[Authors removed at request of original publisher]
UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA LIBRARIES PUBLISHING EDITION, 2015. THIS EDITION ADAPTED
FROM A WORK ORIGINALLY PRODUCED IN 2010 BY A PUBLISHER WHO HAS REQUESTED THAT IT
NOT RECEIVE ATTRIBUTION.
College Success by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International
License, except where otherwise noted.
Chapter 1: You and Your College Experience
1.1 Who Are You, Really?
1.2 Different Worlds of Different Students
1.3 How You Learn
1.4 What Is College, Really?
1.5 Let’s Talk about Success
1.6 Chapter Activities
Chapter 2: Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
2.1 Setting and Reaching Goals
2.2 Organizing Your Space
2.3 Organizing Your Time
2.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 3: Thinking about Thought
3.1 Types of Thinking
3.2 It’s Critical
3.3 Searching for “Aha!”
3.4 Problem Solving and Decision Making
3.5 Chapter Activities
Chapter 4: Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
4.1 Setting Yourself Up for Success
4.2 Are You Ready for Class?
4.3 Are You Really Listening?
4.4 Got Notes?
4.5 Remembering Course Materials
4.6 Chapter Activities
Chapter 5: Reading to Learn
5.1 Are You Ready for the Big Leagues?
5.2 How Do You Read to Learn?
5.3 Dealing with Special Texts
5.4 Building Your Vocabulary
5.5 Chapter Activities
Chapter 6: Preparing for and Taking Tests
6.1 Test Anxiety and How to Control It
6.2 Studying to Learn (Not Just for Tests)
6.3 Taking Tests
6.4 The Secrets of the Q and A’s
6.5 The Honest Truth
6.6 Using Test Results
6.7 Chapter Activities
Chapter 7: Interacting with Instructors and Classes
7.1 Why Attend Classes at All?
7.2 Participating in Class
7.3 Communicating with Instructors
7.4 Public Speaking and Class Presentations
7.5 Chapter Activities
Chapter 8: Writing for Classes
8.1 What’s Different about College Writing?
8.2 How Can I Become a Better Writer?
8.3 Other Kinds of Writing in College Classes
8.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 9: The Social World of College
9.1 Getting Along with Others
9.2 Living with Diversity
9.3 Campus Groups
9.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 10: Taking Control of Your Health
10.1 Nutrition and Weight Control
10.2 Activity and Exercise
10.4 Substance Use and Abuse
10.6 Emotional Health and Happiness
10.7 Sexual Health
10.8 Chapter Activities
Chapter 11: Taking Control of Your Finances
11.1 Financial Goals and Realities
11.2 Making Money
11.3 Spending Less
11.4 Credit Cards
11.5 Financing College and Looking Ahead
11.6 Chapter Activities
Chapter 12: Taking Control of Your Future
12.1 The Dream of a Lifetime
12.2 Career Exploration
12.3 Choosing Your Major
12.4 Getting the Right Stuff
12.5 Career Development Starts Now
12.6 The Power of Networking
12.7 Résumés and Cover Letters
12.8 Interviewing for Success
12.9 Chapter Activities
College Success is adapted from a
work produced and distributed under a
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has requested that they and the original
author not receive attribution. This
adapted edition is produced by the
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Chapter 1: You and Your College Experience
CollegeDegrees360 – College Student – CC BY-SA 2.0.
Where Are You Now?
Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.
2 College Success
Yes Unsure No
1. I understand all the benefits of a college education for my future life.
2. I have clear-cut career interests and have already planned my college program to prepare me best for my
3. I am aware of how my previous educational background has prepared me for college work.
4. I have all the personal traits of a successful college student.
5. I know how the learning process functions and make an effort to maximize my learning at each step in this
6. I know my personal learning style and use it to my advantage when learning new things.
7. I know how to pay attention to gain the most from my classes.
8. I am aware of my college’s policies for academic honesty and behavior on campus.
9. I know where to find all the resources of my college that can help me succeed both academically and
10. I am confident I can earn the grades I need to achieve success in my college courses.
11. I know the first year of college will be the most difficult, but I am fully prepared and take responsibility
for my own success.
12. I am taking steps every day to ensure I am successful in every aspect of the college experience.
Where Do You Want to Go?
Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate
your present skills for succeeding in college?
Not very strong
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
In the following list, circle the three most important areas in which you think you can improve:
• Relating my personal values to education
• Choosing a program or degree major
• Finding the best career for my interests and skills
• Being prepared for college-level work
• Developing a positive attitude for college
• Successfully using each step of the learning process
• Adapting and broadening my personal learning style
• Getting the most out of classes large and small
• Following all college policies
Chapter 1: You and Your College Experience 3
• Taking advantage of all college resources
• Getting the best grades I can get
• Successfully transitioning to college and completing the first year
• Doing everything I can every day to ensure I succeed in college
Are there other areas or skills that need more attention in order for you to succeed in college? Write down other things
you feel you need to work on.
How to Get There
Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:
• Viewing college in terms of your personal values
• Recognizing the importance of making a commitment to succeed in the first year of college
• Discovering what career and college major best match your interests and skills
• Understanding the obstacles students like you may have to overcome when transitioning into college
• Figuring out how to learn best in each step of the learning process
• Using your personal learning style effectively while also expanding to include other forms of learning
• Staying motivated and succeeding in large lecture classes as well as small discussion classes
• Working with your academic advisor to select courses and plan your program
• Discovering what resources your college offers students to succeed not only in classes but also in their
personal and social lives
• Understanding why grades matter
• Understanding why the first year of college is so critical and how to ensure you make it through
• Knowing what steps you can take starting today and every day to ensure your success in college
Welcome to College!
Congratulations on your decision to attend college! For the great majority of college students, it really was your
decision—not just an automatic thing to do. If you happen to be one of the few who just sort of ended up in college
for want of anything better to do, the benefits of college will soon become obvious.
The reason for this book, and for almost all college courses, is that college does require commitment and effort.
Like everything else in life that leads to meaningful results, success in college is not automatic. But when you
apply yourself to your studies using the skills you’ll learn in this book, you’ll find you can succeed.
4 College Success
When asked, most students say they’re in college primarily for the job or career they expect to follow after college.
And they are correct that college pays off enormously in terms of future earnings, job security and stability, and
job satisfaction. Every statistic shows that people with a college education will make much more in their lifetime
(much, much more than the cost of college itself) and be much happier with the work they do.
But job and career issues are only a part of the big picture. A college education results in many other personal
benefits, and these also should be part of your motivation for doing well and continuing with your college plans.
Here are a few additional, less tangible benefits of a college education:
• You will have a fuller life and a better understanding of the world around you.
• You will gain decision-making and problem-solving skills.
• You will meet many interesting and diverse people and have a richer social life.
• You will gain self-confidence.
• You will gain learning skills that can continue for a lifetime.
• You will make wiser decisions about lifestyle issues and live healthier.
• You will make wiser economic decisions the rest of your life.
• You will be better equipped to deal with other people, organizations, governmental agencies, and all
the hassles of daily life.
• You will feel more fully a part of your community, the larger culture, and history.
A college education is correlated with greater success in all those areas, even though most students are usually
more concerned with making it through the next class or test than the rest of their lives. But sometimes it helps to
recall what a truly great step forward you are taking!
Sadly, however, it’s important to recognize that some students do not succeed in college and drop out within the
first year. Sometimes it’s due to an unsolvable financial problem or a personal or family crisis, but most of the time
students drop out because they’re having problems passing their courses. The two biggest causes of this problem
are a lack of motivation and not having learned the skills needed to succeed in college.
A book like this one can help you stay motivated when things get tough, but it can’t necessarily give you
motivation to start with. That’s part of what you yourself have to bring to college. What we can promise you is
that you can learn the skills for succeeding in college.
Special skills are needed because college isn’t the same as high school. Throughout this book, we’ll be looking
at the many ways college is different from high school. To name just a few, college is different in study skills
needed, in personal skills related to being independent, in social skills for getting along with instructors and others
on campus, in financial realities, in matters of personal health, and more.
Remember, you can learn whatever you need in order to succeed. That’s what this book is all about. You’ll learn
how to get the most out of going to class. You’ll learn how to study in ways that use your time efficiently and help
you pass tests. You’ll even learn how to remember what you read in your college textbooks. You’ll learn how to
manage your time more effectively than you might have in the past, so that studying is less a burden and more a
Chapter 1: You and Your College Experience 5
simple routine. You’ll even learn how things like eating well and getting enough sleep and exercise make it easier
to do well in your classes.
