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how to be successful in college

How to Be Successful in College: Practical Strategies for Achieving Your Goals

My college life is a life full of ups and downs. It wasn’t until my 3rd year I started to think clearly and figured out where everything went wrong. My habits and my personality was to blame. But I had 2 years to fix it all and I did! Yes, I couldn’t get the highest GPA but I turned it around. I’m writing this guide so that you don’t have to face what I faced. Let my college journey teach you.

Whether you’re a returning student, managing multiple responsibilities, or a full-time scholar eagerly embracing your academic path, the pursuit of success is a common thread that unites us all. Everyone will face challenges albeit different ones, but it helps to know what they are beforehand.

In this guide, we’ll embark on our own journey, guided by nine invaluable tips that will help you overcome obstacles and reach your academic and personal aspirations.

Studying for a test involves several key steps. Start by organizing your study materials, including class notes, textbooks, and any supplementary resources. Review the test format, topics, and objectives to understand what will be covered. Create a study schedule that allocates specific time for each topic or section. Use active study techniques such as summarizing, creating flashcards, practicing past exams or quizzes, and teaching the material to someone else. Take short breaks during study sessions to maintain focus. Consider studying in a quiet environment to minimize distractions. Finally, ensure you get adequate rest and stay hydrated before the test to optimize your performance.

Setting the Foundation

A solid foundation is crucial for college success, and it begins with self-awareness.

Know your goals and values.

Acknowledging your values and goals is the first step in your college journey. If you can clearly define what you want out of your college life and experience, you’ll find out the values you prioritize. Those values will then keep you motivated all the time.

The simple trick to maintaining focus on your growth is grounding your success in your values. This will also help you to avoid comparing your journey to others.

Certainly! Self-study tips for adult students often revolve around effective time management, creating a dedicated study space, setting achievable goals, breaking down complex topics into manageable sections, utilizing online resources or courses, practicing active learning techniques like summarizing or teaching the material, and maintaining a healthy work-life-study balance. These strategies help in optimizing learning and academic success for adult students managing multiple responsibilities.

Find Out Your Goals

When I’m unsure about my goals and values for a task, I ask myself some eye-opening questions. Let me ask you some questions:

  • What do you want to get out of college?
  • What does success feel like to you?
  • Slice your long-term goal into smaller steps.

Networking tips for college students involve attending events, joining clubs, utilizing social media, and seeking out informational interviews for career insights.

I know these questions can seem heavy, but trust me, when you have the answer to these. You won’t need extra motivation.

After I answer the above questions, I start making plans to achieve them. Thinking long-term is good for holding on to a purpose, but you can break it down into smaller goals to make the journey easy. Long-term goals can seem like a burden.  It’s like going up the stairs one floor at a time. Each floor should be celebrated as an achievement. This is where SMART goals come into play:

Specific: Define your task.

Measurable: Determine how you’ll measure your goal.

Achievable: Create realistic goals within your control.

Relevant: Focus on goals that guide you toward success.

Time-bound: Set deadlines to keep you on track.

For instance, if your long-term goal is to earn your degree, consider setting a SMART goal like, “My goal is to start each weekday with one hour of additional study for the first three weeks of class.” This will help maintain your focus on the goal, control the time you invest in studying, and ultimately boost your chances of reaching your target GPA.

Going to Class and Engagement

Regular class attendance is the cornerstone of academic success in college. By attending classes regularly, you’re giving yourself a significant advantage in your pursuit to success. Here’s why:

Emphasizing the Importance of Regular Class Attendance

  • Attendance Fosters Learning: Attending class means you’re actively engaging with the material and the instructor. It’s during these hours that you’re presented with valuable information, insights, and opportunities for discussion that you can’t always get from textbooks or online resources.
  • Understanding Course Expectations: Class attendance also helps you understand the expectations of your professors. They may provide essential hints, clarify complex concepts, or even highlight topics likely to be on exams.
  • Participation and Engagement: Many professors consider attendance and active participation when grading. Your presence can impact your academic performance positively.

Majors in college often align with specific career paths, guiding students toward professions related to their field of study. Choosing a major that resonates with career goals can significantly impact future career opportunities and personal fulfillment.

The Risks of Missing Classes and Falling Behind

On the flip side, missing classes can set you back in several ways:

  • Incomplete Understanding: If you miss a lecture or class discussion, you might miss critical content. Playing catch-up later can be challenging, and you may never fully grasp the material.
  • Difficulty with Assignments and Exams: Assignments, quizzes, and exams are often based on what’s covered in class. Missing classes could lead to lower grades and increased stress.
  • Isolation: Consistent absenteeism can isolate you from your peers and professors. Building relationships with them is essential for a supportive and successful college experience.

