How to be successful in college
If you’re trying to figure out how to be successful in college, you’ve probably heard the same advice repeated over and over:
- Go to class
- Create good study habits
- Don’t procrastinate
Yada yada yada.
Yes, all of those things are important.
But what about the whole REASON we go to college?
What are the tangible things that we can do to set ourselves up to succeed in the “real world”?
In this in-depth guide, you’re going to find out.
Let’s dive in.
REAL QUICK: LET'S DEFINE WHAT "SUCCESS" MEANS
Hi, my name is Brandon Fong.
Before we dive in with the specific tactics, I want to first talk about what “success” means so that we’re on the same page.
When I say “success”, I’m not talking about society's classic definition of a successful student.
Because the hard truth is this:
Good grades, getting involved, and having effective study habits only plays a small role in helping you to succeed after you graduate.
And succeeding after you graduate is the whole point of going to college...
So in this post, we are NOT going to talk about...
- How to study
- How to avoid procrastination
- How to manage your time
- How to get involved
... And on and on.
Rather, you’re going to learn 3 specific things you can do today that will have a DIRECT impact on helping you to design the life you want post graduation.
These are the exact same strategies I used to land my dream “job” 9 months before graduation...
... where I get to work with some of the world’s top thought leaders...
... creating products that change people’s lives (and making a good chunk of $$$ in the process) ...
.... all while living 100% remotely, traveling throughout Europe and Southeast Asia with my fiancè, Leah:
Let’s dive into strategy #1.
How To Be Successful In College Strategy #1:
Invest In Assets That YOU Control
There’s a phenomenal quote by Jim Rohn that I think is one of the best pieces of advice that could be given to anyone:
The truth is this:
There are many things in life that we can’t control.
The job market might suck.
The government might change regulations.
So at the end of the day, you are always better off making yourself more valuable and focusing on what you can control.
The best way to do that?
Building your personal brand.
Now, you may have already heard this advice, but, in my opinion, most of the content out there on this topic is terrible.
In school, you’re given fluffy definitions of what a personal brand is with no clear action items on what to actually do about it.
So let’s strip away some of the mysteriousness.
In my opinion, building a personal brand comes in two parts:
- Becoming more valuable
- Demonstrating to others that you are valuable
Sounds simple, but it’s actually not as easy as it may sound.
Let’s break it down.
1. Becoming More Valuable
“Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.”
- Jim Rohn
The world’s most successful people understand that not all skills are created equal.
Let me show you what I mean:
Hauling garbage is a skill. So is performing heart surgery.
While most people understand that, few people take advantage of it.
Most people go to school expecting to be spoon fed information, and 4 years later they are magically “certified” (aka handed a diploma) to show people that they are valuable.
Sorry, but the world doesn’t work like that.
Nothing comes that easy.
If you want to know how to be successful in college, you have to ditch the idea that your diploma alone is going to take care of it all for you.
To become incredibly valuable, you must constantly invest in your self-education.
- Attending conferences and seminars
- Reading books
- Listening to podcasts
- Buying online courses
- Getting additional certifications
- Creating something that the world will benefit from (launching a business, writing a book, helping start or grow a student organization, freelancing, etc.)
- Reaching out to successful people to learn from them
- Exposing yourself to things outside of your comfort zone
Be honest with yourself:
How many of those things are you actively doing?
The moment you take your education into your own hands and relentlessly pursue the above activities is when things will start to change for you.
Not only will you become a better person, but you will also set yourself up to create more value in this world...
... which is the ultimate way to use your time in college.
- First ask yourself (and be realistic) — are you actively investing in your self education?
- Regardless of your answer, commit to choosing ONE of the above recommendations to start doing to make yourself more valuable. Don’t try to do more than one at a time if you are just starting. Pick one (a book, a course, a seminar, etc) and run with it. Go for mastery, not just a high level understanding of the content.
2. Demonstrating To Others That You Are Valuable
Once you’ve invested in yourself and upgraded your abilities, you need to demonstrate your value to others.
If you wanted to, you could walk up to everyone you meet on the street to try to prove your value to them.
But we all know that isn’t very efficient.
So what can we do?
Well, now that we’ve invested in ourselves and become more valuable, the best way to demonstrate your value is by building a powerful online presence.
Now wait just a second.
Whenever I tell people to “build a powerful online presence,” the first reaction is assuming that they need to go build their Instagram or YouTube channel.
... but no.
Don’t try to learn how to control the wind, just learn how to set a better sail.
When people focus all of their energy and effort on building a social media channel, they are focusing on trying to control the wind.
