Ten Tips for Students to Succeed in College

1) Be good and do good. While it’s great to achieve individual success, use your college education — especially once you graduate — to imagine and transform world for the better.

2) Take care of yourself. College can be a very stressful environment, especially for first-

generation students, students of color and immigrants. This includes those who relocate far from home and/or attend predominantlywhite institutions (PWIs).In order to help others, you must first help yourself. You should always take care of your mental and physical well-being. Hence, learn time-management skills, get enough sleep, exercise, go to the gym (once it’s safe!), run (I used to run from the cops in E.LA.!), meditate, eat well and seek professional help (on & off campus), if needed.

3) Embrace and accept yourself. In this country, we are constantly sold on the false idea that we must look in a certain way to be accepted or be happy (e.g., skin color, body type/size, attire, etc.). Don’t allow for others to determine your self-worth and happiness (e.g., the “in-crowd,” advertisement agencies, corporations, colleges, politicians, etc.). When the privileged White gaze questions or judges you, just resort to Lady Gaga’s lyrics: “baby I was born this way.” I should know since I continue to fight against micro-aggressions, despite earning a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, along with an M.A. and a B.A. from UCLA!

4) Prioritize your studies. Apart from urgent family matters and work (if survival depends on it), your studies should be your singular focus. This means that you should properly balance your studies, family obligations and social activities — especially needed boyfriends! — without losing track of what’s important: graduation! In other words, if you give equal importance to your social life and studies, something is wrong.

5) Focus. When you’re studying, reading or writing, don’t get distracted with texting, going on Facebook, checking email, watching favorite Netflix programs, keeping up with Kylie Jenner or Tekashi69, playing X-Box, etc. Work in designated time blocks. For example, on Monday, begin reading for English for two hours from 6:00pm to 8:00pm and then take an hour break before writing History paper from 9:00pm to 11:00pm.

6) You are smart. By being a college student (at any level), you have already demonstrated that you have what it takes to achieve success in your studies and beyond. This is not to imply that only college students are smart. My mother Carmen, who lacked formal education, sent four of her eight kids to the top colleges/universities in the world.

7) Don’t procrastinate. Once the term starts, don’t waste any time. First, mark your calendar(s) (computer, phone, etc.) with all due dates (e.g., assignments, presentations, exams). (I prefer the traditional monthly calendar from Staples, where I view all my deadlines at a glance. I’m old school with a Myspace account!) Secondly, allocate time on specific days to focus on particular class assignments and to prepare for exams, as noted above in #5. Finally, aim to finish assignments and preparation for exams at least on day ahead of schedule. If something is due at noon, don’t start it that morning and get it printed before class, where you’ll either no complete it or you ran out of toner or there’s a long line at the library or your dog ate your homework, again!

8) Ask questions and seek help. As a college student, you must continuously evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. (This applies to workers at all levels.) To improve your weak subject areas, such as Math or English, seek help at your campus. This includes asking questions in class, meeting with your professors during office hours, consulting with classmates, attending educational workshops, going to the writing lab on campus (if your college has one) and seeking other valuable resources on campus, such as the library. I’ve always found librarians, like academic advisors, to be the most generous with their time, knowledge and resources. In expensive K-12 private schools, students are constantly encouraged to seek help, especially from instructors!

9) Be organized. To succeed in college, it’s imperative that you’re organized with your class schedule and related matters. A few tips: (1) Purchase inexpensive notebooks and binders for each class, where you can take class notes (label and date all notes) and file them (if you can manage this on computer, that’s fine); (2) On your computer desktop, create folders and subfolders for each term and class (label and date pending and completed assignments); (3) Have a back-up system for assignments (e.g., USB, email to yourself, Google Docs); and (4) Purchase manila folders to file graded assignments and returned exams. This 4th point is important, especially if you need to dispute a graded assignment or final grade with your professor.

10) Pursue your dreams and be positive. Once you settle on a field of study or profession that you’re passionate about, such as urban planning, art, medicine or law, make sure to invest the necessary time and energy to excel in all your classes. Moreover, to maintain a positive outlook, it’s not enough to say, “One day, I hope to be a doctor.” Instead, you should say, “By the time I turn 30, I will be a doctor.” While you will experience challenges along the way, it’s important to keep an optimistic outlook, work hard and persevere in this highly competitive society. This is especially the case if you’re a person of color, where you must work twice as hard to succeed. You can do it!

Note: When I refer to “college,” I’m also referring to the “university.”



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Alvaro Huerta, Ph.D.

Alvaro Huerta, Ph.D.

Dr. Álvaro Huerta is a Religion and Public Life Organizing Fellow at Harvard University and an Assoc. Professor at Cal State Polytechnic University, Pomona.