Tests and GPAs Don’t Always Predict Success in College — So What Does?
Success in high school doesn’t require a secret formula. Achieving good grades and strong test scores will most clearly qualify you academically for college admissions success. Proving your leadership skills, dedication, and value as a member of the community through extracurricular activities will make your applications even stronger. But will these same qualities bring you success in college? The answer may surprise you.
While you will need to achieve in a similar way to be successful in college, the path to doing so is a little different. In high school, you likely have teachers, advisers, parents, and mentors all willing to lend advice, solicited or not. You can talk to older students to get an idea of what has worked for them and look in your school’s handbook to learn the various academic tracks to success. In college, you no longer have the same network of support or a prescribed path to success. Instead, there are endless paths open to you once you get there!
Instead, you’ll need to rely on some of your soft skills to nurture effective academic habits, identify available systems of support, and stick to tasks even when they get tough. In this post, we outline four keys to a successful college experience.
To learn more about the skills you’ll need to achieve in college, keep reading.
Four Skills Necessary for Success in College:
1. Time Management
If you thought that managing time well in high school was a juggling act, time management in college might seem like a complete three-ring circus. Not only will you need to keep up with your academic work, but you’ll also need to nurture a totally new social life, find and pursue new extracurricular clubs, and potentially even hold down a job at the same time. There’s a lot to manage, and it can easily spiral out of control if you go in without a plan.
To tackle all your college commitments gracefully, start slow. As a freshman, take extra precautions not to overextend yourself. Take on a balanced course load appropriate to your abilities. Many colleges offer placement tests so that you can identify which courses are best suited to you, and even if you place into a high level course, you are not required to enroll in it. While you may be tempted to pile on lots of new, exciting extracurriculars and add an extra credit-bearing class to assert your academic prowess, you’ll have plenty of time for that later on when you’ve adjusted more.
The first semester of your freshman year is a time to ease into the college experience. As you get more comfortable at college and learn more about your own ability to juggle all these new responsibilities with little oversight, you can make the choice to take on more commitments as you see fit.
For many students, college is the first time that you’re expected to take on a whole slew of new responsibilities without answering to anyone but yourself. Your parents have probably taken more of a backseat than they did during your high school years, and your professors are much less likely to take an unsolicited personal interest in you than your high school teachers did. But this is not out of your control.
You can still form meaningful relationships with your professors—it just takes a little more initiative. Consider attending office hours, particularly in subject areas that you plan on pursuing seriously. Ask thoughtful questions about the course content, and you are bound to show that you’re an engaged and interested student. By forming meaningful relationships with your professors starting in freshman year, you may be able to ask for support or mentorship further down the line.
You will also need to take initiative for your own social life and extracurriculars. There may be clubs you want to join that are similar to ones you participated in during high school, or perhaps you want to try something new entirely. You will need to read campus flyers, emails, and student center materials to learn what activities and clubs are available to you. Reach out to current club members to learn more about the commitment and what you can expect. Joining a club is a great way to make new friends, but often you don’t know what’s out there until you seek them out yourself.
3. Self Advocacy
Yes, college is a time of independence, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t establish systems of support and lean on them as necessary. It’s important to build and nurture relationships with new friends and professors early on so that you have a support system in place when you need it. Then, recognize when you’re in over your head and don’t be ashamed to ask for help.
If you find yourself really struggling with a particular class or concept, reach out to the people around you who might be able to help. You could get help from a friend in the class or seek out a tutor. Some colleges even offer free tutors, so be sure to explore the options available at your school. You can also attend office hours to ask questions or get clarification on difficult concepts. Remember, your professors are interested in you and want to see you succeed, but they may not even know you’re struggling if you never ask for help.
There are also many systems in place at most colleges to support your mental health. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, lonely, or just confused about your new life as a college student, it is always better to seek support earlier rather than later. Asking for help doesn’t make you weak—it just proves that you are strong, smart, and capable of taking advantage of the resources available to support you.
Check your college to see what resources are available to you. These might include:
- Office of Academic Advising
- Writing Center or Academic Tutoring
- Library Reference Desk
- Campus Health Center
- Campus Counseling Center
- Career Services
- Religious Organizations
Perseverance, or just plain grit, is often pointed to as the quality most likely to breed success. Most people are met with obstacles in life. Some are bigger than others. Your ability to pick yourself up and dust yourself off after you’ve been knocked down will be one that you rely upon again and again throughout life.
If you perform poorly on a test, fail in your campaign for class president, miss the final game-winning free-throw, or get fired for forgetting to show up to work, you might feel like the ultimate failure. Your really have only two choices. You can choose to succumb to that horrible feeling of having let down yourself and others, or you can choose to rise above it and learn from your mistakes so that you can succeed next time. Sometimes you’ll get knocked down again and again, but it’s the student who continues to get back up, determined to work harder than before, who will ultimately succeed.
To learn about how perseverance predicts success, watch this TedX talk from Angela Lee Duckworth, a teacher turned psychologist who has studied success in students.
Success in college may seem more difficult to achieve than success in high school. But by learning to manage time well, taking initiative for your own education, creating and utilize a support network, and persevering in the face of adversity, you will set yourself up for not only a successful college experience, but success in your career and life beyond.
To learn more about any of these elements of success, consider the benefits of the CollegeVine Near Peer Mentorship Program, which provides access to practical advice on topics from college admissions to career aspirations, all from successful college students.
Want more tips on improving your academic profile?
We'll send valuable information to help you strengthen your profile and get ready for college admissions.