Chapter 2: Set Yourself Up for Success


By the end of this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Define what success means to you.
  • Identify campus resources to support your success.
  • Describe the qualities of a successful college student.
  • Understand the principles of academic integrity.
  • Compare and contrast a Growth Mindset vs. a Fixed Mindset.
  • Understand the concept of GRIT and how to apply it to your college success.

What is Success?

Personal Responsibility for Success

A college education is aligned with greater success in many areas of life. While enrolled in college, most students are closely focused on making it through the next class or passing the next test. It can be easy to lose sight of the overall role that education plays in life. But sometimes it helps to recall what a truly great step forward you are taking!

It’s also important to recognize, though, that some students do not succeed in college and drop out within the first year. Sometimes this is due to financial problems or a personal or family crisis. But most of the time students drop out because they’re having trouble passing their courses.

In this section, we examine the elements of college success. Are there patterns of success you strive for but aren’t yet reaching? Where might you shore up your support? What strategies can you use to achieve success in your college endeavors?

Defining Success in College

How do you define college success? The definition really depends on you. You might think that “success” is earning an associate’s degree or attending classes in a four-year college. Maybe success is a bachelor’s or master’s degree or a Ph.D. Maybe success means receiving a certificate of completion or finishing skill-based training.

You might be thinking of other measures of college success, too, like grades. For instance, you might be unhappy with anything less than an A in a course, although maybe this depends on the difficulty of the subject. As long as you pass with a C, you might be perfectly content. But no matter how you define success personally, you probably wouldn’t think it means earning a D or lower grade in a class.

If most students believe that passing a class is the minimum requirement for “success,” and if most students want to be successful in their courses, why aren’t more college students consistently successful in the classroom?

Perhaps some common misconceptions are at play. For example, we often hear students say, “I just can’t do it!” or “I’m not good at math,” or “I guess college isn’t for me.” But, these explanations for success or failure aren’t necessarily accurate. Considerable research into college success reveals that having difficulty in or failing in college courses usually has nothing to do with intellect. More often success depends on how fully a student embraces and masters the following seven strategies:

  1. Learn how to listen actively in class and take effective notes (Chapters 10 and 11).
  2. Review the text and your reading notes prior to class (Chapter 12).
  3. Participate in class discussion and maybe even join a study group (Chapter 10.)
  4. Go to office hours and ask your instructor questions.
  5. Give yourself enough time to research, write, and edit your essays in manageable stages (Chapter 14).
  6. Take advantage of online or on-campus academic support resources (Chapter 2).
  7. Spend sufficient time studying (Chapter 5).

So if you feel you are not smart enough for college, ask yourself if you can implement some of these skills. Overall, students struggle in college, not because of natural intellect or smarts, but because of time management, organization, and lack of quality study time. The good news is that there are ways to combat this, and this course and textbook will help you do just that.

How Grades Play a Role in Shaping Success

In a recent online discussion at a student-support Web site, a college freshman posted the following concern about how serious he should be about getting good grades:

As a first semester freshman, I really have taken my education seriously. I’ve studied and done my homework nightly and have read all of the assignments. So far, I have all A’s in my classes, including calculus and programming. Now, with a month left to go in the semester, I feel myself slipping a bit on my studies. I blow off readings and homework more to go out at night during the week and I’ve even skipped a few classes to attend major sporting events. I also travel most weekends to visit my girlfriend. Still, I’ve gotten A’s on the exams even with these less extensive study habits, although not as high as before. So, my question really is this. Should I just be content with low A’s and B’s and enjoy myself during college, or should I strive to achieve all A’s?

How would you answer this student’s question, given what you know and sense about college life? Grades do matter to your success, right? Or . . . do they? The answer depends on who you ask and what your college and career goals are. Consider these additional factors:

  • Undergraduate grades have been shown to have a positive impact on getting full-time employment in your career in a position appropriate to your degree.
  • Grades also have been shown to have a positive net impact on your occupational status and earnings.
  • Getting good grades, particularly in the first year of college, is important to your academic success throughout your college years.
  • Grades are probably the best predictors of your persistence, your ability to graduate, and your prospects for enrolling in graduate school.

You stand to gain immeasurably when you get good grades.

Your Grade-Point Average (GPA)

Grades may not be the be-all and end-all in college life. But you should pay close attention to the GRPA as it may be important to achieving your future goals.

Your GPA is a calculated average of the letter grades you earn correlated on a 0 to 4.0 or 5.0 scale. Each semester you receive a GPA based on the grades you earned in all of your classes during that semester. You also maintain a cumulative GPA—an ongoing average of all your semester grades beginning with freshman year.

