What makes a good college student? Here are the qualities all college students should seek to improve on or work towards developing in order to be successful in college.
College is undoubtedly challenging.
From having to balance classwork, extracurriculars, part-time work, and a social life, it would seem that being a well-rounded college student is nearly impossible.
But looking on social media or talking to your friends, there always seems to be a few standout college students. Meaning, college students who seem to have it altogether.
They have good grades, they don’t appear stressed, and they even manage to have time to enjoy themselves on the weekend with friends.
So what sets these students apart? What are they doing differently than you? And, more importantly, what can you do to become a more successful student?
In this blog post, I’ll be sharing 17 qualities of a successful college student. And hopefully by reading over this list you can get inspired to start implementing these habits of successful students into your own routine.
*This post may contain affiliate links. Purchasing a product or service through an affiliate will earn me a small commission at no additional cost to you. Please read our Disclaimer Policy for more information about the use of affiliate links on this site.
What does it mean to be a successful student?
Before we begin, we need to define what it means to be a successful college student.
At the end of the day, success is whatever you want it to be.
Whether that is…
- Getting the highest grade in a class
- Holding leadership roles in clubs and extracurriculars
- Publishing research as an undergraduate
- Graduating early
- Graduating with honors
- Keeping your GPA above a 3.5
- Or a combination of things….
But being a successful student does not mean being a perfect student.
Being a “perfect” student can be quite toxic, and as a recovering perfectionist myself, I can assure you that perfectionism is not what you want to strive for.
Instead, a successful student is one who:
- Is realistic with their goals
- Has their priorities in order
- Makes time for work, play, and relaxation
- Holds themselves accountable
- Strives to do their best within their capabilities
We will expand on these 5 ideas by talking about 17 habits of successful college students. And again, hopefully you can reflect on these 17 items and take action on improving yourself for the better.
17 qualities of a successful college student
1. They think ahead
Good college students are always thinking at least two steps ahead. Whether that is thinking about what classes to take next semester or how to plan out the next few days of their lives.
They also always have a plan if something goes wrong.
For example, if their computer suddenly crashed, they already have their files backed up on a hard drive and ready to access at any given moment.
Some of these students may even have a comprehensive study plan they created the first day of the new semester to help guide them through the entire semester.
To become more of a forward thinker, simply start using a planning system on a regular basis. Whether it is digital or paper, find a system that works for you.
Write down all of your deadlines or due dates and set at least one day per week, like on a Sunday evening, to plan out your week.
If you’ve tried out the whole agenda thing before and it wasn’t for you or you had a hard time keeping up with it, I would recommend trying out bullet journaling instead.
Bullet journaling is a more flexible planning system where you literally take a blank notebook, like this one, and organize it in a way to fits with how your mind works.
I’ve been able to keep up with bullet journaling a lot better than agenda, and I’d highly recommend it if you feel limited or unable to commit to a full-fledged agenda system.
2. They are realistic
A successful college student, again, does not strive for perfection.
Instead, they know themselves very well, and therefore, are realistic about their capabilities.
For example, a successful college student doesn’t try to take the maximum number of credit hours each semester in order to graduate early or on-time if they fell behind one semester.
Instead, they understand that they are personally not capable of handing 6-7 classes and they take their normal amount of credit hours.
Or, a successful college student won’t necessarily strive for all A’s.
Although A’s are the golden standard in academics, an A is not the end-all-be-all in college and they don’t determine success in the real-world. And students who are successful understand this concept.
So instead of only striving for A’s, a good college student would just simply try their best and work as hard as they can within their capabilities. And then if they do happen to get an A, it will be like a “bonus.”
3. They never miss a due date
Every successful college student knows how important each assignment grade is whether it is a 5 point syllabus quiz or a test worth 30% of their grade. And they also know how missing a due date could lead to serious point deductions or even an infamous borderline grade.
Because of this, they are mindful of deadlines and are always reviewing their study plan each week to make sure they are turning in assignments on-time or making enough time to study for a quiz or a test.
4. They take advantage of extra practice or extra credit assignments
Successful college students never turn down the opportunity to get extra practice in or to earn extra credit towards their overall grade.
It’s what helps them keep their grades (typically) high, like A’s or B’s, and be more confident on assessments.
