What does it mean for you to be successful in college? Many students entering college for the first time, or perhaps returning to college after many years, wonder if they can be successful in their studies.

Within higher education, student success is often thought of in terms of persistence (staying enrolled in college) or meeting a personal goal (earning a degree). Research has examined what factors are most likely to contribute to successfully completing college and meeting your individual goals. Cornerstone University’s Professional & Graduate Studies division seeks to integrate a number of these research-based findings into our work in student success.

Here are five skills for success that draw upon some of this research.


This might seem like an obvious place to start, but to be successful, you should make an intentional choice to make the most of your classes and assignments.

This includes:

  • A commitment to getting the most out of class time.
  • Being open to learning new ideas.
  • Developing effective reading and writing habits.
  • Asking for help from professors when you need it.

Vincent Tinto is well-known within higher education for his work researching why students leave college. He states that students should have strong academic integration to persist in their studies (Tinto, 1993). In other words, successful students integrate into the academic aspects of college life and find satisfaction in their studies.

Braxton and Lien (2000) have also discussed academic integration, especially the importance of students remaining intellectually connected to their college and not becoming isolated.

In addition to regular classroom learning, PGS offers workshops and additional resources to help you achieve success in your studies. These provide ways to connect with the university and enhance opportunities to be successful.


Tinto (1993) also talked about the importance of social integration or a sense of connection and belonging a student feels towards their university. This idea highlights the importance of relationships and how making connections with others can help you achieve success.

Getting to know other students in a cohort or degree program can be essential to being successful, especially when you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed with classes or assignments. Having other people available to provide support can make a huge difference. Friends and family can also be an essential source of encouragement and support.


One of the best ways for you to maintain focus and energy is to clearly identify goals and steadily work toward achieving those objectives.

Ken Bain (2012) writes that successful students have a high degree of motivation for attending college. Sometimes motivation might be internal (e.g., a desire to finish a degree, to fulfill a personal ambition, etc.) or it might be external (e.g., a new job, a change of career, addressing a social issue, etc.).

Whatever the motivation is, write it down and use it as a reminder of why attending college is important.


One of the most beneficial aspects of being a college student as an adult is drawing from your own life experience and expertise. As an adult student, you almost always have knowledge and insights gained from your work life, your family background and your community involvement.

As you take classes, read books and complete assignments, you can look to find ways to integrate their new learning with what you already know. This is especially effective in making connections to a current workplace or community issue. Often there will be moments of insight or connections while sitting in class, listening to a lecture or reading. Keeping a list of these insights encourages you to see your growth over time and fuels your motivation for learning. Bain (2012) states that making these types of connections and maintaining a curiosity for learning are important for success.


As an adult student, you may face a challenge in finding enough time for your studies. You may have a busy schedule of balancing work, family and other commitments. Adding college-level studies to this schedule is a major practical consideration for most students.

Your schedule will look different than others, but sitting down with a calendar on a regular basis and mapping out specific blocks of time for study can make a big difference. Telling friends and family that you have committed a certain time to complete an assignment or read for class can also help you to make room for your studies. And it lets others know how to adjust to an established study schedule.

Becoming a successful student and developing skills that will sustain learning can take time to develop. Taking small steps toward a specific goal is one way to become successful.


Academic support at PGS equips students to thrive. Writing workshops, tutoring and other services help students affirm their commitment to study and to pursue their goals.

Discover Academic Support

What is one thing you can do this week to meet your educational goals? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!


Bain, K. (2012). What the best college students do. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Braxton, J. M. & Lien, L. A. (2000). The viability of academic integration as a central construct in Tinto’s interactionalist theory of college student departure. In J. M. Braxton (Ed.), Reworking the student departure puzzle, pp. 11-28. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.

Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. Chicago:Univ. of Chicago Press.