Welcome to College

The first semester is almost every student’s most important time in College and it can also be the most challenging. Why? Because, for many students, adjusting to college isn’t easy. Students wrestle with balancing their time and other commitments to family, friends, and work. Statistics show that students who succeed in their first year are most likely to continue to complete their program. This guide presents some of what we know about the actions and attitudes of successful students.

From the outside looking in, it may seem that successful students are good students simply because they’re naturally good at studying. But if you take a closer look, you’ll see that, although college students differ in many ways, all successful students share certain common traits, including a positive attitude, effective learning and thinking skills, good time management, and strategies for personal well-being.

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Like everything else in life that leads to meaningful results, success in college isn’t automatic. But when you apply yourself to your studies and adopt behaviors of successful students, you’ll find you can succeed. But first, what do we mean by success? The skills and experiences you gain as part of your academic program are intended to prepare you for the practical reality of working in the industry. From one perspective, success is achieving the credentials which tells employers that you have that foundation. The goal of your college education should be to build a body of knowledge that you’ll carry into your career. But this is not the only definitions of success, each person has their own definition. For some students, success means graduating in the projected time frame and with all A’s on their grade report. For other students, success may mean gaining that industry knowledge and experience over a longer period of time, through part-time studies, or taking courses that give students the knowledge they need now and as part of a longer career path. Regardless of your personal definition of success, successful students understand why they are in college and what college can do for them.

Some students have difficulty in their first year, often due to financial barriers, or possibly a personal or family matter. But most commonly, students’ difficulties are because they’re having problems passing their courses, stemming from not having developed the skills needed to succeed in college and lacking in enthusiasm. The information in the Guide can help you stay motivated when things get tough, and you can learn the skills and behaviors for succeeding in college. Almost everything in this guide —from time management to social skills, from study skills to staying healthy— will contribute to your overall success and, yes, to achieving better grades.

A college education results in many other personal benefits, and these also should be part of your motivation for doing well and continuing with your college plans.

Here are a few additional, less tangible benefits of a college education:

  • You will have a fuller life and a better understanding of the world around you.
  • You will gain decision-making and problem-solving skills.
  • You will meet many interesting and diverse people and have a richer social life.
  • You will gain self-confidence.
  • You will gain learning skills that can continue for a lifetime.
  • You will make wiser decisions about lifestyle issues and live healthier.
  • You will make wiser economic decisions the rest of your life.
  • You will be better equipped to deal with other people, organizations, government agencies, and all the hassles of daily life.
  • You will feel more a part of your community, the larger culture, and history.

Your Past Educational Experience

High-angle photography of group of people sitting in a lecture hall.
Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash

It is important to understand how College is different from the last school you attended and how well your own past educational experiences have prepared you for what you will find in college.

College is a unique experience for all students — whether you just graduated from high school or are returning to education after years of working or studying in Canada for the first time. You are transitioning from one form of education to another.

Generally speaking, however, the college experience is usually different in these ways:

  • Time management is more important in college because of varying class and work schedules and other time commitments.
  • College professors seldom seek you out to offer extra help if you’re falling behind. You are on your own and expected to do the work, meet deadlines, and so on, without someone looking over your shoulder.
  • There may be no attendance policy for classes. You are expected to be mature enough to come to class without fear of penalties.
  • Many classes are large, making it easy to feel lost in a crowd.
  • Many professors, especially in large classes, teach by lecture—which can be difficult for those whose high school teachers interacted a great deal with students.
  • College courses require more study time and require you to work on your own.
  • Your social and personal life in college may be less supervised. Younger students may experience a sudden increase in freedom to do what they want.
  • You will meet more people from more diverse backgrounds in college.
  • All of these differences, along with a change in living situation for many students, can lead to emotional changes—both positive and negative.

What does all this add up to? For some students, the sudden independence and freedom can lead in negative directions: sleeping late, skipping classes, missing deadlines, failing to study adequately for tests, and so on. Other students who are highly motivated and work hard in their classes may also have difficulty transitioning to the higher academic standards of college. Suddenly, you’re responsible for everything. That can be thrilling but also a challenge to get used to. The Guide will help you make this transition successfully.

Woman sitting at the table speaking out in class.
Image by WikimediaImages from Pixabay

Welcome to A Guide for Successful Students

This guide is organized into sections based on common skill sets, attitudes and behaviours of successful students. Here is what we consider common traits:

Successful students:

  • have goals
  • take responsibility
  • embrace a diverse community
  • go to class
  • ask for help
  • get it together
  • take control of their health
  • practice mental wellness
  • understand their finances
  • get involved
  • learn independently

You can use these as a checklist when considering your own readiness for taking on the challenge of college. Feel free to read the entire guide or dip into the sections that interest you now and come back when you feel you may need a new idea or a new approach to your studies and college life.


Key Takeaways

  • The behaviors, attitudes and skills of successful students can be a guide for new students.
  • Understanding the value of a college education in terms of career knowledge and skills as well as other personal benefits can help you be more successful.
  • Students, in their first year, commonly struggle because they have not yet developed the skills needed to be successful at the college level and lack motivation to apply themselves to their studies. This guide can help you develop these skills and sustain motivation.
  • It is important for students to understand how college is different than their last education experience and the adjustments they will need to make to be successful.







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A Guide for Successful Students Copyright © 2019 by St. Clair College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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