Success in college is a central theme of this book. Let’s first define what success really means so that you can get started, right now, on the right foot.
Understand first that no book can “make” you be successful—it can only offer the tools for you to use if you want. What are you thinking right now as you read these words? Are you reading this right now only because you have to, because it is an assigned reading in a course you have to take—and your mind keeps drifting to other things because you’re feeling bored? Or are you interested because you’ve decided you want to succeed in college?
Hopefully it’s the latter, that you’re feeling motivated—and excited, too—to do a great job in college. But even if you aren’t much concerned at present about these issues, we hope you’ll keep reading and do some thinking about why you’re in college and how to get motivated to do well.
“Success” and “Failure”
So what does “success” actually mean in college? Good grades? That’s what many students would say—at least toward the beginning of their time in college.
When you ask people about their college experience a few years later, grades are seldom one of the first things mentioned. College graduates reflecting back typically emphasize the following:
- The complete college experience (often described as “the best years of my life”).
- Exploring many different subjects and discovering one’s own interests.
- Meeting a lot of interesting people, learning about different ways to live.
- Learning how to make decisions and solve problems that are now related to a career.
- Gaining the skills needed to get the job—and life—one desires.
When you are achieving what you want in life and when you are happy and challenged and feel you are living life to its fullest and contributing to the world, then you likely feel successful. When you reach this point, your grades in college are about the last thing you’ll think of.
This is not to say that grades don’t matter—just that getting good grades is not the ultimate goal of college or the best way to define personal success while in college. Five or ten years from now, no one is going to care much about what grade you got in freshman English or Biology 101. A successful college experience does include acceptable grades, of course, but in the end—in your long-range goals—grades are only one component of a larger picture.
EXERCISE 1: Define Success
Directions: Determine your definition of success in college. Identify at least three steps you would need to take in order to achieve your definition of success in college.
created by Laura Gilbert
How Much Do Grades Matter?
As you begin your college experience, it’s useful to think about your attitude toward grades, since grades often motivate students to study and do well on assignments.
Valuing grades too highly, or not highly enough, can cause problems. A student who is determined to get only the highest grades can easily be frustrated by difficult college classes. Expectations that are too high may lead to disappointment—possibly depression or anxiety—and may become counterproductive. At the other extreme, a student who is too relaxed about grades, who is content simply with passing courses, may not be motivated to study enough even to pass—and may be at risk for failing courses.
What is an acceptable attitude to have toward grades? The answer to that depends in part on how grades do matter generally—and specifically in your own situation. Here are some ways grades clearly do matter:
- At most colleges, all students must maintain a certain grade point average (GPA) to be allowed to continue taking courses and to graduate.
- Financial aid and scholarship recipients must maintain a certain grade in all courses, or a minimum GPA overall, to continue receiving their financial award.
- In some programs, the grade in certain courses must be higher than simply passing in order to count toward the program or major.
After graduation, it may be enough in some careers just to have completed the program or degree. But in most situations, how well one did in college may still affect one’s life. Employers often ask how well you did in college (new graduates at least—this becomes less important after one has gained more job experience). Students who are proud of their grades usually include their GPA on their résumés. Students with a low GPA may avoid including it on their résumé, but employers may ask on the company’s application form or in an interview (and being caught in a lie can lead to being fired). An employer who asks for a college transcript will see all of your grades, not just the overall GPA.
In addition to the importance of jobs, grades matter if you plan to continue to graduate school, professional school, or other educational programs—all of which require your transcript.
Certainly grades are not the only way people are judged, but along with all forms of experience (work, volunteer, internship, hobbies), personal qualities, and the recommendations of others, they are an important consideration. After all, an employer may think, if this person goofed off so much in college that he got low grades, how can I expect him not to goof off on the job?