If you aren’t already taking advantage of these two opportunities, then you seriously need to reconsider how you are spending your time!
College professors rarely hand out extra credit, so take it when you can.
Also, if you are taking any type of math or STEM class always do extra practice whether it is for extra credit or not.
Doing extra practice problems can only help you become more proficient in the math or technical skills, and you never know if a similar question may pop up on the next quiz or test.
5. They are advocates for their education
As a college student, you may often feel small compared to your professors or upperclassmen who seem to have it all figured out. As a result, this may make it hard for you to ask for help when needed or even challenge a grade you received.
However, if you want to be a successful college student, then you need to become an advocate for your own education.
- Asking questions even if you feel like it’s a stupid question
- Bringing up incorrect grading on a test, quiz, or paper
- Reporting violations of academic integrity
- Filling out end-of-the-semester course evaluations
6. They hold themselves accountable
Successful college students do not blame others, like their professors, for their shortcomings if they truly were the ones who did not meet expectations.
For instance, many students often say things like:
- “The professor didn’t even teach us what was on the test!”
- “The professor must hate me!”
- “The professor doesn’t know what they’re doing.”
- “The professor didn’t give us enough time.”
And although at times these points are valid because let’s be honest there are some truly bad professors out there, but if you:
- Didn’t study
- Crammed the night before
- Didn’t attend class
- Didn’t actively participate in class
- Didn’t attend the review sessions
- Didn’t do your homework
- Didn’t ask questions
- Didn’t do the extra credit assignment
Then there is probably a reason why you got the bad grade (and it wasn’t because of what your professor did).
Any successful student will own up to their mistakes and shortcomings. And then they will strategize how to improve for the next assessment or assignment.
7. They seek help before they start to struggle
A common mistake that college students make it waiting until it is too late for help. In other words, waiting until finals week to go to a review session or attend office hours.
Opposite of the average college student, a successful college student is able to notice right away or anticipate struggle and will seek out help immediately.
That means going to office hours, finding a tutor on-campus or off-campus, working extra practice problems, or watching online videos to help them get back on track ASAP.
8. They are resourceful with their time
A successful college student rarely, if ever, procrastinates.
Instead, they are tactful with their time and they use their most productive hours of the day for school work and studying.
9. They don’t stretch themselves too thin
Before my mom retired, she was a college professor. And she saw way too often college students who thought they could be, what she called, “superheros.”
Meaning, these college students thought they could (all at the same time):
- Take a full load of classes
- Work full-time
- Do extracurricular activities
- Have a social life
- Get 8 hours of sleep
- Eat 3 well-rounded meals
This is very unrealistic.
And even if there are college students who manage to pull this off gracefully, that doesn’t mean you should.
Successful college students don’t do this because they understand that if they stretch themselves too thin, then something will give. And it most likely will be their grades.
So instead, successful college students set their priorities, but this does require sacrifice.
For instance, these types of students will take 4 classes instead of 5 each semester in order to balance working full-time and being in one club. Or they will adjust their work hours so they can reasonably take 5 classes a semester without burning out.
10. They use effective study strategies
There are wrong and right ways of studying. And successful college students know all the “secrets” to studying effectively.
For example, many college students like typing their lecture notes in class.
And while typing in generally faster and neater, a successful student will actually chose to handwrite their notes and then after class type their handwritten notes up.
Not only does this help solidify the lecture material, but also, handwriting notes allow you to understand the material better because you have to actively process what you are writing rather than passively hitting keys on a keyboard.
Or, many students think that reading their notes over and over again is an effective study strategy. But it really isn’t.
Reading is actually quite passive. So instead, try teaching the test materials to someone else like a roommate or your mom.
If you can teach it, you can understand it. And whatever you can’t teach, that’s a huge red flag that you need to work on understanding that concept better.
11. They take the semester seriously right from the beginning
The first week of the semester is generally referred to as “syllabus week” and it is seen as the easiest or laziest week of the entire semester.
Some college students will use this week to party or as an additional week of summer break.
But successful students will use this week to their advantage.
So, instead of seeing the first week as a chill week, they see it as a week to get all their ducks in a row.
They’ll sit down and plan for the semester, order their textbooks online, and start working ahead on any assignments they can do the first week.
12. They stay focused in class
It is very easy to get distracted in a college class especially if you use your laptop.
