Use Habits of Successful Students to Improve Your College Experience

students implementing successful habits

One of the prevailing sentiments that gets communicated to prospective or current college students is that earning a degree is “just a piece of paper.” Nothing could be further from the truth, as pursuing a college education is, in many ways, taking the path of more resistance. To this point, college students are postponing earning money and making a living in exchange for learning how to think in a more sophisticated way. This is not to denigrate anyone who decided to enter the workforce directly after high school but rather to celebrate the decision made by college students to consciously persist through the rigor of academia in pursuit of a more fulfilling life.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median weekly earnings for full-time workers who have a high school diploma is $809. By comparison, a full-time worker with a bachelor’s degree earns a median of $1,334 per week.1 This amounts to an additional $27,300 in earnings per year. Further, new data suggests that the return on investment for a college degree is significant, with college graduates earning $2.8 million in lifetime earnings as compared to $1.2 million for high school graduates with no college.2

In This Article:

10 Habits of Successful Students

While there are always exceptions to the data, evidence suggests that the value of earning a college education cannot be understated if students strive to get the most out of their educational experience. To that end, the following illustrates 10 successful habits that students consistently engage in to improve their college experience.

Habit No.1: Persistence

Student success stems from a willingness to have endurance until a task is completed or a commitment to developing strategies to solve problems is achieved. These high performers typically don't like uncertainty or ambiguity in situations — rather they are willing to collect information and evidence they believe may help. They create hypotheses and posit theories about what might work, and they are willing to systematize methods to sustain a problem-solving process over time. In other words, they are not easily defeated and don’t break at the first sign of adversity. Students with the willingness to persist often refuse to quit because they know quitting won’t solve the problem.

Habit No.2: Managing Impulsivity

Other habits of successful people and marks of maturity in young adults is the ability to deny impulses in the pursuit of a goal. It’s commonly accepted that the pre-frontal cortex in humans isn’t fully developed until ages 25 or 26.3 This is the area of the brain responsible for executive function. Knowing this, successful college students think before they act, especially considering the myriad temptations and distractions available. They possess a sense of deliberativeness and visualize a goal and a plan of action before acting. Further, they are reflective about alternatives and consequences, as they take time to reflect on potential outcomes and they make sure to fully understand directions and listen to alternative points of view.

Habit No.3: Active Listening

Another one of the habits of successful people is spending a disproportionate amount of time and energy listening. Not only is listening with the goal of understanding a crucial component to active listening, it’s equally important to slow your mind in order to hear the meaning behind their words. In other words, successful college students pay more attention to what they are hearing than what is going on in their own mind. They engage in conversations with the desire to learn rather than formulating responses or what they are going to say next before the other person is finished speaking.

Habit No.4: Flexible Thinking

While most people prefer what is comfortable and consistent, successful college students create and seek novel approaches to problems by considering alternative points-of-view and dealing with several sources of information, often contradictory information, simultaneously. In many ways, the ability to be a flexible thinker allows for a “big picture” orientation, as in most cases, the information is either imperfect or incomplete. And because of their commitment to learning and expanding their thinking, successful college students possess the ability to incorporate both rational and intuitive thinking, which allows them to connect the dots between concepts and solve complex problems.

Habit No.5: Striving for Accuracy and Precision

Another one of the successful habits is not just understanding that mistakes happen, but understanding that not correcting their mistakes is essentially committing another mistake. Successful college students strive for accuracy and precision and hone a laser focus toward the achievement of a goal. Not only do they seek mastery, flawlessness and economy of energy, they do so with an unrivaled grit. Another way of saying that expectations successful college students have for themselves are always greater than the expectations anyone else has for them. They refuse to live by anyone else’s standards because their standards, and the work they put into living by and up to their standards, are simply more accurate and precise.

Habit No.6: Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations

Thomas Edison once said, “I’ve never made a mistake. I’ve only learned from experience.” This speaks to the notion that humans learn from experience by abstracting meaning from it and applying it in new and novel ways across a variety of situations. When we don’t have precedent for something, we can experience stress, if for no other reason we don’t have experience from which to draw. As we gain experience, however, we can draw on parts of experience and apply it to new and different problems or circumstances. Successful college students do this exceptionally well.

Habit No.7: Thinking and Communicating With Clarity

Fuzzy language can reflect fuzzy thinking, and we see this show up constantly in contemporary society, with people using filler words such as, “like,” “right,” “you know,” and “um.” Successful college students strive to continually refine how they think and articulate what they think in both written and oral communication because they know communicating with clarity is an essential skill for sustained career success. They seek to continually refine their language, which allows for an enhanced facility for critical thinking. It also gives them the ability to communicate with others based on their communication and learning styles, such as using analogies or painting pictures for visual learners and support their assertions with well thought out explanations.

Habit No.8: Creating, Imagining and Innovating

Humans possess the ability to generate ingenious solutions to problems if that capacity is developed. Successful college students demonstrate this by conceptualizing problems differently. They examine alternative perspectives and possibilities from a variety of angles. In many ways, they envision a specific problem and work backward toward the various, potential causes of the problem. Additionally, successful college students are open to criticism, at least more than the average student, because they know that receiving feedback helps them refine their creativity, imagination and innovative capacity.

Habit No.9: Taking Responsible Risks

Think about inventors, innovators or pioneers in the past. These people were willing to push beyond previously established limits. For example, the Wright Brothers discovered powered-man flight by investing the profits from their bicycle shop into the construction of the first aircraft.4 Interestingly, when they were testing their plane, they would bring enough parts to make fixes because they knew how often it would fail. Successful college students do the same thing when taking on additional responsibility in the form of internships, membership in student organizations and networking, and they learn that setbacks are potentially growth producing.

Habit No.10: Networking

The need to engage in personal and professional networking is an activity that will never go away, yet many people actively avoid it because they feel uncomfortable and judged. The reality is that building social capital or social currency with others is an essential way to overcome fears of networking. They have figured out that when we engage with others, it takes the focus off of them by placing focus on the person with whom we are speaking. It also shows the other person that we are interested in learning about them (and people like talking about themselves). With time and practice, successful college students become increasingly comfortable in these settings and can form lasting, meaningful relationships with people that wouldn’t have otherwise been created.

Apply Successful Habits to Your Life to Make a Lasting Difference

In conclusion, consider how you can apply one of the habits of success to your life today. Perhaps you want to listen to others with greater understanding or maybe you want to be less impulsive and take responsible risks. You might want to put yourself in a setting that allow you to meet new people — all of which allow you to think and communicate with more clarity. Start today by making a commitment to yourself to embrace habits of other successful college students. Success in college and in life isn’t coincidental. It’s consistency.

At Grand Canyon University (GCU), you can utilize these habits of successful students to improve your college experience. Look through our various majors and programs to get started on your college experience today!


1Career Outlook. (2022). Education pays, 2021. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved March 20, 2023.

2 Nietzel, M. (2021). New study: College degree carries big earnings premium, but other factors matter too. Forbes. Retrieved on March 20, 2023.

3 Arian, M., Haque, M., (2013, April 3). Maturation of the adolescent brain. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved on March 20, 2023. 

4 Staff at The Henry Ford. (n.d.). The Wright Brothers and the Bicycle Business. The Henry Ford. Retrieved on March 20, 2023. 


Approved by the assistant Professor of management and marketing for the Colangelo College of Business on March 28, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.