One warning: you might not at first see an immediate payoff for everything you read in this book. When it comes
to certain things, such as tips for how to take good notes in class to help you study later on for a test, you will get
specific, practical advice you can put to use immediately to get a better grade. But not everything is as obvious or
immediately beneficial. Some of the things you’ll read about here involve ideas you’ll need to think about. Some
things will help you get to know yourself better and understand more clearly what you really want from your
education and how to go about attaining them.
But we promise you this: if you care enough to want to succeed in college and care enough to read these chapters
and try to use the information, suggestions, and tips presented here, you will succeed in college.
1.1 Who Are You, Really?
1. List your most important personal values and relate them to a college education.
2. Begin thinking about what kind of career will best match your interests, skills, and personality.
3. Understand how college is different from high school in many ways.
4. Develop a positive attitude about yourself as a college student.
5. Accept responsibility for your college experience and your life.
Succeeding in college is rather like succeeding in life. It’s really much more about you than it is about college. So
the most important place to start is to consider why you’re here, what matters to you, and what you expect to get
out it. Even if you have already thought about these questions, it’s good to reaffirm your commitment to your plan
as we begin to consider what’s really involved in being a college student.
What’s Your Plan?
Take a few minutes and write down short answers to the questions in Activity 1. Be honest with yourself, and
write down what you really feel. You are not writing for an instructor here—not what you think someone expects
to hear—and you are not being graded on your answers!
Activity 1: Your College Plan
How long do you anticipate being in college?
How many courses will you need to take per term to finish college in your planned time period?
What do you anticipate will be the most difficult part of completing college?
Are you confident you will be able to overcome any possible difficulties in completing college?
Were you able to easily answer the questions in Activity 1? How confident do you feel about your plan?
1.1 Who Are You, Really? 7
These are important questions to think about for the simple reason that students who have a clear plan and who are
prepared to overcome possible obstacles that may arise along the way are much more likely to succeed in college.
In other words, just thinking in a positive way about your future can help that future come true!
What Matters to You?
The word values refers to things that matter to a person. What makes you feel good? What things would you be
doing if you had all the time, money, and opportunities in the world? Questions like these help us define our own
values. Every individual has his or her own values.
Thinking about your own values can help you know what you want from life and from college. Take a moment
and consider the list of things in Activity 2 that are valued by some people. For each value, rate how important
that thing is to you.
Activity 2: Your Values
Following is a list of things that different people say they value. For each item on this list, indicate how important it is to
you yourself by ranking it as very important (5), not important (0), or somewhere in between.
8 College Success
Not important Very important
Making a good income
Having good friends
Learning new things about your interests
Having a nice car
Having intelligent conversations
Staying current with the news
Hanging out with friends
Playing computer or video games
Online social networking
Reading a good book
Traveling to new places
Being liked by others
Studying and reading textbooks
Having nice clothing
Enjoying time alone
Getting out in nature
Working your job
Looking good, personal hygiene
Meeting new people
Going to movies or entertainments
Eating nice meals out
Exercising, being physically active
Being your own boss
Having a positive romantic relationship
Engaging in your hobbies
Setting your own schedule
Volunteering your time for a good cause
1.1 Who Are You, Really? 9
Not important Very important
Going to religious services
Talking on the telephone, texting, e-mail
Going to parties
Participating in clubs, organized activities 0
Look back at the values you rated highly (4 or 5) in Activity 2, which probably give a good indication of how
you enjoy spending your time. But now look at these things you value in a different way. Think about how each
relates to how you think you need to manage your time effectively while in college. Most college students feel
they don’t have enough time for everything they like to do. Do some of the activities you value most contribute to
your college experience, or will they distract you from being a good student?
Students who enter college with their eyes open and who think about their own values and motivations will be
more successful. If you have a good idea of what you want from life, the rest of it can be learned. We’ll start right
away in Chapter 2 “Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track” by helping you stay motivated and manage
your time well. The following chapters will then lead you through learning how to study well and everything else.
Thinking Ahead to a Major and Career
If you’ve just begun college, should you already know what career you seek in the future and what courses you
should take or what you should major in? Good question!
Some students say they have known from a very early age what they want to do after college, choose the college
that is best for that plan, never waiver from the plan and choose each course with the one goal in mind, and then
enter their chosen career after college or graduate school. At the other extreme, some students have only a vague
sense of direction before beginning college, take a wide variety of courses, select a major only when they reach
the point that they must major in something (or perhaps change majors multiple times), and then after college
choose to work in an entirely different field.
Some students choose to major in an academic subject simply because they enjoy that subject, never concerned
with what kind of job they may get afterward. The traditional idea of the liberal arts education is that you can go
to college not to prepare for a specific career but to become a well-educated person who is then in a better position
to work in any number of careers.
10 College Success
None of these different approaches to choosing a major and a career is better than others. All students receive the
many benefits of college, and all are likely to find a more fulfilling career.
So where are you in this great variety of attitudes about career and major choices?
Assuming you are still early in your college program, the take-home message here is that you don’t need to make
any decisions yet. Chances are, as you take courses in a variety of subjects and meet people in many different
fields, you’ll naturally discover something about what you really enjoy doing and what career options you may
choose to pursue.
On the other hand, help is available for discovering your interests, strengths, and personality factors related to
careers. You can learn a lot about your options and what you would be good at by visiting your college’s advising
or counseling department. Almost all colleges have tools to help you discover what careers you would most enjoy.
Talk with your advisor or visit the career counseling center to learn more about what future careers you
may be interested in.
CAFNR – jean-martin fortier talk_121514_0105 – CC BY-NC 2.0.
The Strong Interest Inventory is such an assessment tool used by many colleges and universities. You answer
a series of simple questions, and the computer-scored tabulation provides information about your interests,
strengths, and personality related to different types of careers. This tool can also suggest specific courses, jobs
and internships, and extracurricular activities relevant to personal and career interests. Ask your college’s career
counseling center if such a tool is available.
Another widely used tool is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The MBTI is a personality inventory that
identifies you as one of sixteen distinct personality types. Each personality type correlates with happiness in
certain careers. Ask your college’s career counselor to see if the MBTI is available for you.
A free online assessment, like the CareerLink Inventory (http://www.mpcfaculty.net/CL/climain.htm), is a
1.1 Who Are You, Really? 11
relatively simple tool that can teach you a lot about yourself. Follow the steps in the “Outside the Book” section
to maximize your results.
Although there’s nothing wrong with starting out without an intended major or career path, take care not to
accidentally take courses that end up not counting toward your program goal or degree. You could end up in
college longer than needed or have to pay for additional courses. Be sure to read your college catalog carefully
and to talk to your academic advisor.
Your Past Educational Experience
It is important to understand how college is different from high school and how well your own past educational
experiences have prepared you for what you will find in college. This is another way in which entering college
“with your eyes wide open” will prove beneficial.
College is a unique experience for all students—whether you just graduated from high school or are returning
to education after years of working. You are transitioning from one form of education to another. Some students
have difficulty because of the differences between college and high school.
Generally speaking, however, the college experience is usually different from high school in these ways:
• Time management is more important in college because of varying class and work schedules and other
• College instructors seldom seek you out to offer extra help if you’re falling behind. You are on your
own and expected to do the work, meet deadlines, and so on, without someone looking over your
• There may be no attendance policy for classes. You are expected to be mature enough to come to class
without fear of penalties.
• Many classes are large, making it easy to feel lost in a crowd.
• Many instructors, especially in large classes, teach by lecture—which can be difficult for those whose
high school teachers interacted a great deal with students.
• College courses require more study time and require you to work on your own.
• Your social and personal life in college may be less supervised. Younger students may experience a
sudden increase in freedom to do what they want.
• You will meet more people from more diverse backgrounds in college.
• All of these differences, along with a change in living situation for many students, can lead to
emotional changes—both positive and negative.
What does all this add up to? For some students, the sudden independence and freedom can lead in negative
directions: sleeping late, skipping classes, missing deadlines, failing to study adequately for tests, and so on. Other
students who are highly motivated and work hard in their classes may also have difficulty transitioning to the
12 College Success
higher academic standards of college. Suddenly, you’re responsible for everything. That can be thrilling but also
a challenge to get used to. All the chapters in this book will help you make this transition successfully.
