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. Appreciate your time in college. You’ll never again have so many opportunities with so few responsibilities. Take advantage of this time while you can, enjoying all that the college experience has to offer.
  3. 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.
  4. Expand your horizons. Classes do not have to only focus on your major or what is best for your future career. Try taking some elective classes in other subjects.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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. Check out studyabroad.com.

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. Find a study partner or two. Study partners can help you stay focused and point out some things that you may have overlooked.
  10. 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. Check the back of every page. Nothing feels worse than getting a test back and realizing you only answered half of the questions.
  7. 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 grade.

Writing Papers

  1. Start early on those long term papers. Especially when a lot of research is involved, beginning the planning and outlining stages of a term paper weeks ahead of the due date will benefit you greatly. Be certain you can get all of the research materials you need before you begin writing.
  2. Prepare an outline before you start writing. Never write a long paper from start to finish without taking a look at the big picture first. Outlining the entire paper before you begin will help you develop and convey your ideas better.
  3. Use the writing center. Most colleges offer a writing center with assistants that will teach you how to become a better writer. Turn in your first drafts here and they will point out your writing flaws so you can improve. Often times, just one visit to the writing center could improve your paper a full letter grade.
  4. Beware plagiarism. Taking credit for another person’s thoughts or words by plagiarizing or cheating is grounds for expulsion at most colleges. Know how to cite your sources within your papers and do so consistently.
  5. Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet. The Internet is a powerful learning and research tool. While there are a lot of credible sources available online, be aware that anyone can set up a Web page. Just because it’s online doesn’t make it fact. Only trust reputable and authoritative websites, journals, and research studies.

College Resources

  1. Seek counseling if you’re lonely or depressed. Most college campuses offer a counseling center to offer aid to troubled students. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of this resource if you need to.
  2. Find a tutor if you need help. Your student peers or teaching assistants often serve as tutors in subjects that are giving you struggles. Seek them out and let them help you understand what the professor cannot. Often times, it’s easier to learn from someone similar in age to you.
  3. Take advantage of the library. It may not be as easy as doing a Google search, but the quality of the sources in a university library is second to none. You’ll be able to research centuries-old articles from newspapers or read an entry from a scientific journal. Those are just two examples of things a university library can offer you that the World Wide Web cannot.
  4. Find out who your advisor is and visit regularly, at least once per term. This will help keep you on track for graduation. Your advisor can also help you choose a major or give you recommendations on which classes you should take.
  5. Get to know your professors. It is pretty easy to coast through college without ever getting to know your professors. It will take a bit of effort to get many of them to even learn your name. But doing so could really pay off when you need a letter of recommendation or if you plan on doing an independent study.
  6. Know when your professors’ office hours are. Try to visit each professor at least once per term. And never be afraid to go into office hours needing extra help or ask a question or two. Remember your professors are there to help you learn. Take advantage of that. Better interaction with your professors can help you score better on exams and find better focus on your essays. You may even get better access to internships and other opportunities.
  7. Get help from your RA. Get serious assistance from your resident adviser, who can help you with roommate trouble, recommend great classes, or even find good places to eat. They’ve been there, and done that, and they’re trained to help you out with all kinds of problems.
  8. Use your college gym. You’re paying for it, use it! Whether you prefer to sweat it out on the cardio machines or join a yoga class, chances are good that you can find some sort of activity that you can enjoy. Getting active can help bust stress and clear your mind, making it easier to do well in school.
  9. Get professional legal advice. Legal troubles can be very distracting to your studies, especially if you can’t afford to hire good help. Most colleges have legal advisors available for students that can help you navigate tough legal troubles and get your focus back on schoolwork.

