Drop your high school attitude!

Photo courtesy of Sarah Brown/Unsplash

So, what kind of a student were you in high school? What peer group did you most identify and hang out with? Where you part of the Good, the Bad, or the Ugly?

Perhaps you were one of those nerdy types who actually did well in school.  If so, you may have been part of an academically inclined social group. Or, more likely, perhaps you were a resigned outsider who found an easy escape in doing schoolwork.  Were you one of only a few who knew what the Queen’s Gambit referred to? (The right answer is chess).

On the flip side, perhaps you were like most adolescents, looking forward to school mostly because it was your best social convener, whether for gossip, to play sports, or just to hang out with your buddies.  

Or perhaps, you leaned more to the dark side, outright resentful of attending school, thinking of most of it as just boring or irrelevant.  Perhaps you had had your share of admonishments from teachers and parents alike regarding your academic “efforts,” and you just couldn’t wait to get the hell out there.

Clarifying these high school tendencies can shed some light on your ability to do well in college or university. Regardless of your analysis though, for a variety of reasons, it is not uncommon for most of us, at times at least, to really just want to skate through high school–to keep showing up, to go through the motions–to get it behind you, so you can enter young adulthood with a clean slate on the way to full-fledged self-determination.

In the years following high school, though, many competing priorities are quickly evident: Make some money, plan to travel, buy a car, develop a sports interest, party, develop your love life, or figure out what job or career might be worth pursuing, to name just a few. So it becomes easy to see how distractible the average person might be as they enter their college years, and worse, how easy it might be to just continue the same approach to school as what got you through high school.

But that would be a big mistake, especially if you wanted to have a successful undergraduate career. So if you are truly distracted by other priorities, it may well be in your best interest to take some time away from school after completing high school–to make some money, to assert your independence, to sort out your priorities, and to be exposed to (hopefully!) some menial work that you would never do for free, to improve your perspective on the value of education.

If you are at the point where you are at least seeing some value in pursuing post-secondary education, then there are at least five perspectives that you will need to embrace if you wish to be successful:

A more challenging academic environment. First, you will need to give up any persisting “skate-through” attitude left over from high school. Why?  First, the academic demands will be more significant than high school, and you will be competing with more students who are taking their studies seriously than in high school, so it will become much easier to fall to the bottom of the class (many of your less academically-inclined high school classmates will have dropped off the education treadmill by this point).

There are few benefits to mediocrity. Second, the goal of “just getting through” is, in fact, a strategy to pursue mediocrity, which may keep you connected with a like-minded peer group, but is not valued by many in the marketplace where you will one day be spending most of your life working.  Having a transcript loaded with mediocre grades will not be that impressive if you have any designs on postgraduate degrees either, and it is doubtful it will do much for your self-esteem either.  If you are going to spend the time to learn something, why not learn it well?  Or are you committed to trying to prove to both yourself and the world that you are uninterested in doing your very best, to reach your full potential?

You will need to believe in yourself—do you? Third,  you may need to notice something very important about post-secondary education.  Since it is considered optional in most countries, no one really cares if you do well or if you fail (unlike high school, where both parents and teachers will often fall over themselves to cajole you to do at least the minimal amount necessary to pass). So the motivation to do well will have to come from within–how firmly are you motivated, how much do you believe in yourself, and how mature are you to take this challenge on? Are you willing to put your best foot forward, to stand up and be counted, to contribute whatever you can to make this world a better place?  What will your legacy be at the end of the day?

Get your money’s worth. And fourth, unlike primary and secondary school, college tuitions and associated costs can be very expensive–a huge investment for some families–money that will be wasted if your laissez-faire attitude to education persists.  Colleges and universities do not really care if you fail, since they have already got your money!  So, did you want to get your money’s worth, or not? 

Delayed Gratification. And finally, a fundamental principle that successful students learn is delayed gratification–the willingness to prioritize work that is needed over time spent enjoying your social life.  Most mature students recognize that the amount of time needed to complete a given homework assignment is always uncertain, so they will get right on it, so that, if there is any time to relax, it will happen after the school work is done.  How many times have students decided to prioritize their free time with friends with a vague commitment to give their homework an hour of time afterwatds, only to realize that they have significantly underestimated the time needed–a great way to pursue mediocre marks.