College Success is Not All Academic

By Diane Ferber, Executive Director at The Collaborative Center, part of Greenwich Education Group

In reading a recent article by a college professor outlined the most common academic mistakes college students make, it struck me that all students—whether in high school or college–can take specific actions to avoid mistakes and enhance their college success!

While still in high school, even before choosing a college, your student can strengthen important skills through coaching for executive function, writing with intent, interview skills, self-awareness, and self-advocacy. For students who have completed an assessment, it would be valuable for someone to help them review the strengths and best strategies of their particular learning profile. And, even the most able student can learn ways to address test anxiety and to augment the abilities they already possess and will bring to college.

At college, students can strategize to keep on track and to integrate their activities even as they depend on the academic supports already built into their college program. While some of the strategies discussed below will specifically help those students who have challenges such as anxiety and weaker executive functions, all students will find the techniques useful.

Seven Suggestions for Student Success at College

1. Create a relationship with each professor. Whether your class is in a lecture hall or a small classroom, making an appointment with a professor at the beginning of the year puts you on the map and offers you an opportunity to differentiate yourself. Good information to share with the professor includes:

a. Why you are interested in this class and this subject.

b. Questions about the syllabus, priorities, and deliverables. Just indicating to the professor that you have read the syllabus and acknowledge what is important is a plus.

c. Anything you need the professor to know about you and what helps you learn. For instance, you might say, “I need extra time for tests” or, “May I have a copy of the notes so I can focus on listening to the discussion?

Note: Offer substance with your visit, not flattery.  Avoid discussing your grade needs or wants.

2. Proofread your papers. Your written work is a presentation of your thinking, ideas, engagement with the class, priorities, and respect for your own abilities. In college, writing is really less about producing a deliverable and more about its reflection on you as a whole person. Mindful writing is organized and thoughtful, uses deliberate language, and has been well proofed.

3.  Find a study group. Organize or find a study group, especially in your major or for a difficult class. A study group creates a structured study schedule, helps students with different strengths to increase each other’s understanding, can enrich your thoughts about the subject, and will improve preparation for exams.

4. Use a calendar or planner. Whether electronic or month-at-a-glance, a single planner where you keep all your information will help you keep track of the myriad academic, social, seasonal, and other activities at college. When you are at home and in high school, your school, parents, or others may handle much of your scheduling: vacation, laundry, doctor visits, sports, and so on. Many college freshmen find that the systems they had previously used to track schoolwork or tests are not adequate for the college load.

5. Familiarize yourself with the academic, health and wellness support systems on campus.  Find out about the academic supports that are available to you before you need them. Each school has an extensive program for tutoring, writing help, program advising and academic support.  And equally important, each school has an integrated support system for non academic challenges.  According to The First Year College Experience Survey recently conducted by the Harris Poll, most freshmen are not emotionally prepared for College.  And, the majority of college students in the survey recognized that they needed to improve their time management and independent living skills. Most students reach out for support at some point; to do so is part of learning to be self-reflective and to self-advocate.

6.   Meet the administration. Specifically, make sure you create a relationship with your advisor. Talk with him or her about classes that are working for you, may not be working, and about upcoming class choices and plans. Visit the student support center and learn about the subject, writing, and emotional supports available.  Understand the policies for changing majors, dropping classes, planning for semesters abroad and internships.

7.  Deconstruct each test and graded paper. While it is tempting to put away graded work and focus on next assignments, graded work offers a huge opportunity to learn from mistakes. A review can help you focus on important strengths and improve academic performance and class success.

a. Read all the comments on a graded paper, not just those that point out the elements that were well received. However, do make sure your next paper incorporates the same strengths that the graded work exhibited.

b. For all returned exams, become a detective and deconstruct the test. What types of questions were more difficult for you? What areas of the subject did you miss in your studying? Can you discern what is important to the teacher?

c. Make an appointment with the professor to review papers and tests and determine where you need to improve. The discussion should help your future performance and demonstrate commitment to the professor.

If you are interested in learning more about pre-college skill acquisition, or setting up coaching for your college student during breaks, please contact Diane Ferber, Executive Director at The Collaborative Center, at [email protected]com.