Many institutions provide students with an online GPA calculator. Use the calculator to keep track of where you stand.

Words of Wisdom

It is important to know that college success is a responsibility shared with your institution. Above all, your college must provide you with stimulating classroom experiences that encourage you to devote more time and effort to your learning. Additional institutional factors in your success include the following:

  • High standards and expectations for your performance
  • Assessment and timely feedback
  • Peer support
  • Encouragement and support for you to explore human differences
  • Emphasis on your first college year
  • Respect for diverse ways of knowing
  • Integrating prior learning and experience
  • Academic support programs tailored to your needs
  • Ongoing application of learned skills
  • Active learning
  • Out-of-class contact with faculty[1]

Ideally, you and your college collaborate to create success in every way possible. The cooperative nature of college life is echoed in the following practical advice from a college graduate, recounted in Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom:

Professors do care about how you are doing in their class; they genuinely want you to succeed, but they will give you the grade you earn. There are people and resources on campus for you to utilize so you can earn the grade you want. Your professors are one of those resources, and are perhaps the most important. Go see them during office hours, ask them questions about the material and get extra help if you need it . . . Another resource to utilize can be found in the campus learning center . . . The first time I took a paper there, I recall standing outside the door for about ten minutes thinking of an excuse not to go in. Thankfully I saw a classmate walk in and I followed suit . . . Thanks to that first visit, I received an A- on the paper!

Campus Resources for Success

There are many resources available committed to helping you succeed during your time at college and beyond.  Being familiar with these resources, and be committed to using them when needed, is essential to your success. You may not need them right away; some you may not need at all. But you will at least find several to be vital. Be familiar with your options. Know where to find the services. Have contact information. Be prepared to visit for help.


Most colleges and universities assign an academic advisor to each student. The adviser may be associated with your major. There may also be an office or department that provides advising. Call upon your advisor or the Advising office if you have an issue with your adviser or you need other help. Advisors will help you select your classes, stay on track for your degree program, and make and decisions about your educational and career goals.

Tutoring and Writing Centers

Tutoring and writing centers are established for all students, and seeking help from them is expected and to your advantage. Such services are covered by your tuition dollars, and they can richly enhance performance in any area of your studies. Know where to find these centers and how to schedule appointments.

Other Academic Support Facilities

Your college may also offer academic support in various other forms: for example, computer labs with trained assistants, tutors, mentors, peer advisors, and more. You can research what kinds of special support are available and be ready to take advantage of them.

Student Accessibility Services

There is often Student Accessibility Services (SAS)/Disability Services office at each campus.  If you have any type of disability, contact Accessibility Services as soon as possible.

Once you qualify for services, Accessibility Services staff meets with you to determine reasonable, appropriate, and effective accommodations based on the courses in which are enrolled and your disability.

International Student Services

International Student Services guides international students toward a rewarding college experience. They offer support from the time you apply until you earn your degree or transfer.

Veteran Affairs

Most colleges are committed to working with Veterans to achieve the college and career goals you have set for yourself. Veteran Affairs specialists will help you navigate the college enrollment process and enjoy the full value of your active duty or veteran’s educational benefits.

Library Reference Desk

College libraries are staffed with professionals whose main function is to assist you and the college community in finding needed resources. Don’t hesitate to find the reference desk and get to know the reference librarians. Invariably you will learn about valuable resources—many of them online—that you didn’t know existed. Reference librarians are also educators, and they’re there to help you.

Campus Health Center

In the event that you need any health services whatsoever, the campus health center can be your first destination. Stop by the center and learn about the services offered, the hours of operation, emergency provisions, and routine health services available.

Campus Counseling

Counseling is an essential service that colleges and universities invariably provide. Services can range from life-saving care to assistance with minor concerns. Life stressors, such as deaths and divorces in the family, issues with friends, substance abuse, and suicide are just a few of the many issues that college students may experience or witness others struggling with.  Don’t take matters into your own hands. Get help! The counseling center can help you and support you in gaining solid footing during difficult times. Don’t hesitate to take full advantage of the services and help they offer.

Career Services

One of the most important purposes of college is to prepare students for a career. All colleges and universities have a career office that can assist you with many critical aspects of finding a suitable career. It may also help you find a campus job or review options for your major, help you get an internship, draft your résumé, and practice interview skills. Visiting the career office is a must for every student, and it’s worth doing early and often (rather than waiting until you’re about to graduate).

Testing and Assessment Services

Instructional and assessment testing services’ goal is to provide high-quality test administration and assessment services for your college. Many classes will schedule exams in the Testing Center or you may take placement exams or CLEP exams at the Testing Center.

