Advice From College Counselors: How to Succeed in College

College counselors wish they could talk to every college student, but since there are an average of 1500 students for every college counselor in America, many students will never talk to one. I asked college counselors what they wish they could tell students. Here is their advice:

Tour campus.

Before you choose a college, take a college tour. Jolyn Brand of Brand College Consulting says, “Students need to picture themselves on campus and start discovering preferences: campus size, proximity to a large city, weather, etc.”

Get organized.

If you aren’t naturally organized, make it a priority to learn a system to keep track of information and deadlines. The best system for you will depend on your personality. Some students prefer a paper-based system and others love using an app or other software. The important thing is that you choose something you will actually use.

Advice From College Counselors

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Study enough.

Students underestimate how much work it is to take a full course load and then when they perform poorly, they may become anxious and depressed or erroneously conclude they aren’t “smart enough” for college. The rule of thumb for studying outside the classroom is 2-3 hours per week for every credit hour. If you are studying less than that, redesign your study plan.

Go to Career Services.

A Gallup survey found that students who visited their school’s career services office and found it “Very Helpful” were 5.8x more likely to say their university prepared them well for life after college. Jessica Campbell of the Rice Center for Career Development says, “I wish that students knew that they should be plugging into career services early. There’s sometimes a misperception that students should have it all figured out before they walk through our door. They don’t realize how many resources we have to help them wherever they are in the process.”

Get support.

In addition to Career Services, your student services fee pays for a huge array of other support services that would likely cost thousands more if purchased on their own. There are usually departments dedicated to instruction in study skills and time management, tutoring in diverse subjects, technology assistance, and health (both physical and mental). Take advantage of all of it.

Meet professors.

Your professors are a wealth of information and valuable people to know for the future. Instead of hiding in the back of the class and staring at your laptop during lectures, try to become acquainted with them. Volunteer to help them with their research, become a teaching assistant, or join an organization they mentor. You are likely going to need letters of recommendation and professors are a great source for this.

Be open to possibilities.

Angela Funke of Talk Therapy Austin says, “Keep your mind open to career options, especially if you are coming from a small high school. There are vast possibilities that may be new to you. Don’t just do what your family and friends think you should do because that can set you up for a lot of potential dissatisfaction in the future. Choose a college based on where you can see yourself learning and growing because that will magnify the quality of your education.”

Change your major if you wish to do so.

There is no one magic major that that guarantees a good job and career satisfaction. The best major for you is one that fits your aptitudes, personality, interests, and values. It will probably take some effort to figure out what this is and it will take some experimentation with different paths. Most students change majors more than once. EAB research found that changing majors increases the probability of graduating and if the change is made within the first three years of study, it has little to no effect on the average time it takes students to complete their degree.

Manage stress.

Find a way to manage stress that doesn’t have self-harming side effects. Think meditation, yoga, exercise, counseling, or a fun hobby rather than excessive alcohol, drugs, or partying in risky situations.

Get job experience.

Employers like to hire graduates with relevant on-the-job experience gained through internships and/or part-time employment. If they have a choice between someone with a 3.5 GPA and professional experience vs. a 4.0 GPA and no professional experience, most of them would prefer the former.

Explain FERPA to parents.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education. Because of FERPA, a parent cannot call a school and ask questions of the staff about a student.

Develop independence.

Once you reach college age, it isn’t appropriate for a parent to call professors or employers on your behalf. College counselors think of this as helicopter parenting and believe it increases a student’s level of anxiety and depression.

Since college is expensive in terms of time, money, and lost income, most people want to ensure that there is a good return on investment. These strategies from college counselors can help to ensure that the decision to attend college is a smart one.

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