By Paul Culp, MA (Oxon.), CFT, GCDF, CCSP

Last fall we brought you Ten Commandments (And Then Some) for College Success and were pleased by the response. Now we have a new crop of student/clients preparing to begin college, in addition to the grizzled veterans of one or more years of higher education, so we’ve decided to break up our Decalogue into ten bite-sized bits suitable for busy people in the run-up to a new academic year. We’re confident that you’ll prosper if you take our advice, so please, everyone, leave that golden calf alone for a few minutes and give heed to a man who’s been to the mountain and come back to lay some verities on you:

The First Commandment for College Success:

Thou shalt know thyself.

Another article by The Coaching Educator last year, Ten Common Mistakes You Must Avoid in Applying for College (August 31), noted the importance of choosing a college compatible with your temperament and abilities:

“High school students generally don’t know quite who they are in many respects, but by the time you apply for college you should have some realistic idea of your strengths, weaknesses, and personality traits. It’s important to know when to challenge those and when to go along with them.”

Just as you should choose your college realistically, you should choose your course of study with a similar outlook. The American system, unlike the universities in most other countries, allows students great latitude to experiment, especially during the first two years, when a large percentage of courses are outside the student’s major. This can be good in the case of students who are not quite sure what they ought to do, and bad in the case of those who enter with unrealistic expectations or who make ill-advised changes of major.

The fact that your transcript and test scores qualify you for a particular program doesn’t mean that program is a good fit for you. If sitting down and writing a paper roils your stomach, the humanities or social sciences might not be right for you, whatever allure they might possess, and you are unlikely to perform well in those fields. If you don’t especially like or excel at laboratory experiments, pre-med is probably a mistake. If you don’t enjoy logical argumentation, preparing yourself for law school is likely not the best plan.

One of my professors, Dr. X, a country boy from the wilds of West Texas, decided to major in philosophy while attending college in Dallas, because he saw that philosophy majors all carried neat little books of quotations from the great philosophers, along with tidy little black notebooks, and he thought that was immeasurably cool. Three degrees and a tenured full professorship later, he appeared to have made a choice that worked for him. However, we don’t recommend selecting your major on such a non-rational basis; the fact that something seems cool or otherwise admirable doesn’t necessarily make it a wise choice for a field of study.

A case in point: One of my best friends from childhood and adolescence has done quite well for himself in a computer science career, but only after a long and fruitless quest to complete a pre-med program for which he had little aptitude. However much he wanted to become a physician—a lucrative profession that carries great prestige and ample opportunities for helping others—he simply didn’t have the necessary talents. With great fortitude he manfully gritted out the lower-level courses and kept going for a while, but he finally had to change majors, and his college experience was stressful, inefficient, and expensive, with a cumulative GPA well below what he would have produced had he assessed his own abilities a bit better and chosen an appropriate major sooner.

There’s your First Commandment for College Success. Please join us again, nine more times.

Getting into the college of your choice and finding the wherewithal to pay for it is wonderful. That’s what The Coaching Educator is here to help you do. But that’s not the only reason we’re here. We also try to be expert in all things related to college success, and to pass that knowledge on to our student/clients and our readers. The quest for college success begins with the college search process and continues until you take your diploma and shake hands with the president.

To learn more about our philosophy and capabilities, be sure to watch our free webinars, listen to our podcasts, sign up for our four-week College App Boot Camp, consider our Ultimate Programs and our special services for athletes and performing-arts students, and book a consultation to hear what we can do for you and how we do it. Keep reading this blog, and look for us on social media (see links below) as we keep our clients and admirers advised of new developments in our effort to help students get into and succeed at the right school.

Paul Culp is certified as a global career development facilitator and writes about college admissions, college costs, financial aid, and college life in general for The Coaching Educator team. A former journalist and corporate ghostwriter who now operates Shenandoah Proofreading, Editing & Composition Services (SPECS), he has also been a humanities teacher at all levels from university down to sixth grade. Paul has degrees from Oxford University, Jacksonville State University, and Samford University, and also is certified as a fitness trainer.

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

Recommended Reading About College Success

Culp, Paul. “Getting to Grips With Test Anxiety,” The Coaching Educator, 28 November 2018, http://tce.local/2018/11/28/getting-to-grips-with-test-anxiety/

Culp, Paul. “More Than Half of American College Students Leave Without a Degree. Here’s Why,” The Coaching Educator, 8 September 2018, http://tce.local/2018/09/08/more-than-half-of-american-college-students-leave-without-a-degree-heres-why/

Culp, Paul “The Myth and Madness of Multitasking,” The Coaching Educator, 18 November 2018, http://tce.local/2018/11/18/the-myth-and-madness-of-multitasking/

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