Are your college courses on-campus or online?

With some universities having only online classes and others doing in-person classes, it’s hard to know what to do to reach your goals for the semester or beyond.   What techniques and strategies should you use? What college success tips will help you? 

It’s a tumultuous and uncertain time.  You may start classes in person and then switch to online courses.  The good news is that many success tips that work in on-campus classes work for online courses.  

All you need to do is apply them to different settings. Whether you’re taking classes online or in person, there are proven techniques you can use to achieve your goals in any educational environment.

Let’s dive into 11 things you can do to earn a high GPA!


11 College Success Tips

The tips on this list are ones I share with students who take classes on-campus and online.   Apply them to your learning and see how they help you become a high-achieving student. 


#1 Create a vision of college success and set academic goals

If you can see it, feel it, and believe you will reach your vision of success, you will achieve it.  Theodore Roosevelt expressed this idea, “Believe you can, and you’re halfway there.” A vision inspires you to keep going even if you fail an exam, get a low grade on a project, or feel alone and isolated.   

Select a vision that suits who you are and what you want to be. For example, if you’re going to become a chemist, then your dream of college success might be being accepted into a chemistry graduate program, or even better, getting a scholarship or assistantship to that program.

Here’s how you can create an academic vision:

  1. Picture what it will be like when you achieve your vision, get some details or photos of what it will look like.
  2. Next, visualize it in your mind, picture what you will see, how it will feel, where you will be.
  3. Keep that vision in your mind or write it down or say an affirmation every day.
  4. Don’t lose sight of your vision. Keep it near you.

After you have a vision, look for the big goals (yearly or semester goals) you need to make your dream come true.  Break those up further into the goals you need to meet for each semester. 

Do you want to get an A in a specific course?  Look at your syllabus and calculate the grades you can get on exams and projects so that you get an A.

Mark these down in a planner.

Believe you can--Success Quote


#2 Create an action plan for success

Actions and inactions determine the grades you get.  Someone who sticks to a study or writing schedule will get better scores in a course and throughout college.  If you don’t do anything, you won’t get to your destination. You will hurt your grades and jeopardize graduating without a plan. 

So how do you create an action plan?  Think about the behaviors that will lead you to achieve your goals.  Is it reviewing your notes from a class every day?  

Maybe it’s writing for a set amount of time every day (see tip to #6). 

Find these actions and decide when and where you will do them.  After that, start doing them!  One thing that could help you is a tracker, so you can see yourself be consistent.  Darren Hardy’s planning journal, The Best Year of Your Life, includes weekly rhythm registers where you can write the behaviors/tasks you are doing and how often you do them. 

You can do something similar in a notebook, or chart, spreadsheet, etc.  Include the date, the actions, and the results you have.



#3 Evaluate your strengths as a student and use them in how you study

We all have strengths and weaknesses in learning.  My strength is remembering things I write down on paper (not what I type).  My weakness is that I write slower than other people. 

The way I use my strength is by taking notes the first time I hear a lecture online or in person; then I restudy the material writing down the things I missed.  Online videos help me a lot because I can re-watch them.  But, in person, lectures are more challenging.  I devised my own shorthand to capture important information during class.  I also try to write a few sentences about what I learned in class ASAP.

What works for you? How do you learn best in class?

Here’s how you can do this:

  • Think about projects and exams you aced.
  • Ask yourself what you did to succeed on the exams.
  • Write down those things you did to create those successes.
  • Go through the projects you did well on and read the comments your teachers or professors gave you.
  • Write down observations about what they say you did well.

At the end of this, you’ll have a complete list of your strengths.  Use these strengths in college.

Every person’s strengths are different. Don’t use something another excellent student does if it’s not connected to what’s proven to help you succeed.


#4 Create Project Schedules and Study Schedules for Assignments and Exams

When every you get a new project, plan out how you will do it over the next 10 or more days.  Estimate how much time it will take you to study for an exam.  What is the length of the exam? What is the range of material you need to learn?  Consider all these things and then decide how many hours you will need to prepare and review your notes for the exam. Add those tasks to a schedule. Check out my blog post “ for more about writing schedules. 

