88 Surefire Tips for Succeeding in College

Whether you plan on enrolling in one of the top online computer science programs or top online criminal justice programs, as a college student, a world of opportunities lies before you. But it won't last forever. Chances are, you'll only be in college for four or five short years. How are you planning to make the most of it?

Do yourself a favor and take advantage of every moment you have in the next few years. At most colleges you have a plethora of resources there to help you grow into a successful person, if you simply know where to look and are willing to take advantage of them. We've left no stone unturned in collecting the following 88 tips to help you make the most this time.

Seize the Day

  1. Take responsibility for your own learning. You're not in high school anymore. Everyone in college is there to learn because they want to, not just to pass because they have to. There are a lot of opportunities for learning in college, often times outside the classroom. Take advantage of every opportunity you can.
  2. Take risks. College isn't just about getting good grades. It is a time to learn more about the world and yourself. Branch out and take risks. Try something new. Meet new friends.
  3. Set goals. Every term, reset your goals to keep you motivated and give you something to work toward. Consider where you're doing well, and where you have room for improvement.
  4. Consider your personal interests when choosing your major. Don't just choose a major because of what the current job market is like or because it's what your friends or family members are doing. Choose a program that interests you and that you will enjoy studying.
  5. Take important courses as early as you can. If you can take a course within your major your freshman year, do so. You may learn that you want to switch majors. It's best to learn this as soon as you can.
  6. Go abroad. Most colleges offer some type of study abroad program. You may be able to attend classes for a semester or year in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, or South America. Get to know the requirements for these programs early on so you can plan accordingly.

Class and Note Taking

  1. Prepare for each class as though there would be a pop quiz. The benefit of this is two-fold: first, you'll be more able to participate in class; second, you'll be prepared if there actually is a pop quiz.
  2. Read the syllabus for each of your courses. Understand how many exams and homework assignments there will be, know how much each assignment is worth, and know what the professor expects of you. You'll be better prepared to take on the course if you know what's ahead.
  3. Be on time for every class. Better yet, come early. Sit down and get relaxed before class begins. Professors like students who are always present and never late. Moreover, you'll be doing yourself a favor by knowing exactly what material was covered each day. If you have trouble actually getting up early and going to class, consider taking an online class. More universities are beginning to make this an option.
  4. Be attentive and stay focused. Avoid distractions such as instant messaging or crossword puzzles. Treat class as though it were an important business meeting. Your professor will appreciate it and you will learn more.
  5. Ask questions. If the professor ever says something that you do not understand, never be afraid to ask for clarification. Chances are there are other students in class that also didn't understand.
  6. Do not write down everything. Write in outline form so your notes will be easy to skim and review. Be sure to take clear, concise notes in every class meeting.
  7. Use separate notebooks for each class. Or use subject dividers to separate your notes. Try to avoid taking notes for your psychology class in your math notebook. Doing so will make exam preparation much more difficult than it has to be.
  8. Use a loose leaf notebook instead of a spiral bound notebook. Loose leaf notebooks are easier to organize, as they allow you to move your notes around or add handouts where necessary.
  9. Try to make a friend in each class. If you have to miss a class, you can call your classmate and get the lowdown on what you may have missed. Also, often times partner projects are assigned and it is awkward to have to work with a stranger. If you already know someone in the class, it relieves any tension there may otherwise be.
  10. Take your notes in the cloud For students who have gone digital in lectures, cloud-based note taking can help you maintain access to information wherever you're studying.


  1. Find a good place to study. Dorm rooms are often littered with distractions — television, video games, loud music, your roommate's girlfriend, etc. Find a quiet place that will work for you, whether it be a study lounge down the hall from your room or the library across campus. Treat studying like you're going to work each day.
  2. Establish a routine study time. Getting into a rhythm at the beginning of every term will help you stay focused and disciplined. Lacking a routine may lead to bad habits or apathy.
  3. Take breaks while studying. If you have several hours of studying to do the day before a big exam, break up your studying routine into 50-minute sessions, followed by five- or 10-minute breaks. Studying for several hours nonstop will not be very helpful.
  4. Stay on top of your reading. Almost every college class will require reading. A lot of reading. Don't fall behind or it will cost you.
  5. Prepare a list of questions to ask. As you're reading, you may come across some things that you don't fully understand. Write down these questions to ask your professor when you're in class the next day.
  6. Use a highlighter. Highlight passages that are particularly important and that you should review further. Avoid highlighting entire pages.
  7. Use a pencil. Write in the margins any notes you may want to make while you're reading. Then when you re-read the material a few weeks later for the final exam, you should just be able to go over these margin notes.
  8. Use a dictionary. Improve your vocabulary by looking up any unfamiliar words you may come across as you're reading. Studies have also shown that you can improve reading comprehension with dictionary use.
  9. Get notes for any classes you may have missed. Never assume that you know what was covered in classes that you may have missed. Be sure to get notes from a classmate for that day so you won't get behind.

