How To Be Successful In College: The Ultimate Guide

How To Be Successful In College: The Ultimate Guide

“How Can I Be Successful In College?”

It’s a fair question, and one that almost every student wonders about at some point in their college career. To answer it involves confronting a bunch of more tricky, far-reaching questions like “Is the main goal of college to be successful?”, “How do you define success?”  and the granddaddy of them all, “What is the meaning of life?”

A lot of people will simply tell you that being successful means making a lot of money. Others will tell you it’s measured by gaining respect within your field or any number of other goals that might, or might not, be important to you.

The answer is really up to you. Do you want to go to an elite graduate school and rise to the top of your field? Would you rather discover, cultivate and follow your passion, even if it won’t make you super wealthy? Maybe you just want to have the best four years you possible can and spend it with amazing people.

Much like uncovering the meaning of life, defining success is not easy. In fact, there are several different ways that someone might be considered successful in college:

  • Academically: When people think of conquering college, this is usually the end game. Straight A’s lead to a good job, and with that comes money, respect and power. Sounds pretty nice, right? I’m not here to say that’s wrong, but look a little closer and you might find there are other parts to the equation.
  • How To Be Successful In College: The Ultimate Guide    scrooge mcduck 894x1024Socially: There will never be a time in your life where you are surrounded by as many creative, exciting, and different people as you will be at college. Being successful socially might mean being popular, finding someone to date, or establishing a solid network of friends.
  • Financially: College is one of the most important investments you can make, but it’s not cheap.Financial success in college might mean graduating debt free, making money, or maybe just learning to manage your finances. For many people, college is their first experience with financial independence. Others will get their first taste of budgeting, paying bills, and providing for all the other small things that were once covered by the adults in their life.
  • Spiritually:  College is a transformative experience. It’s a time to solidify who you are, as well as what, and who, you are interested in. Who you end up being on the other side might be radically different than the person that started out four years ago.

When you consider all of these factors, it turns out success in college is going to be different for every person. Which area you want to focus on, what you accomplish, and how you measure it will define how “successful” you end up being.

The best part about college is that it can be something different for everyone.

The College Triangle

How To Be Successful In College: The Ultimate Guide    college triangle

This is the infamous college triangle diagram. The theory is that you can divide your time among three things: Studying, sleeping, and socializing, but that it’s almost impossible to do so equally. One of them will suffer.

Even though it’s a simple diagram, it’s remarkably accurate.  Regardless of how you ultimately define success for yourself, balancing these three endeavors will be a constant struggle. We like to think there are many of you out there who have tried, and succeeded, to circle all three.

We’ve already concluded that being successful at college is going to be different for everyone, but that it will most likely be a combination of academic, social, financial, and spiritual success. To achieve that, you are going to have to balance studying, socializing, and getting plenty of sleep. Oh, and you should probably follow our 5 golden rules.

The Campus Companion’s 5 Golden Rules To Being Successful In College:

1. Know Thyself:

How To Be Successful In College: The Ultimate Guide

(Before we begin, understand that “Know Thyself” is very different advice than “Be Yourself”, which we regard as not very good advice at all.)

College is all about finding yourself. Your likes, dislikes, friends, interests – it all comes together, and then promptly falls apart again during these four tumultuous years. Chances are, by the time you’re holding you’re diploma you’ll have a lot better sense of who you are than you did four years ago.

The loss and discovery of self – this personal exploration – is a good thing. The best way to make sure you don’t freak out during this whole process is to budget time for self-reflection. 

There are so many places in college where a good sense of self-awareness is beneficial. Everything from picking your classes, deciding who to be friends with, and ultimately choosing what you want to do with your life will be made much easier for those that are self-reflective and are aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Which brings us to our next point…

2. You Have To Fail. A LOT

“Very often, when we meet with long periods of undeniable success, we become overconfident, self-satisfied in a rut, and we fail to develop many of our real potentials.I think that one of the best things that can happen to any of us is to face a real head-on failure, because only then do we begin to reassess who we are, what our real needs are, what our real desires are. Only then do we being to develop some of our hidden talents and capabilities that otherwise we would have never seen at all, having been blinded by our own success… What we have perhaps forgotten, and must now remember, is that no one ever said we were created to be static or problem-less or utopian. But I believe the challenge…is for us to learn to love the problems, recognizing that mankind is most beautiful in adversity.”

– Dan Moore

How To Be Successful In College: The Ultimate Guide

We all want to succeed, but not many of us are willing to be slapped in the face by life as we push through the current of mistakes, bad luck and misfortune that can derail even the most motivated people.

