How to Be Successful in College

Three Methods:Succeeding in ClassesSucceeding SociallyPreparing for a Career

College is one of the most exhilarating and enjoyable experiences you'll have in life. But that doesn't mean it is easy. Success varies from person to person, but a great college career is a chance to learn what you want to learn, meet new people, and prepare yourself for the future.

Method 1
Succeeding in Classes

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    Go to class. If it seems obvious, that is because it is. That doesn't mean it is not the single most important thing you can do to succeed in college. In general, class is a small part of your overall day -- most students only have a few hours a day -- but they are the most important hours you have. This is where you get to learn, get to grow, and get to meet new people. Not every class, of course, will be a winner. But success requires that you challenge yourself every now and then. Suck it up, get out of bed, and get to class.
    • If you don't like your classes, or don't see the use for them, consider changing majors. Classes should not be a chore, they should be enjoyable.
    • Just because a professor doesn't take attendance doesn't mean you have a free pass to skip out. They know, however, that you only get out of a class what you put into it.
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    Search out the best professors, regardless of their field. You're going to have to take some required classes, and you're obviously going to have to take many classes in your major. But the beauty of college comes from the in-between classes. Whenever possible, choose classes with the best professors, even if the class doesn't seem interesting at first. A great professor will turn a "boring" subject into a revelation, and a poor one will turn a subject you love into a bore. Professors are the difference makers in college -- seek them out.
    • Talk to older students, your adviser, or visit rating sites like Rate My Professor to get an idea of the most engaging professors.
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    Go to office hours. Professors have them for a reason, and most of them love to see and chat with students. Your professors are not like your high school teachers, for the most part. They want individual time to discuss and debate your questions. They're happy to help you when you struggle. Since most college classes are elective, meaning you choose to be there, they are happy to have people interested in their subject.
    • Professors make great job references later on, but don't expect a glowing review if you only see them in class.
    • In many fields, professors can open up research jobs, internships, and student scholarships for engaged and hard-working students.
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    Build effective study habits. Getting your work done without someone over your shoulder is hard at first. But studying is a crucial part of college and something you're going to have to actively make time for. Research shows that the most successful students study at least 20 hours a week, roughly 2-3 hours each day. Many professors suggest spending two hours studying for each one hour in class.[1] Make the most of your time by:
    • Finding a study spot, like the library or a classroom, outside of your dorm.
    • Studying in 1-hour chunks, taking short breaks in between.
    • Studying in groups, or with a tutor, when possible.
    • Asking for help and clarification from professors and fellow students.
    • Starting the work in advance instead of procrastinating, giving you time to ask questions if you get stuck.
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    Focus on your writing skills, no matter what your major. Good writers get jobs in every single field. That is because effective communication is useful no matter what you're doing -- and not enough people are good at it. Don't wait to write your papers until the last minute, as you're only shooting your future-self in the foot when you do. Go to office hours to discuss paper ideas or rough drafts with professors, and if you get a bad grade on the essay, ask why. Most professors are happy to help you improve, and some will even bump the grade if you show genuine interest in being a better writer.
    • Search out your college's writing tutors if you're really struggling. They are usually fellow students who can bat ideas around with you casually, helping find the best way to express them in writing.[2]
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    Plan ahead for major tests, essays, and projects. First and foremost, make sure that you understand the assignment completely, asking for clarification if you need. This, along with regular attendance, will almost assure that you do fine on every assignment. For major projects, get started a few weeks in advance. Even one hour of work here and there will pay dividends since it gets your brain thinking about the work and exposes any questions or holes in your knowledge early on.
    • Make a "master calendar" once you have all your assignments on the syllabus. This helps you see, and prepare for, difficult weeks well in advance. If you've got two papers due on the same day, you'll need to get one started ahead of time.[3]
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    Learn for learning's sake, not for grades. College is one of the most incredible, mind-expanding periods of your entire life. Your job is to learn -- and that's it. How cool is that? If you focus on learning, finding the classes, professors, lectures, and events that genuinely interest you, your GPA will follow. Try to stay in the moment and appreciate your classes as a chance to grow intellectually, personally, and socially.[4]
    • Make an effort to speak at least once in every discussion class, even if it is scary at first.
    • Colleges bring in incredible speakers and guest lecturers every semester-- take some time to find and see the ones that catch your interest.
    • Your classmates are just as good a source of knowledge as anyone else. Ask about their interests, what they're studying, and where they came from.