Actively Engage

While attending class is crucial, merely being present isn’t enough. Actively engaging during your classes is equally vital for your academic journey.

The Significance of Active Participation during Classes

  • Learning Through Interaction: Asking questions, participating in conversations, and offering your insights are all examples of active participation. This improves your comprehension and fosters a deeper connection with the subject matter.
  • Retention of Information: Engaging in class activities and discussions can improve your memory and retention of course material. Actively processing information during class can help you recall it more effectively during exams.
  • Developing Critical Thinking: Active engagement encourages critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which are invaluable in college and beyond.

Benefits of Sitting Closer to the Front of the Classroom for Better Engagement

  • Improved Focus: Sitting closer to the front can minimize distractions and help you stay focused on the lecture.
  • Enhanced Interaction: When you’re near the front, you’re more likely to interact with the instructor and participate in class discussions.
  • Visibility and Audibility: You’ll have a clearer view of the whiteboard or screen and better audibility when you sit up front, ensuring you don’t miss any important details.

Striving for Excellence

Striving for excellence in your college journey is about more than just grades. It’s about embracing a mindset of continuous improvement, being open to new ideas, and developing the skills needed for academic and future career success.

Ensuring Academic Excellence through Effective Study Skills

Achieving success in your academic journey may not be inherently challenging, but it certainly demands diligence and effort. To excel in the classroom, consider adopting the following strategies:

  • Familiarize Yourself with the Syllabus: Thoroughly review the course syllabus to understand assignment due dates, test schedules, and grading criteria. This will help you plan your academic activities effectively.
  • Attend Every Class: Make it a rule to attend every class without fail. Consistent attendance ensures that you don’t miss valuable course content and discussions.
  • Optimize Seating Position: Choose a seat closer to the front of the classroom. This placement can enhance your focus and engagement during lectures.
  • Cultivate Study Partnerships: Seek out study partners or form study groups for each of your classes. Collaborative learning not only fosters understanding but also provides a support network.
  • Take Comprehensive Notes: Actively take notes during classes and, after each session, review and organize your notes to improve information retention.

Building Relevant Skills: Preparing for Career Success

In your pursuit of a college degree, you’ll soon discover that certain types of assignments become recurring themes. For instance, as an English major, you’ll write numerous essays, while a chemistry major might find themselves working on countless lab reports. Similarly, a math major will face sit-down exams filled with complex equations.

The Gallup-Purdue Index did a comprehensive survey of over 30,000 U.S. college graduates. It has shed light on a critical aspect of this academic journey: the relevance of building practical skills. Academic success is measured in large part by academic achievement. Still, this survey shows that academic success is closely related to your ability to acquire and use skills. To be specific, it talks about the skills that are directly related to your coursework.

Here’s how these findings reinforce the importance of building relevant skills:

1. Practical Application: The survey reveals that students who engage in internships or jobs where they can apply their classroom learning are more likely to be deeply engaged in their work post-graduation. This observation underscores the practical application of skills developed during the college years. It reinforces the idea that determining academic success doesn’t solely depend on theoretical knowledge. You also need to consider the ability to apply what you’ve learned to solve real-world challenges.

2. Extracurricular Engagement: The survey also shows the significance of extracurricular activities during college. Active involvement in these activities is linked to a higher likelihood of being engaged with work duties. This shows that college is more than academic skills. College is also for learning interpersonal, leadership, and teamwork skills. These skills are honed through participation in clubs, organizations, and activities outside of the classroom.

To summarize the survey findings, we can say that the data strongly supports the idea that students who focus on building practical, transferable skills during their college journey are more likely to succeed in their future careers. 

College isn’t merely a space for acquiring knowledge; it’s a platform for developing and refining skills that can be leveraged professionally. You are ensuring academic excellence by nurturing skills directly relevant to your coursework. By doing so, you’re also setting the stage for a successful and engaging career beyond graduation.

Staying Organized and Time Management

A crucial aspect of excelling in college is staying organized and managing your time effectively. This helps you avoid unnecessary stress and ensures that you make the most of your academic journey.