Liking Yourself as a Student and Why That Matters
Of all the factors that affect how well one does in college, attitude is probably the single most important. A
positive attitude leads to motivation, and someone who is strongly motivated to succeed can overcome obstacles
that may occur.
In Chapter 2 “Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track”, we’ll discuss things you can do to keep a positive
attitude about college and stay motivated in your studies. But your attitude toward yourself as a student matters
just as much. Now that you are in college, you are a new person, not just the same person who happens now to be
a college student. What do you think of this new person?
If you’re feeling excited, enthusiastic, capable, and confident in your new life—great! Skip ahead to the next
section. But if you’re less sure how well you’ll do in your new role, take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.
A lot of new college students, once they begin experiencing the differences from high school, start having doubts.
Some may start to feel “I’m not a good enough student” or “I can’t keep up with all this.” Some may become
fearful or apathetic.
These feelings, while a perfectly natural response to a big change in one’s life, can hinder one’s motivation and
ability to succeed. If you think you can’t make it, that might become true. If you’re sure you’ll make it, you will.
Again, we’ll ask you to think honestly about this. If you have these thoughts sometimes, why is that? Are you just
reacting to a low grade on your first test? Are you just feeling this way because you see other students who look
like they know what they’re doing and you’re feeling out of place? Most likely, if you have doubts about being
able to do well, this is just a reaction to college being more difficult than what you’re used to. It’s mostly a matter
of having the right skills for succeeding in college. This book will help you learn them—everything from how to
study effectively, how to do better on tests, even how to read your textbooks more effectively.
Why is it that some students need to work on strengthening their skills after beginning college while others seem
to waltz right in and do well from the start?
The answer sounds simple but is actually rather complex. There simply are many differences among people. There
are differences among high schools as well as one’s past teachers, one’s peer group, one’s family, one’s cultural
background, and many other factors. As a result of many different things, some students just need a little more
help to succeed in college. No student is better or automatically more capable than another, however, and everyone
can learn the skills to succeed.
To succeed in college, you need to take control of your life. Gone are the days when you could just “cruise”
1.1 Who Are You, Really? 13
through school, or life, or let others motivate you or establish schedules to manage your time. This change presents
an exciting opportunity. It’s your first step in your new life and the key to your future. Here are a few thoughts to
get you started in the right direction:
• Accept responsibility for your life. You are on equal footing with everyone else and have the same
opportunities to succeed.
• Decide what you want to do. Don’t let things just happen—make them happen by deciding that they
• Realize you can change. You can change your habits to become a better student. You can change your
attitudes and become a more positive, motivated student.
• Develop a personal ethical code. Do what is right for you and for others. The college world demands
ethical standards and rewards responsible, ethical behavior. Be proud of who you are and your good
• Enjoy your life! Going to college might seem overwhelming at times, but no one is asking you to
“give up your life” to succeed in college. Enjoy meeting new people, learning new things, and
experiencing the diversity of the college experience. Most college graduates look back on their college
years as one of the best periods in their whole lives!
• A college education provides many intangible benefits as well as much better prospects for a career you will
• Thinking about your personal values and how they relate to your education can help you stay motivated to
succeed in college.
• Personality and skill inventories can help you discover the right career for your future and the best major in
• Because college is a new and different life experience for most students, taking responsibility for new
freedoms and managing time well are critical.
1. Which of the following are benefits of a college education?
1. A better understanding of the world
2. Developing problem-solving skills
3. Meeting interesting people
4. Making wiser financial decisions in the future
5. All of the above
14 College Success
2. What do you value that will be richer in your future life because you will have a college education?
What do you value that will you likely have less time or money to spend on while in college?
3. Life in college usually differs in many ways from one’s previous life in high school or in the workforce.
What are the biggest changes you are experiencing now or anticipate experiencing this term?
4. For each of the following statements, circle T for true or F for false:
T F Attitude is one of the most important factors affecting college success.
T F If you sit back, wait patiently, and stick it out long enough, success in college will inevitably come to you.
T F To do well in college, you basically have to give up everything else in life for a while.
T F Most college graduates later look back on their college years as one of the best times in their lives.
1.2 Different Worlds of Different Students
1. Understand how you may be similar to, and different from, other traditional students or returning students.
2. Describe the characteristics of successful students.
Not all college students are the same, and the world of college is therefore sometimes different for different
students. Students will answer the following questions in a variety of different ways:
1. Are you attending college directly from high school or within a year of graduation?
2. Are you a full-time student?
3. Is English your first language?
4. Are you the first person in your family to attend college?
5. Have you spent most of your life in a country other than the United States?
6. Are you married or living with a partner? Do you have children?
7. Do you now or have you worked full time?
When thinking about different “types” of students, be careful to avoid stereotyping. While there are genuine
differences among individual students, we must never assume an individual person has certain characteristics
simply because he or she is a certain “type” of student. For example, if you answered yes to questions 1 through
3 and no to the other questions, you may be called a “traditional” student—young and attending college after
high school. The word “traditional” is used simply because, in the past, this group of students formed the majority
of college students—even though, at many colleges, these students are now the minority. On the other hand, if
you are older and have worked for some years before returning to school, or if you are an international student or
are working and attending classes part time, you might be considered a “nontraditional” student. Again, this term
comes from past statistics, even though very many colleges have more “nontraditional” students than “traditional”
16 College Success
Colleges have students of all ages and with diverse backgrounds.
Bernard Oh – IMG_7560 – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
What does that mean to you? First, realize that not everything discussed in this book will apply to you. If you’re
eighteen and living away from your family for the first time in a college dormitory, you will likely not face the
same issues of finding time for studying as an older student working full time and having children at home. If
you’re thirty and returning to school after years of successfully managing a job, you may have to reestablish your
study skills but will not face the same issues as a younger student who may be tempted by the sudden freedom of
college and have difficulty setting boundaries.
Every student brings certain advantages to college from their background experience. Every student may also face
certain kinds of difficulties. Understanding how your own background may impact your own preparedness for
college can help you make a good start in your college experience.
We’re putting the quotation marks around the word “traditional,” again, because this group of college students is
no longer the majority at many colleges, although the term is still sometimes used by educators. Coming directly
or almost directly from high school, “traditional” students are used to attending classes, reading textbooks, and
studying and thus may find the transition to college easier. Many are single and unattached and have fewer time
commitments to others. Although a high percentage do work while in college, the work is typically part time or
during the summer and does not have a severe time impact on their studies. As first-year students, usually living
on campus at a four-year college or university, they do not lose time to commuting and typically their housing plan
includes meals and otherwise simplifies their living arrangements. In all, many have few responsibilities other
than their academic work.
On the other hand, “traditional” students living away from home for the first time may face more psychological
1.2 Different Worlds of Different Students 17
and social issues than other student groups. One is away from family and old friends, perhaps forced to cope
with an incompatible roommate or living arrangements, and facing all sorts of new temptations. Experiencing
this sudden new freedom, many students experiment with or develop habits such as poor dietary and sleep habits,
lack of exercise, and sometimes substance abuse or other behaviors that disrupt their academic routine and study
habits. Many young students are forced to “grow up” quickly after arriving at college. Some students who do not
adjust to the freedoms of college end up dropping out in their first year.
Students returning to their education are often older, may have worked for a number of years, and may be used
to living on their own and being financially and psychologically independent. They are often more mature and
have a stronger sense of what they want from college; they may be more goal driven. They may be paying their
own way through college and want to get their money’s worth. They may be full-time students but frequently are
still working and can take only a part-time course load. They often live off campus and may own a home and
have a mortgage. They may have children. Because they have made a very deliberate decision to go to college,
returning students are often serious students and are motivated to do the work. Having spent time in the work
world, they may also have developed good problem-solving and decision-making skills as a result of their “realworld” experience.
On the other hand, returning students may have less time for studying because of work and family commitments.
They may feel more stress because of the time and financial requirements of college. Spending less time on
campus may contribute to not feeling completely at home in the academic world. They may not have time for
many extracurricular and campus activities. Although they may be dedicated and hardworking students, they
may also be less patient learning “theory” in courses and want all their coursework to relate directly to the real
Other Student Groups
Beyond this difference of age, some other common differences also affect one’s college experience. Students in
the following groups may be either “traditional” students by age or returning students.
Many returning students are commuter students, and it is increasingly common also for many young people after
high school to continue to live at home or in their own apartment, coming to campus only for classes. Commuter
students often face the same issues of limited time as returning students. They may find it difficult to find time to
talk with an instructor outside of class.
