Quest for Success: 9 Unconventional Ways to Crack the Code & Conquer College Life This Fall

August 3, 2023

Apply these Insider Secrets and Battle-Tested Strategies to Shatter the Myths & Guarantee Success this Semester

So, you’re about to set sail on your college journey. Imagine having a treasure map in your hands, with ‘X’ marks revealing the secret paths leading to the prized destination – a triumphant college life. Exciting, isn’t it?

Get ready to unveil the hidden scrolls as we explore these nine power moves every college student must know to get the most out of college. Your ultimate survival guide for the next great adventure.

1) Selecting Your Citadel: the Dorm

Start with selecting your dorm, your fortress. Think of it as the knight’s stronghold, your refuge against the academic battles. A cozy, personalized dorm becomes your sanctuary and study haven, helping you to ease the transition, counteract any potential homesickness and establish a comforting retreat from the whirlwind of academic challenges.

Your room is more than a place to store your stuff. Your room is also a tool to think with – part of what cognitive scientists call “the extended mind.” It can help you remember important dates, remind you of who you are when you decorate it with things that are important to you, and reinforce the groups you are a part of when you see the photos you put up.

Not only does your room matter, but how it’s organized does too:

Dorms with rooms along a hallway rather than arranged in a suite or apartment promote 22% more interaction between students, increase their sense of community, and increase students’ GPAs by up to a half a letter grade.

2) Choosing Your Missions: Class Selection

As you leave your fortress, you start your adventure. Choosing classes is like picking your first missions to go on. Each class equips you with a different knowledge, skills, and experiences, helping you to combat the challenges of the academic realm. Be strategic, select a balanced mix of general education and major-specific courses, ensuring you’re well-rounded and ready for whatever the semester throws at you. And before you finalize, check with an advisor so you’re  ready for the academic crusades ahead.

Consider starting with some classes that build your confidence. College is a big adjustment. Getting to class and completing assignments on time can be a challenge to start with. Start with some courses that tell you “I can do this”, not courses that leave you thinking “I don’t belong here” and fuel imposter syndrome.

Pay special attention to “gateway courses” that you need to pass to progress to other courses. Many students fail gateway courses and so can’t continue. You don’t want to delay your dream just as you get started. Be proactive about understanding what the professor expects and seek help in a study group, get tutoring at your student success center, or go to the professor’s “office hours” to ask a question, discuss an assignment, or get advice.

3) Assembling Your Cadre: Getting Involved

With your missions chosen, it’s time to find your team, your college community. Join clubs, sports teams, affinity group spaces, and indulge in campus activities. This not only ensures a sense of belonging, an elixir that boosts morale and success rate, but also helps you find other adventurers who share similar interests to navigate the ups and downs of college life. Getting involved to find your team is a way to stay in college and get more out of it.

A study of nearly 200,000 students found that students who feel a sense of belonging are 41% more likely to continue on from their first to second year.

Feeling connected, that you are supported, that you matter, these all contribute to making your college adventure a success. To avoid spreading yourself too thin, join a club or other student group related to your major (or one you are thinking about), get involved in something that relates to a potential career, and something that ties you to a community. Some clubs might check all three boxes, like a local chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers.

4) Plotting Your Path: Set Goals and Manage Time

Setting task-based goals is like plotting checkpoints on the map for your journey. Opt for tangible targets, such as “completing three reading chapters a day”, rather than vague goals that are about your performance like “going fast.”

A study by economists at MIT of more than 4,000 students found that task-based goals like “I will do 10 practice tests” work well but performance-based goals like “I will get a B in calculus” don’t.

This simple shift in approach is a compass that steers you clear of the potential quicksand of procrastination and lack of motivation.

As you move along your path, you’ll need to manage your time. Implementing time management is like mastering the time-turner, controlling the flow of your daily activities. Master the art of managing time and prioritizing tasks to strike a balance between work and leisure, ensuring you never miss a beat.

Go through each course’s syllabus (your professor’s detailed plan for the course: what you’ll cover when, what the readings and assignments are, etc.) and put it on a calendar. Highlight deadlines and block out time to complete important assignments, prep for tests, and more. Then be sure to limit distractions, on your own or with apps.

5) Getting Sage Advice: Academic Support and Mentors

Everyone on a quest needs advice from ’the sage’. Academic support resources on campuses are your secret weapons against the monster of academic challenges. Campuses are providing more and more free resources to support your academic journey – be it research assistance, tutoring, data analysis, presentation advice, or writing help, this support ensures you’re supported on your college adventure.

One place to get all this help is from your college or university’s library. More than a place for books, libraries now offer inspiring spaces to study quietly on your own or actively with a group. They also provide a full range of such academic support to help with class projects, whether you are writing a paper, creating a presentation, or building a prototype.

