Everyone wants to get awesome grades in college.
I definitely did. Evan wants to too.
Getting good grades in college is one of those accomplishments that can seem easier said than done. So, what can you do to be academically successful? Read on for the things that helped me the most in college.
Why would you want to take my advice? I graduated Magna Cum Laude with two majors from the University of California Irvine. If you haven’t heard of UCI, it’s 9th in US News’ public university rankings, and 3rd in their criminology school rankings. So, basically it’s a pretty good school. I’m done bragging now.
Seriously, once you’re done with school, no one cares about your grades. I never get to talk about how well I did. My friend’s mom earned straight A’s in her master’s degree, but it didn’t really make a difference. People don’t ask about your grades unless you’re going to grad school. If you’re still interested in getting awesome grades in college, we’re starting with the basic elements that helped me get a 3.92 GPA.
Read the Syllabus
I sound like a professor don’t I? But honestly, Evan and I have been asked silly questions by classmates because they haven’t read the syllabus. Literally while I was writing this, Evan got a text from a classmate asking “do we have an exam tomorrow.” Do not be that person.
Reading the syllabus isn’t that hard. It doesn’t take long, but it gives you an overview of the class and the professor’s expectations. It also tells you when your exams are. I got lucky and almost all my professors would have the class schedule for the quarter, which made planning ahead really easy. Evan’s professors are uh less organized. But even if you’re confused about a late assignment or something later in the quarter/semester, checking the syllabus can’t hurt. If you bug professors with questions answered in the syllabus, they’ll get annoyed.
Use a Planner
I used a planner to ensure that I was always turned in my assignments on time and started studying early. I used a small one from Target because I liked physically writing everything, but if online ones work for you, that’s usually cheaper. As soon as you have access to the syllabus, even if it’s before the class starts, put all of the important deadlines and assignments into your planner. If you get in the habit of writing things down and checking it regularly, you won’t forget about due dates. I could go into my whole planner system, but I think that would take up half this post.
Start on Assignments Early
After you have everything in your planner, make sure that you aren’t waiting last minute to do your assignments or start studying. I would essentially start filling out study guides as soon as I got them. Evan has started doing the same thing, so by the time the last section of information is covered in class, he has everything else in flashcards or written in the study guide. It’s faster, more efficient, and saves you from cramming in all the information a day before the exam. I found it helpful to write down when to start studying or working on an assignment in my planner.
Go to Office Hours
Office hours are kind of intimidating. I’m an introvert and the idea of just going to talk to a professor without any particular reason is a scary idea.
If you have questions or need clarification, you should definitely go to office hours. It’s pretty easy then because you have a reason to go. In my last quarter I went to office hours because I’m quiet and didn’t talk in class much. When you’re graded on participation in class, it can be kind of an issue if you’re not participating. I at least let my professors know that I’m quiet and hate talking in rooms full of people. They can be understanding. I did force myself to speak in class a few times, which was enough to get points. If you don’t talk a lot, it helps to go in to office hours, just so they can match your face to your name. They’ll (hopefully) remember you.
Sometimes everything in the class seems straightforward though, so you’re like “why would I go to office hours if I don’t have questions?” It never hurts to get on a professor’s good side. Sometimes they’re just fun to talk to also. I had one professor who was really chill and would just talk about random topics, not just school stuff. Even Evan the social butterfly stays after class and talks to his professors sometimes. They’re generally nice people.
Ask for Help
I like figuring things out on my own. I feel like I bother people when I ask for help, but sometimes it’s necessary. If you’re not asking useless questions like “do we have an exam tomorrow” other students are likely to help you if they understand the problem. If you’re stuck on something and they know how to solve it, they’re usually nice enough to help. But you have to ask. The same goes for professors. They want you to do well.
Do Not Pull All-Nighters Before Exams
Choosing not to sleep is a really bad decision, especially before a test. If you have to stay up the night before to cram, you’re doing something wrong. You’re not actually learning anything at that point. You’re just stuffing it in your brain and hoping it doesn’t leak out before the test. If you completely blank during the test, well then you’re kinda screwed.
If you study in advance, you’re less likely to just completely forget the information you need. You have it in your memory somewhere. I don’t know the exact study, but in many psych classes professors told us that it’s much better to get a full night’s sleep before a test than to use the time to cram. Getting sufficient sleep is one of the important factors in achieving good grades in college.
Do Not Get Distracted by Other Parts of Your Life
Do not let the cute boy/girl/non-binary person distract you from studying and getting your work done. Dating can be fun, but if your education and grades are your priority, don’t lose focus. We started dating while I was a junior at UCI. We lived around an hour away from each other except during deployment and when Evan moved in (read more about our move together in this post). I figured out a system where I finished all the schoolwork I needed to do during the week so I could spend the weekends with him. Evan’s system is to work on homework during the week while I’m at work and on the weekends while I’m writing for the blog. Your system will probably be different, but work on figuring out how to manage time and prioritize.
If you don’t have to work to survive, avoid jobs that are draining and won’t get you anywhere in your career. Yes, it looks good on your resume if you had a job during college. But, if your grades are poor because you’re spending all your time working and being exhausted, you’re probably less likely to get into grad school.
I worked as a behavior interventionist and a research assistant during my last year at UCI. Those were strategic work/internship decisions on my part. Once it became clear I was putting more into the behavior interventionist job than I was getting out of it, I quit. It has not affected my ability to get a job after college. Evan is working on his stock market trading while going to school, but he has pretty strict time constraints on it so he still has time to work on homework. Just keep a balance and make sure you’re spending your time valuably.
If you’re a big partier, keep it on the weekends. Don’t be the person who doesn’t show up to their 9am because they’re hungover. My school’s culture wasn’t big on parties. If you did go to a party, you couldn’t be loud or go outside otherwise the cops would show up and shut it down in like 10 minutes. The US’ safest city is unsurprisingly one of the most boring cities. If you party, get your homework done first because you won’t want to do it when you get home.
Go to Class
This shouldn’t be something anyone needs to be told to do. If you’re reading this, then I’m going to assume getting awesome grades in college is important enough, so that you already know going to class is necessary. Not everyone does. It was crazy how many unfamiliar faces I saw on test days though. If you’re graded on attendance or participation, that kind of forces you to go. If you’re not, then sometimes it can be hard to be motivated enough to attend class, especially if you don’t like it.
Go anyway because even if you get absolutely nothing out of the class, at least by finals you can think to yourself “hey, I did my best. I went to every class.” If you don’t go, then it’s a lot easier to think “man, I flunked this, but I didn’t try hard or even show up to class, it’s all my fault” even if it was just a bad class. For your own piece of mind, just go to class.
In essence, a lot of success in college is based on common sense. Going to class, reading the syllabus, and asking for help for example all seem like things people do anyway. This is not the case though. People slack off sometimes and then wonder why they aren’t getting straight A’s. Follow these tips, start out strong, and finish strong. You’ll end up with good grades and feeling like you worked your hardest.
What else do you find helps you do well? Is getting good grades in college super important for your career path? What are a few things you think could get in the way of achieving high grades in college?