Are There Secrets to College Success?

If there were absolute, no fail secrets to college success that worked for every student, every student would know them and follow them and be successful.  The reality is that there are no sure-fire secrets that work for every student.  Each student is an individual with unique strengths and weaknesses, coming from a unique background and placed in a unique situation.

However, there are some tried and true tips that help most students.  We’d like to offer our three favorite tips.  We hope you’ll pass them on to your college student.  We welcome you to share your responses and suggestions.

Top three tips for college success!

Attend class

One of the most important things that your college student can do is to be sure to go to class.  This sounds obvious, but isn’t always as simple and straightforward as it might seem.  (Of course, just attending class alone isn’t enough, but it is an important factor in academic success.)  There are several reasons why attending class regularly is crucial.

  • Professors notice whether or not students are there.  Some professors take attendance religiously, and let students know at the outset of the course that too many absences will affect their grade.  But even those professors who may not actively take attendance often notice who is present.  Obviously, this is less the case in a very large lecture class, but even there, faculty members notice certain familiar faces.  If a student is not in class, it’s an indication that he may not be taking the class seriously or a statement that he doesn’t value what the professor has to tell him.
  • Professors will get to know your student’s name and personality.  Students who attend class, and who use the opportunity to engage in discussion with the professor – during, before or after class – will begin to build a relationship with the professor.  This means that when it comes to grading time, the professor will be able to put a face and a name together.
  • Students can make connections with other students in the class.  This can be helpful in forming study groups, sharing class notes, helping each other with assignments.
  • Students will learn more about the material, and the professor’s style and interests.  Even if the student feels that the professor doesn’t add anything to the material that he has already read in the textbook, the class can serve as a review of the material.  The student can also use this time to learn more about the instructor’s style of teaching and special interests.  This can be extremely helpful when it comes time to take an exam or write a paper.
  • The best faculty members use class time to amplify and clarify the material that the students read in textbooks.  There is often a great deal of insight that can come from listening to a professor and from engaging in class discussion.

Learn the skill of good, and realistic, time management.

Success in college is all about good time management.  Good time management is a difficult skill to learn.  Many students have not had the opportunity to practice good time management in high school.

During their high school years, many students have not needed to manage their time carefully – it’s been done for them.  They have moved from school to school activities or athletics, part-time job, outside activities, family obligations.  Assignments in high school are often given on a daily basis, with only a few long-term assignments – often with class time devoted to some of that work.

College provides students with independence – and the responsibility for using that independence wisely.  Many classes meet only a couple of times a week – or even once a week.  Many assignments are long term assignments, with the assignment mentioned on a syllabus and then due weeks later.  Students are expected to plan accordingly.  Chapters may be assigned, but no time spent in class following up until several weeks later.  Students spend only a few hours a week in class and have many more hours of free time.  (One rule of thumb is that students should expect to spend two hours of time out of class for every hour that they spend in class.  This might mean that a student spends fifteen hours per week in class, but should be spending an additional thirty hours a week working on coursework outside of class.  This is a huge shift for most students.)

Successful students learn to plan ahead.  They learn to use their free time wisely.  They break assignments down into manageable segments.  They plan realistically for how much time it will take to read a chapter, write a paper, work with a group on a project, study for a test.  Successful students balance coursework, work time, social time. (They don’t plan to work at a job thirty hours per week, and go home every weekend, and party with friends, and do well in their classes.)  They set deadlines and priorities for themselves.

Get involved on campus.

Many of the most successful students on campus are also those students who are most involved in various activities on campus.  As with so many people that we know in life,  those people who are doing the most are often the most successful.  The old saying may be true that “if you want something done, ask the busiest person”.

Although a student’s primary responsibility is to do their coursework, students who are involved in their college’s life are often more motivated and focused to do well.  Athletes, student leaders, campus activists, club organizers, residence assistants, are all often some of the great students as well.  Yes, the college benefits from their contributions, but the students benefit from their involvement as well.

Active students are also often better able to maintain balance in their lives and to gain perspective on why they are in college.  They are happier and have more social connections.  It may not be that the best students on campus get involved, but that the students who get involved are the best students.

As parents of college students, we can encourage our students to attend class, manage their time wisely, and stay involved in the rich life on campus.  Of course, there are many other things that successful college students do, but these three steps will go a long way toward helping your student achieve his goals.

Do you have further suggestions for “steps for success”?

Related Posts:

College Parents Can Help Freshmen Overcome First Semester Challenges

College Parents Can Help Freshmen Understand the Differences Between High School and College

College Professors Are People Too!

The Course Syllabus: Roadmap to Success

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3 thoughts on “Are There Secrets to College Success?”

  1. Thank you for such a great resource in College Parent Central! My question is one that addresses the various transitions in which minority students and their parents face when attending Predominantly White Institutions? If you are aware of colleges/universities which have successful strategies/programs/orientations, etc..articles pertaining to a variety of student types might be of interest for future articles. Keep up the wonderful work!

    • Thanks for your comment/question, Dr. Mathis. This is an increasingly important topic and it would be a good subject for College Parent Central. I don’t have very much information right now, but will explore what I can find. Happy to share if I come across helpful resources. It’s important for all of us to remember that students coming from diverse backgrounds have a steeper path to climb than many other students.

  2. College success needs: picking a good major, taking classes and getting experiences that give us a well rounded student, know how a professor views a school subject; have some plan about what he or she will do after they finish school.

    Get help with a good study system that helps students with good study skills – academic coaching to get a focus and direction for his or her degree – career planning to have an idea of what to do when they finish school

    Check out: for lots of this type of help


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