There are lots of things that undergraduate students can do to be successful. I have written a few here that I find very important and often neglected. See what you think.
1. When you find yourself getting behind in you classes…
It happens to all of us at times. We all have many life obligations that keep us from spending all the time we would like on university work. Our professors are not necessarily aware that some of us have jobs and that we need those jobs to make ends meet. They may not be aware that we contribute to our family expenses or take care of younger siblings. Because of these obligations, we sometimes end up falling behind in our course work, we are not up to date on the material and we can’t turn in homework on time. So far this is not the problem. The problem is created when students don’t take corrective action. I have witnessed many times the common mistake of not seeking help from the professor. Students feel bad or too embarrassed to talk to the professor or graduate assistant about falling behind and they convince themselves that they can catch up on their own and will soon be back on track. What students often don’t realize is that professors care about their students and are willing to work with them on a plan that will get them back on track. Successful students seek the help of their professors. They go to their office hours frequently. They talk to them about their situation and follow their advice. They do not try to “fix” the situation alone without making use of the resources available to them.
2. Make learning your objective, not top grades
We often become too nearsighted and only see the current assignment or the next test coming up. Our objective then becomes getting an A on whatever the next activity is. It is a good idea to remember that the long-term goal is to learn as much as you can while you are in school. You are there to learn to think critically, to make connections among different topics in the various courses, and to develop a deep understanding of the material. Let the good grades follow this understanding.
3. Grow from failure
This is more difficult than it sounds. Maybe you applied for a scholarship and didn’t get it. Or maybe you studied hard for a big test and did poorly in spite of preparing as well as you could. Or maybe you didn’t get into the summer research program you wanted. It is natural to take failure personally and feel upset about it. However, after a short mourning period, it is important to reflect on it and find the take-home lessons that help you grow and do better next time. For example, perhaps you were not a good fit for the summer program you applied to (i.e. you didn’t have the qualifications they were looking for) and now you know that you should make more calculated choices. Most important is to never let failure make you stop trying.
4. Set semester goals
It is a good idea to have a plan for each semester that includes goals. You should take into account the courses you are taking and any deadlines that you should meet. If you are taking a Combinatorics course you might set a goal of learning how it connects to related areas of mathematics (besides learning Combinatorics) such as graph theory and number theory. During the spring semester you may also set the goal of applying to summer REU programs. The point is that setting semester goals is manageable and keeps your sights on what is important for your future.
5. Read ahead and be prepared for class
This one is self-explanatory. It is not easy to keep up but it makes a world of difference to read the textbook and other material ahead of the lectures. It allows you to make more sense of the material and to ask deeper questions in class.
If you want to add to this list, please write comments.