How NOT to Succeed in College

How NOT to Succeed in College

Despite his struggles as a student, Dr. Renard Doneskey is a professor of English at Southwestern Adventist University.

I had trouble in college, especially during my first two years. I can’t relate to those people who ace college, graduate with a 4.0, and wear those cool cords while they march. I could never have done it! Often times I could barely make a B in my classes, even when I was trying my very best.

Here are some ways NOT to succeed in college, learned by a real college slacker. Mixed in is some serious edifying advice about how to actually do well.

First, don’t go to class. My freshmen year at Pacific Union College, I systematically skipped class for more important college-related things: playing monopoly, poker, hanging out with my girlfriend, reading novels. I justified skipping by noting to myself that classes were boring, my teachers didn’t like me, and that everything I needed to know was in my textbook.  Going to class was too much hassle, and besides, it could get you in trouble.

My sophomore year, after being uninvited to PUC, I found myself at Southwestern Adventist University. One time after a long series of skipping class, Dr. Fish, my professor, looked at me and said “Doneskey, where have YOU been?”  All I could do was boldly say, “I’ve been around.”  It was a lame response, but at least I delivered the line well.  Fish looked disgusted and told me I should be in class more often, “I might actually learn something.”

That’s what I’m talking about!  Going to class is a hazard:  you could get called upon, or worse.  You could get called OUT. If you skip once, you know that no real harm is done. When you go back, you might have to explain where you were.  If you don’t have a good reply, maybe you should just skip again!

Conversely, when I became a good student, I discovered that you should always go to class. It’s the one main thing you can do to succeed in college.  Go to class even if you haven’t done your assignment, believe your teacher is lame, can’t understand his or her accent, or if you believe, perhaps correctly, that you will learn nothing from going to class.  You may wonder what’s the value of going to class under these circumstances?

It’s a magic I can’t fully explain, but teachers will almost never fail students who actually show up.  They will try and help you, be interested in why you are doing badly, and offer advice. If you don’t go, they have little interest in helping. For some reason, teachers take it personally if you skip their class—like it’s an insult or a slam.  Of course you were just really tired. Yet once you miss two times, the teacher will view you differently.

I remember when my wife was getting her undergraduate education degree and her MA in education from La Sierra University.  She had a psychotic master teacher in a Corona, CA public school who didn’t like her.  She would ask me, “How am I going to pass? He hates me.”  My advice: get up in the morning. Aim your car to Corona, and drive. Just do your best. Jayne took my advice and went every day to class. While the psycho teacher never did like her, her student teaching supervisor thought she was courageous for continuing to work through that difficult situation, and she got an A.

Second tip in how NOT to succeed:  Have no goal or plan.  When I started at PUC, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.  I didn’t want to be in college at all but my parents forced me to go. I found myself at PUC without a goal.  I was a music major, only because I could play guitar hours on end and I thought maybe I could stomach the other classes that came along.

I could see no point in what I was doing, so I didn’t study, didn’t like the subject matter, and thought the other music majors were downright weird. My roommate was a music major too. He and the other music majors hung out in our room, talking about this musical piece and that, stuff I didn’t know about, minor third this, pentatonic that.  I was thinking: “Guys, where are the cards, let’s go!  Blackjack anyone?”

It’s hard to succeed in college when you don’t know what you want to do, or you’re following someone else’s dream for your life.  It’s not that you have to declare a major and stick with it thick and thin. Still, if you have some idea where you’re headed, at least you’ve got something.

Conversely, I found that I began to succeed in college when I found the great secret to good grades:  find ways to get college credit for doing what I’m already doing.  For general requirements I found myself in a modern literature class. Homework was to read books and talk about them in class. When I got my first college “A” it hit me, I could get credit for doing what I did anyway: sitting around my dorm room reading novels.

Last, if you don’t want to succeed in college, isolate yourself.  At PUC I was rarely seen outside the dorm or the cafeteria.  I had some poker playing buddies, but they were pre-meds and did stuff like study chemistry, so unless a game was on I didn’t hang with them.  I joined no club and participated in nothing not required for a class.  Even at church I would sit by myself for the most part.

This combo of skipping class, having no goal and being a non-participant really worked for me.  I had one year of college with a 1.66 GPA and almost no units generated.

If you actually want to do well in college, do the opposite of me. Go to class. Have a goal, and don’t let your parents decide what you are going to be. Participate in campus life and make friends. Do this only if you want to succeed.


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  1. Kofi Agyeman
    October 22, 19:53 Reply
    Classic Doneskey! Only if you want to succeed. Thanks so much!

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