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100 Tips for How to be Successful in College

group of college students smiling in libraryThe college years are full of new experiences, growth and preparation for the rest of your life. They will also go by in the blink of an eye, so enjoy them as much as possible. Make the most of them with these tips for how to be successful in college.

Classes 

  1. Sit Close to the Front - Teachers appreciate students who look like they’re in class on purpose. Show them you take it seriously by taking a seat in the front.
  2. Look Friendly - If you were standing in front of the room, what kind of faces would you be drawn to? The smiling ones! Consider your facial expressions in class and try to look interested and upbeat.
  3. Actively Engage - Ask thoughtful questions, actively participate in discussions, look excited about activities, and show with your body language that you are there to learn and grow.
  4. Go to Office Hours - Office hours can be a game-changer when it comes to succeeding in a class. Your professor will be sitting there whether anyone shows up or not. They will definitely appreciate having someone to talk to! Don’t wait until you’re behind or confused by the coursework to stop by, and feel free to attend more than once.
  5. Give Yourself Time - Don’t wait until the last minute to do assignments and study for tests. If you don’t plan ahead, work will bottleneck and the stress of cramming isn’t good for anyone.
  6. Be Original - It can be tempting to copy work or trade answers with someone who has been in the class already. Remember: the person doing the work is doing the learning. Leave college with as much information as you can.
  7. Do Your Best - Give it your all. You won’t be able to be perfect, so allow yourself to be human. But at the end of the day, leave knowing you gave it 100%.
  8. Buy Used - Books are so much cheaper pre-owned. And that’s not all! You can buy gently-used furniture for your dorm room and sell items you don’t need to someone else who needs them.
  9. Ask for Help - Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. If that’s going to office hours, reaching out to other students to form a study group, scheduling an appointment with a school counselor, or talking to friends and family about how you’re feeling. Your mental health is more important than anything at school so never fear seeking out extra support.
  10. Be Open - Sure, you’ll show up at college with preconceived notions about life, but stay open-minded to learning new things, considering new possibilities, and even transforming what you believe in some cases. New experiences challenge us and allow us to grow.
  11. Form Your Own Opinions - At the end of the day, you’re accountable for your choices and actions, so make sure you behave in a way that matches your values.
 
 

Groups and Clubs 

  1. Engage - Now is the chance to get involved and make friendships that you could potentially have for the rest of your life. By joining up with other people who have the same interests as you, the campus will feel a lot smaller and you’ll feel more at home.
  2. Try New Things - Sure, it can be comforting to stay in the same type of groups you’re used to, but give yourself a goal for how many events, clubs or groups you’ll join over your four years in college that will be something totally new for you.
  3. Use the Buddy System - If you’re shy or experience social anxiety, find a buddy! This can be your roommate or someone you connect with from your hometown. Sign up for new experiences together. Once you’re there, you’ll meet new people and it won’t be as nerve-wracking.
  4. Show Up - Sometimes, the best thing to do is just show up. Sign up for something new and just show up. Got invited to a get-together? Just show up. Tell yourself you can leave if you want, you can stop at any time, just commit to showing up.
  5. Consider Your Future - Make choices that you’ll be proud of down the road. Or, consider activities that will allow you to form friendships and network with individuals who will be an asset for your dream career.
  6. Volunteer - Join a group of students on a mission to do good in the community. Volunteer at an assisted living residence or a local classroom. Don’t be afraid to jump into your surrounding community.
  7. Stay Focused - Group, clubs and social involvement can be a full-time job. Just remember what you’re there to really do — and that’s to learn. Stay focused.
  8. Choose Wisely - If the social aspect is distracting, make changes to redirect and get back on track. If you’ve found yourself in a group that you feel starts to derail your focus and your plans in a negative way, then choose to make a change. They say we are only as successful as our six closest friends. Choose your friends wisely.

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Internships 

  1. Look Early - Don’t wait until the last minute to sign up for internships. Usually, the most compelling options will have lots of candidates.
  2. Ask Around - If you’re not sure or you’d like a longer list, start asking others who are a few years ahead of you or ask graduates in your department to learn about more options. Look online and use social media, too.
  3. Make a List - Don’t just pick one. Make a list of options, just like you did for colleges. Yes, you’ll have some that will be your preference, but that’s just from an outsider’s perspective. Sometimes life surprises you and a back-up choice may end up being the best experience ever.
  4. Cold Calls - Start calling companies you’d be interested in. Just because they don’t have an internship advertised or listed doesn’t mean they don’t offer them or wouldn’t make room for the right candidate. Everyone had to learn at some point.
  5. Network - Ever heard the phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”? It may not be entirely true, but there is truth to the importance of networking. Look for people you know who could have connections or relationships at a company that has an internship you are interested in.
  6. Use the Internet - Yes, Google it. Do your own research. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you.
  7. Try Several - You don’t have to choose just one. If an internship shows you that you’re barking up the wrong tree, try another one. The purpose of an internship is to experience your ideal profession and decide on aspects of your future. There are times when realizing you’re going the wrong direction is the best lesson. Or, explore several areas you are curious about and allow the internships to give you clarity.

