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student on the steps of success
Whether you are a freshly minted freshman, a returning sophomore or a part-time student taking courses here and there, you have to admit, going to college is not like anything you’ve ever done before.

And going to a local community college can be even more jarring to your reality. When you go away to college, they have whole staffs to get you orientated, ice-breakers so you can meet new friends and credit-bearing “freshman experience” courses to tell you the ins and outs of being a student.

A local community college may have some of the above, but the sheer volume of students compared to the resources available makes finding your path as a college student a little more difficult. But the tools needed to achieve success for a college student are there.

Use these 10 tips to blaze your path through your first two years of college:

Find and Use the Library

In high school, you could have gotten by finishing your assignments during extra time given to you on campus. But there are no homerooms or study halls in college. As most community college students live at home with family, that environment may not be the best place, either, to get work done. But you will need to find quality alone time. The library is that place for it.

Get a College Employee to Know You

Make it a point to have a knowledgeable college employee know you, and check in with that person – however casually – from time to time. It could be a professor, an office worker, a dean, etc. These people are surely busy, but they do like to know that they are being helpful with students outside the classroom. For you, these insiders could help you understand the policies of the college and how to efficiently navigate the system. They also may have helpful advice when it comes to your studies and future career plans. Last, you may need this person for a reference when transferring or entering the workforce.

Get Technology

You don’t need the latest-greatest, but will need at least a laptop and probably a tablet computer in college. You don’t want to have to procrastinate to get to the college computer lab to write your papers. The good news is, you can find totally reasonable technology on a site like eBay cheap. For example, the first generation iPad is under $100 there and works fine for college learning systems like Angel, Moodle or Blackboard. You can get a typical, used 1.5GHZ 14” laptop for about the same. Pick up a cheap printer at your local thrift store if you are looking to save further, though a wi-fi printer is easier to deal with.

Get a Perspective

Read other books than those assigned in class. Also read newspapers – not just online newspapers, but real ones where the important news stories are prioritized. Why? Many of the term papers you will have to write in college will require you having a perspective, but your perspective isn’t all that developed yet being only a freshman or a sophomore. Other reading will help you lend a new, more mature expertise to your assignments.

Figure on a Bad Semester

Cram credits when you can. There’s a good chance you will have a bad semester, due to your health or the health of someone you care for or a job situation, sooner or later. Such semesters you may have to drop a course or two. So, for now while the skies are blue, take all of the courses you can handle. Those credits will give you the cushion you may need later, so you can still graduate on time. As far as dropping courses goes, this is better than taking an “F,” but usually financial aid is affected if you drop below 12 credits, so try to keep the courses that you at least have a shot of passing. Talk to your professors at the first sign of trouble – chances are, they had a bad semester once upon a time and understand.

Get Your Confidence Up

A good number of community college students quit after that first semester. They get some lousy grades, or term papers sent back with a sea of red ink. That math is harder than expected. But the students who do graduate had the same experiences. They either conquered the tough classes, or worked around them. Your life is about YOU. Don’t back down. Don’t let people tell you you can’t do this. You can. This isn’t a pep talk. This is fact. We all know people less smart than us who have college degrees – they did it by focusing on the goal (graduation) and putting blinders on to negativity. Figure out how to succeed. The answer is in you.

Work Less, Study More

Like most community college students, you probably have a job of some sort, and that job needs you. People call in sick. There is overtime to be had. Yes, having money right now is nice, but life is very long, and this job isn’t going to be your whole life (unless you don’t graduate, then it may be). College will allow you to grow and expand. Always put your studies first, and learn to say no to a needy manager.

Don’t Be Late/Don’t Skip Class/Sit Up Front

Here’s your chance to be the student who gets all good grades. A key to that is being attentive in class, and not showing up late. The late students really stick out, negatively, in the mind of a professor, who is working hard to keep the other 25 students in the room focused; then he or she comes in, disrupting that flow. Also, sit up front. The professor will remember those people up front better, which could help you if you need to ask a question after class (this is good to do, too, from time to time, to make yourself known in a positive way). And be conscientious – don’t leave the professor hanging if he asks a question. Never, ever sleep in class. Don’t skip, either. If you have a moment of weakness and do skip, talk to the professor about it after. Don’t be embarrassed to go back to class if you did have a bad spell and missed some lessons. Professors have seen a lot when it comes to student behavior. Most are kind and will help you get back on track, if you ask.

Use Labs

Even if you feel you are generally strong academically, do stop by the Writing, Math and any other labs on campus after you get back a paper or test that has some red marks on it. You can always get better, and these labs are a free service for you. You may need to hone your skills; if not now, for 200-level classes you will take later.

Join Clubs and/or Teams

Joining a club and/or team will help you build friendships on campus, but also allow you to build your network amongst the college staff who advise/coach these groups. Clubs usually have minimal admissions requirements, while teams usually require some athletic ability. However, some teams may be open to people who did not play the high school varsity version of that sport. Ask the campus Athletics Director if you could be qualified.

Get to Know the Student Services (Career/Co-op/Internship/Transfer/Advisement/Counseling) Offices

Students report that Student Services offices are invaluable. They can hook you up with a white-collar internship that could lead to a real job upon graduation. Learn to “dress for success” and how to write a resume. They also can find you the best transfer deal to a four-year college. They can help you pick the best courses to graduate on time, or lend an ear if you are having personal troubles. Make contact with the various offices in this branch of Administration and don’t be afraid to visit as-needed throughout your time at community college. They are there to help.

Hopefully, this checklist helps you navigate through your time in community college. Are we missing anything? If you’d like to add your thoughts to this list, find this story on our web site,, and hit “reply” to comment, or write to with your suggestions. Have a great semester – onward to success!