Mistakes in College Every Student Should Avoid

Dec 25, 2013 | By Jessica Santina


Q: I had a difficult time in high school, and it was a struggle to save up enough money and get accepted into college. I'm excited to start, and I don't want to screw it up. You're a college instructor — what are the biggest college mistakes, and how do I avoid them?

-- Logan

I wish every one of my students would ask me this on the first day of school. On that first day it's all bright, shiny faces, and the air rings with possibility. Then somewhere around week three, all that falls apart. Grades plummet, classes are skipped, and the requests for extra credit start filtering in (a big mistake to avoid in college).

Don't let these college mistakes happen to you.

Seven Mistakes to Avoid in College

Racking up debt and other college financing mistakes:

College financing mistakes could haunt you for most of your adult life. I will be paying my student loans for the rest of my life, and it's likely that most of today's college students will, too. Student debt is at an all-time high, with class of 2013 graduates averaging $35,200 in loan and credit card debt (money.cnn.com). Do what you can to stay out of debt. Pay cash for food, observe a budget, and start putting money aside into a savings account. Here are some tips for paying back student loans.

Not asking for help:

It's frustrating when students contact me on the day an assignment is due and say that they didn't really understand how to do it, or had trouble accessing the links I provided to them, or had some other easily solvable problem that interfered with their ability to get the work done. Our job is to help you and answer your questions. Don't let a fear of asking questions keep you from success.

Failing to manage stress:

College is stressful, no matter your age. Take care of yourself. Make time for frequent exercise and sleep. And take advantage of resources that your college tuition likely pays for — things like tutoring centers, counseling, advisement, and more. Join a study group. Don't let feeling overwhelmed ruin your college experience.

Not reading the syllabus:

Your teachers will each provide you with a syllabus that will spell out everything you need to know in order to do well in the course — assignment deadlines, late work policies, how participation is graded, and more. It's the key to everything. Read it carefully.

Not trying things:

You will change in innumerable ways during your college years. Use this time to explore. That's what college is all about! Take classes that aren't for your major. Join a club. Audition for a play. Have experiences. Use college to try new things and see what fits.

Pulling all-nighters, and other studying gaffes:

A study of 111 students at St. Lawrence University concluded that pulling all-nighters equals lower grades. College students may see it as a rite of passage, but it's a simply fact for humans: We need sleep to perform at our best. Instead, strive for a regular study schedule and stick to it.

Not planning for a professional life:

In a 2013 York College of Pennsylvania study on professionalism in the workplace, 401 human resources professionals reported that recent college graduates exhibited a lack of professionalism, an increasing sense of entitlement, a lack of IT etiquette, and a lack of focus on the job. The place to hone your professional skills is in college. Seek career counseling and get help with resume and interview skills. Explore internships. Attend networking functions. Get a professional email address (a.k.a. skip the "hotmama@yahoo.com"). And always put your best foot forward when using social media.

Thanks for the great question, Logan! Looking forward to hearing about your college experience! As always, I'm here for all your questions about teaching and learning online. Just shoot me a question, or visit me on Google+. Thanks for reading!


"All-Nighters Equal Lower Grades," sciencedaily.com, December 1, 2007, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071130162518.htm

"Millennial Expert Shares Top 5 Mistakes To Avoid For College Freshman," CBS Los Angeles, Aug. 13, 2013, http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2013/08/13/top-5-mistakes-to-avoid-for-college-freshman/

"Class of 2013 grads average $35,200 in total debt," CNN Money, May 17, 2013, Blake Ellis, http://money.cnn.com/2013/05/17/pf/college/student-debt/index.html

2013 Professionalism Study, York College of Pennsylvania, http://www.ycp.edu/offices-and-services/academic-services/center-for-professional-excellence/2013-professionalism-study/

Additional Information Courtesy of OnlineColleges.com

10 Mistakes New College Students Make

1. Failing to escape the high-school mindset

Whether you went to an online high school or a traditional one, college is going to be a lot more difficult than some high school students expect. If you aced high school and expect to coast through college, it's time to readjust your outlook. Expectations are much higher in college, so not studying enough (or at all) can backfire in a major way.

2. Not learning to de-stress

When it comes to college, working too hard is as dangerous as not working hard enough. Avoid burn out by enjoying some downtime on occasion.

3. Choosing the wrong type of school

Did you let the allure of a big name school keep you from choosing a program that better suits you? Choosing your college is one of the most important decisions of your lifetime. Don't rush it!

4. Choosing (and settling for) the wrong major

It's common for students to put potential salary above suitability for their chosen career. Choose a discipline you really love and are happy doing; after all, you're likely going to dedicate a good chunk of your adult life to it. Don't settle, either--it's never too late to change majors.

RelatedHow to Chose a College Major

5. Socializing too much

Who wants to wrestle with calculus when there are so many new college experiences to be had? Remember that your primary goal as a student is to succeed in your classes so that you can get a real (or better) career with plenty of paid vacation and the funds to enjoy it, which, we might add, beats beer pong any day of the week.

6. Not establishing a support system

Studies show that college stresses make many students prone to depression. When things get rough, enlist a shoulder to lean on.

7. Not staying organized

College can be a full-time job, even for students attending convenient online colleges. Keep the chaos to a minimum by investing in an organizer and a comfortable, well stocked study nook. If you can keep your desk clean too, then you're really doing well!

8. Not getting help when they need it

If you're putting everything into a course but still struggling to keep your head above water, consider getting help. Make good use of your professor's office hours, class study groups, and your schools academic tutoring services.

9. Choosing a classic college diet (i.e. pizza and beer)

It can be difficult to maintain a healthy diet on a student budget, but that's no excuse for relying on fast food and frozen dinners (assuming you remember to eat at all). Eating well can improve your mood, your focus and your outlook on life. Stick to fresh produce, lean proteins, whole grains and lots of water. Also try to squeeze in common brain foods, like nuts, fish, blueberries, spinach and green tea.

10. Not getting enough sleep

Not getting enough shut-eye is one sure way to undermine your efforts. If you want to survive your classes, let alone your college career, make sleep a priority.