What does it take to succeed as a student? What qualities do you need to thrive at university, to enjoy your studies, and to get a good job afterwards? We compiled for you a set of top 10 traits that will reap the greatest benefit for you at the university.
If you're currently looking for a course to continue your studies, check out our list of university courses for students.
Read on to learn the ten characteristics of successful students:
- Curiosity didn't kill the cat
- You are your competition
- What time is it?
- Nobody knows everything
- Leader or sheep?
- The wide-angle lens
- Those hard skills
- Articulate, articulate, articulate
- One mouth, two ears
1. Intellectually curious
In order to be a successful student, it is fundamentally important that you are interested in and engaged with your subject. All of the other characteristics here depend upon you caring about your studies and your specific topic.
Of course, everyone finds some topics more interesting than others, but the willingness to find something worthwhile in whatever issue you are currently studying will help to keep you on form during your studies.
The best way to maintain your curiosity is by observing others who are good at what they do, and then asking questions about anything and everything you don't understand. Asking questions to experts is the best way to learn how something works.
If asking questions fails, in the modern day and age there are endless resources for finding something out - books, journals, and of course, Wikipedia.
Unlike in school, at university you are expected to manage your own workloads, attendance, and engagement. If you start to miss classes or assessments, you can quickly find your grades slipping or even be failed.
You need to be able to motivate yourself – you want to attend university and you want to learn, so great students will push themselves to engage in class and to do the best that they can in their assignments. Really excellent students do more than is required from them, to be the absolute best they can be.
Commitment is an essential aspect of being self-driven. It's easy to concentrate for a short time on something you find interesting. What's more difficult is remaining determined and motivated for sustained periods, especially when you don't necessarily love everything you do.
Hopefully, if you've picked the right course for you, you won't have to push through so many parts of your course you don't enjoy; you'll be regularly doing something you love.
3. Good time management
Another facet of motivation is the ability to take control over your own time and schedule. Successful students need to be able to plan their weeks and semesters so that they can attend all the classes that they need to, and also have enough time for researching and working on assessments.
It's equally as important to give yourself time for hobbies, socialising, and fun too. While it's important to stay on top of your classes, coursework and other assignments, taking time for yourself and to see your friends is essential to maintaining your health and relaxing after a long day studying. With mental health rates deteriorating among students, this is more important than ever: take the time to relax.
If you struggle with time management, you need to start using an electronic or paper day planner to make sure you're attending everything you should be and that you're hitting all of your deadlines.
4. Capable of admitting uncertainty
One quality of great students which is often overlooked is the ability to admit when they don't understand something. Often you may feel embarrassed to admit the gaps in your knowledge, but in fact this is the only way to learn. It's fine to say that you don't know something, or that you don't understand it – this way, the teachers or other students around you can help by explaining the topic more clearly, and you will benefit in the long run.
This comes hand in hand with intellectual curiosity. If you aren't able to admit you don't know something due to fear or embarrassment, you won't be able to utilise your innate curiosity - and it's curiosity that leads to innovation, creativity and originality.
5. Creative and original
The ability to come up with new ideas or new ways of thinking about a problem is a characteristic of an exceptional student. So don't be afraid to give your own opinion on a topic or argument, even if it's contradictory to what others have said. As long as you can justify your view, teachers and other students should welcome your input.
There are lots of things you can do to improve your creativity. One of them, as will be discussed later, is reading widely and learning a range of skills. The more you have in your toolbox, the more ways you'll be able to think about a problem and come up with an innovative way to solve it. There's also collaboration: working with someone who has a completely different set of strengths to you will force you to see things differently and, in partnership with them, you'll both be able to contribute to an idea that would never have been formulated if the pair of you were working alone.
But there are other ways, too. Travelling widely can help you become more creative by exposing you to different environments and cultures. Taking short breaks from work in order to do something creative - doodle, for instance, or freewrite, or compose a small poem - can help you train your creativity and will eventually become second nature. And of course, connecting with people who are naturally creative is always a good idea. Surrounding yourself with people who have a skill you want to possess can push you to improve.
6. Thinking broadly and seeing the big picture
Great students need to be able to take their knowledge and fit it in to a broader picture of their subject. It helps to stay well informed about a range of topics, even those which are not directly related to your specific area of study. This will allow you to put what you know into a larger context.
One way to think about the bigger picture is to actually allocate some time just to thinking. If you're always looking to your to-do list for the next task, you'll never expose your lens and think about why you're doing all these tasks. Taking some time to sit back and consciously muse can help you put things into perspective.
7. Solid reading, writing, and analysis skills
Whatever subject you study, there are some skills that you will always need. The ability to read materials and glean the relevant facts, the ability to write up your findings in a clear and engaging way, and the ability to critically analyse the material you find will be needed at every stage of your academic career.
Just as essential is reading things that aren't directly related to your course - newspapers, novels, other non-fiction books, not only for fun (although that's also important), but also to expand your knowledge outside of your chosen discipline. Of course, it's important to make sure this doesn't interfere with your university work. This is related to thinking broadly and seeing the bigger picture - you'll only be able to do that if you read a lot, and vary what you read.
8. Communication skills
A further set of skills which are often overlooked for students are communication skills. Being able to present the information you know to both a lay audience and an expert audience is vital for demonstrating your grasp of the material. You should get in practise at presenting orally, making slides, and engaging in debates in order to get the most from your studies.
For more information on this idea, check out our Insight over on our sister website ConferenceMonkey on how to improve your public speaking.
9. Capable of performing under pressure
There are times when you need to perform under pressure, particularly in written or oral exams. Being able to keep calm and not panic will help you perform to the best of your ability. Fortunately, this is something which tends to come with practice. The more exams you do, the more comfortable you will become with them.
Over on our sister website, ConferenceMonkey, we've written an Insight on giving a conference presentation that contains a >section on dealing with nerves during presentation. Check it out for more information on performing under pressure.
10. Able to listen and understand other perspectives
Finally, one characteristic which you may not realize that you need is the ability to listen to and understand other people. Academic success is not only about putting forward your own views; it is also about being able to engage productively with people who have a different perspective. Learn to listen, to argue constructively, and to not be defensive about your own ideas, and you'll be a better student and you'll encourage others as well.
There are a lot of things to think about when trying to come to terms with another's perspective. The majority of people speak indirectly, so interpreting a person's use of words while listening to what they say is an essential skill to have when attempting to understand their opinion. On top of this, body language and non-vocal communication is a vital part of understanding, meaning reading people is important too.
When all's said and done, you don't have to agree; in fact, the point in attending university is to challenge views and be challenged yourself. What's important, though, is to be empathetic and respectful of other people, regardless of whether you respect the perspective they have taken. Being able to do this shows maturity and is an essential quality of being a successful student (and person).
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