Tips for Academic Success | United Way of Metropolitan Dallas

Tips for Academic Success

High school is a teaching environment in which you acquire facts and skills. College is a learning environment in which you take responsibility for thinking through and applying what you have learned. Understanding some of the important differences between high school and college may help you achieve a smoother transition.

In the interests of clarity, we have presented these contrasts in a strongly delineated, somewhat simplified fashion. If your high school or college experience doesn’t match these descriptions, adjust accordingly–and feel free to let us know. Our intent here is not to disparage either high schools or colleges; the central point is that the kind of schooling that fits your needs will change as you grow.

These pages are based on a pamphlet prepared by Old Dominion University with funding from the Virginia Department of Education. The SMU version would not have been possible without helpful comments from colleagues in the Dedman College Advising Center and faculty from the Provost’s Commission on Teaching and Learning and the English Department’s First-Year Writing Program.


GO TO CLASS. New students often hear that in college,” you can go to class anytime you want.” NOT TRUE. Some classes may seem less interesting than others, but college is not for entertainment. Experienced students often say that the more time they spend in class, the less time they need to study outside of class.

LEARN THE CAMPUS. One campus tour seldom provides the geographical knowledge necessary to get around a major university. Become an explorer and spend time locating where major academic and service departments are located. Don’t become a senior who is still trying to find the library.

KNOW THE UNIVERSITY HAS ACADEMIC RULES. No one memorizes all the rules–but have a copy available. Academic policies are usually found on the web page and almost always in the student handbook or catalog. Do not become one of those who says, “But nobody told me…”

CHECK OUT RUMORS. Rumors of all types fly across a campus. While almost all do have a particle of truth, most rumors are largely fiction. Check program or academic rumors with professors or advisors before changing anything related to class preparation or scheduling.

BUDGET TIME. Have a social life, but plan your study time properly. Do not begin to study for a test or write a paper the night before either is due. Read syllabi early for dates and note them on a calendar. Remember, sleep is also necessary, so budget for that as well.

ACCEPT CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM. Keep in mind that when a professor critiques your work, he or she is doing you a favor. This is not personal; any work can be improved. The more “red lines” you see on a paper, the more time that the professor took to point out ways for you to improve. It is very frustrating to see a grade assigned to a paper or test and no comments or feedback as to how that grade was determined or how you can do better next time.

REALIZE THAT BEING A STUDENT IS A FULL-TIME JOB. You can’t work hard only one day a week and earn acceptable grades. Look at collegiate life as a full-time career for the present. Focus on good academic habits, social skills, and balancing priorities. Now is the time to develop skills that will be expected after graduation in your selected career.

DEVELOP AN APPRECIATION FOR THE MASTERY OF LANGUAGE. No matter what your major or discipline of interest, the single most important skill for life success is communication. Understand what language is acceptable and in what situations. How you communicate your skills and thoughts demonstrates the depth of your education. Even if your grades in technical courses get you that first job, it is your communication skills–usually in writing–that get you that promotion.

BECOME PART OF UNIVERSITY LIFE. Becoming part of the campus community is just as important as going to class, writing papers, and taking exams. Don’t join every group, but be selective and participate in activities that will offer balance to your life. Take advantage of the variety of university experiences.

GET TO KNOW YOUR PROFESSORS BEFORE YOU GRADUATE. Begin by targeting some faculty that you think are worth knowing before you graduate. Who are you likely to have in more than one course? These are the professors who will evaluate your work, supply references for future career options or graduate school, and help guide your intellectual development. Most faculty are very approachable; don’t let titles of “professor” or “doctor”‘ frighten you. Those titles are their achievement, and these are the people who will help you attain the goals you have set for yourself.

HAVE THE COURAGE OF YOUR CONFUSIONS. In high school, a good student is supposed to know all the answers and get everything right. But in college, you take on more difficult challenges and more demanding material. It is no longer possible to have “all the answers.” Beyond college, that kind of high school perfection isn’t even remotely possible. Learn to be patient with others and with yourself. Learn to function well in situations where 100% success isn’t possible; seek out and value the big questions which are more important than answers.

