Tips for Academic Success

Below are ten tips for academic success and associated handouts for each tip. We also recommend harnessing the tips learned in our recommended reading for incoming students, Working Smarter, Not Just Harder: Three Sensible Strategies for Succeeding in College...and Life by Dr. Karl W. Reid. Our incoming students have the opportunity to participate in a book club for Working Smarter, Not Just Harder in which they are placed into weekly discussion groups and get the chance to connect with Vanderbilt peers, staff, and faculty.

Tips for Academic Success

  • 1. Make Your Own Decisions

    College provides the opportunity for you to explore activities and curriculum of interest. Although your support system can be helpful in making suggestions, now is the time for you to figure out what works best for you. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to your academics, which means that you decide what balance is right.

  • 2. Make Academics Your Priority

    There are so many clubs and organizations to join or opportunities to take advantage of in college. However, first and foremost you are a Vanderbilt student which means making a commitment to learning. Part of making academics a priority includes setting goals, managing your time well, and consistently studying.

    Self-Evaluation

    Goal Setting

    Studying

  • 3. Go To Class

    Some college professors will not take attendance for their classes so it may not seem crucial. However, the single most important thing you can do for your academics is attend class. When you don’t go to class you are putting yourself at a disadvantage since keeping up on content will be harder to do. If professors post their lecture notes this can be helpful, but the in-class explanations you receive by attending will be invaluable. There is passive learning taking place during the lecture, but when students participate by asking questions in class this becomes active learning. These opportunities of active learning will not happen if you do not attend class.

    If you have to miss class for any reason, we recommend communicating the absence with your professor(s) as soon as possible. A brief email explaining the reason for the absence (i.e. illness or emergency) may allow your professor to assess the best way for you to make up the content/assignment(s).

  • 4. Use an Organizational Tool

    It does not matter what type of organizational tool you use as long as you have one. Some students prefer a Google calendar, paper planner, or phone app. Find out what works best for you and use it. The organizational tool will allow you to anticipate upcoming dates and deadlines so that you do not miss an assignment or a test. The tool will also help you to plan ahead.

  • 5. Get To Know Professors and Teaching Assistants

    Building relationships with others is one of the most valuable things that you can do in college. In addition to developing friendships with classmates, it is important to get to know your professors (and teaching assistants, if applicable). You can get to know your professors and teaching assistants by asking questions in class, sending communication, or visiting office hours. Your professors genuinely want to help you succeed in the class. To make the most out of office hours, you will want to come prepared with a few specific questions to ask. This small act of preparation will let your professors know that you are valuing their time and trying to succeed in their class.

  • 6. Complete Assignments On Time

    Some classes may have projects which require more advance planning and cannot be done in just one sitting. It is important to start an assignment soon after it is assigned to maximize the time you will have to complete it. Starting sooner rather than later will also allow for time to go to office hours if you have questions about the assignment.

    Professors set their own class policies, which can be found on the syllabus for the class. The syllabus will usually state if late work is accepted and if it is accepted if a reduction of points or a grade will happen for late work. When you are able to submit an assignment on time you are maximizing the number of points you can get but also keeping pace so that you do not fall behind in the class.

    Part of completing assignments on time will be to prioritize your to-do list. For example, if you see you have a math quiz, programming assignment, and lab report due you may consider the amount of time each assignment will take, how far in advance to start, and the due date. It is best practice to review your items for the week then rank them by which one(s) you need to tackle first and which one(s) can wait.

  • 7. Use Campus Resources

    The one thing we hope you always remember is that you are not alone! Vanderbilt has so many wonderful resources that we recommend accessing early and often. For example, did you know that we have free STEM tutoring? College can be overwhelming but that is why we have people to help you and places you can go for that help. Many resources have Zoom or virtual options as well so that you can even access these from off-campus. The resources handout below has a full list but please do not hesitate to reach out to us at engineering-oas@vanderbilt.edu if you need help locating a particular resource.

  • 8. Ask For Help When You Need It

    Engineering is a collaborative field, so the sooner you start working with others the more equipped you will be to solve problems. If you try to solve a problem by yourself and don’t see it working out then it’s time to reach out for some assistance. If you take a test and realize it didn’t go well, then we recommend doing test corrections. The Test Corrections worksheet below will allow you to start recognizing patterns in any mistakes or topics that need to be covered more fully before the final.

  • 9. Check E-mail/Brightspace

    Many important announcements will be made over e-mail or in our e-learning platform, BrightSpace. Professors will sometimes mention an upcoming assignment in class, but this is not always the case. When classes start for the semester, it will be important to explore each BrightSpace page and download the syllabus as well as familiarizing yourself with every tab or tool on the page. We recommend looking at every syllabus and adding all the planned dates/deadlines of assignments to your organizational tool. The syllabus will have class policies and expectations which will be important to note for your success in each course.

  • 10. Stay Healthy and Happy

    Self-care is so important because all your basic needs must be met before you can tend to the higher order needs of learning and being a student. Your physical and mental wellness is critical to your overall success.  This means getting enough sleep, eating healthy meals, and managing stress levels. There will be times that you are not feeling your best and we would urge you to seek out help from a professional.

    We also want students to feel connected to the university and to other members of the Vanderbilt community. We have over 40 different engineering-related clubs and organizations that can help you develop a sense of belonging and contribute to a positive college experience. Participation in any number of student clubs, organizations, and activities can offer a break from academics and contribute to your overall health and satisfaction.  Students may also consider Vanderbilt’s Living Learning Communities (LLCs) as a way to enrich their student experience. Academic success is contingent upon holistic wellbeing – you will learn better if you are satisfied with your social life and have an overall sense of happiness.