Professional Goals  

  1. Do Your Research - Similar to internships, you’ll want to research your professional aspirations, such as the companies you could work at, the types of jobs they offer, what kind of education they are looking for and what the employees have on their LinkedIn profiles. Look for commonalities or areas you can focus more to be the best fit.
  2. Attend Job Fairs - Your college will host some job fairs, but there are likely others happening around you. Attend them. LinkedIn also has a feature where you can turn on your GPS and connect with people nearby, an excellent tool for connecting with people at job fairs. Bring printed resumes and get ready to hand them out. Networking tips: shake hands, make eye contact, talk confidently and take your time. These relationships can lead to internships, and internships can lead to job offers.
  3. Join Professional Associations - Ask your professors what national and local associations relate to your major and join them. These groups will serve as a networking resource to guide you throughout your college years and well into your professional life.
  4. Research Online - The internet is your friend. Research everything about the companies you are interested in. The more you know, the better prepared you will be for an interview. In addition, expect future employers to look you up online. Consider establishing an online presence for your professional portfolio early on.
  5. Consider Income - The elephant in the room, but it’s so important. You’ll want to think about the kind of life you want down the road. What kind of house, cars, vacations, savings, etc. It’s not shallow; it’s important to visualize your future. Then, run the numbers. What kind of salary will it take to support that lifestyle? While it’ll take you years to work up to that, you’ll want to pick a profession that can get you there eventually.
  6. Get Experience - Use your part-time jobs and club involvement to give you valuable experience for your future. If you’re interested in going into interior design, try to get a part-time job as an assistant at an interior design company or at a home furnishings store. Learn however you can.
  7. Build Your Resume Over Time - Remember that scene in Friends when Rachel is applying for jobs and doesn’t have enough experience on her resume? You don’t want to feel that way. Make sure to use every opportunity to gain experiences that you can use to build your resume.
  8. Use LinkedIn - It’s not just for senior level executives. You can start a LinkedIn profile in college and add to it as you go. Add any contact you meet along the way that you’d like to keep in touch with.
  9. Hire a Financial Advisor - Financial education and decisions can be confusing, especially if you didn’t grow up learning or talking about money. Seek out a financial advisor to meet with and better understand how to set yourself up for a profitable future. Ask community members for resources and financial classes offered to students or residents.

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Self-Care 

  1. Eat Well - This may be the first time in your life when you are 100% responsible for how you eat and take care of yourself. Sure, you won’t be perfect, and you shouldn’t set unrealistic expectations on yourself. Have fun and be young. But, set limits and use moderation. Food is the cornerstone of your health, so nourish your body and mind.
  2. Exercise - If you’re not already in sports or an activity, make time to get your body moving. You only get one body for life. Prioritize your health and that includes exercising. Switch to yoga or pilates in times of high stress, but keep moving. Exercise is a form of self-respect. Strong in body = strong in mind.
  3. Take Breaks - When school is overwhelming or friendships are giving you anxiety, step away and take a break. Go home for the weekend or take some time to go for long walks or a hike to a beautiful view. Visit the ocean and smell the salty ocean air. Taking a break will help you realign and reaffirm your focus and goals.
  4. Pay Attention - Look around you. Watch your surroundings. Not just because there are people out there that you’ll need to stay away from, but also because the beauty of the world is all around you. Soak it in like a sponge. These are rare times and special years in your life unlike any other season you will ever have again.
  5. Listen to Others - They say we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen. Learn. Let others talk. You’ll be able to learn so much about people and the world by listening to all of the new people that are around you.
  6. Consider Therapy - A mind is a complicated machine. If a car needs tuning from time to time, so do our mind and heart. Counselors on site can help you work through overwhelming feelings and most insurance plans offer therapy sessions as well. There’s no shame in the self-care game.
  7. Get Help - If you’re stuck on something, get help. If you’re trying to accomplish a challenging task, ask for help. If you need a workout buddy, ask for help. It’s okay to need other people. In fact, most people love being needed and will be happy to help.
  8. Consider Your Circle - Birds of a feather flock together. A cliché that still rings true. Don’t feel like your circle is set in stone. You can always broaden your horizons and cast a wider net. You start to become like the people you surround yourself with, so consider who you want to be.
  9. Make Changes - If something isn’t working for you, reflect and make changes. Many people have a roommate that just doesn’t work out. Or they sign up for a class that isn’t a fit and need to drop it. An estimated 75% of students change their major at least once. Be flexible and see your education as a journey in self-discovery.
  10. Take Care of Yourself - College will end. Classes will end. But you will always be you and you’ll have your body and mind for the rest of your life. Prioritize your physical, emotional, spiritual and mental health.
 
