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How to be a successful college student

Jo Calhoun

College classes are very different from high school. Students are becoming more independent, but they will still ask for advice. Here is some helpful information.

General Education requirements (“Gen Eds”)

Most colleges require a set of introductory courses, taken first and second year. GenEds ensure that students learn a range of subjects. Gen Ed requirements are described in the university’s online course catalog.

If your student earned AP or IB credit in high school, those credits may substitute for some Gen Ed courses. Policies on AP and IB credit vary widely by school so your student should check.

Academic advising

All students are assigned an academic advisor to help them plan courses and understand Gen Ed and graduation requirements. The advisor can give advice about choosing a major or finding an internship. Your student can go to their advisor with any kind of problem. Encourage your student to see the advisor often!

Conversation starters: Did your high school classes prepare you for the work or will you need some extra help? Do you have all the books and supplies you need? Tell me about your favorite professor.

9 ways to support your student

  1. Encourage your student to get to know faculty members, participate in class, and go to faculty office hours. By getting to know their professors, students will be more comfortable in class and more likely to ask for help when they need it.
  2. STUDENTS MUST ATTEND CLASS. Students who go to every class session rarely fail the course. This is what you are paying for!
  3. Students should carefully read the syllabus for each course. The syllabus lists assignments and due dates, required books and course materials, and test dates. It is handed out and should also be available through the professor’s web portal.
  4. Recommend that your student use a planner or calendar to keep track of their class schedule, homework and exams, and activities.
  5. Show an interest. Ask your student what courses they are taking, and about their meetings with their academic advisor.
  6. Encourage study skills and time management. College course work is a lot harder than high school. In college, students spend fewer hours in class but many more hours studying outside of class (typically 2-3 hours for every hour of class time). Being a college student is a full-time job!
  7. Coach your student to find quiet places to study. Usually this is not at home, if your student still lives with you, or in the residence hall. Campus libraries offer spaces for individual and small group work and are open long hours. Academic buildings and coffee shops have quiet corners.
  8. Remind your student to take advantage of help on campus: faculty office hours, the writing center, study groups, and more.
  9. Have confidence in your student. Tell them “they can do it!”
Office hours:

Regular times each week when faculty members are available for students to drop by their office without an appointment.


Jo Calhoun worked in Student Affairs for over 30 years at institutions including Grinnell College in Iowa, the State University of New York at Binghamton, and the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver. Her specializations include first year programs, academic advising, career services and parent relations.
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