May 2, 2019 By Malcolm Gauld

5 Rules for College Success

Since I began teaching over 40 years ago, I have watched 1000s of high school graduates head off to college. As the years went by, I could not help but notice some unmistakable patterns after my students hit college.

A decade ago, I began giving an annual talk to high school seniors in hopes of sending them off to college on a positive note. My intention was to help them rise above the pitfalls waiting to snare them. Foremost among these is the danger of drowning in free time. A second critical one lies in the failure to navigate the transition from homework, a short-term daily obligation (and a high school term they will never hear again), to the more long-term commitment of studying.

These annual talks led to the publication of my book College Success Guaranteed: 5 Rules to Make it Happen (Rowman Littlefield, 2011). As the title suggests, five rules are presented to help keep the new college student on track. In writing the book, I gathered anecdotes and techniques in interviews with scores of college kids and recent grads from over 40 colleges and universities. A summary of these 5 Rules for college kids follows:

Rule No. 1 – Go to Class – Every kid I have ever known who flunked out of college failed to go to class.  Conversely, I have never known a student to attend all of his or her classes and then fail out.  High school penalizes you if you miss class and generally includes a phone call home to your parents. College may well not even know whether you are present or absent.  So, Go. To. Class.

Sit somewhere in the front half of the room. Track the teacher with your eyes. Raise your hand to make comments or ask questions. Should you find yourself uninterested in the class or the professor, imitate someone who is!

This is the most important rule, and yet kids can have an amazing capacity to think that it does not apply to them. At some point during my talks, I am always sure to say, “If this rule is the only take-away you recall from this talk, I will be happy.” There are 168 hours in a week. College merely asks to you to spend 12 of those attending class.  Just do it.

Rule No. 2 – Study 3 Hours X 5 Days per Week – If there is a rule about going to class, there probably needs to be one about studying. Whereas high school is about homework and assignment completion, college is about studying from a syllabus.  It is quite possible that no work will actually be due for weeks. If you make the commitment to study three hours per day times five days per week regardless of when work is actually due, you will do fine.  You may need to do more to make Dean’s List, you may even get away with less, but commit to 15 hours per week and you will be a student in good standing with both the college and your parents. (Always a good thing!)

Rule No. 3 – Commit to Something – While it might seem counter intuitive, college students who stay busy tend to do better than those who don’t. Whether on an athletic team, in a play, or writing for the college newspaper, not only will such activities not detract from your academics, they will enhance them. You will also surround yourself with an awesome group of peers.

Rule No. 4 – Get a Mentor – When I shared my book with Southern Cal distinguished professor and leadership guru Warren Bennis (1925-2014), his first comment to me was, “I only disagree with one point, Malcolm. You don’t ‘get’ a mentor, you stalk mentors… and you stalk them your whole life!”  High school teachers are expected to be on the lookout for kids who could use some extra help in their academic or personal lives. In college, the burden falls on you to go out and make the connections that can propel you forward.

Rule No. 5 – Procrastination Kills – In one group interview, I asked, “What is the one thing you would tell a college student beginning classes tomorrow?”  One student in the group responded, “Procrastination kills.” All the other students in the room chuckled and before long the room came alive with anti-procrastination tips and stories. Rise above it!