 

Social Relationships  

  1. Health is Wealth - Look for healthy relationships and friendships. If you see signs that friends are not empowering and encouraging you to be your personal best, they are probably not healthy and need to be tapered off.
  2. Make Good Choices - It can be so fun to hang out with daring individuals who have no limits and live only in the moment. Of course, life is short, but it’s also long. Even more so if you struggle with health or life issues because of a few choices made when you were young.
  3. Seek Help - If you feel that something is not right, or someone around you is unhealthy to the degree that you feel unsafe, seek help immediately. Continue until you are heard. You aren’t crazy; your feelings are valid. Trust your intuition and never be afraid to report abusive or inappropriate behavior.
  4. Have an Out - Whether it’s your parents or a friend somewhere else, always plan an out if you need to make a quick exit. Get out of situations that are edging outside your comfort zone. Have a person you can reach out to if you need an out.
  5. Mix It Up - Try different groups, types of people and experiences. College is a melting pot of people from all walks of life. This is a wonderful opportunity to be able to sample and try out a lot of experiences.
  6. Remove Toxic Relationships - Cut off people who are not healthy. Don’t string them along to be nice and waste both of your time. Boundaries are important, no matter how old you are.

Study Tips 

  1. Take Notes - There is no way you can remember everything all the time. Write things down, record lecture audio and take detailed notes in class. Learn about your specific “learning style” and design your notes accordingly.
  2. Study Groups - Show up, study hard, help others. Try teaching concepts to others in the group as a way to learn them yourself. Speaking ideas out and “teaching” concepts will allow you to understand them more deeply. On the first day of the class, get there early and write your contact information and a note about forming a study group. Take the lead on forming this group and you will be surprised how many people will want to participate.
  3. Start Early - The longer you wait to study, the less time you’ll have for the ideas to migrate to your long-term memory.
  4. Show Up to Class - Many professors only share certain information in class. If you’re not there, you won’t be able to hear it.
  5. Read the Syllabus - A lot of important content is in your syllabus. Read, print, keep, highlight and use them daily. The syllabus is your friend.
  6. Read the Books - Even if the professor doesn’t discuss the texts, read them as assigned in the syllabus. We have all experienced a midterm or final exam that used texts from the syllabus that was never once mentioned in class.
  7. Review in Chunks - Study as you go. Stop and take breaks. Really absorb the content.
  8. Don’t Pull an All-nighter - If you find yourself feeling unprepared, don’t stay up all night. Get some rest. Rest is how we process and heal. If you stay up all night, you’ll be less focused and less able to really do your best.
  9. Expect Surprises - Life is unpredictable! Many class tests will have surprises you couldn’t have prepared for. Some friendships will change. Other people won’t be who they say they are. Shake it off and move on.
  10. Talk to Professors - They’re people too! They love to talk and hear what you think and how you’re processing the coursework. What they’re teaching is closely tied to their life’s work and what they are passionate about, so start up conversations and see what other gems of knowledge they have.

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Dorm Survival Tips 

  1. Pack Smart - You will have less room than you think, so only bring essentials.
  2. Bring a Mattress Pad - Fitting a mattress pad and an extra-long sheet over the existing dorm mattress will make a world of difference for your sleep comfort.
  3. Build Up - Use shelves on the wall to store things at many levels and get them off the floor.
  4. Regularly Minimize - Get rid of things you don’t use and sell stuff you don’t need. Over time you may start to acquire a lot of stuff, make sure you set aside time each season to take inventory and simplify your possessions.
  5. Go Paperless - Bring a scanner and go paperless as much as possible. This will also give you an electronic copy of your paperwork that is easier to store.
  6. Communicate Well - Talk to your roomie. Work through issues together. Learn to listen actively. Keep interactions positive and where there are issues, go directly to that person to work it out. Keep from talking about the problems or that person with someone else.
  7. Socialize - Get to know your neighbors. Exchange numbers with them in case you forget your key. These people will be there if you need them.
  8. Label Your Food - The best way to keep track of your dorm room snacks and bottled waters is to label them and organize them in a space that is out of sight.
  9. Lock Up Valuables - You can’t trust everybody. Get a safe for valuables or have a plan for how to store them safely.
  10. Use Organizers - Use your limited space wisely. Consider getting rolling bins under the bed and organizers for your drawers. Save cardboard boxes and repurpose them as storage containers. Cover them with wrapping paper or fabric for extra flair.
  11. Plan to Share Your Space - You won’t be able to keep everything personal. Space is limited and not everyone has the same personal space and boundaries. Expect to share and that it might be uncomfortable at times.
  12. Report Dorm Misconduct - If something is inappropriate or if you see something that feels wrong report it immediately. Don’t wait around. Not everyone respects rules or people’s feelings and safety. Stand up for what is right and honorable.
  13. Don’t Settle - If the situation is not comfortable, don’t wait too long. Look for solutions. You will not be the first person to move out early or to switch dorm rooms.

