We’ve all met that guy in college who was only concerned with getting by. He wasn’t shooting for an A or even a B. As long as he scored a passing grade and made it to the next semester, he was A-Okay.
Better students understand that a $60,000 college degree is actually a $60,000 investment. And quite often, this is an investment we have to repay out of pocket.
In fact, whether the degree is funded by student loans, savings, or someone’s generosity, there are far more benefits to being a great student than an average one.
Benefits come in the form of scholarships, grants, a greater likelihood of support from family members, and a better cushion should you fail a test or course in your college career.
But what is it that makes some students do better than others? What are some good habits of great students? Here are 15 to get you started.
1. They Read the Syllabus
The syllabus is one of the most boring documents you will ever receive in college. But it’s also one of the most valuable. The syllabus tells you:
- what to expect of the class
- what tools you will need
- what faculties it will test and develop
- the percentage each piece makes up of your final grade
- how each piece is graded
- the exact topics you will cover in each class
- the corresponding chapters for the questions
Most lecturers will follow this guide closely, and so should you.
2. They Create a Study Plan
George Watson, who studied in the U.S. and the UK, and later taught at several universities, believes that it’s important to “set up a study schedule that you can actually keep”. By putting a study plan in place, you will never have to worry what needs doing, and when.
This not only saves students time, but money. The less time we spend trying to figure out what to do, the more time we can spend doing it. Getting assignments and study preparations done on time reduces the likelihood of failing a course.
Students can spend all that extra time on money-making activities like a part-time job, or completing freelance work on the side.
Not sure where to start with this? Check out our tutorial: How to Make a Study Plan.
3. They Start Early
A late plan is better than no plan at all, but nothing beats getting a head-start on your work.
The sooner, the better.
To wait until later on in the semester to get that momentum going, only increases stress and pressure when the work piles up. Why attack mountains when you can work your way through molehills?
“Begin to read the chapters before classes begin – if you do this – then nothing the professor is likely to lecture on will be brand new to you,” says Watson.
He adds, “One of the great challenges of college, especially for new students, is the pace of the courses and the amount of material that is covered. Too many students fall behind and [believe] they can cram for the finals just like they did in secondary school.”
4. They Chip Away
Some people do great work under pressure; most people do not. For this reason, along with making a good study plan, students should try to chip away at some of their workload each day.
This helps to reduce the overall pressure as the deadlines for exams and projects draw near. Masters graduate, Curtis Murphy, shares:
The biggest thing that helped me was to do some work on one of my assignments every single day.
I started out committing to do only 5 minutes. This may not seem like much, but it was a big change from doing nothing for weeks and then panicking close to a due date.
I started working on this 5 minutes a day habit with a coach… and was amazed [at] how quickly it changed my experience of school, even though it was excruciating at first.
5. They Prioritize Integrity
There is one reason some students never graduate college, that we hear very little about. That reason is cheating. According to the Boston Globe, about 75 percent of students admit to cheating.
Cheating comes in many forms. It may come in the form of plagiarizing published work, copying from someone else’s paper in a test, or even securing a copy of an exam sheet a few weeks before sitting the exam.
Whatever the form, once caught, the ultimate penalty is expulsion. Once expelled from school for cheating, it is difficult to return to any reputable college after that.
There goes that $60,000 investment!
The better and safer approach is to seek help when necessary, in the form of tutors, coaches, and academic advisers. If writing is not one of your strong points then finding someone to proofread and properly format your paper is also beneficial.
Cheating, however, is often more trouble than it’s worth.
Integrity is priceless.
6. They Eat Well
A college diet is notoriously one of the worst. When strapped for time – which is always – college students need food that’s fast, cheap, and easy to make.
This often means a lot of fast food, junk food, and pastries. Delicious as they may be, they do not provide the proper nutrients for our body. According to physics graduate and educator, Lior Bey:
The brain body link is a very… real thing – known as the gut-brain axis in neuroscience. The thinking behind it is that a healthy brain can only act in its full potential if the gut flora is healthy.
It’s a universally accepted fact that eating well translates into feeling well, looking well, and doing well. It reduces the likelihood of nutrition deficiencies; of gaining excess weight; and of developing chronic diet-related illnesses, like diabetes.
7. They Work Out
Equally important to health is exercise. If you find that you make much better progress at the gym, and need motivation and tips to get through it, then check out:
If going to the gym still bores you to tears, then other ways of getting that workout in, include:
- Rock climbing
Exercise also helps students to maintain a healthy weight, while boosting the “happy hormones”. You can even use workout sessions as a great way to make new friends, and bond with old ones.
8. They Drink [More] Coffee
Coffee and Ramen are the top two foods associated with college students – and the reason is obvious. One provides a fast and cheap substitute for sleep, and the other a fast and cheap substitute for nutrition.
But despite the bad rep coffee often gets, there are benefits of indulging. Lior Bey, who is also founder of coffee company Java Gurus, calls it a “miracle”, and credits it with combating cancer, liver disease, suicide, and dementia.
In one of our older articles, 10 Ways to Prep your Body for Swimsuit Season, we also shared:
Drinking coffee with breakfast in the morning helps many people last longer before needing lunch, and reduces the desire to snack in-between meals.
