Top Ten Strategies to Succeed in College
Student Success Strategies
Adapted from M. J. Bozack, "Street-Smart Advice to Christian College Students," Deep River Books, 2009.
Many students across America are quickly learning that their transition from high school to college is one of
the toughest assignments they've ever received. And, for a Christian student, achieving success in a
secular university is even harder.
Did you know that....
- The Manhattan Institute (2005) reports that only 32% of high school seniors graduate with the skills
they need for college?
- David Spence, California's Chief Academic Officer, reports that about 60% of freshman in the
California State University system need remedial help in math or English, which holds true
nationwide at 70% according to a study conducted by Achieve, Inc, (a school reform group led by
- Only 20% of students have 'basic' quantitative skills which are those necessary to compare ticket
prices or calculate the cost of food according to a study by The American Institute for Research.
Mediocre high school training, secular influences on the millennial generation, and the impact of helicopter
parents (ones that hover over their children fighting their battles and micro-managing their needs) are three
of the forces that have put many students in jeopardy from day one, resulting in disillusionment as students
realize they're not ready for college. With that said, Christian students are not immune to low performance
in college, which is tragic to the Body of Christ. Christian students should be our best college students!
They should be successfully mastering college level work becoming movers and shakers in our world.
Academics are not the only problem. Add into the mix that there is an inevitable clash of cultures as
Christians are exposed to a plethora of new ideas, lifestyles, and humanistic doctrine. What's a Christian
student to do? Let's examine 10 effective strategies from a college professor's point of view, and take an
inside look at what it really takes to make the grade.
1. Study Your Study Habits
Few students, Christian or otherwise, come to college with good study habits. They either come from high
schools where high grades could be achieved by not studying much or they were never taught how to study
without memorizing everything. Effective study habits in college, however, require practice, work, and
discipline. The earlier in your freshman year you get yourself alone in a library to study, the better you will do
2. Clock Into College
Say you are flipping burgers at McDonalds to help pay for college. At minimum your boss expects you to
show up on time, do your job completely, be professional and accountable. So, why would you do less as a
student where there is much more at stake than cooking burgers? Why would you be on time for a job, but
then cut your classes; or be competent at work, but then turn in sloppy, careless homework in college? You
shouldn't! Treat being a student with the same loyalty and respect as you would treat a job. You will make
fewer mistakes and you will feel better about your college experience.
3. Learn the Curve
You will save an enormous (that is a lot) amount of time and energy by understanding the grading systems
used by college professors. Most employ either an absolute or a relative system commonly called a curved
grading scheme. Students seem to understand an absolute or a relative system because they were used
by teachers in high school. However, many of my students taking introductory physics have no idea how a
curved system works. If you don't understand how you're graded you'll find yourself putting your efforts
where they are minimally effective. Don't shoot yourself in the foot by misplaced effort! Get ahead of the
'curve' and ask your professors to explain their grading systems because effort is costly and should be
placed where it matters the most.
4. Save Dough-Ask the Pro (fessor that is)
When the going gets tough, it's amazing how many students turn to everyone and everything EXCEPT their
college professors. Sometimes it's because they have had a bad experience with a professor, or their
professor is not adept at helping students, or they simply don't want their professor to know that they are so
far behind the pace. Whatever the hang-up, you've got to move on. I always encourage my students to ask
for help early in the semester. I mean really, why hire a tutor or get a roommate to help when you have an
expert in the field who you've already paid for! It's true without exception that when a student gets in early for
help, the one-on-one interaction turns an F on the first test into an A or B before the course ends.
5. Avoid Rookie Mistakes
Success in life depends on minimizing mistakes. Just as turnovers play a large role in the outcome of a
football game (turn the ball over and you lose--hang onto the ball and you win), the same is true for college
students. The best college students make the fewest mistakes. They don't cut classes, fail to hand in
homework, put social life and work ahead of school, quit classes when they get hard, expect professors to
spoon feed them, or prefer short-cuts to honest effort. And, they certainly don't wait until the last minute to
study and then pray for God to rescue them--they actually study and do the work! If you can avoid these
common rookie mistakes you will gain some serious yards and take your GPA to the goal line!
6. Tick Tock-Time Block
You have enough time in college to do all the things you need to do, but only if you manage yourself wisely.
Decide which 4 or 5 things are the most important and stick with them. One tip is to organize your courses,
for example, in the morning. Yes, you might find yourself brain dead after four straight hours of lectures, but
you will appreciate the uninterrupted time in the afternoon to study or schedule labs. An hour here or an
hour there between classes most likely will lead to a cup of coffee at Starbucks, surfing the internet in a
campus computer lab, text messaging your friends or watching TV in the student union. Time blocking will
help you use your time wisely and free up more time for you to be involved in other activities.
