Easily one of my favorite things about working in the First Year Success office is how supportive everyone is, and how we all like to boost one another up in every way we can.
Recently this happened for me in the form of one of my co-workers bragging to one of our interns about how well I did in my last year of college. I earned a 4.0 GPA in both semesters of my senior year, and a really high GPA overall.
This intern is fresh out of high school, and is preparing to begin his first year of college at MSU Denver. Intrigued by my success, he asked how I managed to get such good grades.
The truth is that there is no one answer, and even all of the answers I have won’t work for every individual. We are all different, and we learn in different ways.
Nevertheless, I would like to offer a few suggestions for doing well in classes based on my own experiences. And before I offer these tips, I want to provide some context.
A lot of people make the assumption that I must just be a good student who has always gotten good grades, but that couldn’t possibly be further from the truth.
I was a great student—in elementary school. Something happened in my adolescence where I decided I couldn’t possibly care less about school, and it was all downhill from there. I was a terrible high school student. Terrible. I had, I think, a 1.5 GPA. I, quite literally, failed my junior year, and as an out-of-district student at my high school, I was not allowed to return my senior year and ended up going to alternative high school—you know, where all the stereotypes of “awful” students go. I barely graduated (I often ask myself how I graduated at all, no less on time).
It’s important to emphasize that good grades aren’t the only reliable measure of intelligence. Some people are incredibly smart, but are poor test takers, and that reflects in their overall GPA. Some people know a lot of information about a lot of subjects, but don’t care to complete their homework, and again, that reflects in the grades they receive in their classes.
But grades are important in college. I will talk more about that a bit later.
So, without any further ado, here we go:
Tip 1: Go to class
This sounds simple enough, but you wouldn’t believe how many times I have heard my fellow students complain about attendance policies.
This is especially funny in my English courses (Lit major here). The English department policy at MSU Denver allows students to miss up to five classes for any reason you can conjure up. FIVE. The sixth absence drops your grade a letter (or half, depending on your professor). Eight missed classes is the official cutoff point where you fail the class. There are some professors that are a bit more or less strict.
I cannot imagine a scenario where I would have to miss even five classes. My mother died the day before I had three midterms during the hardest semester I’ve ever had, and I still didn’t miss five classes, no less eight.
You miss valuable information in every class you skip which, even if you get notes from a classmate, you’ll never truly have a chance to learn again.
And don’t use up those five (or however many) allowed absences just because you can. Save them for when you actually do get sick, or when your car breaks down, or for other dire situations.
Tip 2: Keep up on your reading
Don’t skip your reading, folks. I know we all have a tendency to learn what our professors focus on in class, and relax when it comes to everything else, but that doesn’t mean the professor won’t put information you might have just gleaned over in your book on a test. In fact, they usually do.
It can sometimes be annoying to sit through a lecture and find not all of the material you read was mentioned, but when it comes to studying for a test, you might find that the study guide questions your knowledge of a subject you didn’t read about because it didn’t seem immediately important to do so.
It’s better to store that information in the back of your mind for future reference than to scramble to find it in your text at the last minute before a test.
Last tip: Take responsibility for yourself and your own actions
We have all had at least one professor that is burned out and jaded toward students, but their own integrity is on the line, and they aren’t going to fail you because they hate you. Don’t blame your failures on your professor. Realize that you wouldn’t have done poorly on a test or paper if it weren’t for your own shortcomings.
Study harder, and take the time to talk to your professors if you feel you just aren’t getting it. They’re there to help you. It is, quite literally, their job to educate you.
Don’t look to place the blame on others for your mistakes; own up to them and just move on. Taking responsibility for your own life is part of what it means to be an adult.
After I shared these tips with the intern, his question shifted a bit. He asked how I managed to stay so motivated, and it was a question I had never even asked myself.
My gut-reaction answer is: I paid for it! I want to get the most out of it!
Finances are a big part of it. College is a choice, and because we all make the active decision to go to college, we might as well put our all into it. It’s like if I pay a mechanic to fix my brakes, it’s important to me that they both work, and don’t squeak; not one or the other.
It doesn’t matter if you pay for it out of your own pocket, if your parents are paying for it, if you’re receiving aid that you one day have to pay back, or if you are covered by scholarships. Someone’s hard-earned money is going into it, and we all want to get our money’s worth.
In high school, I didn’t care about grades at all. I knew I wasn’t stupid, and I still believe grades aren’t everything, but something has shifted in my mindset since my high school days. Maybe it’s more about taking pride in my accomplishments, or maybe it’s about proving something to myself, but I have a few ways to address this question.
College is an important life experience for everyone. You make lifelong connections with people. You learn valuable information that you will take with you in whatever you do for the rest of your life, even if your future career doesn’t align with your college major. But ultimately, it’s about getting good grades. It’s important to know that grades do matter. They matter a lot.
Thinking about going to graduate school? Good luck if your grades are just average. Job prospects? Have fun with that. So many of the careers I have been looking into require a copy of academic transcripts. Cs may technically get you a degree, but no one is impressed by mediocrity.
And good grades are about taking pride in your work. There were so many times that I felt like just not doing an assignment, or I would calculate exactly how many points I needed on an exam to just pass a class. But then I asked myself, why? Why would I just want to do the bare minimum to get by? I know I’m capable of excellence, so why not just work a little bit harder, and spend a little bit more time to do it right? And that’s what drove me a lot of the time.
And ultimately, going to college is a privilege. I think a lot about how lucky we are in this country to have easy (even if not cheap) access to higher education. If I were to come to school and do the least I could to get by, it’s sort of a slap in the face to people the world over who literally give their lives in an attempt to get an education.
So, that’s what I can say. It’s my viewpoint, and strategies that worked for me. Hopefully these can be useful for others, too!
Jessie Hendrixson, B.A. | Peer Ambassador Program Coordinator
First Year Success