18 College Success
The phrase “first-generation student” refers to students who are the first in their families to attend college. These
students may be “traditional” students enrolled right after high school or may be returning students. Students
whose parents did not attend college may be less familiar with some or all aspects of the college experience and
thus may have to transition into their new life.
Recent Immigrant and International Students
Many colleges have a significant percentage of students who have recently immigrated to the United States
or who are attending college here. What both groups may have in common is coming from a different culture
and possibly speaking English as a second language. They may have to make cultural adjustments and
accommodations. Language issues are often the most serious obstacle to overcome, especially since so much of
college education is based on reading and writing in English.
Students with Disabilities
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits colleges and universities from discriminating on the basis of
disabilities and forces them to ensure that both classes and extracurricular activities are accessible to students with
disabilities. Accessibility includes both physical accessibility to campus buildings and housing and accessibility
to services and aids necessary for effective communication. Students with disabilities have the right to request
any accommodations needed to allow them to succeed in college. For more information or to receive answers
to any specific questions, contact the Association on Higher Education And Disability (AHEAD) at
Students Who Are Working
The key issue for working students often is time—how to find enough time for studying enough to do well in
classes. Since it is very difficult to maintain two full-time schedules—work and school—one or the other may
suffer. For those working long hours, Chapter 2 “Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track” presents many
tips for managing your time when you have less of it; Chapter 11 “Taking Control of Your Finances” also suggests
ways to cut back on expenses while in college so that you don’t have to work so many hours.
Students with a Family
Typically it is returning students who have families of their own, although younger students may also have
families to care for. Having children of your own means you have different priorities from most some students,
1.2 Different Worlds of Different Students 19
but a family shouldn’t be viewed as an obstacle to college success. Time may be short, and you’ll have to manage
it carefully to avoid falling behind in your studies. Chapter 2 “Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track”
describes some creative ways students can involve their families in the experience to prevent normal student
stresses from disrupting family happiness.
Profile of a Successful Student
While it’s important to consider your strengths, it’s also important to develop a plan for moving forward and
ensuring you have the knowledge and skills needed to succeed. The following are some of the characteristics of
the successful student you can be:
• Successful students have a good attitude and know how to stay motivated. You will learn about this in
Chapter 2 “Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track”.
• Successful students have developed good time management strategies, such as scheduling study time
and getting started early on assignments and projects. You will also learn about this in Chapter 2
“Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track”.
• Successful students have developed their critical thinking skills and apply them in their studies.
Chapter 3 “Thinking about Thought” gets you started in this direction.
• Successful students have effective strategies for taking good notes in class and using them. Chapter 4
“Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering” guides you through this learning process.
• Successful students have learned how to gain the most from their assigned readings for classes.
Chapter 5 “Reading to Learn” presents guidelines for effective reading and taking notes to help you
understand and retain information.
• Successful students know how to prepare for and take tests successfully. Chapter 6 “Preparing for and
Taking Tests” tells you what you need to know and presents tips for effective test taking.
• Successful students interact well with their instructors and fellow students in and outside of class.
Chapter 7 “Interacting with Instructors and Classes” helps you gain these skills.
• Successful students have learned to write well for their classes, an essential aspect of college
education. Chapter 8 “Writing for Classes” introduces key principles of effective college writing to get
• Successful students develop social relationships that contribute to, rather than detract from, their
educational experiences. Chapter 9 “The Social World of College” will show you how to manage your
• Successful students take control of their health with good habits that help them be better students and
feel less stress. Chapter 10 “Taking Control of Your Health” can help you get started on good habits.
• Successful students have control over their finances. Because getting into debt is a very common
reason that students have to drop out of college, it’s important to control expenditures and manage
your finances well, as we’ll see in Chapter 11 “Taking Control of Your Finances”.
20 College Success
• Successful students are able to transition well from the world of college into their future careers. You
will learn these important principles in Chapter 12 “Taking Control of Your Future” to carry forward
into your future.
• College students vary widely in terms of age, work experience before college, cultural background, family,
and other factors that may affect how they learn.
• Traditional, young students just out of high school face a transition involving new freedoms and new
situations they may need to master in order to succeed academically.
• Returning students who work and may also have family responsibilities often have time issues and may feel
out of place in the college environment.
• Other student groups include commuters, first-generation students, immigrant and international students,
students with disabilities, and others, each of whom may need to face additional issues to be successful.
• Regardless of individual differences, all successful students share a number of traits, including a good
attitude, effective time management strategies, good studying and test-taking skills, and more.
1. Are you a “traditional” or “returning” student? List an important advantage you have as a result of being in
2. Check off which traits in this list are true of successful students:
They know how to stay motivated.
They don’t need to schedule study periods because they study at every available moment every day.
They know better than to try to think on their own.
They know how to speed-read so they don’t have to underline or highlight in their textbooks.
They avoid talking with their instructors, so they can remain anonymous.
They develop their writing skills.
They eat fast food so they have more time for studying.
They have few friends, because social relationships distract one from academics.
They use several credit cards so they don’t have to worry about finances until after graduation.
1.3 How You Learn
1. Understand and make effective use of the four steps of the learning process.
2. Describe the different learning styles of different college students and recognize your own learning
3. Know how to benefit from your own learning style and how to expand your learning skills with the
techniques of other styles.
4. Take action to learn effectively when your learning style differs from your instructor’s teaching style.
One of the first steps for becoming a successful student is to understand the learning process itself. Certain
characteristics of effective learning, including the four-step learning cycle, are true of all people. At the same
time, people have different learning styles. Understanding these processes is important for maximizing your own
learning while in college.
The Learning Cycle: Four Steps to Learning
Adult learning is different from learning in primary and secondary school. In high school, teachers often take
much of the responsibility for how students learn—encouraging learning with class discussions, repeating key
material, creating study guides, and looking over students’ shoulders to make sure no one falls behind. In college,
most of the responsibility for learning falls on the student. You’re free to fail—or succeed—as you choose. This
applies as well to how well you learn.
Learning an academic subject means really understanding it, being able to think about it in meaningful ways
and to apply that understanding in new situations. This is very different from simply memorizing something and
repeating it back on a test. Academic learning occurs most effectively in a cycle of four steps:
Think first about the different situations in which you learn. Obviously you learn during class, whether by
listening to the instructor speak or in class discussions in which you participate. But you also learn while reading
your textbooks and other materials outside of class. You learn when you talk with an instructor during office
22 College Success
hours. You learn by talking with other students informally in study groups. You learn when you study your class
notes before an exam. All of these different learning situations involve the same four-step process.
Figure 1.4 The Learning Cycle
Absorb -> Capture -> Review ->)">
One student rolls out of bed a few minutes before class and dashes across campus and grabs the last seat in the
hall just as the instructor begins a lecture; it takes him a few minutes to find the right notebook in his backpack,
and then he can’t find a pencil. He’s thinking about how he should’ve set his alarm a little earlier so he’d have had
time to grab a cup of coffee, since he’s having trouble waking up. Finally he settles in his seat and starts listening,
but now he can’t figure out what the instructor is talking about. He starts jotting down phrases in his notes anyway,
thinking he’ll figure it out later.
Another student looks over his notes from the previous class and quickly glances back at passages he’d
highlighted in the textbook reading. He arrives at class a few minutes early, sits up front where he can hear well,
and has his notebook open and pencil out. While waiting for the instructor to arrive, he talks to another student
about her ideas for the paper due next week in this class.
It’s obvious which of these students will learn more during today’s class lecture. One has prepared and the other
has not, and they will experience a huge difference in their understanding of today’s topic. Preparing to learn is
the first step for learning. The same is true when you sit down to read your textbook, to study for an exam, or
to work on an out-of-class project. Partly you are putting yourself in the right mind-set to learn. But when you
review yesterday’s notes to prepare for today’s class, you are also solidifying yesterday’s learning.
1.3 How You Learn 23
“Absorbing” refers to the actual taking in of new ideas, information, or experience. This is what happens at the
moment a student listens to a class lecture or reads a textbook. In high school, this is sometimes the only learning
step taken by some students. They listened to what the instructor said and “regurgitated” it back on the test. But
this won’t work in college because learning now requires understanding the topic, not just repeating facts or
information. In coming chapters you’ll get tips for improving in this step.
“Capturing” refers to taking notes. No matter how good your memory, you need to take good notes in college
simply because there is so much to learn. Just hearing something once is seldom enough. You have to go back
over the material again, sometimes several times again, thinking about it and seeing how it all fits together.
