How To Be Successful in College: 17 Great Tips to Achieve Success at Uni

Achieving success at university takes some effort, more than simply showing up. Learn how to be successful in college with these great tips.

Did you just enter higher education and are thinking about how to be successful in college? You are not alone. There are 19.4 million others like you who have joined college or university and are looking to make a great start to it.

Going to college is a big step, particularly if you’re a freshman. Throwing yourself into a new environment, with new people and places, let alone new coursework and study habits, can be challenging — and it’s easy to feel lost!

However, getting a grip on these things as soon as possible is key for college success and your new life in general. For all the incoming college students out there who want to set themselves up for success, here are several tips to think about.

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1. Start with the End in Mind

You might have heard of this adage, “If you have to cut down a tree in ten minutes, spend the first two sharpening your ax.” This is exactly how you should deal with your college life, your assignments, relationships, and life in general. 

Most college students forget that college life is quite different from their life as high schoolers. It is much more complicated and intricate, involving a lot more moving facets.

If you start jumping into situations without much planning, you are going to find yourself blundering up more often than you wish. Also, the more planning you do, the more you will know where you wish to be in a few years. 

You are not in college for the assignments and the grades. That’s a minor part of it. You are here to make something of yourself, to become someone great. 

But what is that something? Where do you wish to get to? “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there,” is a great lesson to keep in mind from Alice in Wonderland.

That’s why knowing where you wish to end up is so important. This doesn’t mean that you need to be completely sure of what career path you wish to take. But even having a slight idea of it, is better than being completely clueless and moving in six opposite directions at once. 

Related Read: How to Get a Scholarship? 8 Tips to Help You Get Free Money for School

2. Stay in Touch with Your Parents

Another thing to keep in mind as you go through your college years is that you will need a lot of grounding and stabilizing connections in your life. This is because you are going to be dealing with so many new and never-before-seen situations that you might end up feeling slightly off-kilter (or a lot).

If you keep in touch with your parents, a video call every week or two weeks is enough, then you will notice that they can help you remain centered and grounded. They will be able to give you tidbits and information on all your relatives and cousins, who’s doing what, and going where.

All this information is nice to have, since you might be feeling lonely and alone, especially during your first few months at college. 

Keep in mind, that this only applies if you have a positive relationship with your caretakers. If a conversation with them leads you to feel even more anxious and crazed, then keep these conversations to a minimum, and find other grounding sources, like meditation, yoga, or therapy (more on that later).

3. Find a Mentor

Your college or university might have a mentorship program already. Or maybe not.

But either way, it is a great idea for you to find someone preferably in the higher years, who can give you advice, help you navigate difficult course loads, and just be there as a shoulder to lean upon.

They have already gone through what you are going through right now. So they can give you little tips on which teaching assistant (TA) to avoid and what cafeteria foods to indulge in.

Of course, you should ensure you don’t burden them too much, since they are busy with course loads and life, in general. And make sure to do something for them in return, so that you aren’t just taking advantage of their kindness.

Related Read: How to Use Goodwall’s Web Profile to Score a Scholarship & Get Into Uni

4. Choose the Right Classes

Choosing the right classes is obviously one of the best tips for college success. Your mentor, if you have one, can help you with this. If not, speak to a career counselor affiliated with your college or university. 

If you have done the first step right, you already know where you wish to end up with this college degree. Even if you aren’t completely sure, you have some idea. And you can use this to figure out which would be the right classes for you to take. 

Not only that but there are some professors or teachers that might have a negative reputation around your college. There’s probably a good reason for that. Perhaps their course load is too difficult, or maybe they are just a mean person. 

Either way, follow the wisdom of the crowds and avoid these courses, if possible.

5. Learn Time Management Skills

When you were a child, you could have wasted hours on end watching cartoons on television or doing nothing at all. But now you are in college, and every minute wasted is a minute you could have spent on studying, doing assignments, spending time applying to internships, and more. 

Stop wasting your time as much as possible. You can do this by scheduling your daily entertainment time, where you scroll through Instagram or TikTok for 30 minutes or an hour.

Learn to plan ahead, especially for larger projects (don’t put off a capstone project until the last minute!). To be a truly well-rounded and successful college student, work time into your calendar for your physical health, and account for study time each week in advance, rather than trying to work it in your free time.

But when you are done with this, make sure you go back to doing something productive. Otherwise, you are going to regret it when exams come along and you are unprepared for them. See more time management advice and tips to stop procrastination here.

Related Read: 25+ Books for College Students to Read in University

6. Take Effective Notes

There are so many amazing note-taking apps on iPads or other tablets that can help you become more efficient notetakers. This doesn’t mean that you need a tablet if you don’t already have one. 

The main idea here is to start taking notetaking more seriously. Good notes can be the difference between you passing a course with a good grade and failing it miserably. 

