7 Tips for College Success (Specially helpful tips for incoming college freshmen)

Wondering what to do in college to hit it out of the park from the get go? In other words, what are the characteristics of successful students? This post discusses some very simple and practical things to do in college to be successful.

1. Go. To. Class.

I don’t think I can stress this enough and you might think that this is a no-brainer. But in my 7 years of teaching, I have seen so many students, both studious and otherwise, make this mistake.

Your professors know when you don’t attend class regularly. Yes, even if there are 300 of you in a class. They know! And while you may think, it doesn’t matter, it does. Visibility matters. Your professors are human beings and they are subjective. They know when you are not interested. Which takes me to a related point.


2. Don’t just be a body in class.

Image by Yassay from Pixabay

Anybody can go and sit on a chair. You can do it anywhere you want. Don’t go to class to just be a body. ENGAGE. Engage with your instructor and your classmates, even if it is just small talk. Yes, even if you have not read a word of the chapter that you were supposed to read for the day, make sure to raise your hand and ask a question. Or, share an insight that you may have learned outside class. Or, make an observation from the lecture slides.

Your instructor likes to know that you are not sitting there and browsing facebook on your laptop or phone. Your instructor wants feedback on the material that is being taught to you. Your instructor (if they are good) enjoys a contrarian who disagrees and has their own point of view. (PS on the last point: make sure your instructor is not an egoistic tool before your try disagreeing in class too much.)

3. Bug your professors, TAs, and instructors.

Image by Yassay from Pixabay

Your instructors are getting paid not only for their class hours and lectures but also for their office hours and to meet you outside of class hours and help you when it is needed. So make use of them! Bug them regularly and consistently to help out with your assignments, with subject matter that you did not understand in class, of topics that are related but the instructor did not discuss in class, what have you. You get a lot more out of the course by utilizing your instructors as study resources and not just teaching resources.

Added bonus of doing this: they will know you by name and will know that you are interested in the subject of study. There is nothing more exciting for you professor to know that you are genuinely interested in what they are teaching (even if you are kind of faking the genuine interest, we’ll take it!)


4. Take part in extra-academic activities.

If you want to make friends but also be productive about how you spend time in college then take part in extra-academic activities. From volunteering for your program’s student association or the student council or as paid student assistants for various clubs and other activities, take part in the social life of your campus.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Extra-academic activities are a great place to meet other students who may not be in your classes but you have a lot in common with. It is also really great for your potential future employers to see that you being proactive and productive in college outside of a classroom setting. Organizations are always looking for students with diverse skills and extra-academic activities are a great way to plump up your resume while you are still in school.

5. Sleep.

Sleep. Don’t Netflix and chill and skimp on sleep. It is the worst possible thing you can do to yourself while in college. Doctors at The Division of Sleep Medicine at the Harvard Medical School says this about sleep deprivation:

The most immediate effect of sleep deprivation is sleepiness. In our daily lives, we may experience this as a general fatigue, lack of motivation, or even the experience of nodding off. In the research or clinical setting, scientists measure sleepiness using a variety of methods. After a period of sleep deprivation, there are noticeable changes in brain activity, as measured by an electroencephalogram (EEG). These changes correspond to a lower level of alertness and a general propensity to sleep. Any period of continual wakefulness beyond the typical 16 hours or so will generally lead to these measurable changes.

We all have different sleep cycles and the hours of sleep needed varies from person to person. Figure out how much sleep you need and make sure you get that much sleep on average over the week.

6. Try not to consume alcohol.

I know, I know… it is not fun to be the party pooper person who says no to drinks at the party. But giving up alcohol is probably one of the best things that you can do for success in college. There are some studies that have shown that low doses of alcohol is probably good for the brain. But many of these studies also warn about the adverse effects of “excessive amounts of ethanol” to the nervous system. (Link to a recent study accessible via a library only: 10.1038/s41598-018-20424-y)

Image by Ian Lindsay from Pixabay

But not consuming alcohol is a productive policy not just a health policy. Including getting to the party, drinking, excessive drinking, throwing up perhaps, and the hangover the next day, you are wasting precious time to an activity (the party) that could have been fun even without drinking! So go ahead, go party to your heart’s content and just have as few drinks as possible!

7. Practice mindfulness.

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Mindfulness is great to create a habit of focusing deeply on any task at hand. Being able to focus for longer periods of time is a skill that is crucial to building a good study habit in college and retaining what you study. It saves time by reducing the amount of time for revisions and time spent on scattered concentration.

But let’s start by saying mindfulness is not meditation. Not asking you to become a yogi, I swear. 🙂

Mindfulness is to commit your mind to whatever it is that you are doing FULLY. Mindfulness as an exercise can be practiced with anything. Brushing your teeth? Focus on how your mouth feels or the movement of the brush over your teeth for as long as you brush. Whenever your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the action at hand.

Finally, a bonus tip: Develop a study habit. (This is so important that I wrote a whole another post about it. You can read it here.)

Go become an academic rockstar!