How To Succeed In College

How to Succeed in College

It is oftentimes said that college is three parts academics, one part alcohol. But truth be told, the formula for succeeding in college begins with selecting the correct institution and then the correct major.

Choosing a college is like choosing a friend. And even if at age 17 or18 a young man does not know what he wants or needs from a university, he should at least know what he does not want. Things such as size, location, reputation, academic offerings, student body diversity, reliable public transportation services, access to off-campus life, an international airport, etc., all figure significantly in student-institution compatibility.

If choosing a college can be likened to choosing whom to befriend, then choosing a major is like falling in love or finding a soul mate. There are few things more depressing than seeing a young man halfheartedly devote himself to a field of study in which he lacks genuine interest. It is like witnessing a dying man digging his own grave, or a goldfish poured from its fishbowl into the salty ocean. On the other hand, a young man studying what he loves—regardless of what that course of study may be, be it theater or chemistry or literature or archaeology or equine studies, for example—is like an eagle on its perch, about to take to flight, or a flower ready to erupt into full bloom. A student should love his major; and he should be naturally good at it. (The litmus test for whether a young man is pursuing the correct course of study is whether he is able to obtain the highest grades possible when he invests the appropriate effort. Conversely, if even after investing time and energy he cannot attain the best allowable grade, he is probably pursuing the wrong major, for a man should be excellent at his chosen profession). A young man pursuing the correct course of study is a man full of life and joy and hope and dreams. He is as a young man should be: happy. In his soul, despite the uncertainties of the future, he feels confident and destined for success. He is cognizant of the flame of ambition burning bright within his chest. And his optimism is infectious; he attracts other ambitious students into his circle of friends. They inspire each other, each bringing the unique attributes of his person and his academic discipline to the table for a feast of ideas that will forever nourish their lives. Instinctively, they know that if they do what they love, success and financial reward will follow. (See chapter, “How to Select a Career”).

But even so, succeeding in college requires discipline. For a student, his “job” is studying. Knowledge and grades are his performance evaluation. Tuition is his “investment,” and success (as he defines it) and happiness are the returns on that investment. A young man, then, should insist upon getting his money’s worth from his college or university—the way he would insist upon getting his money’s worth at the supermarket. Cost-per-credit is most objectively realized with knowledge and good grades. A young man receives his money’s worth from a course that costs $1,500 when he earns the highest possible grade in that course and emerges from it with invaluable knowledge. To do otherwise would be the equivalent of, for example, prepaying $100 for groceries but leaving the supermarket with only $75 worth of groceries. No sensible young man would knowingly do that!

But when it comes to “making the grade,” there are some tricks of the trade:

-Class schedule, to the extent possible, should fall within a young man’s most productive hours—taking into consideration fatigue from long hours of studying, partying, part-time jobs, and socializing. [Classes that convene before 10:00 a.m., and after 2:00 p.m., are known to prove problematic for many students on account of fatigue].

-Reading assignments should be read and outlined (summarized) in a notebook designated for the course before the corresponding lecture such that the lecture can serve as reinforcement of the pre-read material, an opportunity to seek clarification, and a time to ask probing questions.

-Weekends and vacations should be used effectively—to rest, but also to catch up and get ahead of assignments. Before socializing on Friday nights, for example, a young man, after resting after his final class of the week, should invest several hours into his studies before beginning his weekend-socializing. Saturday afternoons and early evenings should be spent studying. And studying all day Sunday, from morning time until evening, is a good idea. Early retirement on Sunday evening—instead of “pulling an all-nighter” to catch up for a weekend spent partying—allows a gentleman a good night’s sleep such that he can start his school week refreshed and prepared. Because of the formidable demands of college courses, falling significantly behind can prove overwhelming; it can cast a pall over a semester. And if falling behind becomes habitual, it can ruin the college experience. College is much more fun and uplifting when students are excelling at their primary task: studying and receiving good results.

-Studying in advance allows a gentleman to think about what he has read and studied, thereby enhancing his ability to learn and then apply the material.

-Academic papers should be written sufficiently in advance such that they may be critically reread and improved before final submission.

-A young man for whom academic excellence is important should associate himself with similarly minded students. It is difficult for a young man to maintain academics as his priority if his cadre of friends is primarily comprised of socialites. A gentleman interested in attending graduate or professional school will need good undergraduate grades. He should associate himself with students with similar aspirations.