Stay Organized

  • Importance of Organization: Keeping your notes, assignments, and materials organized is essential for staying on top of your coursework. Disorganization can lead to wasted time and added stress.
  • Know Due Dates: Being organized means you’re aware of due dates for assignments, tests, and projects. This knowledge allows you to plan your time and prioritize tasks effectively.
  • Reducing Overwhelm: When you’re organized, you’re less likely to feel overwhelmed by the demands of college. You can tackle one task at a time with confidence.
  1. Effective Study Habits and Learning Style

Effective study habits and understanding your learning style are essential for a successful college experience.

Study Effectively: A Personalized Approach

Acknowledging the Diversity of Learning Styles

Learning is not one-size-fits-all. Just as people have different personalities, they also have unique ways of processing and retaining information. Some students excel through auditory learning, absorbing knowledge through lectures and discussions. Others thrive with visual cues, relying on diagrams and charts, while kinesthetic learners need hands-on experiences to truly grasp concepts. Acknowledging this diversity is crucial for tailoring your study habits effectively.

Encouraging Students to Identify Their Learning Style for Effective Studying

Identifying your learning style can significantly enhance your study sessions. Let’s see how:

Self-Awareness: Meet Sarah, a college student who recognized herself as an auditory learner. She noticed that she absorbed information best through discussions and oral explanations. This self-awareness allowed her to embrace her learning style fully.

Tailored Strategies: John, on the other hand, was a visual learner. He realized that creating colorful mind maps and flashcards helped him remember complex ideas. By adapting his study strategies to his learning style, John found studying more engaging and productive.

Efficient Study: Take Alex, a kinesthetic learner who always had a knack for hands-on activities. He transformed his study sessions into interactive experiences, conducting experiments and engaging in practical applications. Aligning his study methods with his learning style made his journey through college more efficient and enjoyable.

Support Systems: Navigating the Resources

College is a journey filled with challenges and opportunities, and you don’t have to navigate it alone. Building a robust support system is vital for your academic and well-being success.

Utilizing Resources: Campus’s Hidden Gems

Colleges offer a treasure trove of resources waiting to be explored. Libraries, tutoring services, and various support centers are invaluable assets for both academic excellence and well-being support.

Getting to Know Your Instructors: To make the most of these resources, it’s essential to establish connections with your instructors. Here’s how:

Introduce Yourself Early: At the start of the semester, take the initiative to introduce yourself. A simple “hello” can be the first step in building a valuable relationship.

Ask Questions: Don’t hesitate to engage with your instructors. Attend class early or stay afterward for a chat. Ask questions not only about the course material but also about their areas of interest and research.

Utilize Office Hours: Office hours are a great opportunity to connect with your instructors. You can ask about anything that piques your curiosity, not just what you don’t understand. This not only showcases your dedication but also fosters a deeper connection.

Explore Research Opportunities: Inquire about undergraduate research opportunities. You might discover new passions, invent a groundbreaking product, or contribute to scientific discoveries.

Consider Independent Study: If you’re seeking a more personalized learning experience, explore the possibility of arranging an independent study with your instructors.

By mid-semester, ask yourself:

  • Do all your instructors know you by name?
  • Do you feel that your instructors care about you as an individual?
  • Have you established mentor-mentee relationships with any of your instructors?

Building Connections for Academic and Well-Being Support

Your college journey becomes richer when you build a strong support network. Professors, classmates, and academic advisors can be valuable allies on your academic and well-being quest.

Support in College: A Catalyst for Long-Term Success

When it comes to gauging the impact of one’s college experience on workplace engagement and overall well-being, a groundbreaking Gallup-Purdue Index survey unearths some fascinating revelations. The study defies conventional beliefs, revealing that the type of institution—be it public or private, small or large, highly selective or less selective—matters far less than anticipated. The real game-changers are the experiences and support systems that students encounter during their academic journey.

The Power of College Support

In the realm of higher education, it’s not the prestige of the institution that predicts success but rather the relationships formed with professors and the personal investment in students’ growth. Here’s what the survey found:

Impact of Caring Professors: Graduates who fondly recalled professors who cared for them as individuals, nurtured their passion for learning, and inspired them to chase their dreams were twice as likely to be engaged at work and to thrive in various aspects of their well-being.

Mentorship and Guidance: Seek mentorship and guidance from experienced students or alumni. They’ve walked the same path and can offer invaluable insights and advice.