If you know you are terrible at notetaking, then consider doing an exchange with someone else who has great notes, by offering them a spa gift certificate or a nice meal. 

Also, make study cards or notecards so you can easily revise important notes in a jiffy when you are waiting in line or commuting. 

7. Don’t Forget about Extracurricular Activities

College isn’t all about getting good grades and completing your assignments on time, despite what others might tell you. It’s a time for you to make deep connections and friendships that you will carry with you until the end of time. 

Also, it’s a time for you to have some fun, play some sports, and hang out with other students from all over the world. The modern college campus provides a wealth of social resources for any kind of college student.

There are so many social clubs in a college that you could join, like basketball clubs, LGBTQ+ clubs, swing dancing clubs, chess playing clubs, and so much more. 

If you have any specific interest from childhood that you wish to rekindle or some passion of yours that you wish to stoke, join a club and go to their meetings regularly. This is a great way for you to take a break and do something fun, instead of being sequestered in the library studying all the time.

Related Read: How to Save Money in College: 15+ Easy Ways w/ Tips & Advice

8. Stay Active and Eat Healthily

Everyone knows that college students tend to gain weight, especially in the first year. This is due to various reasons, but mostly because cafeteria food can sometimes be quite calorie-intensive and activity levels drop quite a bit from high school to college. 

This is why you need to strike at this weight gain from the get-go. Eat a balanced meal as much as possible, with the occasional fast-food burger and fries thrown in, if you need to treat yourself. And set goals for yourself go to the gym regularly – many colleges or universities have a gym membership included in their tuition price. 

If you aren’t motivated enough to work out at the gym by yourself, then join a sports club where you can go play basketball or badminton three or four times a week for one hour at a time with friends. That way you can have fun while still staying active. Or you could even ask a friend to become your workout buddy so you can both stay fit and avoid any weight gain.

9. Join Study Groups

Two minds are better than one. And three or four are even better than two. When you were in high school, you might have hated group work, because you always ended up saddled with the class bully or joker, who refused to do any work.

But college is different. College students care about achieving success more than high schoolers because their career aspirations depend upon it. 

That’s why it will be easy for you to find a group of 3 or 4 other students from your courses who you can study with. You can motivate each other to finish your assignments on time, and share notes and tricks with each other to get better grades. 

Related Read: 15+ Free Online Learning Platforms & Tools to Use to Study From Home

10. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help

You are not alone. Many professionals at your college or university are ready to help you with whatever you might need. So take advantage of the knowledge and resources they have to offer.

If it’s emotional support you need, then reach out to the therapist affiliated with your college. If you are feeling like you are getting behind on your assignments and due dates, then reach out to your TA or professor to get some additional time or help. 

Don’t bury negative emotions and isolate yourself, as that’ll only make things worse. Reach out to friends you trust or to supportive family members about what’s going on with you. Write down your feelings in a journal to keep track of your feelings and document your growth.

Sometimes just acknowledging that you are going through a tough time can help you feel better. And, the better you feel, the easier it will be for you to obtain success in college.

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11. Get an Internship

It’s easy enough to get complacent in the first year or two during college since you feel you still have a lot more time before you have to start working. This is even more true if you are planning to do an advanced degree, like a master’s in engineering. 

But, your college years are a great time to get in at a company that you’ve always wanted to work at. There are so many internships up for grabs, but most people don’t apply for them until it’s too late. 

Make a plan from your freshman year to begin applying for internship programs that interest you. You’ll not only be far ahead of the crowd, but you’ll also more likely achieve getting into the most challenging programs if you start early vs waiting until the last minute. Also, it’s going to look so good on your resume if you have an internship from a reputable company on there.

Related Read: 18 Types of Scholarships to Explore for Your College Needs

12. Flock Together With Birds of a Feather

Do you hang out with some friends who are clearly in college just to party and have fun? The ones who don’t complete their assignments, barely go to classes or attend lectures, and treat important exams like a trivia night at the local bar?

You might have some loyalty to them because they were the first friends you made in college or you think that it’s fun hanging out with them. But know that eventually, they are going to drag you down to their level.

Jim Rohn says that you end up being like the five people you hang out with the most. Well, what are the five people you hang out with like? Are they working hard and moving towards making something of themselves? Or are they unmotivated and uninterested in building their future? 

To set yourself up for success in college, you’ll benefit from limiting your exposure to people like this. Have fun, of course, but stay focused on your overall goal of getting through your university schedule with great grades and high praise from your professors.

13. Remove Toxic Relationships

You also have to remove anyone from your life who’s abusive towards you or behaving in a derogatory manner. It might be hard at first, and you may need to contact your parents, friends, or other people to help you in this regard. But it’s better to do it sooner rather than later. 

Toxic relationships can be draining and exhausting. They can suck the living life out of you so that you have no energy to give to your classes and other aspects of your life. 

