How to Succeed in College

After nearly three decades in higher education – first as a faculty member teaching chemistry and then as an administrator – I have seen countless young people develop through college, graduate and enter the workforce. I’m still in touch with some students from early in my teaching career, and I have developed relationships with many in my four-and-a-half years here at Dalton State.

I have seen them become nurses, teachers, accountants, entrepreneurs, social workers, emergency personnel and so much more. These students have developed their professional knowledge and grown into admirable young adults. I am proud of them and have enjoyed watching their transformation.

Over the years, I have observed habits successful students have in common. Each summer as I welcome new students to campus for orientation, I share these four tips based on my observations over the years.

Show up. College students often experience more freedom than when they were in high school, and they don’t always make the best choices in those first few weeks or even months. Students attending their new student orientation are to be congratulated on completing the college application process and being admitted. Now the real work begins. Successful college students show up consistently for classes, for tutoring, for faculty office hours, for test reviews, for help with writing assignments. It is not sufficient to show up occasionally or only for the fun things. Our faculty and staff are available and make student success a priority. But first, students must be present.

Do your homework. This may seem obvious, but I have heard many students say they were able to do well in high school by simply attending class. Maybe they occasionally turned in homework, but not consistently. Students are often shocked to discover they can’t be successful in college using the same strategy. Professors expect students to be studying, reading, practicing and doing work outside of class time. College students are expected to take ownership of their education.

Engage. Attending class and studying are not enough for most students. Developing connections and relationships are of utmost importance to create a fulfilling and successful college experience. I tell students that a college education is about more than a transcript of courses and grades ending with a diploma. The process is just as important.

Part of the educational process is growing as a person by developing and refining skills in areas such as leadership, organization, project management, communication, teambuilding and collaboration. Where better to develop these characteristics than through involvement in activities outside of class such as Student Government Association, Campus Activities Board, Residence Life, student interest organizations (clubs) and/or intercollegiate or intermural sports? Furthermore, friendships outside of class help students through those inevitable tough times. Good friends who are going through similar experiences can be a tremendous support system for a college student who is struggling to master a course topic or learn how to manage time or negotiate complex relationships with family or other loved ones. Realistically, students are not going to stay in college long enough to graduate if they simply study and go to class and don’t connect with others.

Ask for help. Many students feel admitting they need help or don’t know everything is an indication they are not suited for college or are not smart enough to figure things out on their own. They have the misconception everyone else finds the course material easy and knows all about college already. In reality, all students have questions and run into problems occasionally at all stages of life and everyone needs someone’s help or advice along the way. Whether it is assistance with a tough homework assignment or directions to their academic advisor’s office, successful college students ask for help.

Our faculty and staff at Dalton State are all here because we want our students to be successful. We have chosen Dalton State because we believe in the power of higher education, we believe our students are a good investment of our time and talents and because we love watching others develop and grow into contributing members of our community, our nation and our world.