Apr. 17—For the last 30 years I've taught classes off and on at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. I also used to be involved with recruiting for the Times Free Press newsroom. In that role I interviewed scores of top students from around the United States.
When you are around college students for that long, you begin to see patterns that predict success. How they carry themselves. How they handle their schoolwork. How they look ahead to life after graduation.
I sat down the other day to make a list of seven habits of successful college students, a riff on the 1990s self-help book by Stephen R. Covey, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People."
Here are my notes from a lecture that I recently shared with my UTC class:
1. Successful college students cultivate confidence.
Example: Cindy Monroe is CEO of Thirty-One Gifts, a company that does about $400 million a year in sales. Monroe, a UTC graduate, told me in an interview that in college she didn't have perfect grades and didn't always know what she wanted to do. But she knew she was good at selling. It was the foundation of her confidence.
Tip for students: Write down a word that describes what you are good at: Writing. Selling. Leadership. Then underline it three times. Now make a promise to yourself to try to make an A in every class that focuses on your strength. American billionaire Mark Cuban says to do what you are good at, not necessarily what you are passionate about. Those can be different things.
2. Successful students take risks.
You've probably heard of "paralysis by analysis." A lot of students fall into that trap. Nike was on to something with the slogan years ago: "Just do it."
Example: My son called from college and said: "Dad, I'm famous."
"Famous for what?" I said.
"Me and my roommates got 8 million views on a TikTok video last night," he said.
The short video shows two guys comically pretending to kidnap their roommate (who is in on the joke) during a Zoom class. It was not something I would have recommended, but it now has 31 million views. They took a small risk that resulted in a big ego reward.
Tip for students: Do something today outside your comfort zone. Try a new food. Make a TikTok video. Start a conversation with someone you don't know. If you practice risk-taking it will start to become second nature. Taking reasonable risks is important in adult life.
3. Successful students build a network.
It's estimated that half to three-quarters of people find jobs through their network of friends and associates. I read a survey of college graduates once that said that growing their network — the universe of people who cared about them — was the biggest benefit of going to college.
Tip for college students: Today, before the sun goes down, join LinkedIn, the social media networking platform for professionals. Also, interact with your professors. Linger after class to ask a question. They will be your biggest asset when it comes time to find a job.
4. Successful students are active listeners.
I am 100% convinced if you do these two things — smile and nod your head while listening to people — you will improve your chances of success.
Baby step: Practice making eye contact with your professor, nodding your head and smiling. It will put you in a listening posture. It also creates a virtuous cycle. It makes you feel engaged and the talker feel supported.
5: Successful students treat school like a job.
Show up and do the work: that should be the mantra of every college student.
Example: As an instructor, my goal every semester is to have 100% of my students do 100% of the work. That means no missed papers or assignments. I try to hit that mark by insisting that students treat the class like a job.
Baby step: If you have an 8 a.m. class and one day you wake up at 8:10, contact your teacher immediately and say: "I'm on the way. I overslept. It's on me." Own your behavior. If you were late for work, you would call in.
6. Successful students read constantly.
Be a consumer of all media. Successful students are well-informed.
Example for students: There was a wrinkle in the last round of federal stimulus checks that pertains to college students ($1,500 for college-age dependents for qualifying families). Whether your parents see this as your money or theirs is open to debate, but it's a discussion you can't have if you don't know about it.
Baby step: Today, download a news aggregating app (such as Apple News) and pay for a subscription if you can.
7. Successful students ask for help.
Asking for help is the most durable skill you can cultivate.
Example: I woke up Sunday morning to find an email from a former student who asked me for help proofreading a document she was preparing for a job interview. I pumped my fist because she had remembered to ask for help.
Baby step: Before the semester is over, ask someone for help, a professor, a classmate, a friend. Asking for help is every successful person's superpower.
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org.