Want Academic Success? Follow These 4 Steps


Posted on February 11th, 2023 to College transition by

The start of a new year and new academic term represent an awesome opportunity to hit the reset button. Hopefully, you took time during the winter break period to refresh and rejuvenate yourself. That time, among many other things, allows your mind to wander and wonder. For a brief moment in the year you have the space to think about whether or not you have achieved the success you desire. 

There are two questions that arise during this period of reflection. First: should you do anything with this moment? In my opinion the answer is yes. Second: what do you do? Again, in my opinion you capitalize on it and maximize it to your personal advantage. In these 4 steps I think you can take all the thoughts and ideas into a framework which will move you forward to achieving the success you desire.


Step 1: Success Begins With a Personal Mission Statement

According to Google’s dictionary a mission statement is defined as “a formal summary of the aims and values of a company, organization, or individual.” Companies spend countless hours and effort in crafting these statements as it helps define their identity to the outside world. In the words of Simon Sinek, it is a statement of their “why”. It’s what helps them align everything they do.

So with that in mind, what’s your personal mission statement? Since companies and organizations make crafting these a priority, as individuals we should as well. With all this reflective thinking you have going on, now is your time to take stock in your purpose. It’s the perfect opportunity to draft your own mission statement which you can turn to. A statement of your why that will help you in making difficult decisions, setting goals, and so much more.  


Step 2: Set Goals For Success

Regardless of the specific language you use around goal setting (intentions, resolutions, etc.), the purpose and process is what is most important. The idea here is to take an inventory of where you are now, and deciding if you are satisfied with that position. It’s about self-directing where you want to/will be within a specific time frame (6 months, 1 year, 5 years, etc.). Assuming you feel there are areas of improvement in your life (and to be honest there should be, because we aren’t perfect). 

There is no right or wrong way to set goals. There are different approaches and methods, but the truly important thing here is that it happens. My go-to approach is the SMART methodology–I have found it’s easy to remember and provides a nice framework–but you do you. When it comes to setting goals as a student, I think you should try to use three categories: Academic, Extra-curricular, and Personal. Again, there is no right or wrong here so please use this as a launch point and see where the process takes you!    


Step 3: Maintain Success With Time Management

Most of my conversations with students about their struggles with success are rooted in time management. From a developmental perspective this makes a lot of sense. Students’ pre-frontal lobe, the part of the brain that governs executive functions like time management, isn’t fully developed. That said, it is not an excuse for students to avoid developing the skill and habit. In fact quite the opposite. The easiest analogy to make here would be to think about athletics or music. When an athlete or musician doesn’t know how to do something they invest time into learning. Same idea with time management.

Only three things are needed when it comes to developing a time management strategy: a to-do list, a calendar, and to check them regularly. That’s it. Time management is simple, not easy. So when you think about resetting this semester look at your strategy and ask yourself:

  • Do I have those three elements? If not, what am I missing?
  • What tools best support my personality/approach? Analog, digital, or a hybrid?

Then just start building the habit. Start keeping your to-do list–put everything on it. Start maintaining a calendar. Build time into your days and weeks to check-in with those things. As you work on it, remind yourself this is a journey not a destination. You will try some things that work and some that don’t. That’s great! Make adjustments and keep moving forward.  


Step 4: Surround Yourself With Successful People

Leadership expert John C. Maxwell states “you’re only as good as the people around you.” In my experience this is so true. Looking at successful folks (by any definition), they tend to surround themselves with amazing people. A reality of life is that we are not experts in all things, and we don’t have to be! There are people in our lives (and out in the world) who expertise in lots of subjects and areas. This is why the President of the United States has a cabinet–department heads who help the president run the country. A single person cannot be a full-on expert on the interior, agriculture, and so on. They need folks who are; folks who can provide sound counsel and advice, so they can make decisions.

So my question to you is, who surrounds you? Who do you turn to for support, guidance, and counsel? Who is in your network of experts? I am sure in time you could answer those questions or even in a moment of crisis you could figure it out. But remember it’s a new semester and a new year, so why wait. 

You can use this free worksheet to help you think it through, and here are some areas to consider (pick and choose as needed):

  • Academic support
  • Emotional support
  • College admission counseling
  • Career support
  • Extracurricular support

Wishing every student out there an awesome start to 2023! Remember you aren’t alone.


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