The more effective your note-taking skills, the better your learning abilities. Take notes also when reading your
textbooks. You’ll learn methods for taking good notes in later chapters.
The step of reviewing—your class notes, your textbook reading and notes, and any other course materials possibly
including recordings, online media, podcasts, and so on—is the next step for solidifying your learning and
reaching a real understanding of the topic. Reviewing is also a way to prepare for new information and ideas.
That’s why this is a learning cycle: the end of the process loops back to the beginning as you prepare for additional
Reviewing is also the step in which you discover whether you really understand the material. If you do not
understand something fully, you may need to reread a section of the book, talk it over with a friend in the class, or
go see your instructor.
What’s Your Learning Style?
Different people have different learning styles. Style refers to a student’s specific learning preferences and
actions. One student may learn more effectively from listening to the instructor. Another learns more effectively
from reading the textbook, while another student benefits most from charts, graphs, and images the instructor
presents during a lecture.
Learning style is important in college. Each different style, described later in more detail, has certain advantages
and disadvantages compared with other styles. None is “right” or “wrong.” You can learn to use your own style
24 College Success
College instructors also have different teaching styles, which may or may not match up well with your learning
style. Although you may personally learn best from a certain style of teaching, you cannot expect that your
instructors will use exactly the style that is best for you. Therefore it is important to know how to adapt to teaching
styles used in college.
Different systems have been used to describe the different ways in which people learn. Some describe the
differences between how extroverts (outgoing, gregarious, social people) and introverts (quiet, private,
contemplative people) learn. Some divide people into “thinkers” and “feelers.” A popular theory of different
learning styles is Howard Gardner’s “multiple intelligences,” based on eight different types of intelligence:
1. Verbal (prefers words)
2. Logical (prefers math and logical problem solving)
3. Visual (prefers images and spatial relationships)
4. Kinesthetic (prefers body movements and doing)
5. Rhythmic (prefers music, rhymes)
6. Interpersonal (prefers group work)
7. Intrapersonal (prefers introspection and independence)
8. Naturalist (prefers nature, natural categories)
The multiple intelligences approach recognizes that different people have different ways, or combinations of
ways, of relating to the world.
Another approach to learning styles is called the VARK approach, which focuses on learning through different
senses (Visual, Aural, Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic):
• Visual learners prefer images, charts, and the like.
• Aural learners learn better by listening.
• Reading/writing learners learn better through written language.
• Kinesthetic learners learn through doing, practicing, and acting.
You can take a free, self-scored online assessment of your VARK learning style at http://www.businessballs.com/
There are still more systems used by educators to describe the various ways in which people learn. All of these
systems can help you learn more about how you as an individual person and college student learn best. You
can use the online assessment in the “Outside the Book” section at the end of this chapter to learn more about your
Just knowing your style, however, doesn’t automatically provide a solution for how to do your best in your
college courses. For example, although you may be a kinesthetic learner, you’ll likely still have textbook reading
assignments (verbal learning) as well as lecture classes (listening). All students need to adapt to other ways of
1.3 How You Learn 25
The following sections look at the key ways in which learning occurs in college classes and offer some
suggestions about how to adapt your strengths for success.
Reading skills are critically important in college. Most classes involve reading assignments. Although many
instructors may cover some of the textbook’s content in lectures or class discussions, students cannot skip the
reading assignments and expect to do well.
If your personal learning style is verbal and independent—that is, if you learn well by sitting alone and
reading—then you will likely not have difficulty with your college reading. Here are some tips to help maximize
• Underline and highlight key ideas when reading.
• Take good notes on your reading, using your own words.
• Write descriptions that summarize information presented in nonverbal modes, such as through charts
• Do all optional and supplemental readings.
• Take good notes in class, as you may remember more from your written words than from the
instructor’s spoken words.
• If a class involves significant nonreading learning, such as learning hands-on physical processes, study
with other students who are kinesthetic or “doing” learners.
If you have a different learning style, then you may need to give more attention to your reading skills. Always
allow plenty of time for reading assignments—rushing makes it harder to understand what you are reading. Do
your reading at times of the day when you are most alert. Find a quiet, comfortable place conducive to reading.
Try also to maximize your learning through your personal style. If you learn better by listening, for example, sit
up front in lecture classes where you can see and hear the instructor better. If needed, ask if you can tape-record
an instructor’s lectures and then listen again at a convenient time, such as when commuting to class or work. If
you are more of a visual learner, sit in class where you can see PowerPoint slides and other visual presentations
most clearly. Use a visual approach in your class notes, as described in Chapter 4 “Listening, Taking Notes, and
Remembering”. Check out whether video podcasts may be available for reviewing lectures. Try to relate all of
these visual images to the textbook’s content when you’re reading an assignment. In addition, pay special attention
to illustrations and diagrams in the book, which will further help you understand the written ideas and information.
If you are more of an interpersonal learner, form a study group with other students and talk with others about the
course topics. Take advantage of your instructors’ office hours to help clarify your understanding after reading
26 College Success
Listening skills are as important in college as reading skills. College students are expected to listen to their
instructors in class and remember and understand what is said. In discussion classes, listening is important also
for participating well in discussions.
Many college classes involve lectures.
Chatham House – The Whitehead Lecture: Jack Straw – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
If your personal learning style favors listening, then you may already be good at understanding class lectures.
Chapter 4 “Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering” provides tips to help you pay close attention, take good
notes, and recall the information and ideas you have heard. Here are some more tips:
1.3 How You Learn 27
Instructors often use visual aids to help explain concepts and ideas. This helps students with visual learning
Jill Watson – Caviar Instruction – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
• Sit where you can best hear the instructor, away from other distractions.
• Study with other students and listen to what they say about the course material. Hearing them talk from
their class notes may be more helpful than reviewing your own written notes.
• Record lectures and listen to them again later when reviewing material before a test.
• When studying, read your notes aloud. Review previous tests by reading the questions aloud and
speaking your answers. If a section in your textbook seems confusing, read it aloud.
• Talk with your instructor if you feel you are not understanding course readings.
• Use rhymes or acronyms to recall verbal information. For more information, see Chapter 4 “Listening,
Taking Notes, and Remembering”.
• Explore supplemental learning aids, such as audio and video podcasts (even from other colleges and
universities) on the course’s subject matter.
A “seeing” learner learns more effectively through seeing than through reading or listening. Some college
courses include demonstrations and physical processes that can be observed. If you are a visual learner, work on
developing your reading and listening skills, too, because you will need to learn in these ways as well. Here are
some tips to improve learning related to seeing:
28 College Success
• Pay special attention in class to visual presentations, such as charts, diagrams, and images.
• Take lecture notes using a visual approach. Do the same when taking notes on class readings. Use
diagrams, different colors, lists, and sketches to help you remember. For more information, see
Chapter 4 “Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering”.
• Use video podcasts or other visual aids for reviewing lectures.
• Pay special attention to your textbooks’ illustrations and diagrams.
• If your instructor or textbook uses few visuals to help you understand and recall information and ideas,
try to imagine how you would present this information visually to others if you were giving a class
presentation. In your notes, create sketches for a PowerPoint slideshow capturing the highlights of the
• Study with other students who may learn better by reading or listening, and watch how they explain
People who learn best by doing are often attracted to careers with a strong physical or hands-on component, which
can vary from athletics to engineering. But these students may need to use other learning skills as well. Here are
some tips to help maximize your learning related to doing:
• Try to engage all your senses when learning. Even when reading about something, try to imagine what
it would feel like if you touched it, how it might smell, how you could physically manipulate it, and so
• Think about how you yourself would teach the topic you are presently learning. What visuals could
you make to demonstrate the idea or information? Imagine a class lecture as a train of boxcars and
think about what things you would put in those cars to represent the lecture topics.
• When it becomes difficult to concentrate when reading while sitting in a quiet place, get up and move
around while studying; make gestures as you read aloud.
• Use your hands to create a range of study aids rather than just taking notes: make charts, posters, flash
cards, and so on.
• When taking notes, sketch familiar shapes around words and phrases to help you remember them. Try
to associate abstract ideas with concrete examples.
• The act of writing—handwriting more than typing at a keyboard—may increase retention; write key
things several times.
• Study with other students who may learn better by reading or listening.
