8 Habits of Successful Students

College success starts in elementary school. Help your child adopt the key habits of successful students with advice from a local educator.

If college is in your child’s future, you may already be helping them prepare to be successful once they join campus life. But what exactly are the habits of successful students?

Experts say developing the habits of successful students happens over the span of years, so consider preschool, elementary, middle and high school to all be college prep years for your child. With proper guidance and support your child can build a solid foundation to thrive academically and socially at college.

Tyesha Bowens is a College Counselor at Michigan Math and Science Academy (MMSA), a charter public school in Warren. She works with high school juniors and seniors and connects with former students who have gone on to college to learn what helped them prepare for post-secondary education. 

She says that good grades help, but do not guarantee success.

“Academic-minded students have the grades and can get into the schools they want to get into, but I do worry about them, just as I worry for the students who may not have the academics but have other skills they need. Both need to know that if they go on to college and have the tools they need, they can do well,” Bowens says.

Habits of successful students

Here, Bowens shares eight habits that students need in order to be most successful in college — academically, socially and emotionally.

1. Be organized

“A lot of kids don’t know that being organized means having a routine,” Bowens says. When a student has organizational skills, they follow the same steps each day to be prepared to learn. 

“Organization can mean going to class and sitting up front. And making sure you are engaged in the classroom. Also making sure you are taking notes, being on time and being present,” she explains.

2. Use a planner

By making a visual plan of the semester, term or entire school year, a student can see what’s coming and prepare for it. This includes projects, quizzes, exams, reports and other deadlines. Sports and extracurriculars can also fit into this plan.

“I tell my students to have a planner,” says Bowens. Using an electronic planner is acceptable, “but there’s something about seeing a piece of paper and using a printed calendar that helps cement the plan in your mind,” she says. 

Parents can decide what age makes sense for their child to start using a planner, and it may start out as a sheet of paper stuck to the refrigerator. Parents can also model planner use and explain to their child what they plan for, how and why. 

3. Study effectively

Effective study skills include taking the time to review what was learned in class each day. It’s an intentional act that helps solidify concepts, says Bowens. 

“A student with this habit has a routine of coming home from school and having a snack or some downtime for 10-20 minutes. But then they go back to review their notes or start their homework. It has to be right after school,” she explains. “I’ve noticed that students who have this routine do well.” 

Plan for your child to spend a good 15 to 20 minutes per subject just reviewing what they learned that day — and help them find a quiet, distraction-free place to work.

4. Take notes 

Bowens is a fan of taking notes. She says the Cornell method is beneficial for students to capture concepts covered in class. 

“I tell students to listen for the cues that the teacher gives. When they say something like ‘this might be important,’ or ‘remember this,’ make sure you write it down,” she says. 

Effective learners develop shorthand to capture key information. “Take notes, then go back over what you wrote right after class to help you remember more effectively,” she says. “You may even want to rewrite your notes and fill in points that you didn’t capture on paper but that you remember from the class.”

5. Be well-rounded

“Students who do extracurricular activities, sports, music or technology have many experiences they can take to college,” Bowens says. Social experiences gained from trying many different things may be the reason. 

“High achievers who only focus on academics sometimes don’t do as well socially when they get to college, and they don’t know how to handle that,” she explains. “Whereas the social person, if they learn how to take notes, are organized, have a strong social network, they can become successful in time. I like to say that students need to have grit and be assertive.”

6. Make mistakes and learn from them

“Making a mistake is how we learn. We like to say keep doing it until you can’t get it wrong,” Bowens says. “I want parents to know it’s OK for your child to make mistakes.”

Even young kids can learn from their everyday mistakes, if given the chance. “If they left their book bag in the car, let them sit with that so next time they know they need to make sure they have what they need. I have my backpack, I have my lunch, I’m ready before I get out of the car,” she says.

7. Build a growth mindset

Positive self-talk is a great way to manifest success, and even young kids can learn this habit and benefit from it. 

“You can write in your notebook ‘I’m going to succeed in math this year,’ and ‘I will do well on my English exam.’ These words are key because if you keep saying them, you will believe them and establish a growth mindset,” Bowens says. 

8. Show up and build relationships

Students who use their time in middle school and high school to build relationships with teachers have already conquered the fear of asking questions in a 500-student lecture hall or during office hours with a professor. 

Content sponsored by Michigan Education Savings Program. Visit misaves.com. Find more content like this at Making Your Child’s College Dreams Come True.

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Metro Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.


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