Ten Tips for College Success

All conventional wisdom tells the young people of today to graduate high school, go to college, and then start your career.  The term college-ready in most circles tend to center around test scores, GPA, and college entrance exams.  As someone who has had “success” in college, I offer my wisdom and have compiled my top ten tips for college success.

1.  Know that your high school record COUNTS!

It’s not simply about graduating from high school.  A few things for high school students to consider that colleges look favorably upon students who:  take challenging courses, keep their grades up, volunteer in their community, maintain a good class rank, and participate in extra-curricular activities (clubs, sports, fine arts, etc..).  One other thing about high school is for students to do one simple thing…. LEARN!  The more a student is academically prepared for college, the less likely they are to have to take remedial (nice way of saying ‘you’re not ready) courses, and the more likely they will not be overwhelmed by the course load.  So having good study habits, knowing how to write, and keep up your basic math skills is a must.  So high school seniors out there, please don’t coast and think just because you have your required ‘credits’ that you can stop learning.

2.  Be aware of how to ‘Get In’ a College

This may seem like a given, but many young folks out there always have this “pie in the sky” view of going to college, but fail to take the preparatory steps to actually get accepted into a college institution. First of all, take your college entrance exams early.  You never want to put yourself in a situation where all your hopes of getting into college is dependent on one stress-intensed college entrance tests that you’ve waited to take until the last minute.  SAT and ACT are the norms and it is highly recommended that students take both because it only takes a good score on one of those tests to get admission and for many people the ACT is an easier to score well on.  Also note that other factors can be taken into account instead of just grades and test scores, such as: writing an essay, volunteer hours, community service, extra-curricular activities, and letters of recommendation.  The last thing I’ll mention about getting into college is the application process.  Many states have a common application that everyone needs to fill out regardless of which university they are applying.  In addition many universities have their more specialized applications that are in addition to the common application.  Keep in mind that application fees can add up (usually $50 a piece), but more importantly is to know the deadlines and make sure you apply on time.

3.  Know how you are going to PAY!

It’s no secret that college is expensive.  Before I say anymore, please note that I personally feel college is one of the best investments one can make in their future.  With that said, knowing how you’re going to pay for your college education is just something every responsible adult should plan for.  Of course the most preferred way to pay for college is to not pay at all.  Hence all should apply early and often for scholarships and grants.  Although most grants are tied to either income or some specialized trait, scholarships are open for everyone to apply.  Plus, there is no shame in having to apply for a loan.  One of the most important organizations is FAFSA but there are plenty more in which students can apply for loans.

4. Learn the ‘lingo’

I often take for granted the basic terminology that comes with entering college.  This isn’t to say people have never heard of these things, but knowing them in the context of college life can be a bit different.  Below are just a few of the things that students and parents of students should be aware of.

Credit Hours -A typical course is college is worth 3 credit hours and courses with lab are worth 4 credit hours (the extra hour being the lab).  Some of the extracurricular courses like athletics, or choir typically only count for 1 or 2 hours.  This is important because a full-time undergraduate college student is someone who has not earned a college degree that is taking at least 12 hours of coursework (12/3 = four classes).  Even more importantly is that most college undergraduate degrees require somewhere around 150 credit hours, give or take 5-10 hours so that can be anywhere from 45 to 50 courses.  Note that it is possible for students to take classes and credit hours that do NOT count toward their degree (such as remedial courses, or extra athletic or fine art courses, etc..).

Other – Some additional college ‘lingo’ are: meal plans, tuition, out-of-state tuition, registration process, degree plans, prerequisites, remedial courses, summer courses, ‘Maymester’ courses, Winter courses, dorms, parking pass, labs, printing quota, WIFI restrictions, etc…

5.  Realize first two years of college is a repeat of high school courses

This should be something that everyone knows, but unfortunately many people don’t realize that your first two years of college are the exact same courses and subjects that a student had to take in high school.  This is what people refer to as the “basics”.  Essentially a student is just taking a repeat of: math, science, English/Language Arts, History, and a few other common courses like Speech, Political Science and the like.  Most bright high school students realize this and in turn take advantage of getting a dual or concurrent credit for taking those courses in high school.  Another option (although a bit harder) is for students to get these credits in high school by taking an Advanced Placement (AP) course and then passing the AP exam with a minimum grade.  You ever heard of a student starting college as a sophomore, or starting with ‘X’ number of credits.  That’s how they do it,… they get the credit while taking the course in high school.  Nonetheless, even without any college credits earned in high school, it would do a lot to ease the anxiety of college work by realizing that you start off by essentially getting a two-year review of what you should have learned in high school.

