The 8 top strategies for academic success in college

College is a time to experience new things and grow as a person, so you will discover things about yourself and the learning process that will surprise you. Approaching higher education with a clear strategy is crucial for your academic success in college.

College is a fun, stressful, wild, novel, and unpredictable rollercoaster ride. It may be the first time that many young adults are experiencing the freedom to make their own rules and live life the way that they want to. 

Related: Top 5 exam Prep Tips

People who attend college are usually academically inclined and have become accustomed to academic success in their schooling or professional lives. Most students attend college with the attitude of studying hard in a field that interests them. 

If so many students have this attitude focused on success, then why do some succeed while others don’t? Why is the variance in the results between students with similar work ethics so great?

We will look at the 8 top strategies for academic success in college that separate the best from the rest. They are:

  • Practice
  • Work-life balance
  • Prioritize Mental and Physical health
  • Plan, Schedule and Build Habits
  • Set goals
  • Face failure
  • Work smart
  • Adapt approach

1. Practice

Study Practice
Photo by Ariel Castillo from Pexels

Practice is by far the most significant predictor of academic success in college. It is especially important for subjects that involve problem-solving and critical thinking. Many coasts through high school by simply memorizing what they need to know. However, a great memory can be a double-edged sword.

Because you remember what you study and can recite it at will, you may never develop your critical thinking. A good memory alone will not lead to success when you arrive at college, especially in technical fields.

Sooner or later, you will need to develop your critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and the only way to do this is through practice. Hours upon hours of deliberate, repetitive practice. Do not simply glance at past questions and answers. Practice blindly, without looking at the answer until you have provided your own like you would in an exam.

Practicing problems teaches you to think in the way that the course demands. Practice rewires your brain so that you can think and perform with minimal effort. Studying is like riding a bike. Memorizing the steps will only get you so far. It takes actual practice to reach a state of mastery eventually.

2. Work-Life Balance

Most students do not recognize the importance of having a balanced lifestyle. They either party too much, or they work themselves into the ground. The different basic human needs that we all have (and often neglect) need to be balanced to thrive academically.

Related: 10 Life Balance Tips for Working Students

If you look at the best students, they are usually happy, healthy, and full of life. This is because they have managed to strike a work-life balance that works for them. Miserable students will eventually crash and continue to increase the emotional and mental burden that they carry through working even harder. Students that are overly focused on studying often lose sight of the bigger picture and forget their long-term goals and ambition. They begin to see studying not as a curious pursuit of knowledge but as a tedious chore.

The bottom line is that if you don’t enjoy your time at university, you won’t perform as you wish. That is why you must make time for people and things that you love. This will keep your studies in perspective and give you the energy and motivation to ace your courses.

3. Prioritize mental and physical health

Mental health has come to the fore in recent times, especially among college students. High stress, unfamiliar environments, and isolation from friends and family (which has been exacerbated due to Covid) can contribute to mental health difficulties. Your brain is still developing in your twenties, so many underlying psychological issues may only begin to emerge at college.

Luckily, most colleges offer support for mental health issues and are sympathetic to the cause due to recent awareness. Everyone can suffer from poor mental health, so it needs to be maintained just as our physical health does. Always check in with yourself to make sure that you are mentally and emotionally stable and content. If not, get help ASAP! Academic success is secondary to your mind’s well being

Physical health and mental health are intertwined. Daily exercise will not only help you look and feel great, but it will also boost your academic performance. Exercise decreases levels of stress, and it is well documented to improve cognition across the board, and by definition promote academic success in college.

Mental wellbeing at college
Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

Students have traditionally sacrificed food nutrition for cutting costs. However, a healthy diet is vital for academic performance. A host of studies have shown the positive impact of a healthy diet on academic performance. One such study shows that students who eat regular meals, have a large, healthy breakfast, and have higher fruit intake have higher academic performance.

Sleep is extremely underappreciated by students. Most will plan poorly or procrastinate, which will cause them to cram their studying into the good old “all-nighter.” Not only are all-nighters not effective for studying, not getting good quality sleep can hurt your memory, cognition, reaction time and even stop you from learning. This study shows that sleep accounted for 25% of the variance in academic performance.

