Being successful in college means getting the best grades you can. This sets you up for success after college, both academically and financially. But what does success really look like when you break it down?
To be a successful college student, you need to create good habits right from the start. Building those good habits will set the foundation for a strong and efficient work ethic.
You’ll carry those habits into your career, where they’ll allow you to experience the financial success you need to repay your student loans. If there was a playbook on how to be a successful college student, this is what it would look like.
1. Set goals
Whether you’re an athlete, an entrepreneur, or an employee, setting goals is a powerful way to be successful. It’s no different for college students.
Setting goals before each term will help you keep your academic and financial priorities in check, especially when your schedule starts getting busy. Setting financial goals to repay your student loans will benefit you in the long run (more on this in point five).
There are several ways to go about this. A great method is the S.M.A.R.T. approach. There are 5 elements to this method of goal setting.
- Be specific. Instead of just saying you want to do well in your calculus class or get into a better schedule, define exactly the outcome you want to achieve. You might want to improve by a full letter grade, or get up every weekday at 8 a.m. Be very specific.
- Make it measurable. Measure your progress using key performance indicators. This is easy in school: Your grades are your yardstick. If your goal is to study a certain amount daily, track the time faithfully. Without clear measurable indicators, you won’t know how you’re doing or even when you’ve reached your goal.
- Make it attainable. A smart goal should be achievable. That means finding out what resources you need to reach that goal, and using them. You should feel challenged by your goals, not defeated by them.
- Make each goal relevant. Know why your goals are important to you and how they will benefit you once you achieve them. Doing this helps keep you driven to achieve them. You’ll also be more likely to continue setting goals once you’ve experienced success at achieving the original ones.
- Make it timely by setting deadlines. Each goal needs to have a start and finish date. Set a date by which you believe you’ll be able to achieve your goal and stick to it as much as you can. You can break larger goals down, so each smaller step has its own deadline. That makes it easier to keep track of your progress while still keeping your eye on the prize.
2. Organization and time management
A clutter-free space means a clutter-free mind. Being organized will minimize noise and distraction and allow you to focus on important tasks, like term papers and exams.
Successful college students are organized. Establish your own organizing method. For example, you can use folders to organize your class notes and keep them in separate files. This can be done whether you take notes by hand or on your laptop.
Do whatever works: Color code, organize by date, or use post-it notes to keep everything neat and tidy. Then when you need to go back to information you wrote three months ago, you’ll locate it easily and won’t waste time searching.
Great time management skills are closely tied to being organized. Procrastination can be your worst enemy. It’s easy to say you’ll do something and then leave it to the last minute or just keep pushing it to another time. The key here is to be proactive and to schedule tasks ahead of time.
Use an electronic planner or calendar to schedule your classes, seminars, and meetings for the week and month ahead. Create daily to-do lists of tasks you’ll complete before the end of the day.
And when you’re using those to-do lists, remember to schedule time to relax. Try not to study for more than 90 minutes at a time; take a break every so often throughout your day for meals, socializing, and physical activity.
3. Take care of your health
College is stressful. Neglecting your mental and physical health will only make things worse. Keeping a healthy mind and body will help you through stressful times and keep you on track to achieve your goals.
Prioritizing your sleep is one of the pillars in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Try to avoid late-night, last-minute study sessions and rushing to complete assignments. If you feel sluggish halfway through your day, take a nap if possible. If you can’t, try meditating for a few minutes, which can help re-energize you.
Skipping meals, eating fast food and frozen meals all the time is also a no-go. Try to plan your meals ahead. Eat plenty of protein, fruits, and vegetables, and don’t forget to stay hydrated. Make water your default drink. Consuming caffeinated and sugar-laden energy drinks all the time can lead to health issues.
Stay physically active. Starting your day with a run or a workout can set you on the right track to a productive day. Take breaks from studying to go for a quick walk or even do some stretching.
4. Make teamwork work for you
Some students feel more comfortable taking the “lone wolf” route while at college, but sharing the load can be really helpful. Successful college students tend to ask for help and offer support. Networking with friends, roommates, and classmates can make studying and working on projects much easier.
If you have a lot of reading to do, for example, split it up. Get everyone to read a chapter, then share notes on what you read. If you’re stuck on a particular problem, brainstorm with a couple of classmates. If you lack motivation, partner up with someone in your class and study together.
Alone time is great, and very much needed when studying, but don’t hesitate to reach out for help or support from your classmates and friends.
5. Be smart about money
Being strategic about your finances throughout your college years will make your life so much easier in the short and long term. Plan for your expected expenses and keep track of them. Your budget should include expenditures such as rent, textbooks, food, and entertainment.
When it comes to any private student loans, be diligent in your research, and find the lowest interest rate possible. Compare fees too. Consider getting a part-time job to help pay your loan while you’re still in school. You’ll be glad you did once you’ve graduated and are paying off your debt in earnest.
Student loans can give your credit score a significant boost. Of course, they have to be in good standing. Since they typically have long repayment periods, showing that you’re paying your debt in a timely manner will cement your reliability and make you a good candidate for future house and car loans.
If you’re making enough money after graduation, you can pay your student loan faster by doubling up on your payments. Increasing your monthly payments by 50 percent can make a huge difference in how fast you repay your loan. Making bi-weekly payments will help you reduce interest in the long run.