Dr. Val Farmer
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Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Nine Secrets To College Success

August 29, 2005

Our youngest son Trace is off to his first year of college at Brigham Young University. Here are some secrets to success at school I wish to share with him and all other first year college students.

1. Be clear about your purpose. I like the US Army commercial, "Be all you can be." One purpose of life is to develop our talents and become what we are capable of becoming. Don’t be lazy about this opportunity to improve your circumstances and talents.

Your first goal is to succeed in classes. You are young. You aren’t expected to know exactly what you want to do with the rest of your life. Some of you might take time to figure out what you want to do. Do your best and then you’ll be prepared when you discover your real interests and talents.

Don’t wait until you are done with the general education requirements before you try some classes in your chosen areas of interest. Take some of the "good stuff" right away.

Yesterday I was on the bridge, watching the mountainous waves, and this ship - which is no pup - cutting through them and mocking their anger. I asked myself, why is it that the ship beats the waves, when they are so many and the ship is one? The reason is that the ship has a purpose, and the waves have none. They just flop around, innumerable, tireless, but ineffective. The ship with the purpose takes us where we want to go. Let us therefore have purpose in our private lives. Thus the future will be fruitful for each and for all, and the reward of the warriors will not be unworthy of the deeds they have done. - Winston Churchill.

2. Work together. Don’t compete with your fellow classmates; help each other. Make friends in your classes and study together. Take the same classes and the same teachers.

Research has shown studying in groups helps you accomplish much more than studying alone. This is true no matter what your family background or economic status. I can’t emphasize this enough.

3. Time management. Professor Richard Light at Harvard was asked to study successful students. He summarizes his findings in a new book, "Making the Most of College: Students Speak Their Minds." One of the key points he makes is that it isn’t how often you study but when. Study in long blocks of uninterrupted time. It is much more effective than studying in short bursts. Know how you are spending your time and manage it well.

Find success early on. Don’t take too many classes right away. Have one good semester. Then another. You’ll get tougher as you go along.

4. Persistence. Your drive and energy will take you further than your talent or your IQ. Much, much further. Pay the price of success, hard work! Don’t mistake good grades for learning. Cramming for tests is not conducive to learning the material. Don’t skip classes. Do your homework. It is the everyday application that counts. You are as smart as anybody else. There is no reason why you can’t succeed.

Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never - in nothing, great or small; large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. - Winston Churchill

5. Get help. Find an advisor, a teacher or another adult connected with the college or university who knows the ropes. He or she will help you cut through the bureaucratic red tape. There is a way around the system.

Dr. Light noted that 70-75 percent of the students he surveyed wanted more advice. Good students aren’t bashful about getting the help they need with course planning, study habits, managing time, extracurricular activities and dealing with personal problems. Get tutoring if you need it.

6. Pick good teachers and form personal relationships. Get word-of mouth recommendations on who the exciting teachers are. Let them inspire you. You can get a first class education by being selective about the teachers. Go for small classes with plenty of classroom discussion.

Let your teachers get to know you and that you’re working in their class. Invent a reason to go talk to them. You’ll get better grades if they know that you care about learning. Ask at least one question a week in class. Have your questions ready ahead of time.

7. Manage your life well. Avoid the drinking scene. (At BYU there is no drinking scene.) That will take you down fast. Get enough rest. Get good nutrition. Don’t be stupid about sex or relationships that mean taking on responsibility before you have completed your education.

8. Get involved in extra-curricular activities. Extracurricular activities are important aspects for developing self-confidence and leadership skills. Connect what you are learning with your personal interests. Stay on the campus on the weekends and make new friends. Don’t run home to your old friends and family every weekend because it is the easy thing to do.

9. Don’t worry about home. This is the only time in your life you have permission to be selfish. Invest time in yourself. Be an example. Be a role model for your siblings. If you are worried about your family back home, the biggest help you can be is to graduate from college. You owe this time to yourself and to your future family.

Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never - in nothing, great or small; large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.

Special thanks to professor Jack Weyland of BYU-Idaho for his insight into student success.