these schools, look at their mission statement and support services. These are critical with online learning.

For example, student success is Outlier’s main objective. Their Success Team makes sure students have the tools they need to do well in every course. They even offer help creating a personalized academic plan.

Many online schools will also offer resources such as tutoring sessions. For example, in the Degrees+ program, free 1:1 tutoring is available for all math and writing courses. Also, peer discussion channels are available for classmates to ask and answer questions. This ensures you have a place to go when you need help.

Another example of a free resource is Outlier’s College Success Course. A dream team of advisors share useful tips and practical advice that every college student should know:

  • How to apply for financial aid

  • How to pay for college

  • How to improve your study habits

  • How to manage your time

You can access this course now by enrolling for free:

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7. Create a Study Group

This can be an important success strategy for passing tests and doing well in classes. Working in study groups has several benefits. Not only will you have someone to study with, but you can also:

  • Learn new study techniques

  • Learn note-taking techniques

  • Develop core relationships and community

8. Visit Your Advisor

Meeting with your academic advisor is not just to register for classes. Your advisor can talk to you about what classes to take and what sequence you should take them in. You can talk about career goals and internships that can help you not only be successful in college but also in your career.

9. Set Goals

This can be one of the most important things you can do to stay motivated and focused. Make sure you are setting SMART goals for your classes and your career that are specific, measurable, attainable, results-focused, and time-bound. Being conscious of exactly what goals you want to achieve can help you thrive and be productive.

10. Know When You Need Help and Ask For It

Knowing what resources exist at your college is only the first step. Where many students fall short is using those resources.

As students move into college life, they want to take care of things on their own. Don’t get sucked into this trap!

A big part of being successful in college—and in life—is knowing when to ask for help. When you seek assistance, you acknowledge you cannot do it all on your own. This is very healthy.

Whether it is reaching out to the counseling center or a tutor, you will get a lot further in life if you are willing to ask for help.

11. Build Your Skills Outside the Classroom

Near graduation, many students say they don’t know what they want to do in life. If you spend time discovering and building your skills, you won’t have that problem.

Getting a college job is a great way to both build professional skills and figure out the career path you want. Many college students think that having a job in college will pull them away from their studies. But having a part-time college job can be a great way to add value, feel a sense of pride, and build relationships that help you thrive in school.

Whether you get a job or not, get creative! Are you studying social media marketing? Offer to help a local business for a few hours a week with their social media. Are you interested in accounting? Offer to help students do their taxes through a student organization or nonprofit.

Building your skills outside the classroom will help you to try out what you want to do before you actually go out and join the workforce.

12. Beat Procrastination

Procrastination is often avoidance. Having a routine can help with that.

Beat procrastination by having a routine and sticking to it. Even when you don’t feel like it.

Take larger projects and break them into tiny pieces to do daily or weekly. Put those deadlines in your phone where you know you will see them. That way the project will feel nearly effortless and you will build resilience by following through on these plans.

13. Pay Attention to Physical Self-Care

Self-care is so important to student success.

All the organizational tips in the world won’t help you if you are struggling physically.

Here are some important things to follow for good self-care:

  • Get enough exercise

  • Eat well, and eat at times that work for your body

  • Get enough sleep by creating a sleep ritual

  • Take movement breaks by not sitting all day

14. Be Confident in Yourself

You aren’t the only one who feels out of place. No one is really looking at you, watching you, or judging you.

To be honest, most of them are worried about whether you are judging them. Doing new things can feel hard, but if you are lucky, you will be doing lots of new things in your life. Do them now to show your brain and body that new is not something to be afraid of. It’s something to relish.

15. Follow Your Passion

Crossing the finish line of earning that degree or certificate is the ultimate goal. It’s easier to achieve when you're passionate about the career you’re studying for. You should be enthusiastic and excited about your career goals. This creates the focus, drive, and motivation you need in college.

If you’re undecided, however, you can take advantage of career counseling. Too many students wait until their senior year to visit or contact this office. Don’t be one of them.

Colleges have career guidance counselors available to help you understand your passion. These counselors are different from the counselors you may visit at the counseling center to help with anxiety. A career counselor will provide you with a few assessments, like the Myers-Briggs Personality Test or the Strong Interest Inventory, to help you understand your strengths and values.

These counselors will then work with you to find careers that fall in line with your values.

In your freshman year, this office can help you think about majors and careers you might be interested in.

As a sophomore, you can explore internships. As a junior, you can learn about how to get a job before you graduate. And as a senior, you can practice interviewing skills and perfect your resume.

Don’t delay. Get in touch when it’s your first year.

Knowing and implementing these tips for college success will help you develop in all areas of your life, leading to greater well-being.

Your college journey is a time to learn who you are and what you want your place in the world to be. Pay attention to that. Take the time to enjoy your college experience and reflect on what brings joy to your life. By doing this, you will feel a sense of fulfillment not only in college but for the years to follow.

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