One study showed that students who used library resources were 1.44 times more likely to graduate than those who didn’t.

Every adventurer also needs a mentor who, with their wisdom and experience, can make your college journey less intimidating and more fruitful. They provide valuable advice, encouragement, and guide you to potential career paths, paving your way to success.

Researchers have found that students who had a mentor who “encouraged me to pursue my goals and dreams” were 1.9 times more likely to be committed to and enthusiastic about the work they do after college.

high school juniors

6) Choosing your Champions: Personal Support

Acquiring personal support is like finding a fairy godmother, offering you care and empathy during your college adventure. College isn’t just about academics, it’s a whirlwind of personal growth and transformation. Your academics and social life aren’t separate either… Many people will give you advice like “study hard” but just as important is getting involved so you have people to study hard with!

Seeking support from friends, advisors, mentors, counselors and mental health professionals aids in managing stress and personal challenges.

Personal support comes in many shapes and sizes – and changes when you get to college and become less reliant on your parents or other family members. So build your support team before you need it and plan for it to be different than before, including talking with your family about how and when you’ll communicate with them. Identify resources on campus for your physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, career, financial, and environmental health. Identify campus resources such as RAs in your dorm, advisors, and counselors.

Then, go to spaces or centers that you identify with like a Pride Center or Student Athlete Center so you meet people you have something in common with. Be sure to also meet people who are different than you and know things you don’t or who’ve already gone through what you are.

7) Embarking on Quests: Real-world Projects

Now, you’re ready to embark on quests. Working with community groups or local organizations, allows you to apply your classroom knowledge in a meaningful, real-life setting, giving you a competitive edge and a chance to make a positive impact. The marketing plan you create for a class could be for a fictitious company – or a real one in your community, one with real people you can talk to about their goals, competition, needs and more.

You’ll gain so much more from this; not only a better project that makes a real impact, but also connections to groups that may need an intern one summer… or might be a role model whose career path you can follow.

In recent surveys about 80% of students wanted to work on real-world projects and in another only about 60% of students were satisfied with these experiences.

These provide chances to make an impact in a community, meet people, and see what it’s like to work in a field. They also provide a proven leg-up for future employment: finding jobs faster and getting paid more.

8) Managing Your Treasure Chest: Financial Strategy

With your mentor guiding you, it’s time to manage your treasure chest. A solid financial strategy ensures you can focus on the adventure at hand without the worry of financial stability.

Financial stress is all but inevitable given the cost and complexity of college. The first thing you can do is look for a college that offers value and then take full advantage of everything it has to offer. Consult the US Department of Education’s College Scorecard so you can see what the actual price people pay to go there, what percentage of students graduate, and what the starting salaries are for each major.

The choice of major is usually more important than the college you choose. There are also ways to decrease the cost by entering with as many credits as possible or even seeking an accelerated program like Purdue University’s “Degree in 3” Reducing the cost of college by picking the right balance of price and prestige and finding one that offers value are great places to start.

You can also seek out scholarships to ensure you don’t borrow too much money. Be proactive in identifying hidden costs like a required laptop or textbooks – and reduce those costs for instance you can check out technology and textbooks from the library. Many colleges and universities also offer emergency grants (that you don’t have to pay back) or loans (that you do) in moments of hardship. Go to your financial aid or student financial services office – they are there to help you.

9) Crafting Your Shield: Building Healthy Habits

Finally, to round off our battle preparations, we craft the personal shield. Healthy habits, such as a balanced diet, regular exercise, and proper sleep, fortify your mental and physical health, prepping you for the exciting journey ahead. Perhaps not surprisingly, social media is the biggest threat to your sleep – every hour you can reduce is another hour you can restore.

Taking care of yourself when you need to is a good start, doing it regularly is even better. Habits become rituals that are part of our routines and provide a rhythm to our days, weeks, months, and semesters.

Find a special place on campus where you feel safe and inspired. Do things for yourself to appreciate yourself, such as exercise, journaling, or a hobby you enjoy. Seeking counseling or other forms of mental health support. Get and stay involved in campus groups and activities that both support and challenge you. When you do, be sure to look for groups that accept you for who you are rather than change who you are to “fit in” – that’s a red flag.

College is not just a stage in your education, it’s the grand stage where you forge your identity and define your future path. These unconventional strategies will guide you on this journey, ensuring you crack the code to college success this Fall!

This post was co-authored by both Elliot Felix and Peter Liptak.

Elliot Felix is the founder of the higher education strategy firm Brightspot and the author of How to Get the Most Out of College.

Peter Liptak is the founder of, an organization dedicated to empowering students to thrive in college through innovative educational materials and supportive community programs.

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Elliot Felix, Author

Elliot Felix is the founder of the higher education strategy firm Brightspot and the author of How to Get the Most Out of College.

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