-It is of paramount importance that a young man lay a solid foundation for his grade-point average (GPA) during his first and second years of his university studies. (Thereafter, it becomes increasingly difficult for any one or even two semesters of good grades to make any significant impact on overall GPA. A gentleman, therefore, to the extent possible during his first two years, should select courses in which he is likely to excel. Then in his third and fourth years, as he becomes more acclimated to the demands of college, should engage the more rigorous, challenging courses knowing that he has some buffer built into his solid GPA foundation).

Success in college also entails a sense of belonging. A young man must feel welcomed and at home at his college or university. One’s school is affectionately referred to as “alma mater,” Latin for “nourishing or dear mother,” for good reason: One’s school should be a haven. University admissions officers are experts at selecting students with the right qualifications and characteristics. Acceptance at a college or university, then, is testament to a student’s right to be at that institution.

Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action, from its inception, has been as venerated as vilified, reasonable minds differing over the fairness and efficacy of the initiative. But to disparage the noble objectives of Affirmative Action—in its various manifestations and appellations worldwide (“Reservation” in India and Nepal and “Positive Action” in the United Kingdom, for example)—requires either a gross misunderstanding or a deliberate misrepresentation of the initiative. Setting aside the arguably nebulous, feel-good, socio-centric arguments of “fostering diversity,” “rectifying past and systematic discrimination,” and “mismatching,” Affirmative Action withstands even the strictest of scrutiny on purely rational grounds.

Within the context of academia, Affirmative Action correctly recognizes that standardized exams—currently the most objective, even if not the best, indicator of applicants’ academic achievements—are more measures of “knowledge” than of “intelligence,” and that knowledge is more a factor of environment and exposure than of intelligence. Furthermore, intelligence trumps knowledge: colleges and universities are more interested in students’ native intelligence than in their pre-admissions knowledge since those institutions recognize that provided that a student is equipped with a proper academic foundation, it is the institutions’ responsibility to cultivate knowledge the intelligent minds of their students. In other words, “Bring us your intelligence, and we will supply you with knowledge.”

The notion that Affirmative Action gives certain students an unfair advantage over certain other students is unfounded. To the contrary, in order to foster fairness in the admissions process, a balance between knowledge and intelligence is sought, allowing admissions specialists to take the test scores of standardized exams and interpret them vis-à-vis knowledge-impacting environmental factors so at to be able to extrapolate the more important intelligence component: What would the students who attended the nation’s best grade schools and high schools; were raised in homes by university-educated parents; had full, 24/7 access to computers, the internet, and other learning material at home; broadened their minds by employment and travel, sometimes internationally, each summer; were exposed to foreign language courses since grade school and spent a semester abroad in high school in order to hone their language skills; and scored a perfect 1600 on the SATs, what would those students—with those very same brains in their heads—have scored on those very same standardized exams had they gone to substandard inner-city schools, been raised by parents who never went to college, did not grow up in a home filled with books and other learning devices, had to work after school at the local fast-food restaurant in order to contribute to the family’s finances, and had access, only during “study hall,” to a library since the neighborhood library is inadequate and closes at the end of the business day? A score of 1200? And what would the students from the underprivileged circumstances who score 1200 have scored had they, with those same brains in their heads, had access to the knowledge-inducing resources of the privileged students? A score of 1600? Affirmative Action—rightfully so—allows admissions professionals to consider whether those two scores are representative of persons of equal intellect. Where is the unfairness in that? It is the equivalent of an athletic coach taking into consideration the time of a half-trained, barefoot, 100-meter sprinter versus a fully trained, fully equipped 100-meter sprinter when considering which one would ultimately perform better, all things equal, or which one possesses the greater sprinting potential.

Where Affirmative Action becomes unfair is in the few, under-the-radar instances when privileged applicants are assessed as if they are underprivileged or disadvantaged, and when underprivileged or disadvantaged applicants are assessed as if they are privileged, thereby compounding other long-established unfair admissions policies such as “legacy admissions” and the “Old-Boy Network” where applicants, typically privileged ones, are afforded “special consideration” in the admissions process.

The word “quota,” too, has long sent unjustified chills up and down the spines of majority-population applicants and critics of Affirmative Action who misunderstand—oftentimes deliberately—how and when quotas are imposed. Quotas, rightfully, acknowledge the fundamental equality of all of humanity—regardless of race, gender, color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, political ideology, culture, gender affiliation, national origin, etc. As such, quotas are used as a last-resort device to systematically repair blatant under-representation of certain disadvantaged groups despite their demographics, the logical presumption being that unbiased admissions policies would reflect a student body consistent with the overall population.


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