How to Succeed in College Courses

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Photo by Matt Wettengel
Photo by Matt Wettengel

This week Alyssa Rutt, former academic advisor and current program coordinator at Iowa State University, shares her tips and tricks for making the most out of the college experience.


I am sure you have heard this one before, but it is so fundamentally easy that students seem to overlook how important it is to attend class. Whether you are a freshman, transfer student, aced the class in high school or are a genius, you NEED to go to class.

So what’s so important about going to class? Simply put, it’s where learning takes place. The classroom environment is not just about learning from the instructor, it’s also about learning from your peers. Want to know what the professor thinks is important, what concepts will be on the test and how all of this applies to the job market after college? Go to class to find out!

Still thinking you can skip class? Let’s think about skipping class from a purely economic standpoint: You don’t go out to a movie, buy a movie ticket, buy movie snacks and then not go into the movie or eat any of your snacks. Paying tuition and then not going to class is like going to the movies, buying you ticket and snacks and then leaving. You spend the money, but you didn’t get the reward. You wouldn’t skip the movie, don’t skip class!

Inherent in the idea of going to class, is the idea of going to class prepared to learn. If there is reading before class, make sure you have read (or at least looked over) the chapter and reviewed your notes from the previous class. When you are in class focus on learning. Speaking of focusing on learning….

  1. Don’t bring your computer, tablet, or other electronics to class and keep your phone out of sight!

You understand going to class is important, so here is the second layer – when you are in class be present. Get rid of the digital distractions in your life while you are in class. Don’t worry about what is trending on Twitter or what your friends are posting on Facebook. It will all still be there after class. Get the most from your tuition dollars and pay attention to what is going on in class!

I know, you need you electronics to take notes. If you absolutely need your electronics to take notes, turn off your Internet connection so you are not tempted to check social media or your email.

  1. Figure out how you spend your time

In college you seem to have all of this free time and no idea what to do with yourself. This extra time becomes problematic when you have no idea how you are spending it. Take a grid with all 7 days of the week and all 24 hours in a day. Document everything you do for the next week. I mean everything – the time you spend in class, taking a shower, watching Netflix, sleeping, playing video games, eating, working, everything!

Once you have a realistic picture of how you spend your time, you can figure out what adjustments can be made to fit your commitments – like going to class, completing reading assignments and studying for exams.

  1. Understand how your grades are calculated.

One of the biggest mistakes I see students make comes from not understanding how their performance on assignments impacts their overall grade in the class.  I have seen students think they have an A or a B in a class when they have received Cs or Ds on assignments. How can you avoid this trap?

  • Understand your syllabus, how assignments are graded and how they impact your overall grade
  • Be realistic about your performance in class! If you are getting Bs or Cs on tests – you are probably not getting an A in the course. If you are not getting the grades you want, talk with you advisor or your instructors to develop different strategies for being successful.

Follow these tips for a successful colleg

e experience and don’t be afraid to reach out to your own academic advisor for more advice!



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