A college education is aligned with greater success in many areas of life. Are there patterns of success you strive for but aren’t yet reaching? Where might you shore up your support? What strategies can you use to achieve success in your college endeavors?
A college education is aligned with greater success in many areas of life. While enrolled in college, most students are closely focused on making it through the next class or passing the next test. It can be easy to lose sight of the overall role that education plays in life. But sometimes it helps to recall what a truly great step forward you are taking!
It is also important to recognize, though, that some students do not succeed in college and drop out within the first year. Sometimes this is due to financial problems or a personal or family crisis. But most of the time students drop out because they’re having trouble passing their courses.
In this section, we examine the elements of college success. Are there patterns of success you strive for but aren’t yet reaching? Where might you shore up your support? What strategies can you use to achieve success in your college endeavors?
How do you define college success? The definition really depends on you. You might think that “success” is earning an associate’s degree or attending classes in a four-year college. Maybe success is a bachelor’s or master’s degree or a doctorate. Maybe success means receiving a certificate of completion or finishing skill-based training.
You might be thinking of other measures of college success, too – like grades. For example, you may be unhappy with anything less than an A in a course, although maybe this depends on the difficulty of the subject. As long as you pass with a C, you may be perfectly content. But no matter how you define personal success, you probably would not think it means earning a D or lower grade in a class.
If most students believe that passing a class is the minimum requirement for “success,” and if most students want to be successful in their courses, why aren’t more college students consistently successful in the classroom?
Perhaps some common misconceptions are at play. For example, we often hear students say, “I just can’t do it!” or “I am not good at math,” or “I guess college is not for me...,” or “I am not smart enough.” But these explanations for success or failure are not necessarily accurate. Considerable research into college success reveals that having difficulty in or failing in college courses usually has nothing to do with intellect. More often success depends on how fully a student embraces and masters the following seven strategies:
So if you feel you are not smart enough for college, ask yourself if you can implement some of these skills. Can you make more time for learning? One approach is to create a regular study schedule and make sure you allot ample time. Most college success experts agree that students should study two hours outside of class for every hour in class. Only break away from your committed schedule if an extreme situation prevents you from sticking to it.
Another strategy to consider implementing is group study. For example, rather than relying just on your own knowledge, notes, and skills, try studying with other students in your difficult classes. Studying in a group gives every group member a chance to ask questions and talk about concepts.
You can also add a tutor to your study group. You will really be able to notice a positive difference. Tutoring is generally free in college, and the strategies and knowledge you gain will be invaluable. Usually tutors have taken the class you are currently enrolled in, and they are trained to get the best out of you.
Overall, students struggle in college not because of natural intellect or smarts, but because of time management, organization, and lack of quality study time. The good news is that there are ways to combat this, specifically by doing things like creating a regular study schedule, studying in groups, and taking advantage of your school’s academic resources, like a tutoring center, instructor office hours, and any available online help.
In a recent online discussion at a student-support Web site, a college freshman posted the following concern about how serious he should be about getting good grades:
How would you answer this student’s question, given what what you know and sense about college life? Grades do matter to your success, right? Or...do they? The answer depends on who you ask and what your college and career goals are.
To help you answer, take this quick self-assessment about your college goals and beyond. Put a checkmark in the Yes or No column next to items in the “I Want to Be Able to . . .” column.
|I Want to Be Able to...||YES||NO|
|Change my major during my college years|
|Have good relationships with my professors|
|Be eligible for financial aid|
|Be eligible for scholarships|
|Be a resident assistant (RA) in my dorm|
|Get reductions on my car insurance|
|Prove to my employer that I can work hard|
|Keep my parents happy|
|Get a free master’s degree|
You may be surprised to learn that each reason on this list directly relates to your grades – even changing your major. For example, colleges typically have a minimum GPA requirement to switch majors. Consider these additional factors:
You stand to gain immeasurably when you earn good grades.
Grades may not be the be-all and end-all in college life. But to the degree that you believe they can help you achieve your greatest goals, you will pay close attention to them and to your GPA.
Your GPA is a calculated average of the letter grades you earn correlated on a 0 to 4.0 or 5.0 scale. Each semester you receive a GPA based on the grades you earned in all of your classes during that semester. You also maintain a cumulative GPA – an ongoing average of all your semester grades beginning with freshman year.
Many institutions provide students with an online GPA calculator. Use the calculator to keep track of where you stand. Your college may also publish data on the average GPA of your fellow students. Sometimes it’s nice to know where you stand relative to your peers.
Words of Wisdom
It is important to know that college success is a responsibility shared with your institution. Above all, your college must provide you with stimulating classroom experiences that encourage you to devote more time and effort to your learning. Additional institutional factors in your success include the following:
Why is the first year of college so important? So much happens that year! Shouldn’t there be a grace period for the newest students to get acclimated to college before the pressure sets in?
The fact is that the first year of college is the most crucial time in your college life. So much is happening, but it serves to establish your trajectory to success. Consider the following typical first-year experiences, all of which strategically support students during this critical make-or-break period.
Most first-year students attend an orientation program, which typically leads to the following results:
First-year seminars may be of the “orientation to college” variety; others may be based on your curriculum. Students who participate in these seminars tend to
The quality of academic advising is the single most powerful predictor of your satisfaction with the campus environment. First-year students who rate their advising as good or excellent
Early warning systems are especially important for students who start college with risk factors or who may be struggling academically. Midterm progress reports, course tests and other assessments, and early alert systems are most effective at helping students cope with difficulties in the first year.
Learning communities are programs that enroll groups of students in a common set of courses. The effects of learning communities are greatest for first-year students. Students report gains in personal and social development, competence, and satisfaction with the undergraduate college experience.
Student success courses typically address issues like how to use campus support resources, manage time, study well, develop careers and skills, set goals, take tests, and take notes. The College Success course you are in right now is such an initiative.
About one-third of first-year students take developmental courses to bring their academic skills up to a level that will enable them to perform well in college. Developmental courses can make the difference in a student’s decision to stay in college or drop out.
The best advice is to commit to making your freshman year count. Make it the absolute best. The earlier you can establish good habits during this time, the easier your future years will be—not just in college, but in your work environment, at home, and beyond.
The following is a list of tips from a college educator for college students embarking on their journey to academic success:
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