Other benefits of coffee include increased energy, higher metabolic rate, performance boost, fighting depression, and decreased likelihood of getting cancer.
9. They Get Enough Sleep
The biggest contribution to our success in college is time, and the greatest thief of time is sleep. The more time we spend under the covers, the less opportunities we have to get on top of our work.
Even so, getting enough sleep is important to not just our overall health, but our concentration, and memory.
College student, Aniket Mishra, advises:
I’d say sleeping for 6–7 hours is a must. It’s cool if you don’t sleep at night. Take some rest as soon as you come back from college. That gives a boost.
Eat something and start studying. Take a 30 minute break after an hour or so. Fool around for ten and take a nap for 20. That works really well.
10. They Revise Between Semesters
No one ever wants to spend those precious breaks from school doing anything college-related. Read notes? Read the textbook? Why on earth would anyone want to do that?
However, when pursuing a college degree, the curricula often follows a process of cumulative knowledge. In short, one class builds upon the other. If you know there are classes that will form the core of your degree, or that will come around again in a more advanced form, keep those skills sharp.
This could be as simple as using Duolingo to keep practicing your Spanish, tackling the occasional Calculus problem, or finding new ways to apply what you learn to your everyday life.
It’s not always fun, but it always pays off. When you return to school and the professor references principles from Class 101, other people will shuffle around trying to remember, but you won’t miss a beat.
11. They Know When to Stop
Professors will often stress the need to do all the reading. But let’s face it. How many of us really have the time to do all the required reading. We would love to, but sometimes ambition and reality don’t walk the same path.
Rather than obsess over making it to the very last page of every chapter, try to focus on what’s most important. If you’re already great at a topic, focus more of your time on the ones you do not understand.
According to Murphy:
The second thing that helped me a lot was letting go of feeling like I needed to do all of the reading for every class.
The more I gave myself permission to just skim the essentials, the less stressed I became and the more time and mental energy I saved.
I learned that being perfect is just not that big of a deal!
12. They Focus on Learning
The structure of college courses often distracts students from the real reason they’re in school. It’s not to sit in class; score good grades; and then leave with a piece of paper, nicely rolled up and tied with ribbon.
On the surface, it may look that way. But the real reason we go to college is to learn. It’s important to stay abreast of the structure provided for courses, but it’s equally important to learn outside of the classroom.
At College Mate, we joke that there are two main lessons a young adult learns in college. The first is the fact that we don’t know everything, and we are often wrong. The second is the skill of critical thinking.
Mishra tries to keep learning as his main focus at all times. By his estimation, “They don’t teach much in college”. He adds, “That’s a good thing, really. So finish the college work ASAP and learn new things.”
He advises that students should, “Learn something new every day… And by learning, I don’t mean scoring a good GPA. I mean [actually] learning something new.”
13. They Talk to the Professors
Most great lecturers will provide their name, contact information, and hours of availability. If your lecturer did not share this information, then request it.
Who wants to hang out with their professors after class? You should! Talking to a professor one-on-one can really help to cement some of the more difficult topics in class.
Most great teachers are also jealously in love with the subject they teach. Whether it’s math or philosophy, they enjoy watching students show a love for their course, as they do.
How is this relevant to you? You know that great feeling you get when someone else loves something you’re passionate about? Even if they aren’t good at it?
The quickest way to a professor’s heart is through their courses.
The more effort you put in by seeking them out, the more they like you. The more they like you, the more lenient they become when marking your papers. It’s simple psychology.
Just be sure to respect their personal time, space, and privacy. An annoying but passionate student – is still annoying.
14. They Find Smarter People
If approaching your professor outside of class is too intimidating a task for you, then consider approaching your peers. Well, the smart ones anyway.
Smart is a relative term, yes, but it’s easy to spot the ones in class who grasp the material and will do well. Those are the best people to surround yourself with.
According to Visaal Ambalam, a Washington University graduate:
College is generally a place where there are a lot of smart people.
The best advice I can give… is to find people that are smarter than you in your classes, befriend them, and learn from them.
Often times they will understand the professor more than you, and will be inclined to help you understand. People generally like helping [other] people out, if they like them.
15. They Have Fun!
This probably wasn’t one of the tips you were expecting, but it’s one of the most important ones. You know what they say about all work and no play. But how is this relevant to being a great student?
Easy! The point of being in college is to learn, and the purpose of learning is to apply that knowledge to gain success after graduation. But the fact is, while a degree will take you places, coupling that with networking and making key connections will take you even further.
Who wants to be in the company of Dull Jack and Dull Jill? No one. Without good company, there are no good connections; and without good connections great opportunities will pass you by.
Thus, keeping up with your hobbies in school help to relieve stress, while giving you points in common with people you meet. This might include volunteering, working out, playing video games, watching shows, reading comics, or drawing.
Don’t lose sight of what you love. If you’re lucky, you could land the opportunity to do it for a living.
College is the most expensive investment young adults will make. Don’t take it for granted. While we certainly can’t all be honor students and top every class, it is important to do your best to maximize your return on investment.