Time and time again, Facebook or Google decides to change some platform and all your hard work goes out the window.
Control what can be controlled.
So what should you do to build a powerful online presence?
Create a personal website.
If you’re reading this right now and don’t have a personal website set up, that’s the first thing you need to do.
To learn exactly how to get your website set up, I’ve put together a step-by-step guide that will walk you through the whole process. Just fill out the form below to let me know where I should send it!
BUILD A BRAND THAT LASTS.
This simple 2 page PDF will show you how to get your website started, step by step.
Just fill out the form below to let me know where to send it!
Once you have a personal website set up, your next step is to demonstrate your value by creating content on your site.
That may sound scary, but it’s actually fairly simple. If you break it down, there are three different kinds of content: Written, audio, or visual.
That’s pretty much it. All of this content should have a “home” on your website, and of course, feel free to use the most popular platforms out there appropriate for each form of content.
- For writing, you can use your site’s blog, medium.com, or LinkedIn, to name a few. You could even write your own eBook.
- For audio, you can create a podcast and share it through stitcher, soundcloud, or iTunes
- For visual, you could create videos and start a YouTube channel or build an Instagram page if you are interested in photography
The goal of this exercise is not to create perfect, polished content or to rank in the top 10 for your category!
Instead, it’s to establish yourself as a thought leader and peer to your targeted influencers, by demonstrating your capability to create your own unique thoughts and ideas. Don’t worry about perfection - just start writing. You’ll get better over time.
It's not complicated, and you could even do a combination of all three, if you’re feeling really ambitious. If you’re stuck on what content you want to create, here are some questions to get you started:
- What are the current things you have mastered/are really good at?
- What subjects do friends marvel at you and say “You make that look so easy!” or ask “how do you do that?”
- What are some of the valuable things you’ve learned from other people that you’d like others to learn about?
- What kinds of things are you spending money on / are investing in yourself to learn more about?
As you create content, make sure to post in the facebook group so that your fellow top performers can give you feedback! Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect to begin with.
When you look back in a few months, there is a good chance that you will be embarrassed at how bad the content is — but that’s okay.
What’s most important is that you get it out there and publish consistently!
How To Be Successful In College Strategy #2:
Tap Into The Power Of The Cute Student Card
Believe it or not, there is one thing that all college students have in common with extremely successful people:
At one point in time, we all feel lost and have no idea what we’re doing.
You’re not really human until you’ve questioned what you’re doing with your life.
So what does that mean for you?
It means if you get good at asking, you’d be surprised just how willing extremely successful people are to help you...
... because they’ve been there, too.
I’m being serious.
Just imagine how much would change if you had a proven framework for connecting with successful people.
Once you’ve earned their trust, they could...
- Connect you with job opportunities (and often let you even skip the interview process)
- Teach you their top strategies and frameworks that they used to find success
- Introduce you to other successful people
... and much more.
If you asked me how to be successful in college and I could only choose ONE strategy, it would be this:
Learn how to connect with successful people.
And the best part?
You literally need zero experience or credibility to do this.
You just need to know the right approach.
But let’s get specific:
Exactly how do you...
- Find successful people you want to reach out to
- Identify their contact information
- Get them to agree to provide you with free advice?
It sounds difficult.
But it’s not as hard as it may seem.
Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Identify the person you want to reach out to
Assuming you’re a college student (or you’re about to be one), the easiest and quickest way you can get incredibly valuable advice is by tapping into your school’s successful alumni.
There are plenty of ways to do this, from asking your professors to stopping into your school’s career center.
All you have to do is ask them how you could tap into your school's alumni network, and they will gladly show you.
But for the purpose of giving you a quick and universal way to identify successful people that go to your school, let’s use one of my favorite tools:
If you don’t already have a super sexy LinkedIn profile that leaves a good impression and makes you stand out, just fill out the form below to get a PDF cheat sheet that will teach you my top strategies for using LinkedIn like a pro.
GIVE YOUR LINKEDIN PROFILE AN UPGRADE.
No, your profile picture shouldn't be from high school prom. This PDF will walk you through the top 4 things you must do to build a pro LinkedIn profile.
Just let me know where to send it!
Once you have your profile set up, the next thing you’re going to want to do is learn how to use the LinkedIn advanced search filter.
You can do that in 3 simple steps.
1. Click in the LinkedIn search bar to access the drop down menu. Click on "people"
2. Click "all filters"
3. From here, you can use the advanced search parameters to find professionals in any field, from any school, or from any company. The possibilities are endless here!
Once you've identified some people using this advanced search filter, you are ready to move to the next step.
