By DeVry University
Success isn’t built in a day. For most people, it starts incrementally as one small change helps you gain momentum to accomplish another over time. From daily exercise and eating a healthy breakfast to following a schedule and limiting procrastination, one by one, each decision adds up to help create a better version of yourself you hadn’t known before.
This is precisely how James Clark, an MBA student in DeVry University’s Keller Graduate School of Management, transitioned from earning a 3.0 GPA in his undergraduate program to a 4.0 in graduate school while working full-time.
If you’re planning on going back to school, learn a few new tips for college with some of these small—but mighty—steps James takes to thrive on his path to earning his master’s degree.
A Journey to Academic Achievements
Without a doubt, Clark’s journey to academic success has not been a linear one. As an undergraduate student, he admits that he took a lukewarm approach to his studies and completed just enough work to coast through each class.
But when he enrolled at DeVry and decided to pursue a Master’s in Business Administration with a Human Resources specialization, something changed. Amid motivating students, staff and professors, he suddenly desired to commit himself to being different. He wanted to discover the kind of person he could become through hard work and effort—and over time, he prevailed.
Taking one class each semester, he dedicates himself to his studies while working as a manager at Best Buy. Along the way, he has learned some valuable lessons he encourages fellow MBA students to apply.
Here are some tips for college that have helped Clark deliver big results:
1. Talk to Your Professors and Peers
Unlike his undergraduate years, Clark has made a conscious effort to connect with his professors and peers as an MBA student at DeVry. Whether in class or group discussions, he quickly learned the value of sharing and listening to others, which helps him think of new solutions to business challenges that he hadn’t previously considered. Chatting with professors and classmates also makes him feel more connected to a community that motivates him to succeed.
“Sometimes I hear students say that they don’t know what to do in a class and I will ask, ‘Well, did you talk to your professor?’ and they usually respond ‘no,’” Clark says. “When I hear this, I immediately tell them to check their syllabus for office hours and make time to ask or email their professor questions because that can make such a big difference in how you understand the work or feel about a class.”
The same idea applies to communicating with your peers, Clark adds. “There are so many ideas out there from unique and amazing people at DeVry,” he says. “And if you’re not talking to your classmates, your professors or anyone who is associated with what you’re studying outside of class, I believe you’re doing yourself a disservice.”
2. Embrace Challenging Conversations
When you communicate with professors and peers, Clark encourages students to challenge new ideas–even if it means disagreeing with what you hear.
“If you don’t understand something, don’t be afraid to admit it,” Clark says. “It’s okay to ask questions and even have difficult conversations where you disagree with your professors or peers. You don’t always have to agree with the common class opinion, but the key is to learn how to express your unique ideas. During the debate, you may feel like you’re hitting a brick wall, but you’ll learn more that way.”
The more you engage in these types of conversations, the more comfortable you’ll become with them. “DeVry has taught me how to ask questions and have difficult conversations without falling into crisis moments,” Clark says. “This has made me such a better thinker and communicator—both in school and as a manager.”
3. Attend Live Lectures Online, Even If They’re Recorded
At DeVry, some professors use virtual lectures and webinars to optimize the online learning experience. Clark experienced this benefit firsthand—and it often sparked some of his favorite class discussions. That’s why one of his favorite graduate school tips is to take online lectures seriously and attend them in real-time when you get the opportunity.
“During lectures, professors and students pose some really interesting questions that make you think about the world differently,” Clark says. “Even if the lecture is recorded and you can watch it later, I highly recommend attending it live because when you don’t, you miss out on the discussion component. You may get the information if you watch a video but when you attend the lecture in real-time, you have a chance to weigh in on what’s being shared and learn so much more.”
4. Seek Help from Your Student Support Team
Behind every great MBA student, there’s an equally great support team—or at least that’s the adage Clark knows to be true based on his experience.
During some of his most challenging courses in statistics and business, he learned that seeking help for a short-term problem—like a difficult math assignment—could prevent long-term setbacks that would later impact his GPA.
To guarantee his success, Clark took a holistic approach to learning by relying on tutors when needed, asking professors questions after class and sharing notes and ideas with his peers.
“I really haven’t had one bad professor at DeVry,” Clark says. “The professors do a great job at encouraging students and focusing on their strengths, so don’t be afraid to rely on them or a tutor if you ever need a little extra help. If you look at my email inbox right now, there’s nothing short of 15 emails from Professor Gordon offering motivational quotes and ideas related to class topics. How can you not be awesome with support like that?”
5. Make the Most of Message Boards and Group Chats
Most DeVry courses require students to share their thoughts on assignments and discussion topics via written posts in the online class portal. Much like attending online lectures, Clark encourages students to view these message boards as an extension of the classroom and another opportunity to master new information.
“If you use message boards in class, don’t see writing a post as a chance to just complete a quick assignment,” Clark says. “See it as an ongoing conversation.”
Staying in touch with your peers through apps like GroupMe is also a good tip for college students, especially if your course consists of group projects with other classmates, Clark suggests.
6. Plan Ahead and Use the Syllabus to Your Advantage
For MBA students balancing work, family and other commitments, your class syllabus can morph into a powerful tool for time management. Gone are the days of guessing when you’ll be free—many classes make it simple to use a syllabus to plan your schedule.
“The cool part of every class that I’ve taken at DeVry is that the first week of each class tends to set the pace for the rest of the semester,” Clark says. “So during the first week, I find out if there are any virtual lectures and what times we have them. I also use my course syllabus to create my work and study schedule. That means I can develop an idea of when I have to write a post online, attend lectures or complete assignments each week.”
“This doesn’t mean that the work won’t be challenging at times,” Clark says. “But because I was able to create a relatively predictable experience, I could schedule time for everything I needed to complete at work and in school.”
7. Don’t Overthink Your Goals — Act on Them
In life, most of us are always on a quest to improve. If you have specific goals, setting a plan to achieve them and pacing yourself for progress is one of the most critical graduate school tips, Clark advises.
This is especially true if you’re aiming to pursue graduate school or have an academic goal you’d like to maintain. When Clark set out to achieve a 4.0 GPA, he knew he could increase his chances of making his goal a reality by taking one class a semester at his own pace, which DeVry’s flexible learning options helped him accomplish. Similarly, if you’re looking to set a goal, Clark recommends creating your own personalized strategy for success.
“I can’t tell you how many people tend to share the same response when I tell them I’m an MBA student,” he says. “I always hear two things: ‘Congratulations’ and ‘I wish I would have done that.’ So whatever you want to do, whether it’s going to grad school or pursuing something new, don’t talk yourself out it. Just go for it.”