How to Calculate Your GPA
Because of various requirements for maintaining a GPA at a certain level, you may need to know how to calculate your GPA before grades come out at the end of the term. The math is not difficult, but you need to consider both the grade in every course and the number of credit hours for that course in order to calculate the overall GPA. Here is how you would do the calculation in the traditional four-point scale. First, translate each letter grade to a numerical score:
A = 4
B = 3
C = 2
D = 1
Then multiply each grade’s numerical score by the number of units or hours for that course:
B in Math 101 × 5 hours = 3 × 5 = 15
B in English 4 × 3 hours = 3 × 3 = 9
C in Humanities 1 × 5 hours = 2 × 5 = 10
A in College Success × 3 hours = 4 × 3 = 12
Then add together those numbers for each course:
15 + 9 + 10 + 12 = 46.
Then divide that total by the total number of credit hours:
46 / 16 = 2.87 = GPA of 2.87.
**Consult your college’s policies regarding the numeric weighting of + and − grades.
The best attitude to take toward grades in college is simply to do the best you can do. You don’t need to over-extend yourself, but if you’re not going to make an effort then there’s not much reason to be there in the first place.
If you have special concerns about grades, such as feeling unprepared in certain classes and at risk of failing, talk with your academic advisor. If a class requires more preparation than you have from past courses and experience, you might be urged to drop that class and take another—or to seek extra help. Your advisor can help you work through any individual issues related to doing well and getting the best grade you can.
EXERCISE 2: Why are You Here?
Directions: Describe at least three reasons why you've made the decision to attend college. What is it that you hope to accomplish while you are attending college?
created by Laura Gilbert
Succeeding in Your First Year
The first year of college is almost every student’s most crucial time. Statistics show a much higher drop-out rate in the first year than thereafter. Why? Because for many students, adjusting to college is not easy. Students wrestle with managing their time, their freedom, and their other commitments to family, friends, and work. It’s important to recognize that it may not be easy for you.
On the other hand, when you do succeed in your first year, the odds are very good that you’ll continue to succeed and will complete your program or degree. Motivation and a positive attitude are the keys to getting off to a running start. The next section lists some things you can do to start right now, today, to ensure your success.
Getting Started on the Right Foot Right Now
- Make an appointment to talk with your academic advisor if you have any doubt about the courses you have already enrolled in or about the direction you’re taking. Start examining how you spend your time and ensure you make enough time to keep up with your courses.
- Check for tutoring assistance if you feel you may need it and make an appointment or schedule time to visit tutoring centers on your college campus to see what help you can get if needed.
- Like yourself. You’ve come a long way to reach this point, you have succeeded in taking this first step toward meeting your college goal, and you are fully capable of succeeding the rest of the way. Avoid the trap of feeling down on yourself if you’re struggling with any classes.
- Pay attention to your learning style and your instructors’ teaching styles. Begin immediately applying the guidelines discussed earlier for situations in which you do not feel you are learning effectively.
- Plan ahead. Check your syllabus for each class and highlight the dates of major assignments and tests. Write on your calendar the important dates coming up.
- Look around your classroom and plan to introduce yourself right away to one or two other students. Talking with other students is the first step in forming study groups that will help you succeed.
- Introduce yourself to your instructors, if you haven’t already. In a large lecture, go up to the instructor after class and ask a question about anything in the lecture or about an upcoming assignment.
- Participate in your classes. If you’re normally a quiet person who prefers to observe others asking questions or joining class discussions, you need to take the first step toward becoming a participating student—another characteristic of the successful student. Find something of particular interest to you and write down a question for the instructor. Then raise your hand at the right time and ask. You’ll find it a lot easier than you may think!
- Vow to pay more attention to how you spend your money. Some students have to drop out because they get into debt.
- Take good care of your body. Good health makes you a better student. Vow to avoid junk food, to get enough sleep, and to move around more. When you’re done reading this chapter, take a walk!
Excellent! Start doing these few things, and already you’ll be a step or two ahead—and on your way to a successful first year!
EXERCISE 3: Be Proactive
Directions: Choose at least three items from the bullet point list above and follow-through in completing those three items within the first two weeks of class. Choose at least three more items to complete once you are finished completing your first three. Continue until you have completed all or most of the items on the list.
created by Laura Gilbert
License and Attributions:
CC licensed content, Previously shared:
College Success by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.
Adaptions: Reformatted, some content removed to fit a broader audience.
License: CC BY – NC – ND 4.0 International