Step 2: Reach Out To Them
At this point, you can either:
- Use LinkedIn to connect with them and then send them a direct message.
- Find their email address and send them an email. I typically find people’s emails using Find That Lead, Hunter.io, or following the advice from this post.
Once you have their email, follow this formula that I learned from the Growth Tools Partnership Accelerator:
- Clear Ask
Here’s a sample email you can just use:
Subject: Quick question from a fellow [insert school mascot here]
Earlier this week, I was looking for some successful alumni from [SCHOOL] and your name came up.
[Give them a specific compliment as to why you thought they would be good to reach out to]
Besides just wanting to reach out and tell you how impressed I was, I do have a quick question:
I’m currently a [MAJOR] major and in a perfect world, I’d graduate and end up in a position similar to yours.
I graduate in [GRADUATION MONTH AND YEAR] and I have a few ideas that I think would help me achieve that outcome.
However, I’m confident that running my ideas by you could potentially save me months of my time and help me to achieve my goals after I graduate.
Would you be willing to give me some feedback?
Once you’ve reached out, don’t be disappointed if they don’t respond right away.
Most people will reply on your follow ups, not the initial email.
Once they say “yes” to providing you some feedback, you can then ask for a phone call in the next email.
There’s a whole bunch of psychology as to why you don’t want to ask for a call right on the first email — but that’s a whole topic for another post.
For now, just trust me, follow this process, and people WILL say yes.
If you don’t get a yes from the first person you send an email to, don’t stress.
You might have to send a few, but trust me when I say it’s worth it.
For more information on how to reach out to get successful people to mentor you, check out this post.
- Create a professional LinkedIn profile using this resource
- Use LinkedIn’s advanced search features to identify a few people you want to reach out to
- Use the above script to reach out to them
- Make sure to follow up if you don’t hear back from them
How To Be Successful In College Strategy #3:
Leverage Your Brand & The Cute Student Card To Simulate The Real World Environment
Now that you’ve...
- Built a powerful personal brand
- Identified who you want to reach out to
- Used the above script to reach out to them
... you’re ready to move on to the third and final phase — using the “Cute Student Card.”
Let’s pick up where we left off:
The email script I provided you with above ends with one simple question:
Would you be willing to give me some feedback?
Now notice a few things about this question:
- It’s an easy yes/no answer and the call to action for them is stupid clear
- You didn’t ask for a phone call... but you left the doors open for you to get on a call with them
So now when they respond, there is a good chance that they will offer to get on a phone call.
If that happens, go ahead and set that up. We’ll discuss what to do on that call in just a moment.
Sometimes they won’t just respond to set up a call, and might ask for more details as to what you had in mind.
If that’s the case, respond with something like this:
Thank you for getting back to me!
I understand that you are very busy and I want to be respectful of your time.
I have a few very specific questions I’d like to ask you and I think the best way to get those questions answered would be to hop on a quick 15-20 minute phone call.
Are you free on [SPECIFIC DATE AND TIME] to talk?
I’m flexible and can adjust to your schedule.
If you’d rather not do a phone call, I’d be happy to send you my questions and you can answer when convenient.
Please let me know what you prefer, and thank you so much!
Once they agree to helping you, your next step is to prove to them that you are a top performer.
If you show them that you’re serious about succeeding in life after college, they will help you.
To do this, you have to show up to the call (if that’s what they agreed to) prepared.
My favorite way to do this is using Ramit Sethi’s Briefcase Technique:
However, instead of a list of things you’d like to bring to the job, you create an agenda outlining your plan to achieve your end goal after you graduate.
Once you’re on the call, walk them through the agenda, and get as many pointers from them as possible.
Then, go out and execute and FOLLOW UP WITH YOUR RESULTS.
Do this a few times, and you will earn their trust and respect.
This is where the magic happens.
Now that they know you...
- Are ambitious
- Have a strong personal brand (they most likely will have looked at your LinkedIn profile or website)
- Are an action taker
... doors to jobs and other opportunities will begin to open, IF you follow through.
Once you’ve established rapport and trust with them, you are in a strong position to leverage your relationship to find job opportunities, other valuable connections, or even a powerful mentor.
One of the biggest mistakes college students make is that they wait too long to try to get an internship or experience in their desired field.
The LAST thing you want to do is to walk across the stage at graduation, and have your first job be your first taste of what your life is going to be like.
That’s a phenomenal strategy if you like flushing tuition money and 4 years of your life down the toilet!
Follow this strategy, and you’re more than set for being incredibly successful in college.
Your Next Steps
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