7. Mediocrity Is Lukewarm
(NIV) Revelation 3:15 says I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or
the other! You are not called to be lukewarm! I often hear students saying, "I got A's in high school without
studying, so why should I study here?" Say what? This is not high school, this is college! And, a college
education is determinative of the rest of your life; the stakes are much higher here. What worked for you in
high school is not going to work in college unless you are majoring in basket weaving. The mediocrity of
high school doesn't fly in college if you want to be a person of excellence. Don't spend too much time on the
politics of getting through--instead enjoy the ride and do a good job at it.
8. Avoid the Social Snares
Christian students in a secular university inevitably are confronted by difficult social issues. College life is
an environment full of new freedoms to experiment with risky behaviors formerly policed by parents and
teachers. Sex, drugs, alcohol, and the culture are the four most dangerous risks that can derail a
successful college career. Relationship issues involving boyfriends/girlfriends can suck an enormous
(once again this means a lot) amount of time away from achieving your ultimate college goals. Guard your
life and focus on getting your degree. This can be accomplished by holding fast to Biblical convictions and
allowing God to guide your life. Poor judgments and social snares can short-circuit the wonderful life God
has planned for you.
9. Get on the GPA Fast Track
One of the impediments to high performance in college is surviving the freshman year. A bad start makes
everything difficult, meaning of course that a good start makes everything easier. A high GPA earned during
your freshman and sophomore years is difficult to knock down during your junior and senior years.
Correspondingly, starting as a freshman in a GPA hole makes it difficult if not impossible to build it back to
acceptability during the remainder of your college years. Opt for deferred rewards and work hard early on--
then you can cruise later.
10. Remember Who Got You Into College
The biggest mistake you as a Christian student could make is neglecting God in college. It makes zero
sense to leave God out of your university life when He is the primary reason you are there! So much is
riding on your college years that you need God now more than ever! You need daily wisdom, guidance, and
strength that no professor can offer. You need help studying for tests, doing assignments, finding good
friends, finding a job, finding a church, and to guide you through a host of other college related experiences.
Most of all you need God to protect you from cultural forces that seek to derail your life.
You can succeed in college! By avoiding these common mistakes and applying these effective strategies
you can manage your student life and live a Christian life inside and outside the college classroom.
Brian Gallagher, "Teach, Study, Experiment," USA Today, Oct. 14, 2005, A-22. G.Toppo and A. DeBarros, "Reality Weighs
Down Dreams of College, "USA Today, Feb. 8, 2005, A-1. Brian Gallagher, "Not Ready for College," USA Today, Mar. 2,
2006, A-10. J.D. Baer, A.L. Cook, and S. Baldi, "The Literacy of America's College Students," American Institutes for
Research, Jan. 2006, www.air.org
|Ministry to Students
Michael J. Bozack, Ph.D.
Department of Physics
Auburn, AL 36849
Council of Christian Colleges
and Universities (CCCU)
CCCU has qualified ~ 100
schools as "intentionally
according to specific criteria
listed in their website. Use
this site if you're interested in
small Christian colleges.
National Survey of Student
NSSE obtains, on an annual
basis, information from
hundreds of four-year colleges
and universities nationwide
about student participation in
programs and activities that
institutions provide for their
learning and personal
development. The results
provide an estimate of how
undergraduates spend their
time and what they gain from
Are You Kidding?
A federal study finds that an
estimated 32 MILLION adults
in the USA -- about one in
seven -- are saddled with
such low literacy skills that it
would be tough for them to
read anything more
challenging than a children's
Assessment of Adult Literacy
Why Home School?
The number of
home-schooled kids hit 1.5
million in 2007, up 74% from
Top reasons cited by parents
for home-schooling their kids.
88%: Concerns about safety,
drugs, peer pressure
83%: Desire for religious or
73%: Dissatisfaction with
65% Interest in non-traditional
Source: 2007 Parent and
Family Involvement in
Student Credit Card Debt
Eighty-four percent of
undergraduates had a credit
card last year.
The average senior graduated
with a balance of more than
$4100, up from about $2900
Even more troubling, only
17% of students surveyed
said they regularly paid off
their monthly balances, and
60% said they were surprised
at the size of their balances.
Source: Sallie Mae
The Demise of Civics
Former Supreme Court
Justice David Souter recently
said our republic "is lost if it
is not understood."
He cited surveys showing
that 2/3 of Americans can't
even name the three
branches of government.
Source: USA Today, May 27,
09, p. 9A.