1.3 How You Learn 29
Feeling learners focus on the emotional side of information and learn through personal connections. Too often
they may feel that a college textbook or a class is “dry” or “boring” if it focuses exclusively on written
information. In addition to improving their reading and listening skills, students with this style can enrich their
learning by focusing on what they and others feel about the information and ideas being learned. Here are some
tips to help maximize your learning related to feeling:
• Try to establish an emotional connection with the topic you are learning. In a history class, for
example, imagine yourself as someone living in the period you are studying: what would you feel
about the forces at work in your life? In a science class, think about what the implications of a
particular scientific principle or discovery might mean for you as a person or how you yourself might
have felt if you had been the scientist making that discovery.
• Talk with your instructor during office hours. Express your enthusiasm and share your feelings about
the subject. Even instructors who may seem “dry” in a lecture class often share their feelings toward
their subject in conversation.
• Do supplemental reading about the people involved in a subject you’re studying. For example, reading
an online biographical sketch of a historical figure, scientist, or theorist may open your eyes to a side
of the subject you hadn’t seen before and increase your learning.
• Study with other students who may learn better by reading or listening. Talk with them in a personal
way about what the material means to them. Try teaching them about the topic while explaining your
feelings about it.
• Also try the strategies listed for the “doing” learning style.
Your Style, Your Instructor’s Style
Many college classes tend to focus on certain learning styles. Instructors in large lecture classes, for example,
generally emphasize listening carefully and reading well. Don’t worry, however, if these are not your particular
strengths, for much of this book focuses on learning study skills and other college skills related to these activities.
Take responsibility for your own learning, rather than expecting the instructor to help you through the subject in
your own personal way. For example, if you are a visual learner but your instructor simply stands at a podium and
lectures, then provide your own visual stimulation by sketching concept maps in your notes or by visualizing how
information being presented might look in a pie chart or graph. For more information, see Chapter 4 “Listening,
Taking Notes, and Remembering”.
As you move further into your college curriculum, you will likely have more small classes with class discussions,
demonstrations, group presentations, and other learning activities. Once you are in classes closely related to a
career path that interests you, you will find your personal style more relevant to the kinds of material you will be
Much learning in college also comes from interactions with others, who often have different learning styles. Be
30 College Success
open to interacting with other students and instructors who are different from you, and you will find yourself
learning in ways that may be new to you.
Finally, if a genuine mismatch is occurring between your learning style and your instructor’s teaching style to the
extent that you may not succeed in a course, talk to your instructor privately during office hours. You can explain
how you best learn and ask for suggestions about other resources that may help you.
• People learn through a four-step process, and you can maximize your learning by conscientiously applying
all steps throughout college.
• The first step of the learning cycle is to prepare in advance for classes, reading, tests, and other learning.
• The second step is to absorb information and ideas effectively during classes, reading, and other learning
• The third step, capturing, typically involves taking notes on the learning experience to increase
understanding and retention.
• The fourth step is to review your notes, to help solidify the learning and to prepare for repeating the cycle in
the next class or reading assignment.
• People have natural learning preferences, affecting how they learn best, such as learning by reading, by
listening, by seeing, by doing, and by feeling.
• Students should learn how to use their own learning style to their best advantage while also becoming
flexible and working to develop other learning styles.
• Because your learning style may not match your instructor’s teaching style, you need to be flexible and
work to develop new learning strategies essential for college success.
1. Number each the following actions to put them in the correct order of the four steps of the learning cycle:
◦ ___ Review your class notes to make sure you understand.
◦ ___ Listen carefully to what your instructor says.
◦ ___ Prepare for today’s class by looking over your notes on the reading you did for today.
◦ ___ Take effective notes.
2. How would you describe your personal learning style?
Name an activity from which you generally learn very well.
Name a type of learning experience you may have difficulty with.
1.3 How You Learn 31
For the activity above, list at least two strategies you can use to improve your learning effectiveness when in
that situation next time.
3. If you experience a situation in which your personal learning style seems to clash hopelessly with an
instructor’s teaching style, what is your best course of action?
1. Ask the instructor to teach in a different way.
2. Drop the class.
3. Adapt your style or study with other students.
4. Complain to the dean.
1.4 What Is College, Really?
1. Describe differences between large and small college classes and discuss the implications for learning.
2. Understand courses within your own college program: core courses, electives, and major courses.
3. Describe different skills needed for online courses.
4. Know how to learn your college’s policies and understand their importance.
5. Know what resources your college makes available to students and how to access them.
Big Classes, Small Classes
While most high school classes are fairly small, many college classes are large—up to several hundred students
in a large lecture class. Other classes you may take will be as small as high school classes. In large lecture classes
you may feel totally anonymous—even invisible—in a very large class. This feeling can get some students in
trouble, however. Here are some common mistaken assumptions and attitudes about large classes:
• The instructor won’t notice me sitting there, so I can check e-mail or read for a different class if I get
• The instructor doesn’t know my name or recognize me, so I don’t even need to go to class as long as I
can borrow someone’s notes to find out what happens.
• I hate listening to lectures, so I might as well think about something else because I’m not going to
learn anything this way anyway.
These comments all share the same flawed attitude about college: it’s up to the instructor to teach in an
entertaining way if I am to learn at all—and it’s actually the college’s or instructor’s fault that I’m stuck in this
large class, so they’re to blame if I think about or do other things. But remember, in college, you take responsibility
for your own learning. Sure, a student is free to try to sleep in a lecture class, or not attend the class at all—the
same way a student is “free” to fail any class he or she chooses!
1.4 What Is College, Really? 33
In a lecture class, avoid the temptation to cruise the Web or engage in other activities that will distract you from paying
hackNY.org – fall 2012 hackNY student hackathon – CC BY-SA 2.0.
If you dislike large lecture classes but can’t avoid them, the best solution is to learn how to learn in such a
situation. Later chapters will give you tips for improving this experience. Just remember that it’s up to you to stay
actively engaged in your own learning while in college—it’s not the instructor’s job to entertain you enough to
“make” you learn.
There is one thing you need to know right away. Even in a lecture hall holding three hundred students, your
instructors do know who you are. They may not know your name right away or even by the end of the term,
but they see you sitting there, doing whatever you are doing, looking wherever you are looking—and will form
a distinct impression of you. Instructors do have academic integrity and won’t lower your grade on an exam
because you slept once in class, but the impression you make just might affect how far instructors go out of
their way to offer a helping hand. Interacting with instructors is a crucial part of education—and the primary
way students learn. Successful interaction begins with good communication and mutual respect. If you want your
instructors to respect you, then you need to show respect for them and their classes as well.
Core Courses, Electives, Majors, and Credits
Every college has its own course requirements for different programs and degrees. This information is available
in a printed course catalog or online. While academic advisors are generally assigned to students to help them plot
their path through college and take the most appropriate courses, you should also take this responsibility yourself
to ensure you are registering for courses that fit well into your plan for a program completion or degree. In general
there are three types of courses:
34 College Success
1. Core courses, sometimes called “general education requirements,” involve a range of courses from
which you can choose to meet this general requirement. You may need to take one or more English
classes and possibly math or foreign language requirements. You will need a certain number of credits
or course hours in certain types of core courses, but you can often choose among various specific
courses for how you meet these requirements.
2. Required courses in your major are determined by individual academic departments. Whether you
choose to major in English, math, engineering, history, a health field, chemistry, business, or any other
field, your individual department sets specific required courses you must take and gives you options
for a required additional number of credits in the department. You may not need to declare a major for
a while, but this is something you can start thinking about now.
3. Electives are courses you choose freely to complete the total number of college credits needed for your
program or degree. How many electives you may take, how they “count” toward your total, and what
kinds of courses are acceptable as electives all vary considerably among different schools and
Most important is that you understand what courses you need and how each counts. Study the college catalog
carefully and be sure to talk things over fully with your advisor. Don’t just sign up for courses that sound
interesting—you might end up taking courses that don’t count toward your degree at all.
In addition, each term you may have to choose how many courses or hours to take. Colleges have rules about
the maximum number of hours allowed for full-time students, but this maximum may in fact be more than you
are prepared to manage—especially if you work or have other responsibilities. Taking a light course load, while
allowing more time for studying and other activities, could add up over time and result in an extra full year of
college (or more!)—at significant additional expense. Part-time students often face decisions based more on time
issues. Everyone’s situation is unique, however, and all students should talk this issue over with their advisor each
year or term.
