Great! You got accepted into the college you were hoping for and get to pursue the degree that will take you into your career. But wait! Just because you got in, doesn’t mean you’ll stay in!
After teaching college for nearly a decade, here are five key takeaways to help you start and stay, successful in college.
1. Make a plan. A very popular aphorism states that those who fail to plan, plan. Nowhere is this more true than in college. Distractions come in all shapes and sizes, and without a plan, your college career can be derailed before you complete your first semester.
Avoid the, “I’ll just check out a bunch of classes and see what interests me” mentality. Instead, begin with the end in mind. Take some time to consider what do you want to accomplish with a degree?
If you simply need a degree, any degree in order to advance in your current position, then look for a degree that will get you to a diploma fastest. But beware! If you choose a degree that is so specialized that the courses are not transferrable, you may regret it down the road.
However, if the degree you seek is needed in order to acquire special skills and training for the career you’re heading toward, then sit down with an advisor within the first week, before starting any classes and create a degree map.
Let’s consider a hypothetical plan that requires 120 Credit Hours for a Bachelor’s degree. If you complete 15 credits per semester, you will finish a Bachelor degree in 8 semesters. (2 semesters per year, Spring/Fall = 4 years).
A degree map simply lists which courses you must take and in which order they must be taken. For example you will typically not be permitted to enroll in some senior level courses until you have completed prerequisite courses at the freshman, sophomore, or junior level.
Identifying all the courses required for the degree, then determining when those courses will be offered over the next four years will provide you with a solid plan for success.
2. Assume Nothing! Ask Questions! Your institution expects you to ask questions when you don’t know information. Beginning from almost your first day on campus, you should know the deadlines for: course enrollment
changes in course selection without penalty
withdrawal from course with refund
drop from course without incurring a letter grade
Never assume that if you decide to stop going to class that you will automatically be dropped. As an adult your institution will hold you accountable for your actions, as well as your inactions, and you may well be billed for courses you never attended.
Read the course syllabus as soon as it is available. Many institutions have the course syllabus online months in advance of the class. Ensure that you are prepared to meet the rigors of the course, acquire the requisite textbook, and support material, and dedicate the time necessary to complete course assignments.
The course syllabus is your contract with the instructor. You agree to adhere to the syllabus requirements, as do they. So, if it’s not specified in the syllabus you need to have a clear understanding of:
what is required to get an “A” or pass the class
what are the instructor’s expectations for you as a student
what can you expect from the instructor
what is the instructor’s policy on missed quizzes, exams or assignments and late work
what is the policy on attendance
Some of these requirements are stipulated by the institution, while others remain the discretion of the instructor. If you don’t know for sure, if it’s not in writing, don’t assume – ask, after all they are the authority on the subject!
3. Develop a Professional Academic Network. Meeting people across the spectrum of skills, knowledge, and experiences is an important aspect of college life. However, the most successful students are those who intentionally develop academic relationships with other like-minded students. Particularly when you have complementary strengths and interests in areas relevant to the degree or profession you’re seeking.
Purposely seek out individuals within your academic and professional interests who share your work ethic, scholarly ethos, and academic conviction for success. Look for internship opportunities that will grant you exposure to the industry or field you’re interested in. Actively read books, journals, articles, and listen to podcasts and webinars that involve your field of interest. Then seek to connect with other like minded attendees or participants who share your academic interests.
Attend job or career fairs and ask questions of recruiters regarding the industry or career field you’re interested in. Most are genuinely enthusiastic in sharing their career, which is why they are recruiters. Adopt the professional demeanor of one who was being interviewed whenever the opportunity to interact with an industry professional arises, because in many cases you may be speaking with a potential employer. Don’t simply talk to people, be intentional with your conversations while developing a professional network.
4. Manage Your Online Professional Presence. Since you truly only get one chance to make a first impression, it’s essential that you do everything you can to make the most favorable impression possible, wherever you are. The success of your academic network can quickly be neutralized as a result of an unprofessional comment you make on a social media platform.
It’s important to remember when when someone reads a comment you meant to be questioning or witty, they don’t have the benefit of your physical presence to help infer your intention. So now your question is inferred as a criticism, your wit is misconstrued as sarcasm and you soon discover your network’s been reduced.
“We judge ourselves by our intentions, we judge others by their actions.”
Treat your online presence as an extension of the academic professional portfolio you are creating for yourself. Since the introduction of the Internet has given individuals who may have been marginalized a voice and a platform to use it, many have sabotaged their career futures by failing to manage their online presence in college.
From a business standpoint if you have two candidates with the same academic qualifications and experience, but only one has a managed online presence, who gets the position? Understand that;
so having “zero” online presence sends a message, just as having one with questionable or potentially concerning content would. Navigating the information super highway is more easily done when you have a well managed professional online presence.
5. Find a Mentor. Your academic advisor will be skilled at helping you map out a successful degree plan to get you to graduation. Your instructors will provide you with the salient information and lead you to the knowledge necessary to be successful in the course. But it will be a mentor who can provide substance that ties the theoretical with the practical, to be incorporated with people and processes.
In the academic environment, a mentor may be a fellow student who has excelled due to superior study habits, use of technologies to render tons of disparate information into manageable, and meaningful chunks, or through use of other disciplined practices.
“Adopting is not the same as copying.”
The best practice is to ask an individual if they would mentor you in a specific area. However, it’s not required since you can simply pay attention and watch what they do, then emulate and incorporate those traits you seek.
This is not mocking, mimicking or copying; instead you simply deconstruct what they do to be successful into basic steps, then select the steps you want and implement them into your routine.
For example, your roommate always seems to be better prepared for exams because they use the notecard method for note taking, then review their cards frequently.
You might adopt this practice instead by recording the lecture/discussion and highlighting information in your text. Between classes you can quickly review the lecture discussion and transfer salient information to your mobile device for later review. Similar practice, different technique, same results.
To summarize these college success practices, it is essential that you discipline yourself to be committed to achieving your educational goals.
“Say what you mean, mean what you say, and do what you say you will do.”
Make a plan and work the plan, and you will ensure your success in college…and in life!