I am often asked about how to ensure student success in college. As it happens, I think about college readiness a lot, but I’ve yet to find the elusive recipe for gliding through college free of road bumps. The truth is that individuals differ and there are so many aspects that figure into the college experience—classes, ability, professors, roommates—that a foolproof formula for academic success is impossible to calculate. Beyond that, college students are supposed to struggle. It is appropriate for students to grapple with how they fit into the world and what they are learning; to tussle with texts and tests, to wrestle with labs and essays—that is the life of a college student. Is it sometimes uncomfortable? Yes, but that is how it is supposed to be and the knowledge one gains will be sweeter because of the growing pangs of an expanding mind.
Saying that, I do have some blanket advice for college students:
Take control of your own learning. Each and every college student is responsible for his or her own learning. It is very important that from the instant you enter your first class to the joyous moment you walk across the graduation stage, you need to take responsibility for your education. This means doing your work, studying for tests, and always showing up to class. This also means that when you get a less than stellar grade (it happens to all of us at some point), you can’t blame the professor or wallow for very long because you need to formulate a plan to do better. And chances are you can do better. And you should do better. Why? Because you owe it to yourself to push your perceived limits.
Learn to manage your time and responsibilities independently. A common scenario: your mother has gently woken you up every day for high school and you know that without her you would never make it to class. What makes you think that you will be able to get to class independently once you are a college student? It’s okay if you have a tough time with executive functioning— it is developmentally appropriate for many college students to struggle with goal setting, time management, etc., but the truth is that you need to continually strive to improve your self-management skills because they matter a great deal in and out of college.
Find a go-to person on campus. This may seem to be in direct opposition to my first two pieces of advice, but it really isn’t. Although you are responsible for your own learning, there are plenty of people on most college campuses who are there to help you in your quest for academic success. Find someone you trust. Find someone you can talk to and who is willing to get to know you. Use this person as your first stop if a problem arises. Become knowledgeable about resources. This go-to person will grow to care about you and want you to succeed, and you will need them as a touchstone in what is at times an incredibly confusing environment.
My last piece of advice is this: be confident that you have a good mind and that your ideas matter. Every person has something to contribute to this extraordinary world we live in. If college is a stop on your journey, don’t squander your precious, precious time just squeaking by. Be aware of the path you are taking. Make the most of it. Strive to be your best.