Student Computer Labs

Doing research? Writing a paper? Completing an assignment? If you need a computer, most campuses provide state-of-the-art systems and software at various locations across campus. They are most often found in the library, tutoring centers, and computer labs.

Supplemental Instruction

Supplemental Instruction (SI) is an academic support model that uses peer-assisted study sessions. The SI program targets traditionally difficult academic courses and provide regularly scheduled out-of-class review sessions. SI study sessions, led by student leaders who previously passed the course, are informal seminars in which classmates compare notes, discuss readings, develop organizational tools, and predict test items.

Financial Aid and Scholarship Opportunities

Financial Aid and Scholarship options make college a possibility for thousands of students each year. All you need to know about paying for your education starts in the Financial Aid Office – from payment deadlines to scholarships and loans.

Student Life

The Student Life Office is usually the center for out-of-classroom activities. Participating in co-curricular activities helps you gain valuable leadership skills that complement your academic work and enrich your college experience. Student Life has information about student-run clubs and organizations, volunteer opportunities and intramural sports.


Additional support centers that students may wish to visit include offices for spiritual life, housing, diversity, student athletics, continuing education, international students, child care, and many others. Refer to your college Web site or other college directories for information about the many, many services that can be part of your college experience.


Characteristics of Successful Students

As you can see from the above quiz, it takes several qualities and habits to be successful in college.

When we think about going to college, we think about learning a subject deeply, getting prepared for a profession.  We tend to associate colleges and universities with knowledge, and we’re not wrong in that regard.

But going to college, and doing well once we’re there, also relies heavily on our behaviors while we’re there.  Professors and college administrators will expect you to behave in certain ways, without any explicit instructions on their part.  For instance, professors will expect you to spend several hours a week working on class concepts (homework, writing, preparing for exams) on your own time.  They will not tell you WHEN to spend those hours, but leave it up to you to recognize the need to put in the effort and schedule the time accordingly.

Consider this short video from Richard St. John, who spent years interviewing people who reached the top of their fields, across a wide range of careers.  He traces the core behaviors that were common to all of these successful people and distill them down into 8 key traits.

To recap, those 8 traits are

Passion Work Good Focus
Push Serve Ideas Persist

All 8 traits are things that you can put into practice immediately.  With them, you’ll see improvement in your school successes, as well as what lies beyond.

According to Tobin Quereau, a long time professor of student success courses at Austin Community College, there are Seven Keys to College Success.  You can build a strong foundation for college success by implementing the following seven behaviors:

Show Up

  • Be present mentally and physically for EVERY class.
  • Pay attention to your attention so that you stay focused during class and while studying rather than becoming distracted or daydreaming.
  • Establish a consistent, regular study schedule that takes priority over other activities.

Be Prepared

  • Develop an accurate, realistic picture of your academic strengths, weaknesses, skills and behaviors so that you know where to put your attention and how to do your best work.
  • Make a personal commitment to have ALL of your reading and studying done prior to each class and turn ALL of your assignments in ON TIME.
  • Look ahead prior to each class to see what will be covered and skim relevant chapters of the textbook so that you can take more effective notes during class.

Manage Your Time, Your Life, and Your Stress Levels Effectively

  • Make school a priority and keep a good balance between school, work, friends, and family.
  • Don’t let immediate pleasures get in the way of important long-term tasks.
  • Have back-up plans in place in case the unexpected happens.

Put in the Effort

  • Learning, like life, is not easy or automatic, you will need to work hard to get ahead. Plan on several hours of reading and study for each class each week to do well.
  • Be an active learner by studying regularly and learning as you go instead of putting it off until right before the exam.
  • Use effective strategies for deeper, more lasting learning rather than just memorization.

Stay Motivated

  • Be clear about the reasons you are here and what you can gain from continuing your education now and throughout your life.
  • Set some realistic academic goals for each day and week and monitor your progress on them.
  • Make a personal commitment to stay on course even when the going gets tough.

Seek Assistance Whenever Needed

  • You are here to learn, but you don’t need to do it alone. Make use of all the available resources: your instructors, the Learning Lab tutors, study groups, advising, etc.
  • When crisis strikes and life feels overwhelming, stay in touch with your instructor and get support from the free counseling services rather than just giving up and disappearing.

Finally, Learn from Everything!

  • When you succeed in learning and getting good grades, pay attention to what helped and keep doing those things.
  • And when things don’t turn out as you would like, figure out what went wrong or got in the way and make appropriate changes.
  • You are responsible for your successes in life and you can improve your performance with committed effort and persistence, so give it your best and keep on learning!