BE PATIENT WITH YOURSELF. You will make errors or mistakes during your collegiate career. Please be assured that you are not DOOMED. When you realize, or even think, you have goofed, set out to correct it.

MAKE YOUR OWN DECISIONS Seeking advice is always nice. Trying to play it safe and avoid making decisions can lead to as many problems as making uninformed or risky choices. Weigh options and gather as much information as possible. Accept responsibility for your decisions.

YOU ARE IN SCHOOL FOR YOUR EDUCATION, NOT SOMEONE ELSE’S. If you enter college just to please everyone else, you will end up pleasing no one. If you let others decide what you are going to study, where you attend college, and what you are going to be, you have ignored your responsibility to yourself.

KNOW YOUR ACADEMIC SITUATION BEFORE THE WITHDRAW PERIOD. If you have a question or concern about how you are doing in a class, go to the professor and discuss it. Keep yourself informed and record all grades received for each assignment. Read each syllabus carefully, and pay attention to the weight of all assignments as they determine the final grade in each course. Keep all grades updated.

LEARN TO COMMUNICATE IN THE CLASSROOM. There are no dumb questions concerning subject matter. If you don’t know or don’t understand something, chances are several of your classmates don’t either. Learning to ask questions is a skill. Develop it!

SAFEGUARD YOUR PHYSICAL AND MENTAL WELL-BEING. When exhausted, rest. Eat proper food and know when to relax. Plan exercise into your schedule. No one is going to thank you for working yourself into a frazzle or getting ill, let alone for staying up all night. It is amazing how many students demand their independence and simply do not know how to take care of themselves.

ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR BEHAVIOR. If what you say and do is prompted by others, or if nothing is ever your fault because others “pushed'” you, you cannot claim to be an adult, just an immature follower.

IT DOES NOT HELP TO BLAME OTHER FOR YOUR ACADEMIC PROBLEMS. If you are not doing well academically, get help. Very few students get through college without some assistance. If it takes you longer to learn material or even to graduate, so what? Remove distractions when studying. Go to review sessions and use tutoring services. GO TO CLASS and participate. Don’t blame your professors, your roommate, or your teaching assistants. Get their help to eliminate the problems.

LOCATE AND USE ALL UNIVERSITY SERVICES. The university DOES want you to succeed and will help you by means of all its services. These range from math and writing skills centers to personal counseling. Let the university serve you. After all, it is your school. You are paying for these services anyway, in the form of tuition and fees.

WRITE HOME. It may sound silly but parents and family can prove to be the best support service. Families honestly want to know how you are doing. They may not be able to do more than listen, but that act alone is essential to your well-being. Siblings, grandparents, and neighborhood friends are in your corner and want you to succeed. Let them share in your new life.  E-mail works great!


Call 911 in case of an emergency, or to report any safety concerns, regardless of your location.

The Office of the Dean of Student Life (302 Hughes-Trigg Student Center) is a resource to consult when you want general information and assistance, or if you simply do not know where else to go.

Get involved! Students are involved in out-of-class activities (i.e. clubs, sports, organizations) report more overall satisfaction with their college experience, and are more likely to graduate.

Students are expected to uphold the Honor Code and principles of academic integrity.

When in doubt about questions of academic honesty, students should consult the instructor of the course in question. For example, turning in the same paper for two different courses is only acceptable with the prior permission of both instructors.

Students who use the SMU Career Center in their first year report greater success in finding the job of their choice.

The Learning Enhancement Center offers tutoring, academic success courses, and supplemental instruction without charge for all students. Check it out!

SMU students are members of the University community wherever they go, and are held responsible by the University for their actions on and off campus.

Students are responsible for their own lives. They have the responsibility to read the SMU Policies for Community Life and Peruna Express and to utilize all resources available.

Call home – your parents want to hear from you!


The First Year Academic Excellence Award Reception is an opportunity each Spring to recognize all first year students who have achieved a 3.75 or higher cumulative GPA. This reception awards and recognizes these students with the assistance of Deans and Vice Presidents of academic colleges. It is presented by Residence Life and Student Housing along with Altshuler Learning Enhancement Center.


This article was published on: Aug 28, 2018