The 6 Ways Successful Academics Think Differently

Intellect isn't the ultimate measure of our existence, but it's definitely an advantage!

Millions of people attend college courses, certification programs, or outside classwork to develop the skills they need to build a successful career, but not all students are equally successful. Of course, that word—success—has multiple definitions; you could define success purely in terms of the grades you get, in terms of what career you’re able to build when you’re done, or based on how much you take away from your actual classes.

But no matter how you define success, there are some types of students that end up achieving them easier or more frequently than others. So what makes these “successful” academics different?

How Successful Academics Think Differently

Much comes down to how these students think and conceptualize the academic process.

For example:

1. They set specific and actionable goals. First, they understand the importance of goal setting in an academic environment. They aren’t there simply because they feel they have to be, and aren’t just doing what other people tell them to do. Instead, they set their own goals and make them specific, actionable, and measurable. For example, they may aim to graduate with a specific degree by a certain timeframe, and break that goal down into different classes, with structured goals for each one. This keeps them driven, focused, and most of all, accountable for their actions.

2. They plan for the future over the present. Successful students also tend to prioritize the future over the present. This is a fundamental philosophy that allows them to approach work differently; for example, they might work on an end-of-semester essay at the beginning of a semester, because they know it’s going to save them time in the long run. They’ll also forgo present-focused experiences, like parties and indulgences, over future-focused ones, like studying and preparing.

3. They make sustainable habits. Most students procrastinate, but the most successful students make sustainable, repetitive habits. Instead of planning to stay up all night the night before an exam, these students dedicate 30 minutes a night to studying in the weeks leading up to the exam. They’re consistent and committed, and end up spending less total time working as a result—plus, they end up with higher retention levels, and are less stressed by the end of the semester.

4. They aren’t afraid to communicate with peers and professors. Some people view their classes as an individual experience; after all, they’re the ones getting the grade. But any class you take should be viewed as a collaborative experience; the more you communicate with your classmates and professors, the more successful you stand to be. If you don’t understand something, ask a question. If you need help studying, try to form a group. Even commiserating about the experience of writing a long essay can be helpful in relieving stress.

5. They value skills and knowledge over grades. Successful students often prioritize the skills and knowledge they develop in the classroom over the bottom-line grades they get. Grades are important, to an extent, but it’s usually better to get a “B” in a class and walk away with valuable, retained information, than to get an “A” and walk away with nothing. Incidentally, this prioritization of knowledge over grades usually ends up netting you better grades anyway; you focus on memory and retention, rather than short-term fixes and workarounds.

6. They recognize the value of rest and personal time. This one may surprise you. The most successful academics aren’t the ones who stay up all night studying, never taking breaks; in fact, these are the students who end up burning out the most. Instead, the successful ones are the ones who recognize the value of personal time and rest. They take breaks often, appreciate downtime, and have fun throughout the college experience.

Shaping a New Mentality

One of the problems with these perspective differences is that they aren’t immediately obtainable; for example, some people are naturally inclined to favor the future over the present, while others prefer the present over the future. Still, it’s possible to exert some influence over your own perspectives through sheer force of will. You first need to understand the value of these perspectives, and then work on repeating them to yourself, almost like a mantra. If you commit to the goals and practices associated with each overarching philosophy, eventually you’ll find yourself aligned with it. It takes discipline and commitment, but it’s certainly achievable; any student can become a success. 

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