As a college professor and administrator, I have seen thousands of students come to campus and succeed.  I’ve also seen a few fail.  Each semester I have to write letters to a handful of students to tell them they are not invited back the following term.  Every one of those students is different but their stories tend to have certain themes that emerge over time.  Here is my top 5 list of ways students can mishandle the college scene and wind up on the side of the road.

Forget why you are here.

There are lots of opportunities in college, and lots of temptations.  There are student organizations, athletic teams, artistic groups, and others who all want a piece of your time.  You want to get involved, play a sport, explore an emerging passion, or just hang with people of a kind you have never met.

But before you can be a student athlete, you have to be a student.  Before you can be part of student government, student choir, student ministry, or the student director of the Easter Pageant, you have to be a student.  A common theme of students who don’t succeed in college is that they don’t make being a student their first priority.


There are very few mortal sins on a college campus.  You can stay up all night playing Halo if you want.  You can eat pudding every day for breakfast.  In most cases, you can come to class in your pajamas.  (I’ve seen it many times.  I even had a graduate student once who always came to class barefoot.)  There are very few hard and fast rules.

There is one rule, however, for which almost any college will dismiss you – turning in someone else’s work as if it were your own.  If you cheat on an exam or turn in a paper you downloaded from the internet, you will get the respect you deserve.  Cheating is like an open manhole in the middle of the sidewalk.  It is easy enough to avoid with the least amount of attention, but if you ever fall in, it is a long way to the bottom.

Expect someone else to take care of you.

Your mother doesn’t live here.  There is no one to tell you to eat your vegetables or get to bed on time.  Some college students assume they can go without sleep and still function at peak levels.  Some think they can survive on diet soda and Snickers bars.  They can’t.  Even young, healthy bodies can be neglected to the point of malfunction.  College dorms aren’t immune from viruses.  College gymnasiums (like all gymnasiums) are notorious for them.

Students who don’t care for their health can wind up getting sick, missing class, and ultimately failing.  When you come to college, expect to be in charge of disciplining yourself.  No one is going to do it for you.

Try to go it alone.

Every college student should find themselves challenged by their coursework at some time or another.  When that happens, a common mistake of failing students is to think they have nowhere to turn, or to be too proud to accept the help that is available.

Successful students make the most of tutors, librarians, and the faculty to help them when they struggle.  They raise their hand in class when they don’t understand something and ask their professors for extra help.  Within the boundaries of number 2, above, they even reach out to their classmates for help and support.  As they receive the help they need, successful students also learn how to give help, and their educational experience becomes all the richer.

Forget to say your prayers.

I have observed that college students are fraught with anxiety.  I’m sure it has a lot to do with the pressure they are under and the unstructured environment they regularly navigate.  I’m even more sure they could master all of those things with the help of the Almighty God who loves them.

Sadly, many students see college as an opportunity to abandon their parents’ faith, and never take the adult step of finding their own.  Joining a church, connecting with other believers, and keeping an active spiritual walk gives students powerful tools to take on college’s challenges.

One final note, nothing happens to you on campus, or in life, that is beyond the reach of Romans 8:28-29.  Check it out and take comfort.  Together, you and the Lord God can make your college years the most successful of your life.

Looking for more posts like this? The McLane College of Business publishes a weekly devotional written by their own faculty. Go check out Crucial Connections and read more!