By Richard J.  Light

Student success

1.     Learning outside of classes is vital.

2.     Students learn significantly more in courses that are highly structured.

3.     Students value collaborative homework.

4.     Close contact with faculty that act as mentors, whether in a mentored internship, small class, or research experience, is fundamental.

5.     The impact of racial and ethnic diversity is strong and highly positive, but general campus atmosphere and residential arrangements are crucial.

6.     Students include activities with faculty members and other fellow students, focused around accomplishing substantive academic work.

7.     Students value good writing and suggestions to improve it.

8.     Particular activities outside the classroom profoundly affect students’ academic performance.

9.     Student value courses in foreign languages and literatures.


Time management


Students that manage time well are those who work on it so that they can find time to be happy outside class time and effective in academic work.

How to balance academic and other activities?


Get involved in depth in at least one activity other than courses. A substantial commitment to one or two activities other than course work –for as much as 20 hours per week- has little or no relationship to grades. But such commitments do have a strong relationship to overall satisfaction with college life. More involvement is strongly correlated with higher satisfaction.

There is no significant correlation between part-time work, extracurricular activities, volunteer work and grades. The only exception is intercollegiate athletics. Student athletes have lower grades that non-athletes. But student athletes are among the happiest on campus.

Many extracurricular activities help students develop insights that transfer to academic work.


Getting help when needed


You have to ask for help if you need it. No one can read minds on campus.

Symptoms of problems


1)     Distressingly low grades.

2)     Isolation from the rest of the college community.

3)     Unwillingness to seek help.


Reasons for academic problems:


1)     Poor time management, particularly not enough long stretches of time to engage in studying.

2)     Many students continue to organize their work in college the same way they did in high school. They have difficulty developing new academic skills, particularly critical thinking (the ability to synthesize arguments and evidence from multiple competing sources).

3)     Course selection. Typical steps: (i) get all the requirements out of the way; (ii) choose a major; (iii) take advance courses in the major; (iv) save electives –the good stuff- for junior and senior years.

4)     Study alone.

The most effective classes


1)     Small classes, seminars, and reading courses.

2)     Collaborative homework assignments.

3)     Courses that emphasize writing.


Good mentoring and advising


1)     Background, goal's at college, study plan.

2)     Important task: to get to know one faculty member reasonably well every semester and also to get that faculty member to get to know you reasonably well.

3)     Think of the relationship between your academic work and your personal life.

4)     Interact with advisor about the big picture and big ideas, e.g., the reasons why you want to pursue graduate studies.

5)     Keep a personal time log.

6)     Work in a one-to-one mentored research project with a faculty supervisor.

7)     Get involved in outside-of-class group activities.


Faculty who make a difference


1)     Teach precision in the use of language

2)     Share intellectual responsibility.

3)     Connect academic ideas with students' lives.

4)     Engage students in large classes.

5)     Teach students to think like professionals.

6)     Encourage students to disagree with the professor and let students figure out things for themselves.

7)     Teach the use of evidence.

8)     Don't be predictable.

9)     Integrate ideas from other disciplines.




Build a sense of community or shared value.