6.  Have a goal for your college experience

What should my goal be you ask?  Well I’ll tell you.  In short, your goal should be to learn a skill set and to attain a college degree within a certain amount of time.  The ‘skill set’ essentially translates to knowing your major and what you want to focus on.  Understand this does not have to be decided in the first year of college because as mentioned earlier, the first two years of college are the ‘basic’ courses and are the same for nearly every degree program.  For the other half of the “goal”, I had to add in the “within a certain amount of time” because some people think it’s like high school in that as long as you attend for four years, they’ll just slap a degree in your hand and send you on your way.  Believe me when I say, if you have no plan on what degree you want to focus on, the courses that are required, whether the degree requires an internship, the specific pattern of when classes are offered, etc… then good luck getting out of their in four years.  One more thing about the ‘time’ of graduation in four years:  It is NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE to graduation in four years without taking any summer or additional courses outside the traditional Fall and Spring semester.  This would require in many cases up to 20 hours a semester (about 6 classes), which for college is a very heavy course load that many college counselors will not even allow students to take unless they show above average academic success.

7.  Learn how to manage your time

In my opinion, college is 60% academic knowledge, and 40% time management.  I honestly believe that anyone who takes the time to prepare for their classes, do the homework, complete the reading assignments, and study study study, then that’s nearly half the battle of being ready for college.  It’s not as easy as it seems though.  College life gives you a lot of opportunity to do whatever you want to do whenever you want to do it.  You can schedule your own classes (morning, afternoon, or night), you can choose to go to class or not… you can essentially do anything you want.  This is not to mention all the social activities many colleges offer to occupy your time (sports, parties, fraternities, organizations, plays, concerts, etc..).  It’s okay to have fun in college, but please be mindful of the ultimate reason why you are there (which should be get an education and a degree).

8.  Understand college professors are different from high school teachers

Many high school students have come to expect a sense of leniency when it comes to the teacher-student relationship.  In high school you’re often given multiple opportunities for making up homework, retesting, doing extra credit, and other things in the like.  Though you’ll see some of this in college, you won’t see nearly as much of it as you did in high school.  No more parent-teacher conferences where mommy promises their good little lad will do better.  College professors (especially in large institutions) don’t have the time or the desire to baby young college students who are ill-prepared and undisciplined to keep up with their course work.  Barring a few exceptions, a professor will simply give you a syllabus of work for the entire semester (on day one) and expect you to adhere to the course expectations.

9.  Don’t Leave College Empty Handed

I see it all the time, people have things that come up in life that make them leave college for a time before they get to finish their degree.  Sometimes the reasons are compelling and often necessary, but if at all possible, don’t stop college until you have some sort of degree.  Many colleges even offer Associate degrees (2 year degrees) for completing all the ‘basic’ courses requirements.  In addition, there are certifications, licenses, and other things that can be earned while at a college.  We’ve all heard the stats that a college-degreed person makes drastic amounts more over the life of their career then non-college degree individuals. In the “real world” it doesn’t really matter what you get your degree in, it just matters that you have one.

10.  Have Fun

With all the worries, the studying, the time management, the finances, the exams, and everything else that goes along with college, it is important to realize that college should be a fun experience.  The same way many people enjoy their high school experience, that enjoyment was usually with the expectation of completing the requirements with a degree.  Nonetheless, college years can be the most exciting experiences a person could have and one should take advantage of the atmosphere and activities that college life offers.  Consider that many people meet their mates in college, decide what they want to do in life, find their best friends, form great relationship with students and professors, have a sense of pride in their school competitions, and do endless social activities all while getting an education and degree that will benefit them in the future.  In short, be smart, be safe, get and education, and make it a great experience.

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