Most colleges now offer some online courses or regular courses with an online component. You experience an
online course via a computer rather than a classroom. Many different variations exist, but all online courses share
certain characteristics, such as working independently and communicating with the instructor (and sometimes
other students) primarily through written computer messages. If you have never taken an online course, carefully
consider what’s involved to ensure you will succeed in the course.
• You need to own or have frequent access to a recent model of computer with a high-speed Internet
• Without the set hours of a class, you need to be self-motivating to schedule your time to participate
• Without an instructor or other students in the room, you need to be able to pay attention effectively to
the computer screen. Learning on a computer is not as simple as passively watching television! Take
1.4 What Is College, Really? 35
• Without reminders in class and peer pressure from other students, you’ll need to take responsibility to
complete all assignments and papers on time.
• Since your instructor will evaluate you primarily through your writing, you need good writing skills
for an online course. If you believe you need to improve your writing skills, put off taking an online
course until you feel better prepared.
• You must take the initiative to ask questions if you don’t understand something.
• You may need to be creative to find other ways to interact with other students in the course. You could
form a study group and get together regularly in person with other students in the same course.
Online courses are increasingly common at colleges and require independent learning.
Claire Thompson – Marking – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
If you feel you are ready to take on these responsibilities and are attracted to the flexibility of an online course
and the freedom to schedule your time in it, see what your college has available.
Class Attendance and Promptness
In some classes at some colleges, attendance is required and absences can affect one’s grade in the course. But
even when attendance is not required, missing classes will inevitably affect your grade as well. You’re not learning
if you’re not there. Reading another student’s notes is not the same.
36 College Success
Arriving to class promptly is also important. Walking into a class that has already begun is rude to the instructor
(remember what we said earlier about the impression you may be making) and to other students. A mature student
respects the instructor and other students and in turn receives respect back.
A college campus is almost like a small town—or country—unto itself. The campus has its own police force, its
own government, its own stores, its own ID cards, its own parking rules, and so on. Colleges also have their own
policies regarding many types of activities and behaviors. Students who do not understand the rules can sometimes
find themselves in trouble.
The most important academic policy is academic honesty. Cheating is taken very seriously. Some high school
students may have only received a slap on the wrist if caught looking at another student’s paper during a test or
turning in a paper containing sentences or paragraphs found online or purchased from a “term-paper mill.” In
many colleges, academic dishonesty like this may result in automatic failure of the course—or even expulsion
from college. The principle of academic honesty is simple: every student must do his or her own work. If you have
any doubt of what this means for a paper you are writing, a project you are doing with other students, or anything
else, check the college Web site for its policy statements or talk with your instructor.
Colleges also have policies about alcohol and drug use, sexual harassment, hazing, hate crimes, and other potential
problems. Residence halls have policies about noise limits, visitors, hours, structural and cosmetic alterations
of university property, and so on. The college registrar has policies about course add and drop dates, payment
schedules and refunds, and the like. Such policies are designed to ensure that all students have the same right to a
quality education—one not unfairly interrupted by the actions of others. You can find these policies on the college
Web site or in the catalog.
To be successful in college, you need to be fully informed and make wise decisions about the courses you register
for, college policies, and additional resources. Always remember that your college wants you to succeed. That
means that if you are having any difficulties or have any questions whose answers you are unsure about, there
are college resources available to help you get assistance or find answers. This is true of both academic and
personal issues that could potentially disrupt your college experience. Never hesitate to go looking for help or
information—but realize that usually you have to take the first step.
The college catalog has already been mentioned as a great source of many kinds of information. You should have
an updated catalog every year or know where to find it online.
The college’s Web site is the second place to look for help. Students are often surprised to see how much
information is available online, including information about college programs, offices, special assistance
programs, and so on, as well as helpful information such as studying tips, personal health, financial help, and other
1.4 What Is College, Really? 37
resources. Take some time to explore your college’s Web site and learn what is available—this could save you a
lot of time in the future if you experience any difficulty.
In addition, many colleges have offices or individuals that can help in a variety of ways. Following are some of
the resources your college may have. Learn more about your college’s resources online or by visiting the office of
student services or the dean of students.
• Academic advising office. This office helps you choose courses and plan your program or degree.
You should have a personal meeting at least once every term.
• Counseling office. This office helps with personal problems, including health, stress management,
interpersonal issues, and so on.
• Financial aid office. If you are presently receiving financial aid or may qualify for assistance, you
should know this office well.
• Tutoring or skill centers. The title of this resource varies among colleges, but most have special
places where students can go for additional help for their courses. There may be a separate math
center, writing center, or general study skills center.
• Computer lab. Before almost all students became skilled in computer use and had their own
computers, colleges built labs where students could use campus computers and receive training or help
resolving technical problems. Many campuses still maintain computer centers to assist students with
• Student health clinic. In addition to providing some basic medical care and making referrals, most
college student health centers also help with issues such as diet and exercise counseling, birth control
services, and preventive health care.
• Career guidance or placement office. This center can help you find a student job or internship, plan
for your career after graduation, and receive career counseling.
38 College Success
Your college has many resources and many professionals available to help you with any issue that may affect your
success as a student.
Tulane Public Relations – Orientation – CC BY 2.0.
• Office for students with disabilities. This office may provide various services to help students with
disabilities adapt within the college environment.
• Housing office. This office not only controls campus residential housing but often assists students to
find off-campus private accommodations.
• Diversity office. This office promotes cultural awareness on campus, runs special programs, and
assists diverse students with adjusting to campus culture.
• Office of student affairs or student organizations. Participating in a group of like-minded students
often supports academic success.
• Athletic center. Most colleges have exercise equipment, pools, courts and tracks, and other resources
open to all students. Take advantage of this to improve or maintain your personal health, which
promotes academic success.
• Other specialized offices for student populations. These may include an office supporting students
who speak English as a second language, adult students returning to college, international students,
religious students, students with children (possibly a child-care center), veterans of the armed services,
students preparing for certain types of careers, and so on.
• Your instructors. It never hurts to ask a friendly instructor if he or she knows of any additional
college resources you haven’t yet discovered. There may be a brand new program on campus, or a
certain department may offer a service not widely promoted through the college Web site.
Everyone needs help at some time—you should never feel embarrassed or ashamed to seek help. Remember that
a part of your tuition and fees are going to these offices, and you have every right to take advantage of them.
• Even in large lecture classes, attendance is important, along with forming a good impression and paying
• Study the college catalog and talk with your advisor to ensure you understand the role of core classes,
electives, and major courses in your program or degree requirements.
• Online courses offer another option in many colleges but require a certain preparedness and a heightened
sense of responsibility.
• To avoid inadvertently finding yourself in trouble, know your college’s policies for academic issues and
• Taking advantage of the many resources your college offers to help you with a wide range of academic and
personal matters is essential for success in college.
1.4 What Is College, Really? 39
1. For each of the following statements, circle T for true or F for false:
If your instructor in a large lecture class is boring, there’s nothing you can do except to try to stay awake and
hope you never have him or her for another class.
In a large lecture hall, if you sit near the back and pretend to listen, you can write e-mails or send text
messages without your instructor noticing.
2. List three things a college student should be good at in order to succeed in an online course.
3. Use your imagination and describe three different actions that would violate of your college’s academic
4. Where on campus would you first go for help choosing your courses for next term?
For help with your math class?
For a problem coping with a lot of stress?
To learn about your options for student loans?
To find a better apartment?
1.5 Let’s Talk about Success
1. Understand that success in college means much more in the long term than simply passing or getting good
2. Describe situations in which grades do matter—and why it’s important to do as well as you can.
3. Describe why it is so important to be successful in your first year of college.
4. List steps you can begin taking immediately to ensure your success.
Success in college is the theme of this book—and you’ll be learning more about everything involved in success in
the following chapters. Let’s first define what success really means so that you can get started, right now, on the
Understand first that no book can “make” you be successful—it can only offer the tools for you to use if you
want. What are you thinking right now as you read these words? Are you reading this right now only because you
have to, because it is assigned reading in a course you have to take—and your mind keeps drifting to other things
because you’re feeling bored? Or are you interested because you’ve decided you want to succeed in college?
We hope it’s the latter, that you’re feeling motivated—and excited, too—to do a great job in college. But even if
you aren’t much concerned at present about these issues, we hope you’ll keep reading and do some thinking about
why you’re in college and how to get motivated to do well.
“Success” and “Failure”
So what does “success” actually mean in college? Good grades? That’s what many students would say—at least
toward the beginning of their time in college.
