Characteristics of Highly Successful College Students

Characteristics of Highly Successful College Students

While the number of American college students – online and offline — continues to rise, not all students will successfully complete their degree program. In fact, the United States has the lowest completion rate – a dismal 46% — among 18 nations tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.  That’s despite the initiatives some states, like Connecticut, have put forth to combat low achievement.

When I ask students what is required to complete their classes, many will share experiences that taught them (through trial and error) how to manage their time, balance responsibilities, and study effectively. It often becomes a balancing act for students and they either learn to develop the skills necessary to succeed or give up because they are frustrated or discouraged.

Whether you have just begun your coursework or you have already completed some of the required courses, there are strategies you can use right now to improve your ability to participate in the learning process so that you can successfully meet the demands required of a college student.

Build Productive Relationships

While your performance in college is based upon the work you complete, learning is a collaborative process. You are interacting with other students and your instructors through discussions and other learning activities. There will be times when the relationships you develop become critical to your success, especially when you need assistance, feedback, or support. In the blog post Stop Avoiding Office Politics, there are workplace techniques provided that can be applied to your work as a student.

A. Stay focused on the good of the class and work for a mutual advantage. You are not competing with other students and the more cooperative you are, the more you will benefit in the long run as others will be more likely to assist you when you need it.
B. Don’t take any disagreements or differences of opinion personally. Use conflict resolution skills to promote productive exchanges. This is also when emotional intelligence is needed so that emotional reactions are minimized.
C. Work on building relationships with everyone – not just those who are like you. Unlike Facebook where you get to choose who you interact with, you are going to find classmates who are similar and very dis-similar. Those differences will help you gain new insights.
D. Always establish your own set of standards, regardless of what others do. Maintaining integrity is important, especially with issues of plagiarism and cheating in school.
E. Remember that this is an academic environment and the goal is to work together. You don’t have to become friends with your classmates and you don’t have to be concerned with liking everyone.

Develop a Mindset for Success

Mental preparation is necessary for student success because what you believe about yourself, your skills, and your abilities will determine how you act. Your self-belief is subconsciously held, which means you don’t spend time analyzing why you believe what you do. As you interact with others, and participate in the learning process, you’ll seek confirmation of these beliefs. For example, if you subconsciously believe that your instructor doesn’t care about your progress, you will look for evidence to support it. This in turn determines your attitude about the class, along with the amount of time, energy, and effort you’ll devote to the process of learning. If you develop a mindset that you have a capacity for growth and development, then you will be open to feedback and suggestions for improvement.

Become Purpose Driven

Often when students fail to stay engaged in the class or their degree program, it’s due to a lack of purpose. If you are going to maintain momentum throughout your classes, everything you do must matter and be tied to a goal. In my post about goal setting, I indicated that students need to establish goals because it helps to clarify the purpose for their school work and chart a clearly defined path. When you put goals in writing you are putting to paper the dreams and hopes that matter most to you. Students that learn to create meaningful and realistic goals have also learned that the end result is improved productivity in all areas of their life as everything they do is an action taken towards reaching a desired outcome.

Another important aspect of developing a purpose is being able to assess your values. Current research has determined that writing down your values during transitional times in college, such as the start or end of the school term, can have long term benefits. What it does is help you realize that your self-worth is not tied to an exam score or course grade, which leads to improved self-esteem and self-confidence. This contributes to a mindset of success because you’ll continue to put in your best effort, even if there are setbacks such as a lower than expected grade.

Maintain Flexibility

Another aspect of being a college student that can derail or side track your progress is not being able to effectively deal with change or any other circumstances that alter your plans. Students often have a set expectation about their involvement in the learning process and believe that all classes and instructors will be the same. When there are differences or school procedures change, many students cannot accept it because of having a rigid attitude. In order to develop flexibility in your approach to school work and your mindset, you need to learn to become resilient. Resilience is defined as an ability to handle stressful situations and adversity. If you are not adaptable you will likely get stuck in a negative frame of mind. If can learn to develop coping skills and be flexible instead of reactive when change occurs, you will create a positive mindset.

Accept Responsibility

This is one of the lessons that all college students have to learn, and most do at some point in their academic program. While a class is made available and an instructor assigned to teach the course, it is up to you to put in the effort, attend each session, and complete the work. At times you may have a valid reason for not completing a required assignment or activity; however, responsible students plan ahead and always have a back-up plan. Becoming responsible also means you ask for help and seek out resources that will help you improve your skill sets and performance.

A highly successful college student is not just someone who earns good grades. It is a student who has learned the value of maintaining productive relationships and completes their coursework because it fits into a larger purpose or goal. More importantly, a college student becomes successful when they are willing change, grow, and adapt as needed to participate in the learning process.

You can follow Dr. Bruce A. Johnson on Twitter @DrBruceJ and Google+.

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