The ABC’s of Success in College

For some, college is a breeze—sunny skies and smooth sailing! But for many others, the challenges are daunting. Maybe, like me, you bombed your first exam. Maybe you’re experiencing homesickness or struggling to make friends and it’s distracting you from focusing on your studies. Perhaps you just can’t seem to understand the teaching style of one of your profs. Or you’re simply tired from a lack of sleep.

Don’t let a stormy start blow you off the course to success. Frustrations and challenges are a normal part of life—especially college life. Rather than becoming discouraged with your struggles, it might be best to simply make a few mid-steam corrections and set your sights on the triumph that can still be part of your college experience.

In his book “Psychological Keys to Student Success” Troy Dvorak suggests, “At its core, student success is determined by the attitudes and behaviors of individual students.” Did you catch that? Attitudes and behaviors are the key to our success. Let’s take a look at how we can tweak each of these areas in order to recalibrate our direction towards high achievement.

A is for attitude adjustment. Over and over again, studies have shown that attitudes affect outcome. For example, the belief that our abilities have potential to improve over time has been linked to academic persistence. Students who believe learning is a gradual process and not a quick, one-time event based on I.Q. have higher GPA’s and stronger critical thinking. So pause and think about what you’re thinking. Have you started to believe enemy lies such as: “You’re not cut out for college” or “This is too hard for you; you should just quit” or “You’re not very smart”? These lies must be replaced with truth or you will end up reaping bad fruit! The truth is probably closer to: “I bombed my first exam, but that’s all part of learning. I’ll study differently and do better next time” or “Focusing on this class has been hard for me, but I am going to keep trying to identify and fight off distractions.” What we tell ourselves matters! Speak what is true. Longtime pastor and author, Charles Swindoll wisely said, “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.”

B is for building better behavior. Our daily choices form patterns; patterns form habits and habits eventually lead to who we’ll become. Be willing to evaluate honestly: are the habits I’m forming healthy or unhealthy? Examples of bad habits which can affect our academics and lives in general could include things like procrastination, sleeping too late, unhealthy eating or poor time management. Since going to college, have you gotten into the habit of running behind? Maybe you’ve allowed gaming or time on your phone to eat up time that should be used for other purposes, like studying. Refuse to play the victim card! Take responsibility for how your choices have led to various levels of disappointment, stress or failure. A string of bad habits can certainly equal a lack of success. Conversely, better habits will inevitably lead to increased success. What is a habit you need to change? Set a small, measurable goal and go after it. For example, if you’re too tired to focus in class, you obviously need more sleep. A measurable goal could be aiming for lights out by 11:00 each night, instead of midnight. One good way to create a new habit is to link it to an already existing behavior. So think in terms of things you already do–if you take a shower or read every night before bed, do that at 10:30 instead of 11:30 so that you’ll be ready for bed earlier. Experts say it takes an average of 66 days to form a new, healthy habit. Be patient and give yourself time to truly form a new pattern—but stick with in tenaciously!

C is for change your paradigm. Your paradigm is simply your way of viewing life. Our paradigm encompasses our values, beliefs and assumptions (whether right or wrong). Sometimes what we need is a whole new way of seeing. College brings significant change and exposure to new ideas—enough so that it literally has the potential to shift entire paradigms. While attitude changes lead to small yet significant alterations to our situation, a paradigm shift can literally create an entirely different life. Allow yourself to question and evaluate how you have defined success and failure and what you “need” in order to be “happy.” Consider, for example, how Thomas Edison redefined failure: “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” A paradigm shift comes when we humbly acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers and really don’t know it all, as we may have once assumed. Allow the challenges of college to shape you, redefine you, and round off your rough edges. Jacob, a college junior at a Christian university suggests, “Keep your mind open to new opportunities in all areas—in majors, activities, or relationships. Sometimes the biggest blessings come from unexpected places.”