When we sleep, our brain goes over the things that we learned during the day and cements the memories into our minds. Studying before bedtime has been proven to improve memory and recall. If you do not get enough quality sleep, your academic performance will suffer.

4. Plan, schedule, and build habits

Schedule Planner
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The typical student schedule will consist of the date, time, and subject they intend to study. Unfortunately, students find these schedules tough to stick to and usually abandon them in a week or two.

An effective solution is to schedule the things you want to do, like visit friends, etc., and then work in the periods where you have nothing planned. A schedule that revolves around pleasurable activities is far more effective as it keeps you excited and will give you the motivation to study when you’re free.

Try to stick to your goals and schedule instead of just waiting for motivation to arise magically. The secret is that motivation comes from action, not the other way around.

Related: 40 Good Habits for Students to Practice Every Day

If you make a plan to study, commit to it. Sit down and try to get started; if you can’t, that’s ok, the goal was to sit down to study, and you have achieved that. Soon you will begin to notice that you get the urge to do a bit more at every sitting.

This is how motivation is formed. It is built through momentum, which is created by action. Once you have created the time and environment to study and put the goal at an easily achievable level, you will soon create the motivation to go further beyond the goal at each attempt. Do not wait for motivation to appear. Create it.

5. Goal setting

Setting goals in college

Often the amount of work can feel overwhelming at college. You have to learn how to juggle new responsibilities as well as your academics. Sometimes it is tough to know where to start, especially with a large project.

Related: SMART Goals for students

A way to gain academic success in college, and to help get things done is to break demanding tasks into smaller chunks or sub-tasks. Write a list of these parts and commit to doing a few every day. This will make the task far more manageable and less overwhelming.

Set small incremental goals every day instead of merely looking at the finish line. Write a list of everything (no matter how basic) that you want to accomplish and go about checking them off your list once the task is completed. This will provide you with visible evidence that you achieved your goals. This helps maintain motivation and build momentum.

6. Face failure

How failure is part of the learning process
Photo by Download a pic Donate a buck! ^ from Pexels

People tend to see failure as a purely negative thing, but it is an essential part of the learning process. It is the opportunity to learn something new. Failure is tough to stomach, and it is a perfectionist’s biggest fear.

Related: Why Students Who Embrace Short-Term Failure Have a Better Shot at Long-Term Success

However, if you can learn not to make mistakes and constructive criticism personally, you can use them to your advantage, transforming your academic career. Without failing and responding appropriately, it is impossible to grow.

Accept, understand and fix past errors to prevent them from happening again. Place greater focus on the areas that you perform worst in and investigate exactly what went wrong to enable you to get the academic success in college that your hand work and long nights of studying deserve.

7. Working Smart

Work smarter, not harder at college

Working hard is important, but only if you use that time wisely. Time spent studying in a smart, efficient, and focused manner is worth more than a far greater period spent studying when distracted, unmotivated, and disengaged. Have a plan that prioritizes important sections and practice materials.

Try to get the most out of your time spent studying and attain the academic success in college. If you find yourself unable to focus, take a break, attempting to force-feed your mind excessive amounts of information will tire you out and erode your attention. Taking regular intervals is essential for mental stamina and so that your mind can process the new information covered.

A huge part of being able to learn is being able to kindle your curiosity and desire to learn, this is why it is important to not overwork yourself to such an extent that you end up resenting what you are studying and the learning process.

8. Adapting approach

A different learning approach

An important part of any strategy formation, especially at college, is knowing when to change tactics. If a method that has worked for you in the past is repeatedly failing, to get the academic success in college you need, you need to accept the fact that you need to change your approach.

This will require you to experiment with new learning methods and styles. Different approaches work for some and not for others, so take your time finding what works best for you. Once you find your ideal formula, your studying will be effective and efficient.

Most students react to failure by working in the same way they did before, only more complicated. This will not pay off if you continue to learn incorrectly. You will simply work yourself into the ground and become demoralized when the results don’t reflect your effort. Learning is about adapting to new challenges, so don’t be afraid to experiment.

Final Thoughts

These are some of the 8 top strategies for academic success in college. College is a time to experience new things and grow as a person, so you will discover things about yourself and the learning process that will surprise you. Approaching college with a clear strategy is crucial for your academic success.

If you’ve found any strategies which work for yourself, let us know in the comments. 

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