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How to succeed in college – psychology professor offers evidence-based study tips

Donald Foss suggests life balance and study techniques for productive college experience

Dr. Donald Foss

Deadlines. Demands. Stresses.

All can seep into the college experience prompting students to lose focus.

Psychology Professor Donald Foss, author of Your Complete Guide to College Success: How to Study Smart, Meet Your Goals, and Enjoy Campus Life, offers advice and helpful tips to ensure an academically successful college experience.

What Time Is It? 
Distinguish between class time, study time and your time.  Managing time means managing yourself.  Make a calendar and put all your obligations on it, including the time needed to prepare for tests, research term papers, outside work hours, and social events.  You’ll immediately get some time urgency.  That’s good.

“Studying” Isn’t the Best Way to Study
Simply reading, re-reading and highlighting doesn’t lead to effective learning. Active learning techniques are better: strategically read your text, write a summary, and honestly check your work.  Frequent (daily), honest self-assessment is a key to success.

What’s the Point?
Don’t just take notes; take good ones.  Listen for the “take home messages” of the lesson and the top three or four supporting points, and write them down.  Study the notes by asking yourself questions about them and, again, honestly assess whether you can answer them.  Don’t fool yourself; be sure you can re-state the key points.

The Brain-Wide Web
Reading a text from beginning to end is not the most effective way to read. Sink your brain power into it by being a goal-oriented reader. Preview the text, attend to the bolded words and items, and the summary.  Ask yourself what the chapter is about and then read to answer those questions. 

Stuff Happens
When things go wrong (and they will) find constructive coping techniques. Venting your frustrations is of no benefit to you.  Instead, learn to analyze the sources of your challenges and to deal with them effectively.  

Your Major and Your Career Start Now
During your first semester take advantage of services on campus that can help you select a major or get your first job. Counselors and Career Service Centers can’t help you much if you show up just before graduation.

“Some students may feel like much of college is about fun and freedom, but most are serious and concerned about their future.  Their goal, though they may not express it that way, is to become mature adults,” Foss said.   He teaches graduate and undergraduate psychology courses and has research interests in cognitive psychology.  He has published numerous articles and book chapters, as well as co-written or co-edited seven books.

For more info on Your Complete Guide to College Success, visit

- By Marisa Ramirez

(Psychology Professor Donald Foss, author of Your Complete Guide to College Success: How to Study Smart, Meet Your Goals, and Enjoy Campus Life)