Five Sure-Fire Ways to Fail at College Part 3

Mistake #4: Attending college because of the shoulds

The shoulds can be dangerous. These sneaky set of rationales can include thoughts such as I should go to college because my family told me to or I should go to college because I’m not sure what else to do, or I should overpay for college because the more expensive institution has a really attractive campus and I like their logo sweatshirt. Unless a desire to go to college is coming from within, you will be hard-pressed to make good on your commitment when the going gets tough.

Consider the college shoulds the motivational equivalent of purchasing a year-long gym membership but only going to the gym twice. On paper, it looks like a good idea, but internally, since you aren’t doing it for yourself and your own dreams, you’ll only half-heartedly commit to staying the course. It takes a serious personal commitment to go back to college and motivation from deep within to follow through to graduation.

The going, at some point or other, will get tough while earning your degree. There will be conflicting demands on your time. Unless you’re completely on board with the expense required and internally motivated to earn your college degree, you will find yourself using your time doing other things, such as worrying about your finances and wondering how you failed yet another class.

Don’t kid yourself about where the source of motivation comes from to go to college: you must find it within or it just won’t work out. College is real work. Classwork will take longer than you think. In fact, most universities recommend that students study at least two hours outside of class for every hour spent in class, although some recommend more.7

The fact that your family thinks you should go to college or that really sweet new logo sweatshirt won’t be able to magically give you the time and ability to do well in your classes. In fact, there is a good chance the shoulds will show you the shortcut right out of school and into a load of unmanageable debt.

Mistake #5: Finishing your easiest assignment first and procrastinating the rest

Success in college and time management go hand-in-hand. On the flip side, procrastination and stress can quickly derail your college dreams.

There is a long held philosophy in time management resting on the shoulders of literary icon Mark Twain. Twain proposed, “eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”8 In other words, do your hardest, or least enjoyable task first. Most likely, this hardest task is also your most important task, the one that matters most, and by default, causes you the most stress when left undone. Unfortunately, these tasks are the ones stressed students are most likely to put to the side when they feel better prepared to tackle them.

The truth is, you’ll probably never have the optimal amount of energy or feel like tackling a tough task head on when there is an endless supply of alternative work to occupy your study time, especially if you are a working mom or serving in the military while pursuing your degree . You just have to make a habit of eating that frog first: knowing what degree of priority a task is and committing to doing those first-degree tasks first. Write that paper that’s been lingering, do that research you’ve been worried about, finish that presentation you have been dreading -- and do them at the beginning of your study time. Doing so, you’ll have finished something important just as other people are thinking about getting started. Apply this do-now attitude over the course of a year, and you’ll be successfully racking up those college credits , getting that much closer to graduation.

You can succeed in higher education

With proper planning and thoughtfulness, you can avoid making mistakes on your route to a higher education. Be on the right side of the statistics: Approximately 57 percent of first-time students who sought a bachelor’s degree and enrolled at a 4-year institution full time in fall 2002 completed a bachelor’s degree at that institution within 6 years.9 You can earn your degree as well.

Yes, there are pitfalls when it comes to choosing and paying for a college. Be sure you to look at your schedule, your lifestyle, your goals -- and be honest with yourself about where the desire to go back to college comes from. You owe it to yourself to achieve your educational dream. It is doable. There are many ways to successfully take your college courses, earn your degree, and not be overrun by student debt. Remain mindful, you do have options.

7 Virginia Tech, Cook Counseling Center, How many hours a week do I need for studying, 2011


9 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2011). The Condition of Education 2011 (NCES 2011-033), Indicator 23.

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