How to succeed in college

You made it to college. Congratulations!

You have an exciting journey in front of you as you make new friends, continue to learn and set yourself up for success in your future career.

With so many new challenges, it’s not always easy to succeed in college. This section will cover some general steps for success as you pursue your academic career in college.

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Have a college completion plan

A college completion plan is a road map of each year you plan to be in college. Working with your college advisor to create a plan will help you make sure that you achieve your degree in the timeframe that you want.

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Taking 12 credits is enough to be considered a full-time student; however, if you want to graduate in four years (for a bachelor’s degree) or two years (for an associate degree), plan to take at least 15 credits each semester (30 credits each year).

If you’re at a public Indiana college, you should receive a degree map that shows all the courses you’ll need to take to finish your degree. Ask your advisor for a degree map if you’re at a private college. It’s important to find out when each course is offered because many courses can only be taken during a certain semester and/or after you have taken other courses.

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Graduating on time

Aside from completing your college plan, there are other ways to make sure you graduate in the timeframe you set for yourself – or even earlier.

Take 15 Hours Each Semester

If you are a full-time college student, you should prepare to take at least 15 credits each fall and spring semester. Otherwise, you may not be able to earn all the credits you’ll need to graduate on time. Additional semesters will likely cost you more money, even if you only take one class.

Commit To A College Major

You’ll spend the most time studying and working within your major. If you don’t know your major when you start college, that’s okay!

Choosing a college major can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. The best way to pick a major is to consider your interests and career goals.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list of potential majors, it’s important to research the various college programs and talk to people already in the field. High school and college advisors can also be a great resource for information about specific majors and careers. Additionally, your college should have a career services office to help you figure out what might work best with your interests, so it’s worth visiting.

Ultimately, the best way to choose a college major is to explore your options and find a field that is aligned with your interests and goals.

If you need help figuring out your career and degree path, find out through Career Discovery.

Finish College Early By Taking Summer Courses

Earning credits in the summer could help you earn your degree in fewer semesters, and it’s also a great way to catch up if you’re not able to take 15 credits in each of your spring and fall semesters.

Some colleges even discount their tuition rates during the summer semester, so it could be a good idea cost-wise. See which courses your college offers, or enroll at a community college or regional campus to save money on tuition. Check with your college advisor to make sure any courses you take at another college will transfer back to your permanent institution.

Take Community College Classes First

If you are planning on a four-year degree, you may be able to start your college education at a two-year community college.

Community college courses are typically cheaper, and many general education courses (classes that every student are required to take and are usually prerequisites to some upper level courses) transfer directly to Indiana’s four-year institutions. Learn more about how courses transfer among Indiana’s colleges.

For most degree programs, your first one to two years in college will be spent taking general education courses. So, even if you don’t know your specific major, you can enroll in college on time and work with your advisor to ensure you’re signed up for the right courses. If you’re reading this while in high school, check with your school to see if the Indiana College Core is offered at your school. Through dual credit, you can earn essentially a whole year of college general education courses for little to no money if you earn the Indiana College Core while in high school.

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Making the grades in college

As a college student, you might be working a job, participating in extracurriculars, enjoying a social life and attending college classes all at once. Balancing all of that can sometimes be tough to handle.

See some quick tips and guidelines on keeping your grades up and not getting too distracted by everything else college has to offer.

Attend class

College offers students a lot of flexibility they might not have had in high school, making it seem like skipping classes is okay. However, professors often cover information in lectures and discussions that you can’t find in the reading material, which may appear on exams.

You’re paying to go to college; not attending classes is just wasted money.

Get help from a professor, tutor, or study group

Your professors are there to help you succeed in class and college. Introduce yourself to them, and take advantage of their office hours, which are periods of time when they will be in their office and able to help you with any coursework questions.

Most colleges also offer tutoring services, writing centers and other forms of extra help. Take advantage of these options! You may also consider joining a study group or working with a partner from class.

It can be easy to shy away from help if you’re feeling overwhelmed or embarrassed, but people understand and genuinely want to see you succeed. You owe it to yourself.

Keep up with your syllabus

Most professors will provide a class syllabus – an overview of what topics will be covered during the course and a list of assignments, exams, due dates and class policies.

Use the syllabus to help you plan for studying, completing homework and preparing for exams. Be sure to complete reading assignments before class so you can participate in discussions and ask questions.

Manage your time wisely

In college, you’ll spend less time in class, and more time studying and preparing assignments on your own than you did in high school. It’s important to manage your time inside and outside of class so you don’t get overwhelmed. Here are some time management tips to help you get started:

  • Meet with your advisor to develop a class schedule that will give you enough time to study properly.
  • Explore first-year programs like summer-bridge programs, orientations, first-year seminars and mentoring programs.
  • Make a study schedule and commit to improving your grades with minimal stress.

Get involved on campus & create a support network

The more involved you are in your campus community, the more meaningful and fun your college experience will be.

Make the most of your time outside the classroom by building a community for yourself. You have an opportunity to create new circles of friends and feel a sense of belonging at your school.

You’ll also get a chance to find new interests and boost your resume by joining clubs and developing interpersonal skills.

Join a school club

College websites usually have pages for student activities and organizations and many colleges also have extracurricular fairs for student groups to advertise to potential new members. Go to one and see what feels right for you.

Look for volunteer opportunities

Community service activities are great experiences; you could even get college credit sometimes.

Participate in recreational sports

Many colleges have intramural team sports, fitness classes and more. Look for flyers on campus or information on the school’s website to find when these classes or clubs meet.

Attend special events

Throughout the year, college campuses host theatrical performances, special speakers, symposiums and more. Many of these events are free or discounted for students. Check your campus calendar for a schedule.

Peers who can offer assistance

Teaching assistant (TA)

An upper-level or graduate student who assists an instructor with a course; TAs often help teach the course, lead discussion sections and grade papers.

Resident advisor or assistant (RA)

An upper-level, trained student leader who supervises a specific residence hall or section of a residence hall; RAs are trained to counsel students, answer questions and offer college advice.


An upper-level student, faculty or staff member who is experienced at navigating college and who can provide support, answer questions and offer advice to first-year college students.

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Where can I turn if I need more help?

Everyone can use help from time to time in finding their way through life. Plotting your path to college and career success is no different. Having an adult mentor is a great way to stay on track and help you overcome obstacles. Mentors can be anyone you look up to – neighbors, employers, relatives, religious leaders, coaches or teachers. Professors keep office hours if you struggle with some of your coursework.

If you find that you need additional support, the student services on campus will be able to offer help by providing additional resources or counseling support. Lastly, remember to stay in touch with your family and friends from home. Independence is good, but don’t cut yourself off completely.


Classroom Worksheets

College Go! Bulletin Board Kit