However, a successful student will eliminate or remove any distractions and will put all their attention towards their professor and the lecture material for that day.
To help you be less distracted in class try to:
- Not bring your laptop to class and instead handwrite your notes
- Use a browser extension to block websites you get distracted by
- Turn your phone on airplane mode and put it at the bottom of your bookbag
- If you have a smartwatch, also turn it on airplane mode or do not disturb
- Eat before class
- Get a good night’s sleep
13. They seek out opportunities to further their education
A successful college student’s education does not stop once class is over.
Instead, they will seek out valuable experiences to help them further their education and boost their chances of getting into graduate school or getting a well-paying job after college graduation.
Often successful college students:
- Hold leadership positions in clubs
- Are undergraduate teaching assistants (TAs)
- Are undergraduate research assistants (RAs)
- Are peer advisors or tutors
- Are resident assistants
14. They take the lead in group assignments
Group work and group projects in college are always a drag, and successful college students acknowledge this, but instead of just being on the sidelines, they take charge and help lead their group towards success.
So if you ever find yourself doing a group assignment and nothing is getting done, why not take charge?
- Start directing your group members on what to do
- Get your group member’s phone numbers and emails and start a group email or text
- Set up group meeting times at the library
- Hold your group members accountable
15. They are respectful to their professors and classmates
A successful college student is a respectful college student. Why? Because respect pays off, always.
Being a respectful student means:
- Using proper email etiquette
- Using proper discussion board etiquette
- Using proper Zoom classroom etiquette
- Being respectful of professor’s boundaries
- Not publicly insulting your professor or classmates
- Being respectful to other staff and faculty members
16. They are self-motivated
A successful college student doesn’t have to wait for a professor, a friend, or even their mom to motivate them to study for that big test or to start on their research paper. Instead, they are self-motivated and are able to take action without being asked to do so.
How do they gain the motivation?
- They stick to the study plan they created at the beginning of the semester
- They create a weekly and daily schedule and stick to it
- They have set times in their schedule for studying or working on assignments
- They see studying as habit not a chore
- They break down their assignments into manageable pieces
- They create enough leeway in their schedule and study plans so they can miss a day or two and not get behind
- They implement self-care measures to rejuvenate themselves before the next assignment
17. They make time for themselves
To be successful in college, you have to try your best to avoid burnout, especially at the end of the semester.
Successful college students are able to maintain their momentum throughout the entire semester because they understand how to make time for work, play, and relaxation.
If you struggle to find a moment to breathe as a college student, it may be time to reassess your study plan or reduce what you have on your plate.
- Can you reduce your hours at work?
- Can you start on an assignment sooner so you can get it done sooner?
- Can you leave a club temporarily to focus on school work?
- Can you reduce how many days a week you go out to eat with friends?
- Can you stay in one night to study instead of going out and partying?
- Can you temporarily delete your social media apps, so you can be less distracted?
By arranging your priorities where you put college in the forefront, you can make time for play and relaxation afterwards.
But this does require diligent planning and sacrifice on your part.
When I was in college, and even now as a graduate student, I always try to submit my assignments at least a day before the actual due date. Why? Because I want to relax!
So I set an “artificial” deadline for myself, so I can spend time being lazy on the actual due date.
Successful students also have hobbies that are outside of school entirely.
For example they may:
- Go hiking at a local park
- Watch a guilty pleasure movie or TV show
- Read a book for pleasure
- Hang out at a coffee shop with a friend
- Go shopping
- Go out for a run
- Do a puzzle
- Play video games
- Work on a side hustle or passion project
Concluding thoughts on qualities that make a good college student
Ultimately, what makes a successful college student different from the average college student is that they implement habits that compound overtime towards success.
Meaning, they put academics first, starting at the very beginning of the semester, and by the time finals week arrives, they are still in high spirits and ready to tackle whatever challenge comes next.
I hope these 17 qualities of a successful college student I shared with you today inspired you and motivated you to implement some, if not all, of these habits in your college life.
And finally, I wish you nothing but success for the remainder of the semester, next semester, and the rest of your college career. Good luck!
Related posts on how to be a successful college student
- Everything You Need To Know About Summer College Courses
- 11 Strategies To Help Manage Test Anxiety In College
Save this blog post to read or refer back to later by hovering your mouse over the image down below and clicking “save”