Live these 15 tips (and less than 300 words) and I Guarantee Your Success in College

Below is a list of 15 tips that, if truly followed, will guarantee any student’s success in college. While this is specifically aimed at undergraduates, with a few small exceptions, these apply to graduate students, too. I would love to hear feedback and additional items in the comments. 


  1. College really is harder than high school and is a completely different world. Junior and Senior courses will also be completely different than freshmen and sophomore courses.
  2. Ideally, absolutely no more than 10-15 hours working for full time students, if you even work. On-campus jobs are ideal, if you need income.
  3. Never take a semester “off” – not even summers. Be prepared to dedicate 10-12 hours per week, per class (counting study time and class time). In summer semesters, this will usually be doubled, if not tripled or quadrupled per class.
  4. Be prepared to buy lots of expensive books (we’re talking $100+ per book). Have a good supply of paper, pens, staples, etc. You need a good MacBookPro and a DropBox account with 50-100 GB capacity, too.
  5. Read the official Catalog, Student Handbook, your degree plan/degree requirements, and the syllabus for each class, and read them often.
  6. Attend every class, always, no matter what.
  7. Complete every assignment, always, and read and follow the directions carefully.
  8. Never take a class without finding out about the course and the professor.
  9. Talk to professors (and graduate students, if you’re at a university) and talk to them often.
  10. Get help and advice often, even when “you don’t need it.”
  11. Find one or two individuals, anyone who works at the college, who you feel comfortable talking to about anything.
  12. Limit participation in extra curricular activities. One group is enough, if not too much. No more than 2-3 hours a week. Never attend Parties (the capital “P” is on purpose), ever.
  13. Take chances; look for learning opportunities.
  14. Always start early and have several backup plans for everything.
  15. Remember that college is a learning experience (an open mind is required!) with the reward way down the road.


See also (being a student):


Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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8 replies

  1. 1) Don’t limit them to using Macs. PCs are perfectly acceptable (and, in fact, most campus computer labs and libraries use PCs, not Macs). And, in some cases, Macs are not as compatible with online course management systems as PCs are (the one we use definitely is not Mac-friendly).

    2) Re #6: As someone who has a compromised immune system, I tell students they shouldn’t come to class if they have the flu, strep throat, etc. I also tell them they are still responsible for content covered in class, even if they are not physically present (this particularly applies to students who miss class for university-approved reasons, such as representing the university at athletic, choral, music, or other competitions).

    3) Depending on the major, you might not be spending $100 per book. I try to keep the cost for all of the books for my courses below $100-150 (it’s lower if I don’t require a textbook)…and yes, I do assign more than one book (and I expect students to read all of them).

    4) Add to the list: Always refer to your professor as Professor or Dr. Never, ever, call them Mr. (or Mrs. if it’s a woman). I tell my students that Mrs. Guenther is my mother, and she can’t help them.

    5) Add to the list: Pay attention to deadlines. In the real world, you will get fired if you don’t complete an assignment on time. Only ask for an extension if there are extenuating circumstances, and even then only request a short extension (I once needed an extension because my typewriter broke; I brought the broken typewriter to the professor as proof).

    6) Add to the list: College is a job. Treat it like one. Your “work” is being a student. Show up to work on time (in other words, if class starts at 9:30, be there by 9:25). Take pride in your work; the people who are grading your assignments are the same ones you will be asking for letters of recommendation for jobs and graduate school.

    7) Add to the list: This might be the first time you encounter people of different social and cultural backgrounds. Respect people who are different from you. This includes race, gender, sexual orientation, political beliefs, etc.

    8) Add to the list: If you are invited to join an honor society, do it.

    Sorry, my comment is longer than 300 words…


    • Thanks for your comments, as always. Lots of great tips and things students absolutely need to know for sure. I particularly like and appreciate your 5, 6 and 7.

      I really didn’t know some CMSs aren’t mac friendly. I haven’t run into this before. As a “mac” myself, it would be a death wish to suggest a computer in general. Yes, the Apple Computer culture has control over me on this point. LOL.

      Good point about health and really being sick. I phrased it as I more to make a point, since so many students think missing a class here and there is okay. I’ve had more than one student try to use a basic eye or dental visit as an excuse to miss class. I tell them those can easily be made at times when you don’t have class. Appointments at places like M.D. Anderson are, of course, different.


    • Macs are more likely to freeze up when students are taking online quizzes. When a student tells me that the quiz locked, my first question is what type of computer they are using. 99% of the time, it’s a Mac, so I tell them to take the quizzes in the library or in a computer lab with a PC. Of course, students are not always as diligent when saving documents with a Mac as they are with a PC, which means I get submissions to the dropbox that I can’t open…which means I can’t grade them.

      And I’m a PC…it’s what I have at my office, so it’s what I have at home. The only Macs are in the music department and geography, both of which need them for the graphics (surprisingly, the art department has PCs).


  2. College is as much about personal and social growth as it is about academic and professional development. I encourage my students to join many extracurriculars to discover their passions and assume leadership roles.

    And never attend a single party? Why would we want a generation of stressed-out, anti-social workaholics? A healthy balance between work and life is critical.


    • Thanks for your comment and perspective, Jason.

      Good point about college being about more than academic growth/learning; however, I have seen far too many instances where students get involved in so many things they don’t have time to work and study, etc. The non-academic growth per se should come from be focused primarily around classes, in my opinion.

      I don’t exactly say never attend any parties. I say parties with a capital “P” to refer to the kind of parties college students sometimes go to that they probably shouldn’t. Parties where there is too much alcohol, perhaps drugs, and other things that have or can have negative consequences, be it legally, in terms of health, or peer pressure.

      Some of these tips were exaggerated a bit for emphasis since so many students don’t know where to start when it comes to being successful in college.



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