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How to Succeed in College: 6 Things to Do to Get a Good Start

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how-to-succeed-in-collegeIt is really important to get off to a good start in the first few weeks of college. There is no question that the first semester of the first year is the most critical. Many studies show that this is the time when students are most likely to drop out of college, at least temporarily, if not permanently. It is when many consider transferring (though most don’t).

While there are rules in college, suddenly you are expected to figure things out for yourself. No one makes you do your homework. Assignments are rarely given daily, and it’s unusual to be quizzed on the previous night’s reading. You’re obliged to find help if you need it. There are no curfews or bed checks. No more babysitters!

So how do you get off to a good start in this new environment? Here are a few things you should do:

1. Immediately read the syllabus for every class.

Be sure to get all of the necessary books or materials and note assignment due dates in your calendar or planner. Also write down steps to completing assignments in your calendar (such as going to the library to do the research for a paper.) Getting good time management practices in place now is a great way to really get off to a good start in your college experience.

2. Start asking questions in class and speaking up as soon as possible.

Make yourself known in a good way. Not only should you ask questions of professors and advisors, but also of upperclassmen, who are a great source of information and love to share it. But go to the ones who are doing well—the ones you want to be like one day (like next year!)

3. Make at least one friend in every class.

Hopefully (and most likely) there will be some students who are in more than one class with you. Begin the core of a study group.

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4. Find your way to key offices.

This includes your professors’ office hours, the library, the advising center, the career office, the gym, the health center, and the financial aid office. It is important to know where these resources are so you can be ready to use them.

5. Seek help when you need it.

If you have any inkling from the first class that you may be in over your head, then immediately seek help from the professor, an advisor, the tutoring office, or all of the above. You may need to change the course, in which case it is best to do that quickly. You can’t get off to a good start if you are overwhelmed, so you need to see how to fix that fast.

6. Join one club or activity (not more at this point).

It may be something familiar like the school paper or a sport, if that is what you excelled in during high school. It could be a group that relates to your faith practice or ethnic origins, if that creates a sense of the familiar. Being at ease is important, but be sure not to overwhelm yourself with activities right at the beginning.

One of the biggest mistakes new students make is not engaging in or using all the tools, resources, and people who are there for them. You have paid for these tools and people by paying tuition, and therefore you are entitled to take advantage of everything there. It is silly not to. Trust me, the students who are at the top use all of the resources available to them. Follow their lead and you will be off to a great start!

For more tips on how to survive and thrive during your first year, get a behind-the-scenes look at college with The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College.


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Dr. Marcia Y. Cantarella has held positions at Hunter College, Princeton University, New York University, and Metropolitan College of New York during her distinguished career as a dean and vice president of student affairs. Through her expertise in delivering student services and strategies, she has enhanced the academic experiences of and outcomes for generations of students. She is now president of Cantarella Consulting in New York City where she works with colleges and organizations on issues of higher education pipelines, access, diversity, and student access.

Cantarella is the author of I Can Finish College, which you can find in the College Countdown bookstore.