Method 2
Succeeding Socially

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    Get involved in student activities. The amount of clubs, groups, and events on most campuses is staggering. The best way to meet people is to dive in feet-first. Pick something you love doing, or pick something totally new and weird that interests you. Remember, there is no commitment to most of these groups, so it's okay to go try things and see if you like them. Student activities are your chance to find a small group of people and get to know them, bonding over a common interest.
    • If you played sports in high school, try out a low-key club sport or intramural team. You can usually sign up as a "free agent," meaning you'll be placed with a random team and get to know new people.
    • The local arts groups, such as the radio station, newspaper, and theater teams are big, inclusive organizations on 99% of campuses.[5]
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    Be yourself: you have much more freedom to do so now. In high school, you're forced to be with the same people every day for 7-8 hours. Many people feel stifled by their options, their classmates, and their schedule, and worry that the same thing will happen in college. But in college you're free to join whatever clubs and classes you want. You go to lunch whenever you want. You can always go back to your room if you don't like someone or some situation. So be you and enjoy the kind of life you want to live.
    • Following your passions, however odd or quirky, will lead you to like-minded people.
    • A college social life does not have to revolve around drinking. Check your activities board or student groups for a wide variety of other activities and events.
    • Realize that the teen-like judgment common in high school starts to disappear with age. If you want to hang out with someone, you can. If not, then you don't have to see them again. People have little need to become bullies at universities.
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    Make 1-2 good friends. Don't be afraid to get to know people deeply. Ask questions and listen genuinely to the answers. Get to know your dorm mates and ask fellow classmates to come grab lunch with you after class. Everyone has a story, a history, and a passion worth following. If you show kind, genuine interest in that, you'll naturally find a few people you happily call your close friends.[6]
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    Set ground rules early on with your roommate. Whether you're about to become best friends or worst enemies, you should make your own expectations clear early on to avoid trouble. This isn't (and shouldn't be) a Constitution or set of laws, but rather a basic understanding of how you'll be living together. Doing this early on will ensure that, no matter how well you get along, you'll at least have general respect established. In the first week, casually let them know:
    • What you brought that is communal, and what is only for you.
    • Where your "area" or side of the room is.
    • Any major concerns, worries, or pet peeves.
    • How to get in touch with you.[7]
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    Make stress management a priority. Stress is going to happen, and you will never complete remove it from your life. But you need to find a way to manage it on your own now. While studying is important and classes essential, college is also about having fun. If you make it a priority to do something fun every day, you'll see your stress melting away.
    • It is natural to feel extra stressed during finals or midterms. Just know that they'll be over soon enough.
    • Get to know your counseling center if you're struggling to manage stress. They are there to talk to you once a semester or once a week, even if just informally.[8]
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    Take care of your body. The first thing many people forget in the whirlwind first year of college is themselves. You start to eat (and drink) much worse, drop your old exercise habits, and stay up until the crack of dawn every night. This is totally to be expected when you're suddenly left with the freedom and resources to decide what you do with your life. But you need to remember to put yourself first. Your social and academic life will both succeed as a result.

Method 3
Preparing for a Career

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    Choose the major you love, not the one you think you need. Only 27% of college graduates actually have a job in the same field as their degree.[9] College is about intellectual exploration and excitement, not cementing your entire future. Choose a major that genuinely interests you and the classes will fly by with ease. Your grades will be better, you'll be happier, and your job prospects will be no worse for the wear.
    • If you choose to go a pre-professional route after graduation (medical school, law school, etc.) be sure to talk to your career center about fulfilling your requirements for graduate school.
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    Schedule a visit to the career center once a year. Your college's career center is an invaluable resource for you, and it is never too early to stop in for a visit. Make an appointment, even if you're unsure what you want to do or don't think you need to plan until senior year. You career center often has internships, connections with alumni, and even grant money to help you chart your path after college.
    • The career center is a great place for practical advice on what classes you need, where to send resumes, and potential jobs based on your interests.
    • You don't need to chart out every step of your career from freshman year on. Simply stop in to find out what exactly your career center has to offer you.
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    Find part-time work in a field of your interest. Whether it is research with a professor, a fellowship to produce a book of poetry, or a campus job in IT, finding time to work while in college builds valuable experience and connections. While your career center should have some advice, don't be afraid to ask your professors if they know of any work or research opportunities as well. Many will be happy to sponsor you, or help you find a good fit in their field.[10]
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    Meet and chat with alumni. Your college's alumni are going to be an incredible, supportive network for you. They will be the ones who uncover a new job position that you're perfect for, that go to bat for you in an interview, and spend an hour or two on the phone giving advice and reminiscing about your alma mater. It seems too good to be true, but the built-in connect you have with alumni will help you in the future whether you realize it or not. While asking for a job directly is generally frowned upon, try out these conversation starters:
    • "What do you enjoy about your work?"
    • "How did [your school] prepare you for what came next?"
    • "What advice do you have for a graduate interested in the _________ field?"[11]
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    Challenge yourself socially, intellectually, and personally and you will succeed in any field. You'll get the most out of college only if you're willing to push yourself. Try out a new class that you're interested in but intimidated by. Perform your first stand-up routine at an open mic. Go to parties and pretend you're not naturally shy. If you challenge yourself now, putting aside temporary discomfort for long-term happiness, you have no idea what kind of doors will open up. When you do finally graduate, you'll be able to walk through any challenge or career with your head held high.
    • "If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?" -T.S. Eliot[12]


  • Finding a good academic adviser or, at least, a professor whose advice and opinion you trust, is a great way to avoid and manage potential problems.
  • Talk to everyone you meet -- you never know who might have a tip, job opening, or other opportunity some day down the line.


  • All colleges, and all people, are different. Ultimately, you can only succeed in college if you're flexible, willing to learn, and work hard.

Article Info

Categories: College and University Study Techniques