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How to Be Successful in College

college Aug 08, 2022

By: Alan J. McMillan

A few years ago, Gallup and Purdue released a study where they tested workers just beyond mid-career in order to assess them on two fronts: 

  1. Engagement:  As Gallup put it in the study, “Engagement is more than job satisfaction. It involves employees being intellectually and emotionally connected with their organizations and work teams because they are able to do what they’re best at, they like what they do at work, and they have someone who cares about their development at work." 
  1. Wellness:  As Gallup summarized in their research:  “Well-being is the combination of all the things that are important to each individual — it is how people think about and experience their lives. A common misconception is to confine well-being to just some areas — to believe that well-being is only about being happy or wealthy, or to make it synonymous with physical health. Rather, it is about the interaction and interdependency between many aspects of life such as finding fulfillment in daily work and interactions, having strong social relationships and access to the resources people need, feeling financially secure, being physically healthy, and taking part in a true community.” 

When they found high engagement and high wellness (where we all want to be - happy in life and excited about what we do), they correlated what those workers tried to do in college to be successful to see if there were lessons to be learned to help those now in college. 

What to do in college to be successful 

  1. Have a  professor or mentor who gave them help and encouragement  to tell them they can be successful 
  2. Have a project (which spanned a semester but preferably two) or an internship which applies what you're learning in the classroom to a real life situation 
  3. Become were a member in a student group/association 

Why does this make sense and how do you know what to do in college to be successful and manifest long term happiness? 


  • Having someone you respect will guide and encourage you which will give you enhanced confidence. With this, your day-to-day execution rises.  If you deepen your belief in yourself, you can play at a higher level. Coupled with their experience and potentially networking on your behalf- that spells advantage. 
  • Taking classroom lessons and applying them in a pragmatic way really cements learning. Leveraging them in a meaningful project or internship will earn you a deeper understanding, greater retention, and the rich experience only gained from ‘doing.’ 
  • As a member of a student group or association you network with over-achievers  This is because slackers do not do things which are not required and they do not go the extra mile. This will also give you an enhanced sense of community- these people will look out for you as you look out for them. 

How to Self-Position for Advantage 

Were the people Gallup and Purdue studied lucky?  Did they just fall into one, two or preferably all three of those seeds of advantage?  Of course not, they self positioned themselves for success and you can, too. 

Having a Professor or Mentor Who Encourages You 

Anytime someone who's well connected and has experience and subject matter expertise takes a keen interest in you, it will help. Will every professor be that kind of contact? No, you need to put yourself in position to find her or him. First, know strong mentors only mentor if someone brings extraordinary effort and dreams to the table, then backs up those ambitions with follow-up action. Bring your A-game when you find someone you'd like to be your mentor. Here’s how you self position for gaining a mentor: 

  • Prior to class, Google and view the professor’s LinkedIn 
  • Be on time to every class 
  • Be engaged with questions and responses 
  • Don’t miss an assignment  
  • In week two or three of class, make an appointment for office hours 
  • Let them know you want to get them to know them and for them to know you 
  • Tell them why you are impressed with their background and work 
  • Tell them about your dreams 
  • Everything will flow from there 
  • If you do find a great mentor, follow-up, keep them informed, and thank them along the way. 

Having a project which applies what you are learning the classroom 

Look for campus projects which apply to the material you are studying. These are great because you usually get experience and extra guidance (plus, networking!) with others involved in these projects. However, by far, the BEST WAY is to get an internship in the field you are interested in. It has been said (and is extremely true) the ROAD TO MULTIPLE-JOB OFFERS IS PAVED WITH INTERNSHIPS.  They will teach you a lot about: 

  • A potential future role 
  • Pragmatics/referenceable work experience 
  • Internships build your network 
  • Internship very often tee up a solid offer upon graduation 

An important thing to remember about internships and projects is they are essentially extended job interviews. Treat them as such, and you will not only extend your network but also potentially land a job offer. 

Become a Member of a Student Group or Association 

Often student groups are filled with the exact peers you should be networking with. Another networking opportunity comes from employers who visit campus. These employers know that in college, being successful means joining a student organization. They will use these qualified pools of talent as short lists to recruit for openings. Be sure to network with others who have job search ambitions in your field. 


The point of all of this is Gallup found hitting one, two or potentially all three of these goals will better your quest toward long term happiness and success. When you learn what to do in college to be successful, you tee up success for the rest of your life. 

Now you MAKE it happen.

For a deeper dive into topics like this, check out LearnEarnRetire's course offering here.


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