Common Pitfalls in College

  • Procrastination: The College Pitfall That Can Derail Success. Procrastination is a formidable foe that many college students grapple with. It’s the art of postponing tasks or assignments until the last possible moment, which can be remarkably tempting, especially when the freedom of college life offers ample opportunities for distractions. Here’s why it’s imperative to overcome this common pitfall:
  • Academic Underperformance: Procrastination can lead to cramming and subpar performance, as the quality of work suffers under tight deadlines. The risk of poor grades and missed opportunities for deep learning is substantial.
  • Impact on Engagement: Procrastination can also affect long-term engagement in your career, as it can lead to a pattern of incomplete or rushed tasks, decreased work satisfaction, and limited career progression.

Poor Time Management

In college, effective time management is a critical skill that, when lacking, can lead to numerous issues:

  • Increased Stress: Poor time management can result in stress, anxiety, and a feeling of being overwhelmed by academic responsibilities.
  • Lower Productivity: Inefficient use of time means that tasks take longer to complete, which can negatively impact academic performance.
  • Missed Opportunities: Without effective time management, you may miss out on extracurricular activities, networking events, and opportunities that can enhance your college experience and future career prospects.

Avoiding Burnout: Recognizing the Signs and Coping with Stress

Burnout is a state of chronic physical and emotional exhaustion, often accompanied by feelings of cynicism and detachment from coursework or activities. The signs of burnout may include:

  • Increased Fatigue: Feeling constantly tired and lacking the energy to engage in coursework and extracurricular activities.
  • Decreased Academic Performance: Burnout can lead to declining grades and academic underperformance.
  • Loss of Interest: You may lose interest in activities or social interactions that you previously enjoyed.

To avoid burnout, it’s essential to manage your workload effectively, maintain a balance between academic and personal life, and seek support or counseling when needed.

Maintaining a Social Balance in College

College life is not just about hitting the books; it’s also an opportunity to form meaningful social connections. Here are some essential tips to help you maintain a social balance during your college years:

  • Join Study Groups:Collaborating with peers in study groups can help you understand complex subjects, exchange ideas, and develop strong friendships. It also encourages you to stay engaged with your coursework.
  • Engage in Campus Activities:Participate in extracurricular activities and clubs that align with your interests. This not only enhances your college experience but also provides opportunities to meet like-minded individuals.
  • Build Connections with Peers:Connect with your fellow students. Attend social events, get to know your roommates or neighbors, and be open to forming friendships. These connections can offer support, create memorable experiences, and contribute to your overall well-being.

Take Care of Your Health

Prioritizing your mental and physical health is a fundamental aspect of ensuring overall well-being during your college journey. Acknowledge the profound impact that health can have on your academic success and learn how to establish a healthy lifestyle that supports your educational pursuits.

Prioritizing Your Health for Academic Success

A healthy body and mind are essential for academic excellence. Here’s how you can prioritize your mental and physical health in college:

  • Manage Stress:College life can be demanding, and stress is a common companion. Develop stress management techniques such as mindfulness, yoga, or meditation to help you stay calm and focused.
  • Get Adequate Sleep:Quality sleep is vital for cognitive function and overall well-being. Strive for a consistent sleep schedule to ensure you’re well-rested and alert during your classes.
  • Balanced Nutrition:Maintain a balanced diet to fuel your body and mind. Incorporate a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.
  • Regular Exercise:Physical activity is not only beneficial for your physical health but also your mental well-being. Engage in regular exercise, whether it’s going to the gym, joining a sports team, or simply taking daily walks.
  • Seek Support:Don’t hesitate to seek help from your campus counseling services or healthcare professionals if you’re facing mental health challenges. Your college likely provides resources to support your well-being.
  • Stay Hydrated:Proper hydration is crucial for maintaining focus and energy levels. Carry a reusable water bottle with you and make a habit of drinking enough water throughout the day.


Your college journey is a significant chapter in your life’s story. These nine tips are your compass and guide, helping you navigate the challenges and opportunities that come your way. Success in college isn’t just about grades; it’s about personal growth, resilience, and building the skills you need for a bright future. 

As you set sail on this adventure, remember that your path is unique, and it’s okay to seek help and support when needed. With dedication and determination, you can reach the summit of academic and personal success, ensuring that your college years become a foundation for a fulfilling life ahead. 

Bon voyage on your journey to success!


  1. Student’s guide to creating a successful experience by Purdue,
  2. How to Be Successful in College: 9 Tips(June 16, 2023) by Coursera,
  3. Life in College Matters for Life After College(May 6, 2014) by  Julie Ray and Stephanie Marken
  4. 10 Tips on How to Navigate College(June 21, 2022) by The College of Health Professionals,
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