What Makes a Successful Student?

Most would agree that a successful student is one who maintains effective habits such as attendance, studying, and time management. Although one can strive for these goals by themselves, it is my belief that these habits arise naturally from a certain mindset.

The mindset most students have after twelve years of primary education is simple: complete this requirement, so that I can complete the next requirement, so that I can eventually enter the “real world” and start getting some benefit for all this effort. This mindset is heavily reinforced throughout middle and high school by the use of periodic (and often incessant) testing schedules, certifying that students have churned through enough certifications to continue on to the next certification. This mindset can work for some students (those with an iron will to eventually receive a paycheck), but for many it leads to feelings of monotony and boredom, begging the question, “when can I finally start to do something meaningful or rewarding?” This can send students spiraling down an existential rabbit hole, one which I can say from experience only leads to more monotony, usually in the form of minimum wage jobs.

A more useful mindset to adopt in academic matters is one of curiosity and self-improvement. Rather than viewing courses as stepping stones to more courses and eventually a diploma, view each course as an opportunity to improve both yourself and your understanding of the world around you. For example, an English course, when viewed from the first perspective, looks like an eighteen-week checklist that, upon completion, gives you three to four abstract points called “credits”, which, once you’ve got enough, you can eventually cash in for an employability certificate. When viewed from the second perspective, it becomes an opportunity to hone your skills in written communication, to explore diverse world views through literature and discussion, and to develop opinions and tastes to guide you in the further pursuit of knowledge. Although employment is an important (and arguably noble) goal, without any sort of intermediate reward for the next two to five years, most people would struggle to remain committed. Adopting a healthier mindset simply shows you that the knowledge and skill you gain from each course is the reward, not the three to four points of credit, or even the employability certificate.