11 Effective College Success Tips


#5 Review what you learned after class

One tactic that I used well was to review my notes after taking a class (or as soon as possible).  I would add a few notes or bullet points to capture that main idea.  Doing this helps you retain the information you learned so that it is easier to recollect in the

It also makes studying more manageable because you can find notes and points you need to review for an exam.


#6 Write something every day

You don’t have to write about something academic, but write down an idea or thoughts you have on something you learned that day.  These can be things you read on the news, saw in a YouTube video, or heard in a podcast.  Reflect on what it means or how it impacts you, others, etc.  Or even keep a personal journal to express your feelings.

You can also freewrite every day for at least 10 minutes.  A freewrite is where you write without stopping or changing any writing during that time.  Your goal is to put words or ideas on paper.  These writings could be on a topic or based on a writing prompt, or you can write whatever comes into your mind. 

Another option for writing is to do Morning Pages. This concept comes from Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way.  To write Morning Pages, you wake up and write at least three full pages of writing in a notebook.  Consider it a form of journaling where you “dump” your thoughts onto paper. If you want to start writing morning pages, see



#7 Keep a reading journal for your classes (even better a journal for different subject areas)

A reading journal is where you write ideas and thoughts about the texts you’ve read.  My previous blog post describes these in detail. 

I recommend using different journals for all the subjects you study(although you can use just one). Don’t focus on doing a journal entry for every issue or even everything you read.  Pick one thing you’ve read and then write a journal entry.  I suggest you write no more than one and a half pages in a notebook (unless you are inspired to write more). It’s not about the quantity.  It is about understanding, analyzing, and writing about what you read.  


#8 Form study groups (even if they are online)

Study groups work because you need to prepare ahead of time questions or ideas you want to discuss.  One tip for forming study groups is to find people who are motivated and want to do well in class (not necessarily your friends).  Look for people who work hard (even if they don’t speak all the time in class). 

Figure out when and how you will meet and what you are going to do.  Even if you feel you know the material better than other people, the act of explaining and teaching it will help you absorb information for class projects and exams.


#9 Use a planner and track your assignments

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a planner.  You need one, and you should use it.  Whether it is a physical planner or digital planner depends on your preference. 

One tip from a friend of mine is to review your planner at night for the next day.  You might need to add things you missed or any other “surprising” assignments coming up.  I use both my Google Calendar and a physical planner. Find a system that works for you.


#10 Schedule downtime for each day

I used to think I didn’t need downtime: I could chug enough iced coffee (or hot) to keep going.  I had study and work marathons, which wore me down both physically and mentally.  Consuming tons of caffeine helped me stay alert, but the lack of sleep due to the amount of it gave me insomnia. 

Also, I was tied to my books or laptop, and become so engrossed I forgot to eat for hours on end.  The hypoglycemia made me stop because I needed to eat and was weak. 

Downtime helps you relax and recharge your brain.  Find things you can do to calm yourself—like going for a walk, having a tea or coffee break with your friends, reading a book for fun or taking a nap (anything that eases stress except something unhealthy like alcohol). 


#11 Get extra help from an academic tutor or instructor.

Don’t stay in the dark or wonder what you need to do for a class.  Every professor has office hours. Show up when you don’t understand something or can’t figure out how to get started on a project.  Different professors will help you with certain things.  If you ask for writing and research help from a physics professor, they will tell you to see someone.  A physics professor (while expecting your research and writing to be excellent) is not going to help you with how to write your paper, but a writing tutor or private tutor will help you.

See the right instructors for the appropriate things you need to learn.  See what help you can get and where you can find it. If you need a writing tutor, please check out my services at

Final Tips for College

Look over these tips and decide what will work best for you.  Chances are not every piece of advice will suit you, but select at least 5 actions.  Learning online challenges you to be organized and proactive in your learning (even more than in-person).  However, no matter what learning environment you are in,  you can achieve your goals and get the GPA you desire if you apply college success tips.

Which tips will you use at college? Please share them below.