Spend most of your time doing A-student activities.
But seriously, what percentage of your time are you spending on A-student activities, such as:
Writing an essay
Editing an essay
Reading a textbook
Reviewing a textbook
Getting to class early
Meeting with a professor
Going to the tutoring center
Studying with friends
Putting together a study group
Reading about college success on a blog or book
Asking advice from a good student
Asking advice from someone who has a job or a life you'd like one day
Asking advice from a professor
I read lots of books over the winter break, and this year there was one concept that stood out above the rest (it kind of reminded me of those weird grainy pictures in the 90s that you held your eyes up to for 60 seconds and then, when you slowly backed away, you could see a 3D image of dolphins and such...this was a thing, I swear. I'm not crazy.)
The concept? FOCUS. Figure out what you want, and then focus the MAJORITY of your time and energy on that thing.
So simple and yet so difficult. Why? Because we have so much going on. I KNOW you have so much going on. I taught a College Success class last semester and my students had so much going on.
But unfortunately you don't get As for trying.
You get As for dedicating the majority of your time to your goal.
Maybe your goal isn't As? Maybe it's just learning. Doing well? Graduating college? Getting a certain job. Getting OUT of a certain job. Excellent! Wonderful! Getting As doesn't actually have to be your goal. I don't decide your goals, you get to do that.
But I imagine you would like to get better grades (and graduate college successfully) or you wouldn't be reading this, so keeping that in mind, here is what I want you to try (and you can do this with any other goal as well):
Download a stopwatch app on your phone and set it every time you start one of the A-student activities above (or any activity that moves you closer to your goal, either directly (e.g. studying) or indirectly (e.g. reading a book about how to succeed in college)).
Just time yourself (don't judge yourself). It won't be fun, I hate tracking things like this, but I know it works so I force myself to do it any way.
If you don't want to track in real time, just consider how much time you spent on the activities above, on average, during any given week last semester.
Notice how much time you're spending on college outside of class. If getting good grades and graduating successfully is a priority for you (and it must be if you're going to make it) then you should be spending more time doing this than almost anything else in your life.
There's no magic percentage, but I'd say shoot for spending 51% or more of your waking hours doing activities that move you towards your top goal (do sleep; please, sleep).
If you find you're not spending the majority of your waking hours on your top goal, find a way to change that. Easier said than done, I know. But vital. Don't skip this.
College isn't something that works well on the side. To do it well in this competitive world, it must be a full time job, a real priority. That might mean you have to have two proverbial full time jobs. If that's you, hats off to you. I've seen it done, but only by the most dedicated people I've ever seen. So keep that in mind.
Just because college must be a full time job doesn't literally mean you have to go full time, as I know many of you have work obligations and family obligations that make four to five classes plus study time unrealistic for you (but if you can make it happen I do recommend it).
Just do not make the mistake of ONLY making time in your calendar for the time listed on your official class schedule. College should never only show up in your calendar as "MWF 9am-9:50am."
You can't just make time for class.
(You don't have a calendar or planner you say? Get one! Seriously. Please. Do it for me. Just kidding; do it for you. Your beautiful brain needs to be free to study - do not make it hold onto all your important dates and reminders and tasks. Google Calendar and Asana are my personal favorite productivity tools.)
If you can't also schedule two hours of study time each week (time where you can be alone and FULLY focused on school) for every hour you have in your official class schedule then chances are it will be very difficult for you to get the grades you are actually capable of.
Consider how you've spent your time so far in college (or in high school if you are just about to start college for the first time). Don't judge yourself. Just think about it. Ponder. What percentage of time, would you guess, are you really spending on your goal? And then journal. Finish the following sentences:
I'm going to college because...
I want to get good grades in college because...
College is my priority because...
To improve my grades, I need to spend more time...
To free up more time, I need to stop...
Before you make any changes, consider WHY college is important to you at all. Almost no one cares about the physical piece of paper you get when you graduate or a letter grade. But we DO care about things like providing for our family, learning, growing, achieving, helping people, etc. WHY are you doing this? Write that down somewhere and post it where you can read it every morning.
Then, focus the majority of your time and energy on that. Work at it every day, not for the grade itself, but for your overall, personal reason for being in college, whatever that may be. You must have such a reason, because no one wants to spend a majority of their time on something that doesn't connect to something that truly matters to them in their personal life.
To succeed in college you must focus on building your skills, growing, and becoming better. For some of you that may be a goal in and of itself, and that's great! But if it's not, then figure out your real reason. Maybe it's for your 6-year-old son. Maybe it's to qualify for your dream job. Maybe it's so you never work in retail another day in your life. Maybe it's so you can have opportunities to pay it forward to those who sacrificed so much so that you could go to college.
Those are all real reasons I've heard before. I've heard many - all different, all beautiful. The only thing that's been the same is the passion and energy behind the reason. When they tell you, you can feel the fire in their eyes. You can see the time. The energy. The hard work. The dedication. The persistence. It's THEIR reason. THEIR dream. And they're not going to give up.
What's your reason? The reason that will make spending more than half of your time on college worth it to you? Maybe even fun. The reason that will keep you getting up after every time you fall. The reason that will help you say, after each failure, "what other strategy can I try" instead of "I give up."
Figure out your reason for getting good grades, your reason for going to college. YOUR reason. Write it. Swim in it. Read it every day. And then let it motivate you to spend the majority of your time focusing on your goal.
I've seen tremendous community college success stories. I've also seen and read about the failures. I don't consider the people failures. But they weren't able to reach their goal. They had barriers, for sure, but so have those who have succeeded, sometimes many more. What's the difference?
Here is what I've learned:
The lower you start on the ladder of power and privilege, the more you have to really want a college degree in order for it to become a reality. You have to be hungry. Really hungry.
It's not fair. But it's the reality as I see it today. And my ultimate goal with this blog is not to tell you how the system should be, but to help you thrive in whatever it happens to be today, however imperfect.
Community college only works if you really want it.
Community college is an incredible opportunity. But it won't "happen" to you just by walking on campus. Community college is a stage, ready for you to play, to imagine, to dream, and to work. You are the actor. The main event.
You can also think of community college as a field. You are the player. And you don't become a great athlete by standing on a pitchers mound. You have to pitch. Often. You have to practice. You have to play the game. Over and over. And you can't do it alone.
You can't just sign up for community college classes and hope to be a college graduate.
It requires so much more.
But here's the thing. I think you can do it. How do I know? You read this entire article. You've got what it takes.
Do you want this? Really want this? Awesome. Now just put your time where your mouth is. (Wait, that sounds weird. Don't eat a clock. Just, ugh, you know what I'm trying to say.) ;)