Career Planning

  1. Suit up. Going to college means growing up, and growing up means getting a suit. Male or female, it’s essential that you have appropriate interview attire, and although some employers are more lenient, most still expect job candidates to arrive in a suit.
  2. Get help with your resume. A resume isn’t just another homework assignment that takes you 10 minutes to write up really quickly before class. This is a major document that will help you land a job after you graduate. Spend hours, even days, on it if you have to. Seek help from a career counselor so you know what you should include and how it should be formatted.
  3. Visit the career center. The guidance counselors are there to help you work on your resume and job interviewing skills. They want to help you. So let them. Schedule appointments and try to attend their sessions at least once each term. Don’t be afraid to see a career counselor even if you’re just a freshman. It’s never too early to start planning your future.
  4. Go to career fairs. Most college campuses will have at least one career fair per year. Attend it. You’ll get a chance to mingle with potential employers and find out what careers are available to you after college.
  5. Find a summer internship. Don’t blow your summer sitting on the couch in your parents’ house. Do something for your future by securing an internship. You may not get paid much, if anything, but with an internship, you are much more likely to land yourself a job after graduation.
  6. Be on time for job interviews. In your junior and senior years, you may have the opportunity to interview with potential employers. This is your first impression on them. Make it a good one.
  7. Get involved in campus activities. Seek out clubs and activities that are related to your future career. You’ll take part in resume-building experiences, make connections, and enrich your college experience in a career-focused way.

Money Management

  1. Consider every possible source of financial aid. Check with your school’s financial aid and admissions offices, your academic college, your church, clubs or special interest groups to which you or your parents belong, professionals working in your major field, scholarship resource books, and honor societies and fraternities. There is a lot of free scholarship money available out there if you know where to look.
  2. Don’t give up on your financial aid search. You may not find a lot of education money right away. But, stick with it, because you could save thousands of dollars.
  3. Know the guidelines and due dates of paperwork for your financial aid awards. And be sure to stay on top of this. Nothing could be worse than losing a scholarship or financial aid award because you lost some paperwork or missed a due date. A mistake like this could cost you thousands of dollars.
  4. Never buy new textbooks… unless you enjoy improving your college bookstore’s bottom line. Buying new textbooks is for suckers and can put a huge hole in your budget. Always try to buy a used textbook or even check out a copy from your library before you buy a new textbook. You could save a couple hundred bucks each term.
  5. Shop early for books. You’ll find the best selection of used materials. If you don’t get to the bookstore until a week or two into the new term, chances are they’ll be out of used materials by then and you might be stuck having to purchase a new textbook at an outrageous price.
  6. A credit card is not free money… no matter how often you are bombarded with advertisements that may lead you to believe otherwise. If you do get a credit card, just be sure to pay off the amount in full each month, or you will start to get into deep credit card debt. Deep debt can prevent you from getting a car or a house mortgage later in life. On the positive side, paying your credit card bills in full on time will help establish your personal credit.
  7. Set a budget. And stick to it. Figure out how much money you make each month and estimate how much you will spend each month. Never spend more than you earn.
  8. Don’t blow all your money. Most college students are on a tight budget. Don’t blow all of your money on alcohol or junk food. Put a little into a savings account each month, even if it’s not that much.
  9. Get a part-time job to make some extra cash. If you live on campus, an on-campus job in food services, with a professor, or in one of the college offices might be worth looking into. At some schools, tutoring or working for the school newspaper will pay you, too.
  10. Use your meal plan. It’ll save you a lot of money to eat what you’ve already paid for. Also, your dining hall will usually be much healthier than eating from the dollar menu at a fast food restaurant.
  11. Watch your cell phone minutes. Running up your cell phone bill is very easy to do, as cell phone service providers charge huge premiums for each minute of overuse. Most plans allow for free nights and weekend minutes. So if you have a call to make that can wait until then, it could save you big bucks.
  12. Know off campus costs. If you want to move off campus, be aware of the additional costs of living. Furniture, utilities, and commuting can add up.
  13. Stay on top of it all with tracking tools. It’s easy to let your finances get out of hand without the watchful eye of mom and dad. Keep track of them simply and effectively with tools like Mint.
  14. Create financial goals. Set goals for yourself with money, whether you want to buy a new phone, car, or house, or even travel abroad. With tools like SmartyPig, you can stay on top of your progress.

Time Management

  1. Don’t procrastinate. Whatever the assignment may be, if you have some free time, just do it now. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck doing it later. If an assignment takes longer than you had expected, you’ll have wished that you had begun it sooner instead of waiting until the last minute.
  2. Use a planner or calendar to keep track of due dates. Missing a paper deadline or forgetting exam dates is inexcusable. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Leave reminders for yourself. Have a meeting tomorrow at noon? Leave a post-it note on your door so you don’t forget.
  6. 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.”