Practicing Academic Integrity


I would prefer even to fail with honor than win by cheating. —Sophocles

At most educational institutions, “academic honesty” means demonstrating and upholding the highest integrity and honesty in all the academic work that you do. In short, it means doing your own work and not cheating, and not presenting the work of others as your own.

The following are some common forms of academic dishonesty prohibited by most academic institutions:


Cheating can take the form of crib notes, looking over someone’s shoulder during an exam, or any forbidden sharing of information between students regarding an exam or exercise. Many elaborate methods of cheating have been developed over the years—from hiding notes in the bathroom toilet tank to storing information in graphing calculators, pagers, cell phones, and other electronic devices. Cheating differs from most other forms of academic dishonesty, in that people can engage in it without benefiting themselves academically at all. For example, a student who illicitly telegraphed answers to a friend during a test would be cheating, even though the student’s own work is in no way affected.


Deception is providing false information to an instructor concerning an academic assignment. Examples of this include taking more time on a take-home test than is allowed, giving a dishonest excuse when asking for a deadline extension, or falsely claiming to have submitted work.


Fabrication is the falsification of data, information, or citations in an academic assignment. This includes making up citations to back up arguments or inventing quotations. Fabrication is most common in the natural sciences, where students sometimes falsify data to make experiments “work” or false claims are made about the research performed.


Plagiarism, as defined in the 1995 Random House Compact Unabridged Dictionary, is the “use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own original work.”[1] In an academic setting, it is seen as the adoption or reproduction of original intellectual creations (such as concepts, ideas, methods, pieces of information or expressions, etc.) of another author (whether an individual, group, or organization) without proper acknowledgment. This can range from borrowing a particular phrase or sentence to paraphrasing someone else’s original idea without citing it. Today, in our networked digital world, the most common form of plagiarism is copying and pasting online material without crediting the source.

Common Forms of Plagiarism

According to “The Reality and Solution of College Plagiarism” created by the Health Informatics department of the University of Illinois at Chicago, there are ten main forms of plagiarism that students commit:

  1. Submitting someone else’s work as their own.
  2. Taking passages from their own previous work without adding citations.
  3. Rewriting someone’s work without properly citing sources.
  4. Using quotations, but not citing the source.
  5. Interweaving various sources together in the work without citing.
  6. Citing some, but not all passages that should be cited.
  7. Melding together cited and uncited sections of the piece.
  8. Providing proper citations, but failing to change the structure and wording of the borrowed ideas enough.
  9. Inaccurately citing the source.
  10. Relying too heavily on other people’s work. Failing to bring original thought into the text.

As a college student, you are now a member of a scholarly community that values other people’s ideas. In fact, you will routinely be asked to reference and discuss other people’s thoughts and writing in the course of producing your own work. That’s why it’s so important to understand what plagiarism is and steps you can take to avoid it.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Below are some useful guidelines to help you avoid plagiarism and show academic honesty in your work:

  • Quotes: If you quote another work directly in your work, cite your source.
  • Paraphrase: If put someone else’s idea into your own words, you still need to cite the author.
  • Visual Materials: If you cite statistics, graphs, or charts from a study, cite the source. Keep in mind that if you didn’t do the original research, then you need to credit the person(s) or institution, etc. that did.

The easiest way to make sure you don’t accidentally plagiarize someone else’s work is by taking careful notes as you research. If you are doing research on the Web, be sure to copy and paste the links into your notes so can keep track of the sites you’re visiting. Be sure to list all the sources you consult.

There are many handy online tools to help you create and track references as you go. For example, you can try using Son of Citation Machine. Keeping careful notes will not only help you avoid inadvertent plagiarism; it will also help you if you need to return to a source later (to check or get more information). If you use citation tools like Son of Citation, be sure to check the accuracy of the citations before you submit your assignment.

Lastly, if you’re in doubt about whether something constitutes plagiarism, cite the source or leave the material out. Better still, ask for help. Most colleges have a writing center, a tutoring center, and a library where students can get help with their writing. Taking the time to seek advice is better than getting in trouble for not attributing your sources. Be honest about your ideas, and give credit where it’s due.

Consequences of Plagiarism

In the academic world, plagiarism by students is usually considered a very serious offense that can result in punishments such as a failing grade on the particular assignment, the entire course, or even being expelled from the institution. Individual instructors and courses may have their own policies regarding academic honesty and plagiarism; statements of these can usually be found in the course syllabus or online course description.


Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

What is the difference between a student with a growth mindset versus a student with a fixed mindset?  Students with a growth mindset believe that intelligence can be developed. These students focus on learning over just looking smart, see effort as the key to success, and thrive in the face of a challenge. On the other side, students with a fixed mindset believe that people are born with a certain amount of intelligence, and they can’t do much to change that. These students focus on looking smart over learning, see effort as a sign of low ability, and wilt in the face of a challenge.

