Wednesday, April 30, 2014

5 things to help you succeed in remedial college courses

I recently learned about an incredible 5-million-dollar College Success Prize being offered by the Robin Hood Foundation to an individual or team that can create a scalable and innovative solution to help more more students in remedial courses graduate successfully. 

And while I'm not in the tech-creation business, I was deeply inspired by the ethos of this prize, and it spurred me to get closer to the remedial experience.

I reached out to some professors in my local area a few weeks ago and recently sat down with them; I also observed a remedial math course and worked closely with a student on her math program. 

Whether you're currently getting through remedial courses, or you just found out that you've been placed in remedial courses and you're freaking out, I wanted to share with you what I learned. 

Below are five things you REALLY should do to help ensure you're one of the ones who succeed in remedial courses:

1) Frame it as a chance to grow your brain
Some students feel like being placed on remedial classes is a failure. I want you to know it is NOT. It is a chance. It is an opportunity. And only those who see it as such will succeed. 

Realize that this is your shot and you are going to have the opportunity to grow your brain, learn, get smarter, and prepare for college-level courses. 

Being in remedial courses DOES NOT MEAN YOU'RE NOT SMART! It just means you need a refresher, need to make up for either lost time or maybe time in high school where you just weren't at the right place in your life to be able to focus in the way you're ready to focus now.

I HIGHLY recommend you read Mindset by Carol Dweck to learn more about how your understanding of your capacity for learning and growth can affect your success. 

Also, realize that you are awesome. 

The professors I met said students in their classes were HEROES. Literally, that is the word they used. 

They, like me, see you as someone with grit, perseverance, someone who wants to do more with their life. This is your chance to change your life. Embrace it as such, with a positive attitude. 

2) Latch on
I asked one professor what successful students in remediation were doing. She said the successful ones "latched on" to something. 

Whether it was a professor, a campus club, or another mentor in the college community, she said they were the ones who DID NOT just go to class and go home. 

I was thrilled to hear this because it's what my book is all about!

Meet with your professors the FIRST week of class during their office hours. Ask them questions like "what are the qualities you've seen in the students who are really successful in your class; how much time a week do you think I should be spending on this outside of class; is there a former student of yours who'd be willing to talk to me to share their advice; do you have any advice on anything I should get involved in outside of class?"

Do not just go to class and go home. Break the cycle, get out of your comfort zone, and get to know your college community. It's not just a "nice" thing to do - it's vital. 

3) Read college success books
Knowing how to learn and be successful in college is a course in itself (literally, most colleges have a "college success" class - take it!!) But even with courses you should still do a TON of self-learning to get on track and get up to speed on what it takes to succeed in college.

The great news is that the knowledge is out there - every secret and strategy for succeeding in college is out there. You just have to have the dedication to read it. 

My favorite books to start with are How to Win at College and How to Become a Straight-A Student by Cal Newport, as well as of course my book Community College Success!

College is HARD and requires A LOT of work and dedication outside of class. The amount of time, dedication, and outside work you do now while in remediation can pay off BIG time when it comes to your future.   

4) Go to the career center
Sometimes when you start in remediation it can make you feel behind, make you feel like your career outside of classes is so far away. But now is the time to start thinking about WHY you're in remediation. WHY is all this work actually worth it to you and your life?

A really compelling and exciting reason is the only thing that's going to get you through and propel you to keep doing all the extra work necessary to succeed in remediation and in college. 

Visit your college's career center (check the website or ask your professor if you aren't sure where their office is) and ask a career advice what career assessments they offer. Take the tests and begin to explore career options (I also really like 

Ask the career counselor for advice as you narrow down your interests. Then, when you think you know your career path go straight to your academic advisor to map out a plan after remediation (including a four-year plan if you want to transfer on and get a bachelor's degree).

Visit your transfer university. Read about your major. Do whatever it takes to get EXCITED about what comes after remediation. 

Last October I had to study for the GRE (again) to try to raise my math scores to apply to Harvard. I literally studied the ENTIRE month of October (at least 40 hours/week) to re-teach myself tons of math concepts I had long forgotten. 

It was HARD. It was boring. It was frustrating. BUT - I did it. I hung in there. Why? Because the potential reward (getting into Harvard) was worth it to me. And even though I didn't make it all the way to the Harvard program, I did raise my math score to Harvard-levels and did make it to the top 50 applicants and was flown to Boston to interview; I was so proud of that. 

You have to have a goal. Make finding out your burning reason for wanting to do this the most important thing right now. 

5) Go the extra mile
Doing the bare minimum will not work in any college course, but especially remediation. Your goal should not be just to "get by" or "get through" your courses. It should be to LEARN the material, to grow your brain, to get smarter so that you can succeed even more in the next course you take. 

Do things that no one else in your class is doing. Meet with the professor often. Spend extra time on your assignments. Focus on the things you don't get and keep working them until you get it.

Go to the tutoring center and work in the library every day. 

Read books outside of class. Talk to successful students. Form study groups. Join a club. Prioritize school over work. Get involved. 

Study. Study. Study. 


And finally, remember, you are a hero. You are not stopping. You are not giving up. You are taking ownership of your education. That is something you should be SO PROUD of. 

There is a whole college behind you, wishing your success. Why do you think The Robin Hood Foundation is putting out a 5-million-dollar College Success Prize to help students like you?

Because we all believe in your potential. Your college and community are trying to figure out the best ways to support you. But you also have to do your part. 

The best news? You're so capable. You've gotten yourself this far, right? And you read this entire blog post. That tells me you're basically the coolest student who's ever lived. 

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