How to succeed in college: Part 3

Last week when I announced on Facebook and LinkedIn that I was starting a series of blog posts on how to succeed in college, one of my FB friends, Jane King Andrews, immediately wrote a comment. This NCSU English Department did a terrific job of demonstrating that she learned to write concisely in college:

“Show up. Sit in the front row. Try not to text. Ask a question. Answer a question. Go home, sleep, drink, eat, read, watch Netflix. Write the paper. Staple it. Show up again. Lather, rinse, repeat.” 

Let’s think a bit deeper about what Jane had to say, and how these same activities can help you succeed in work and life as well as in college.

Show up. This semester, on the second day that my class met, three students didn’t show up. They didn’t tell me they weren’t going to show up, and they didn’t contact me afterwards to tell me why they weren’t there. Okay, two of them eventually did—after I sent a reminder to everyone in the class that if you miss two classes, you fail. But neither of them had a “good” excuse or even bothered to exert the energy to make one up—one forgot and one was sleeping (my class meets at 4:30 in the afternoon). While I will try not to hold their early absence against them, you can be sure that if they don’t show up for work, the employer is not only going to notice, it’s unlikely that they will continue to have a job! They need to learn to show up—on time, every time (and so do you if you don’t already do so and want a shot at success)!Sit in the front row. Why? There are fewer distractions if you’re sitting in the front row. It also demonstrates to the teacher that you’re interested in what’s going to be happening in the front of the room! Not everyone can sit in the front, but if you get there a few minutes early, there’s a good chance you can. Also, if you sit in the front, the teacher is likely to notice you, learn your name, remember who you are…and, if you do well, write you a good recommendation some day. You may not be able to sit in the front row at work, but you can volunteer to do things that other people don’t want to do (which is the equivalent action!). Accepting responsibility for tasks that go above and beyond your normal duties is a good way to stand out, and possibly improve your chances when time comes for someone to get a promotion.

Try not to text. I would change this to “Don’t text!” If you can’t keep yourself from texting for the length of a class, there better be a significant emergency going on in your life for which you are the responsible party. And we know when you’re texting—your lap just isn’t that interesting. Texting in class is an intrusion of your personal life into a space that isn’t personal—and you want to keep your personal life out of your work life, too. There are always going to be times when the two intertwine—your mother (or your child) needs to go to the doctor, you were in a car accident, a close friend or family member dies—but to the best of your ability, keep the two separate.

Ask a question. When you ask a question, two things happen. (1) You learn something that you didn’t know, and (2) the teacher learns that you care about the subject at hand. You’ve given it some thought. You want to know more. You can ask questions at work, too—especially when you are new or have been given a new task. Asking questions in those situations shows that you want to do the job well. Just learn when to ask, who to ask, and what to ask. (Perhaps this would be a good blog topic for the future!)

Answer a question. Contributing to class discussions show that you have been paying attention, that you’ve done your homework, that you’re willing to share what you have learned with your classmates, and that you have the always important ability to communicate orally in a group setting. At work, there may be times when you know how to do something that others don’t or you have ideas that will improve productivity or efficiency. Sharing your ideas is just being a good employee. Having the confidence and ability to do so can only help in your career.

Go home, sleep, drink, eat, read, watch Netflix. In other words, take care of yourself! Whether you’re in school or at work, you’re not going to do well if you’re tired or hungry or you’ve been so focused on work that you haven’t had a chance to relax a bit. Allow yourself some time for fun—for Jane, that’s reading and watching Netflix. For others it could be playing tennis or watching basketball. Whatever it is that helps you recharge your batteries, make sure you allow time for it every week.

Write the paper.  Do your work. It’s just that simple (although often the task may not be that simple). If you have an assignment, you have a responsibility. Make sure you fulfill your responsibilities.

Staple it.  Well, I would change this one to “Submit it.” It’s been years since I’ve asked a student to use paper for an assignment, but I think Jane’s point is to pay attention to details. Back when I did accept paper, I found it really annoying when a student handed me a stack of loose pages—often without numbers. And I can’t count the number of times students unknown to me have stopped by my office to ask if they can use my stapler. While I applaud their attention to detail, BUY A STAPLER if you’re going to need one. So whatever it is you’re doing, make sure the person who needs it gets what he or she needs in a form that is complete, professional, and immediately usable.

Show up again. And again, and again. While you never get a chance to re-do your first impression, you can dramatically change that impression, for the better OR for the worse!

Lather, rinse, repeat. Yep, that’s what life is all about. Do it over. In school, you do it over for the number of weeks of the term. And then you get to start over with a whole new set of courses. At work, you do it over for as long as you have that job. If you’re lucky, every day brings new challenges and new accomplishments, and you not only don’t mind going to work, you enjoy it. If you’re not lucky, and the job is a humdrum rut, well, it’s probably time for a new job—and getting one without the skills and mindset Jane advocates will be so much harder!