Test Taking

  1. Begin studying at least three days before an exam. Study for about two or three hours per day if you have to. But don't wait until the day before your exam to cram for eight hours. You won't remember much and you'll be worn out come test time.
  2. Go to bed early the night before an exam. Getting plenty of rest the day before the exam will keep your mind sharp. You don't want to be feeling sleepy during an exam. Remember, a rested brain is much more well prepared to do a great job, and, studies have shown that your brain needs enough sleep to properly process and recall information you've learned.
  3. Arrive early on exam day. Be careful not to arrive at your exam flustered and late; you'll only make it more difficult to focus on the task at hand. Take a seat five or 10 minutes before the exam starts to allow you time to relax and get your mind prepared for the challenge ahead.
  4. Read the instructions of the test very carefully. You may know the material inside and out, but that won't make one bit of difference if you slip up and make a mistake because you didn't read the instructions. Some exams, like multiple choice ones, may allow you to choose more than one answer, or ask you to select the one incorrect option.
  5. Review the entire test before you answer any questions. Plan ahead. If your exam period is 90 minutes long, don't spend an hour on the first part only to find out that there are still two equally challenging parts to go. Spend the first minute of the exam planning how much time you think you will need to spend on each question or section. Answer what you know first and then come back to more difficult questions.
  6. Be sure to answer the question in full. Read each essay question carefully, then read it again and again until you have a firm grasp on exactly how to answer it. You may have a terrific answer to give, but if you only answer half the question, that won't make for a very good gradeble. Avoid this by shelling out a few bucks for a planner. And use it regularly. Or, download free (or affordable) apps like Evernote and Remember the Milk that can help you keep it all together.
  7. Set priorities and don't be afraid to cut back on a few things. Being captain of the lacrosse team, student government president, and editor of the yearbook all while getting a degree in chemical engineering might look great on a resume, but for most people, taking on so many activities is impractical. Take a serious look at what is important to you. If you feel overloaded, don't be afraid to drop an activity or two.
  8. Time is on your side. There are 168 hours in each week. If you set aside 56 hours for sleep and 40 hours for academics, that leaves you with 72 hours for everything else.
  9. Leave reminders for yourself. Have a meeting tomorrow at noon? Leave a post-it note on your door so you don't forget.
  10. Avoid time wasters. As fun as it may be to stay up all night watching television or playing Angry Birds, perhaps you shouldn't do so with a big paper due the next day.

Campus Life

  1. When living in a dorm, take it all in stride. You may be required to live in a dorm your freshman year. Don't expect much in terms of privacy, personal space, quiet time, or even cleanliness. But enjoy some of its perks, namely the camaraderie with your dorm mates and the proximity to your classes.
  2. Lock your doors. You may have a lot of valuables in your room — computer, jewelry, clothes, stereo, television. Don't make it easy for someone to come in and take something.
  3. Party. Mingle and meet people. Don't stay locked up in your room or your library all the time. Go out and enjoy yourself every once in a while. Just don't party too hard too frequently.
  4. Join a student organization. Whether it be student government or ballroom dancing, join a club of other people with similar interests to your own. You'll make close friends and do activities that you enjoy.
  5. Join an intramural team. Not only will this help you stay in shape, but you'll make new friends with your teammates.
  6. Join a club in your major. Most majors will have some sort of honors society or extracurricular club on campus. Joining such a club will get you involved with other students in your classes and will likely put you in personal contact with one or two of the professors, as they are often the moderators of these clubs.


  1. Eat healthy. Your mom's home cooked meals are no longer an option. Try to eat at your dining hall as often as you can and be sure to eat your fruits and vegetables. A diet of greasy pizza and beers every night isn't exactly first-rate eating.
  2. Exercise. P.E. classes usually are not required in college as they were in high school. Account for this by going on runs, using the student gym, or simply throwing the football around.
  3. Find out what health services has to offer. Many university health service centers offer free flu shots, STD testing, and birth control.
  4. Get plenty of rest. Seldom do college students get enough sleep, but it's important that you do try to get as much sleep as you can each night. Doctors recommend at least eight hours per night for college aged students.
  5. Be safe on campus. Get the scoop on underage drinking, drugs, and sex. If you're ever uncomfortable, just say no.
  6. Designate a driver or have enough cash for a cab. Never take a ride home from a drunk friend. It's simply just too dangerous, and potentially deadly. Take a cab if you need to. A few extra bucks spent could save your life.

With all of the experiences available to you, college has the potential to be some of the best years of your life. Appreciate the time you have as a college student. There are a lot of opportunities for you in a time when you will have relatively few responsibilities. Of course, everyone will undergo struggles in this period, but that is part of what makes college so unique and challenging. Don't be afraid to take advantage of the resources at your fingertips while you have them there. Seize the day, and remember, as Tom Petty once said, "The work never ends, but the college does."