In a 2012 interview, Carol Dweck, author of 2006 book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, defined both fixed and growth mindsets:

“In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”

Which student do you think has more success in college? Think about this statement: You can learn new things, but you can’t really change your basic intelligence. People who really agree with this statement have a fixed mindset. People who really disagree with this statement have a growth mindset, and, of course, people might be somewhere in the middle.

It turns out that the more students disagree with statements like these, the more they have a growth mindset, the better they do in school. This is because students with a growth mindset approach school differently than students with a fixed mindset. They have different goals in school. The main goal for students with a fixed mindset is to show how smart they are or to hide how unintelligent they are. This makes sense if you think that intelligence is something you either have or you don’t have.

Students with a fixed mindset will avoid asking questions when they don’t understand something because they want to preserve the image that they are smart or hide that they’re not smart. But the main goal with students with a growth mindset is to learn. This also makes a lot of sense. If you think that intelligence is something that you can develop, the way you develop your intelligence is by learning new thIngs. So students with a growth mindset will ask questions when they don’t understand something because that’s how they’ll learn. Similarly, students with a fixed mindset view effort negatively. They think, if I have to try, I must not be very smart at this. While students with a growth mindset view effort as the way that you learn, the way that you get smarter.

Where you’ll really see a difference in students with fixed and growth mindsets is when they are faced with a challenge or setback. Students with a fixed mindset will give up because they think their setback means they’re not smart, but students with a growth mindset actually like challenges. If they already knew how to do something, it wouldn’t be an opportunity to learn, to develop their intelligence.

Given that students with a growth mindset try harder in school, especially in the face of a challenge, it’s no surprise that they do better in school.

Students with a growth mindset view mistakes as a challenge rather than a wall. Many students shy away from challenging schoolwork and get discouraged quickly when they make mistakes. These students are at a significant disadvantage in school—and in life more generally—because they end up avoiding the most difficult work. Making mistakes is one of the most useful ways to learn. Our brains develop when we make a mistake and think about the mistake. This brain activity doesn’t happen when people get work correct.

What’s wrong with easy? According to Dweck, “it means you’re not learning as much as you could. If it was easy, well, you probably already knew how to do it.”

Watch this video to help determine your mindset and what you can do to develop a growth mindset.


And, remember, You Can Learn Anything! 

Do You Have Grit?

“Grit is the disposition to pursue very long-term goals with passion and perseverance, sustained over time. So the emphasis is on stamina.” (Duckworth et al., 2007). Grit is a component seen in hard working and persevering people. Keeping a positive attitude about your potential achievements and productively struggling are traits that mostly come from within, part of a person’s self-efficacy. Self-efficacy relates to an individual’s perception of their capabilities or their belief in themselves. Individual differences in perceived self-efficacy have been shown to be better predictors of performance than previous achievement or ability and seem particularly important when individuals face adversity. Meaning, if you believe in yourself and your ability to succeed, you are likely to succeed.

Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. It is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Those who possess grit are able to self-regulate and postpone their need for positive reinforcement while working diligently on a task.

Watch this video about Grit by Angela Duckworth.

Supplemental Activity – Check Your Grit!

Are you wondering how gritty you are? Find out with this Grit Scale by Angela Duckworth.



  • You determine your success and everyone’s definition of success is personal.
  • There are several campus resources available to support your success.
  • Successful students have certain traits, characteristics, and habits, all of which can be learned and developed.
  • Understanding and practicing Academic Integrity is a crucial component of college success.
  • Having a Growth Mindset, believing that intelligence and skills are gained, is a key to success.
  • Grit, or perseverance, is another behavior that supports success.


For this activity, create your own definition of success. defines success as “the favorable outcome of something attempted.” For many students in college, success means passing a class, earning an A, or learning something new. Beyond college, some people define success in terms of financial wealth; others measure it by the quality of their relationships with family and friends.

Here is an example of a brief, philosophical definition of success:

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded. –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ultimately, before we can know if we are successful, we must first define what success means for ourselves.


  • Write a journal entry defining what success means to you in college and beyond. To help you develop this essay, you might want to consider the following:
    • Find a quote (or make one up) that best summarizes your definition of success (be sure to cite the author and the source, such as the URL).
    • Why does this quote best represent your personal definition success?
    • What people do you consider to be successful and why?
    • What is your definition of success?
    • What will you do to achieve success?
    • What is the biggest change you need to make in order to be successful in college?
    • How will you know you’ve achieved success?