The Best Way to Succeed in College? It Might Not Be Academics

It seems like a no-brainer — the smartest kids are the ones who thrive in college. Right? Sometimes it works out that way, but not always. Admissions officers and counselors at colleges and universities nationwide have begun to take a closer look at what truly allows students to succeed, and what they’re finding is very interesting — and an argument against standardized test-based curricula and nights locked away studying.

The best indication of how a college student will perform overall in college is how well they do in their first year at the school, not in high school (The Guardian). Beginning college brings up a host of issues for students that have nothing to do with the classroom, including time management skills, dealing with roommates, and caring for themselves for the first time. These “soft skills” are often the difference between success and failure in college.

Many bright students have no idea how to tackle these social and personal issues, due to the rise of helicopter parenting and too much focus on academics and getting into a top school. They haven’t had the time to develop sophisticated social skills that will allow them to navigate the complex landscape of college. And the problem seems to get worse every year: think of the student who never learns how to do laundry, and brings it all home for his mother to do every weekend, or the graduate student who still doesn’t know how to cook and orders in every night. They may star academically, but how important are those accomplishments, compared to the basic life skills?

How we can help

How can we ensure that students are learning everything that they need to know, both inside and outside the classroom? If you’re a parent, make sure that you’re not doing everything for your child. He or she should know how to do laundry, cook basic food, and get themselves up in the morning. If you’re a teacher or administrator, push for life skills classes to be included in the curriculum at your school — a tough order, when budgets are being slashed left and right.

The first year experience

Many colleges and universities now require incoming freshman to participate in a program known as the first year experience (FYE). These programs tackle all the issues of college, academic and social, and help prepare freshmen for what lies ahead in their college career. Specific topics that FYEs usually cover include dealing with stress, homesickness, roommate problems, dating, alcohol, depression, and anything else that might trip a student up in his or her first year of college.

Although many FYE programs are very new, they seem to be effective. Students need to talk about and have guidance on the issues that really matter most and a lot of the time, that doesn’t mean academics. The best thing we can do to ensure that students eventually become productive, competent members of society is to acknowledge that these social issues need to be addressed, and to give the support and guidance that is required.

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Photo credit: SMBCollege


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson3 years ago

teach life skills too!

Christopher M.
Christopher M.3 years ago

Hello sister nerd Heidi. Overstudying got me through college and grad school.

Christopher M.
Christopher M.3 years ago

Goodie for national service. I am 43 in 2013, and I am unlikely to be involved. In a few years I will even be older than the age 45 cutoff during World War II.

Elizabeth Brawn
Elizabeth Brawn3 years ago

the fye program sounds good we shold have that in aus

Christopher M.
Christopher M.3 years ago

Sum of All Fears John C. Stennis attack scene

Obviously, day to day operations were out, in my case or in the movie.

Christopher M.
Christopher M.3 years ago

Seems to me Judy that colleges make jobs for administrators, staff, and professors, and if YOU get a job you are lucky.

1. Marshall University - complete failure. Never had a job for which I was trained.
2. Shepherd University - relative failure. Worked once when a college education was required by statute (Census Bureau)
3. Community Colleges of Baltimore County - the kind of success the other two dream about, 13 years in I.T.

Christopher M.
Christopher M.3 years ago

Ultimately I did graduate cum laude and to graduate school, but ultimately the state of Maryland concluded my Master's was inadequate in spite of Asperger syndrome and sent me to Baltimore for computer training. My career has been great ever since.

Christopher M.
Christopher M.3 years ago

I agree with Heidi A., there are too many unprepared students in many colleges because those are the best they can find. I did not have that problem at Shepherd University, the average ACT/SAT scores meant that the best were trying to get in, aside from their obligations as a public then-college in West Virginia.

For two years I had excellent grades there until I hit an emotional crisis, yes, involving a woman. Eventually I did save our friendship, but in the short term I was completely destabilized, much like the scene in Sum of All Fears when the U.S.S. John C. Stennis is hit by multiple Russian anti-ship missiles. What made it worse was that my dad insisted I continue. I dropped from 3.8 to 1.2 in a semester. Makes me think I should have been home for repairs like the U.S.S. Yorktown.

Heidi Aubrey
Heidi Aubrey3 years ago

Marie W.

If you were referring to me as "Tea Cup Student" you are a completely wrong. I am Democrat. I am all for equal opportunity. It means just that. Equal. Intelligence sees no color.

This was my personal and not totally complete account of my experience in college. I studied Cell and Molecular Biology and graduated with this degree.

I agree, about the comment from Deborah J. A year of military service prior to college. It would certainly teach self sufficiency skills.

You must be having/have had some difficulty yourself to be so nasty.

Judy Stever
Judy S.3 years ago

Funny, what they don't teach is how to pay off the debt you consumed by going to college. My husband went to college and though they promised to place him in a job after graduation they did not. A Degree in hand and nowhere to go. They sold the school to another and did not honor what they said they would do. Place him. Now If he were not in the government program would not be able to live. The payments would be 600. per month. Being in the government program the interest just keeps adding to the principal owed .What was originally owed is now doubled in debt and just keeps going up. This idea of going to college did not benefit him at all. In fact it is haunting him and will never be able to pay off the debt unless he wins the lottery. That is what going to college gets you. It definitely does not get you the job you thought you would end up with. Very Sad.