They can also make you believe that you are the one at fault here when it’s the other person who’s to blame. Behaviors like gaslighting, victim-blaming, narcissistic tendencies and other similar behaviors are red flags that you need to get away from this person asap.

If you feel like you can’t do it on your own or if you are afraid for your physical safety, contact the various abuse hotlines available or get in touch with your local men’s or women’s shelter. 

Related Read: Scholarships 101: Everything Students Need to Know About Getting a Scholarship

14. Seek Therapy if Necessary

Again, this cannot be iterated enough. You are not damaged or beyond repair.

You are imperfect just like every human on this planet is, and sometimes some people need a bit more help than others to get their life into gear. That doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you or that you are weak.

Most colleges or universities have a licensed therapist on board that will help any student for free (or for a low subsidized cost) and it’s all bound by confidentiality. Your college cannot use your therapy sessions as a way to throw you out of college or give you a negative reference.

So use these therapy sessions as much as you can, to talk through important issues that are troubling you, or just to have an objective listener to vent to. 

15. Follow Dorm Etiquette

If you are staying in a dorm, then there are certain rules you have to follow, so you don’t step on any toes and cause unnecessary altercations. Some of these are listed below:

  • Only bring essentials to college, since you will have limited storage space in your dorm
  • A mattress pad will make a world of difference to your sleep comfort levels
  • Use shelves from IKEA to help you store books and other smaller items
  • Go paperless as much as possible by taking notes or scanning items
  • Talk to your roommate and work through problems right away instead of letting them fester
  • Get to know your neighbors and do an exchange where you help each other
  • Always label your food so you don’t get into fights over what’s yours or not
  • Don’t trust implicitly – lock up your valuable items
  • Space is limited so you will have to share some of your space, get used to that

If someone is behaving inappropriately or making you feel uncomfortable in some way, then report that misconduct immediately! There’s no need to hold back in this regard. You should speak up now than let it fester and blow out of proportion later.

Also, if you are not enjoying living in a dorm, then consider moving to a cheaper apartment somewhere else. Your mental health might depend on it, and it’s not worth saving a few bucks here and there.

Many college students end up doing the same, moving out of dorm rooms and finding a cheap apartment or switching dorm rooms to avoid a certain roommate. 

Related Read: How to Write a Scholarship Thank You Letter: 10+ Tips

16. Borrow Wisely

No list of tips for success in college would be complete without some money advice. Too many college students end up saddled with way too much debt because it’s their first time dealing with money on their own and credit card companies freely give out credit to unsuspecting students knowing this is the case.

Don’t let this happen to you. You don’t want your parents or yourself to spend the next 4-6 years paying off credit card debt. Make sure you borrow only the amount that you know you can pay back easily with the money you earn from your part-time job.

Also, always pay with savings or cash on hand, rather than putting it all on a credit card. Do not go to a bar or a club with a credit card and put all your drinks on there – that can add up way faster than you imagine.

Stop YOLOing or FOMOing your way through college. 

Even if you hate the idea of one, building a budget will help you quite a bit, especially as you get used to living on your own for the first time. You don’t have to be extremely frugal or anything. You just need to know what you are spending your money on, so you can curb your spending during months when you have gone overboard. 

Finally, if you are smart and capable of getting scholarships, then apply for as many as you can. Why not use these scholarships to pay for your university or college education, and use your savings to build up an emergency fund, or start investing in your future? 

17. Don’t Worry About Having All the Answers

Guess what? You are going to end up making some mistakes no matter how much you try otherwise. That’s the whole point of the college experience. 

No matter how many blogs you read on college success tips, there’s no way to prevent all mistakes. Think of these mistakes as learning experiences and stepping stones to greater things and stop berating yourself for them. 

The only thing is that you don’t want to make these mistakes twice, so learn from your mistakes by journaling about them and reinforcing the lessons in your mind.

Related Read: 40+ College Student Discounts in Tech, Fashion & Beyond

17 Tips on How to Be Successful in College

Here you have it. We have shared some ways to be successful in college in the post above, but as you live your college life, you are going to realize your own special college success tips.

And then one day, you might share those with your younger siblings or with nieces and nephews. 

Just remember that college isn’t just about success, but about growing up and maturing. If you manage that, then you know that your college experience was a successful one.

Loved this post on how to be successful in college? Then you will want to check out our blog with other useful articles like this one. 

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Goodwall Team
Written By Goodwall Team
This article was written by the Goodwall team or by a contributor for publication on Goodwall. Goodwall is dedicated to helping students, entrepreneurs, and young professionals reach their full potential. We'll share thought-provoking and supportive articles on career advice, self-improvement, navigating the college landscape, climate action, social impact, and more. On the business side, we'll talk about SMB subjects related to community, diversity, talent acquisition, case studies, and enterprise.

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  1. This article is really helpful. I am looking forward to joining a college next year and I needed these tips. Thank you.