It helps to remember that some of the greatest inventions were discovered in the moments of intense introspection that came after failure. No, failing a test is not the end of the world. But it is a valuable experience.

The same goes for asking that person out that you really like. If you don’t do it, you might regret it for the rest of your life. They’re probably not your future spouse, but being too afraid to pull the trigger will only add to your misery as you pine from afar. Plus you might miss out on a good time.

Being able to step back and look at our failures gives us the blueprint to create future successes. It sounds corny, I know. But it really is the foundation to finding success in college.

3. Be Uncomfortable:

Step outside your comfort zone. Probably the most annoying and cliche piece of advice anyone could receive. Just makes you want to shut down and ignore whoever is talking to you. Doesn’t matter though, cause we’re putting it on here anyways.

It’s intimately tied to failure and incredibly important to your success in college. Don’t just listen to me though. Joshua Foer does a much better job of explaining why you shouldn’t be OK with being comfortable.

4. Stay Healthy:

For many people, College will no doubt be the most unhealthy time of their lives. The Freshman 15 has trouble sticking to it’s name, and oftentimes people find it following them around right up until graduation.

This might come as a surprise, but none of the following things are good for you:

  • Fast food
  • Blacking out
  • Drugs
  • 3 hours of sleep
  • No hours of sleep
  • Sitting on the couch all day
  • Ramen noodles
  • Brushing your teeth with your finger because you dropped your toothbrush in the toilet

That is by no means a comprehensive list, but I’m pretty sure I covered at least one of your favorite activities. Relax. I’m not going to tell you to stop that stuff. There is, however, a very real and serious connection between physical and mental health. This, unfortunately for us, reinforces our College Triangle dilemma.  It also means we have to take care of our bodies. Luckily for you, there are plenty of measures you can take to make sure that you are in the best shape possible during your college career.

Drink More Water:

Buy a water bottle and start drinking A LOT more water. We all know it keeps you hydrated, but it also does so many other things for your body, like: helping your body absorb nutrients, removing toxins,  giving you a healthier heart and skin, and facilitating metabolic activity (a.k.a. fat loss, if that’s your thing)

Stop Drinking Soda:

It’s empty calories, and it dehydrates you. Lose the Coke and pick up some agua.

Eat Healthy:

Probably the simplest yet hardest thing to do on the whole list. It might sound easy to just put down the Big Mac and eat a salad instead, but there are literally billions of dollars that went into making that burger the tastiest damn thing you’ve ever wrapped your lips around. If you aren’t used to home-cooked food using fresh ingredients – they take a bit of time to warm up to. But once you’ve made the switch, you’ll never want to go back. Start by just making a salad or eating some oatmeal.   Baby steps, people. Baby steps.

8 Hours of Sleep:

Sleep, like water, is serious stuff. There’s a reason it’s one of the three apexes on the College Triangle. Rejuvenation, growth, learning, creativity, memory are just some of the many benefits of getting a good nights sleep. There’s still a lot we don’t understand about our unconscious state, but the consensus is that it’s very, very good for you and that skimping on sleep is well, not.

Exercise:

We, as a species, were not meant to be sedentary all day, so sitting on your ass is not good for your mental or physical health, whatsoever. I’m not suggestion you start Olympic Weight lifting or begin training to run a marathon. Going for a walk is a good start. And who knows, you might even trick yourself into doing something more strenuous.

5. Enjoy The Ride

How To Be Successful In College: The Ultimate Guide

It’s easy to get caught up in making sure you are having the “perfect” experience. But ask anyone who’s graduated and they’ll tell you they’d give anything to go back. Nobody does college perfectly, and there will always be regrets. Ease up, relax, and try and enjoy the ride. Embarrassing yourself isn’t the end of the world, your major doesn’t define you, and you only get to do college once (hopefully).

“You have four years to be irresponsible here. Relax. Work is for people with jobs. You’ll never remember class time, but you’ll remember time you wasted hanging out with your friends. So, stay out late. Go out on a Tuesday with your friends when you have a paper due Wednesday. Spend money you don’t have. Drink ’til sunrise. The work never ends, but college does…”  -Tom Petty


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I'm a digital marketing professional, WordPress enthusiast, and lover of art / design that works out of the greater Boston area. I spend about 20% of my time learning, 80% of my time working, 23% of my time tinkering, 15.7% of my time watching Netflix, and 5% of my time intentionally failing at percentages.