When you ask people about their college experience a few years later, grades are seldom one of the first things
mentioned. College graduates reflecting back typically emphasize the following:
• The complete college experience (often described as “the best years of my life”)
• Exploring many different subjects and discovering one’s own interests
• Meeting a lot of interesting people, learning about different ways to live
• Learning how to make decisions and solve problems that are now related to a career
• Gaining the skills needed to get the job—and life—one desires
1.5 Let’s Talk about Success 41
When you are achieving what you want in life and when you are happy and challenged and feel you are living life
to its fullest and contributing to the world, then you likely feel successful. When you reach this point, your grades
in college are about the last thing you’ll think of.
This is not to say that grades don’t matter—just that getting good grades is not the ultimate goal of college or
the best way to define personal success while in college. Five or ten years from now, no one is going to care
much about what grade you got in freshman English or Biology 101. A successful college experience does include
acceptable grades, of course, but in the end—in your long-range goals—grades are only one component of a larger
How Much Do Grades Matter?
As you begin your college experience, it’s good to think about your attitude toward grades, since grades often
motivate students to study and do well on assignments.
Valuing grades too highly, or not highly enough, can cause problems. A student who is determined to get only
the highest grades can easily be frustrated by difficult college classes. Expectations that are too high may lead
to disappointment—possibly depression or anxiety—and may become counterproductive. At the other extreme,
a student who is too relaxed about grades, who is content simply with passing courses, may not be motivated to
study enough even to pass—and may be at risk for failing courses.
What is a good attitude to have toward grades? The answer to that depends in part on how grades do matter
generally—and specifically in your own situation. Here are some ways grades clearly do matter:
• At most colleges, all students must maintain a certain grade point average (GPA) to be allowed to
continue taking courses and to graduate.
• Financial aid and scholarship recipients must maintain a certain grade in all courses, or a minimum
GPA overall, to continue receiving their financial award.
• In some programs, the grade in certain courses must be higher than simply passing in order to count
toward the program or major.
After graduation, it may be enough in some careers just to have completed the program or degree. But in most
situations, how well one did in college may still affect one’s life. Employers often ask how well you did in college
(new graduates at least—this becomes less important after one has gained more job experience). Students who are
proud of their grades usually include their GPA on their résumés. Students with a low GPA may avoid including it
on their resume, but employers may ask on the company’s application form or in an interview (and being caught
in a lie can lead to being fired). An employer who asks for a college transcript will see all your grades, not just the
In addition to the importance for jobs, grades matter if you plan to continue to graduate school, professional
school, or other educational programs—all of which require your transcript.
Certainly grades are not the only way people are judged, but along with all forms of experience (work, volunteer,
42 College Success
internship, hobbies) and personal qualities and the recommendations of others, they are an important
consideration. After all, an employer may think, if this person goofed off so much in college that he got low
grades, how can I expect him not to goof off on the job?
How to Calculate Your GPA
Because of various requirements for maintaining a GPA at a certain level, you may need to know how to calculate your
GPA before grades come out at the end of the term. The math is not difficult, but you need to consider both the grade in
every course and the number of credit hours for that course in order to calculate the overall GPA. Here is how you
would do the calculation in the traditional four-point scale. First, translate each letter grade to a numerical score:
Then multiply each grade’s numerical score by the number of units or hours for that course:
B in Math 101 × 5 hours = 3 × 5 = 15
B in English 4 × 3 hours = 3 × 3 = 9
C in Humanities 1 × 5 hours = 2 × 5 = 10
A in College Success × 3 hours = 4 × 3 = 12
Then add together those numbers for each course:
15 + 9 + 10 + 12 = 46.
Then divide that total by the total number of credit hours:
46 / 16 = 2.87 = GPA of 2.87.
Consult your college’s policies regarding the numeric weighting of + and − grades.
The best attitude to take toward grades in college is simply to do the best you can do. You don’t need to kill
yourself, but if you’re not going to make an effort then there’s not much reason to be there in the first place.
Almost everything in this book—from time management to study skills to social skills and staying healthy—will
contribute to your overall success and, yes, to getting better grades.
If you have special concerns about grades, such as feeling unprepared in certain classes and at risk of failing, talk
with your academic advisor. If a class requires more preparation than you have from past courses and experience,
you might be urged to drop that class and take another—or to seek extra help. Your advisor can help you work
through any individual issues related to doing well and getting the best grade you can.
Can You Challenge a Grade?
Yes and no. College instructors are very careful about how they assign grades, which are based on clear-cut standards
often stated in the course syllabus. The likelihood of an instructor changing your grade if you challenge it is very low.
On the other hand, we’re all human—mistakes can occur, and if you truly feel a test or other score was miscalculated,
you can ask your instructor to review the grade. Just be sure to be polite and respectful.
Most situations in which students want to challenge a grade, however, result from a misunderstanding regarding the
expectations of the grading scale or standards used. Students may simply feel they deserve a higher grade because they
1.5 Let’s Talk about Success 43
think they understand the material well or spent a lot of time studying or doing the assignment. The instructor’s grade,
however, is based on your actual responses on a test, a paper or other assignment. The instructor is grading not what he
or she thinks is in your head, but what you actually wrote down.
If you are concerned that your grade does not accurately reflect your understanding or effort, you should still talk with
your instructor—but your goal should be not to argue for a grade change but to gain a better understanding of the
course’s expectations so that you’ll do better next time. Instructors do respect students who want to improve. Visit the
instructor during office hours or ask for an appointment and prepare questions ahead of time to help you better
understand how your performance can improve and better indicate how well you understand the material.
A major aspect of college for some students is learning how to accept criticism. Your college instructors hold you to
high standards and expect you to have the maturity to understand that a lower grade is not a personal attack on you and
not a statement that you’re not smart enough to do the work. Since none of us is perfect, we all can improve in almost
everything we do—and the first step in that direction is accepting evaluation of our work. If you receive a grade lower
than you think you have earned, take the responsibility to learn what you need to do to earn a higher grade next time.
Succeeding in Your First Year
The first year of college is almost every student’s most crucial time. Statistics show a much higher drop-out rate
in the first year than thereafter. Why? Because for many students, adjusting to college is not easy. Students wrestle
with managing their time, their freedom, and their other commitments to family, friends, and work. It’s important
to recognize that it may not be easy for you.
On the other hand, when you do succeed in your first year, the odds are very good that you’ll continue to succeed
and will complete your program or degree.
Are you ready? Remember that everything in this book will help you succeed in your first year. Motivation and a
positive attitude are the keys to getting off to a running start. The next section lists some things you can do to start
right now, today, to ensure your success.
Getting Started on the Right Foot Right Now
• Make an appointment to talk with your academic advisor if you have any doubt about the courses you
have already enrolled in or about the direction you’re taking. Start examining how you spend your
time and ensure you make enough time to keep up with your courses.
• Check for tutoring assistance if you feel you may need it and make an appointment or schedule time to
visit tutoring centers on your college campus to see what help you can get if needed.
• Like yourself. You’ve come a long way to reach this point, you have succeeded in taking this first step
toward meeting your college goal, and you are fully capable of succeeding the rest of the way. Avoid
the trap of feeling down on yourself if you’re struggling with any classes.
• Pay attention to your learning style and your instructors’ teaching styles. Begin immediately applying
the guidelines discussed earlier for situations in which you do not feel you are learning effectively.
44 College Success
• Plan ahead. Check your syllabus for each class and highlight the dates of major assignments and tests.
Write on your calendar the important dates coming up.
• Look around your classroom and plan to introduce yourself right away to one or two other students.
Talking with other students is the first step in forming study groups that will help you succeed.
Start getting to know other students right away by talking before or after class. This is often a good way to start a study
Nicholas Chan – IMG_5940 – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
• Introduce yourself to your instructors, if you haven’t already. In a large lecture, go up to the instructor
after class and ask a question about anything in the lecture or about an upcoming assignment.
• Participate in your classes. If you’re normally a quiet person who prefers to observe others asking
questions or joining class discussions, you need to take the first step toward becoming a participating
student—another characteristic of the successful student. Find something of particular interest to you
and write down a question for the instructor. Then raise your hand at the right time and ask. You’ll find
it a lot easier than you may think!
• Vow to pay more attention to how you spend your money. Some students have to drop out because
they get into debt.
• Take good care of your body. Good health makes you a better student. Vow to avoid junk food, to get
enough sleep, and to move around more. When you’re done reading this chapter, take a walk!
Excellent! Start doing these few things, and already yo...
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