Iowa College Aid Insider: Succeeding in College and Career (Nov. 2017)

College Courses

How to succeed in your college courses

Not only is college more academically challenging than high school, but you’re now accountable for your own learning. No one’s going to check on you to see that you understand the material or to ask if you need help. You’ll need to take initiative. Try these strategies: 

  • Go to class. We know it’s tempting to exercise your newfound freedom and sleep late or end the week early, but don’t. Time in the classroom helps you understand what concepts will be on your exams and how these lessons apply to the real world. You also get a chance to learn from your classmates’ questions.
  • Prep for class. Do the assigned reading, and go over your notes from the last classroom session. Your professor will assume that you’ve come prepared and won’t slow down if you’re not.
  • Unplug in class. Put away digital distractions like phones, tablets and other electronics. If you take notes on a laptop, disable the Internet connection. Stay off social media and email so you can focus on learning.
  • Understand the grading system. This will vary depending on your professor, so check your syllabus first thing. Determine how much of your grade will be based on class participation, quizzes, papers and exams.  

Watch this video for more tips on succeeding in college.

Network with an ‘elevator pitch’

You might get a chance to sell yourself to a potential employer at any time—maybe at a career fair or a student/alumni event. How do you make the most of this opportunity? Be ready with an “elevator pitch,” so named because it only takes the 30 to 90 seconds you might share an elevator with someone. Here’s how your pitch can highlight your strengths:  

Set yourself apart. Start with your name and major, but then try to find an unusual angle. Are you and the company CEO from the same small town? Can you trace your career interest back to an early encounter with this company’s products or services?

Sell your strengths. Talk about your skills, experiences and interests. Back up your claims with examples from coursework, other jobs, student groups or volunteer work.

Make a specific request. Close with something simple and concrete that this person can do for you. (“May I have your business card?” “Should I e-mail you to ask about job openings?” “Could we arrange a time to meet?”)

Practice. Write out your draft, then practice saying it out loud. Time it. Practice saying it aloud again and again. Keep practicing until you don’t even have to think about what you’re saying. But …

Be flexible. Be ready to improvise. If someone interrupts you with a question, that’s a sign of interest. Answer, and let it guide your conversation from there.

Make a plan to study abroad

Studying abroad has many benefits. You can gain new perspective on your academic field and learn a language through total immersion. Study abroad also shows potential employers that you’re independent, motivated and open to challenges. If you’re considering a semester or year abroad, here are steps to take: 

  • Get travel credentials in order. Don’t wait. Apply for your passport and visa (if you need one) several months ahead. In addition, allow yourself several weeks to assemble the paperwork you need for your application.
  • Check on credits. Talk with your advisor to make sure the credits you earn abroad will transfer to your home college.
  • Get immunizations. Find out what vaccinations and/or medical tests you’ll need to have before leaving. These requirements vary based on your destination.
  • Get licensed to drive. Your driver’s license from a U.S. state probably won’t be valid in a different country. If you plan to drive, you’ll need an International Driving Permit.
  • Any other questions? The U.S. Department of State has a Web page for students abroad. 

Read an Iowa student’s first-person perspective on study abroad.


Printed from the Iowa College Student Aid Commission website on May 24, 2018 at 11:53pm.