Dating Relationships 

  1. Don’t Get Distracted - There will be a lot of new people you will want to date and get to know, but remember why you are at school. Focus on your classes and the rest will fall into place.
  2. Prioritize School - If you have to choose between cutting class to go to the beach or attending class, go to class and then the beach after. You can do it all, just not at the same time.
  3. Consider Their Influence - If you get involved with someone who, over time, seems to be pulling you away from the original goals and plans that you had, consider if their influence is helping or hurting. It’s easier to cut things off when you are new friends than it is after you’ve invested years into a toxic relationship.
  4. Be Safe - Just because you go to the same college doesn’t mean you share the same values and safety expectations. Always meet people in public places that are public and well lit. If you are going for a secluded run tell someone where you’re going and when you will be back. Take a charged cell phone and get out of there if anything feels wrong or questionable.
  5. Visit the Health Office - If you need a checkup, over-the-counter medication, or simply have questions about the health of your relationship, see a professional.
  6. Report Abuse - If someone hurts you, mentally or physically, report it immediately. Don’t wait. Then, seek counseling to work through it. According to relational abuse nonprofit Break the Cycle, approximately one in five college students report experiencing abuse in a relationship. These numbers are too high. Any amount is too high. So, choose wisely and if someone is not who you think they are, immediately end it and report the abuse.

Finance 

  1. Research Budgets - Many of us are not taught how to budget. It doesn’t need to be complicated and confusing. Look up different budget models and try one that looks like it would work for you.
  2. Spend Well - Likely your money will be limited, so spend it wisely. Don’t buy or do things simply because others are. Spend on items and experiences that you genuinely want and ones that will improve your own college experience.
  3. Work Smart - Many jobs offer tuition support, so if you’re going to work why not work at those places?
  4. Borrow Wisely - If you’re one of the many students who need to borrow money, do so wisely. Look for low-interest loans and start paying it off as soon as you can. The longer you wait, the more interest compounds.
  5. Use Scholarships - Keep applying. Don’t give up. Look for new ones regularly.
  6. Save Creatively - When you don’t have a lot of money, you have to get creative. You’ll need money in post-grad life, too, so don’t spend it all in college. Find ways to save what you can.
  7. Pay Off Debt - See? I told you that you would need that money. Use it to start paying off debt. Or, as soon as you have a job, start paying down debt and try not to accumulate more.
  8. Say No - YOLO and FOMO might feel real now, but the debt will be a huge burden to you later. Say no to excessive spending, especially if it’s not in your budget.
  9. Use a Mantra - It can be hard to miss out because of money. Sometimes it can help to have a mantra, such as: “No now, yes later.”
  10. Inspo Boards - Put a pin board on your wall with pictures of what you’re building up to, such as places you want to travel, the kind of job you want, the house you’d like to live in and even the car you hope to drive one day. Staying focused on the big picture will help the FOMO subside.

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Words of Advice 

  1. Everyone is Nervous - Even the cool kids who act like they belong there. Everyone just shows their nerves in different ways.
  2. New Beginnings are Hard - Don’t judge how others are handling the changes based on what you see. New beginnings are hard for everybody and the pressure hits at different times for each individual.
  3. Be Yourself - Everybody else is already taken. Learn to love yourself and enjoy the person you are becoming.
  4. Find Your People - Don’t force friendships that don’t feel natural. There are people out there who are a fit for you. Find your people and take care of one another.
  5. Reflect and Redirect - Always think about how things are going, where you are in your process and goals and redirect as needed to stay the course.
  6. You Don’t Have to Have All the Answers - Nobody expects you to be perfect all the time, either. You’re human. Embrace it.
  7. Let it Go - Surrender is a life lesson. If you don’t get the grade you were hoping for and the professor won’t listen to your argument — let it go. When you like someone more than they like you — let it go. When you’re not picked for your number one internship — let it go. Give yourself time and grace to feel sad or mad, but remember that door that closed means it wasn’t meant for you. Something else will come along and it will be even better.

A Few More Things... 

  1. Take Pictures and Print Them - Use them to decorate your dorm room or your notebooks.
  2. Travel - If you have the opportunity to study abroad, absolutely take it and maximize that experience to the fullest. Studying abroad will widen your mindset in ways that nothing else can or will.
  3. Enjoy it - This is a brief, beautiful period of your life you will reminisce about for the rest of your life. Balance the musts with the wants so that you can graduate with the fullest experience possible.
Phew! You made it through. Now, you’re ready to go out there and chase your dreams. Good luck! 

Erica Jabali is a freelance writer and blogs over at ispyfabulous.com.