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The Strategic Student

A college student cannot succeed without self-understanding and a sound game plan. My nearly forty years involved in my own undergraduate and professional school education, work experience and advising and interviewing of tens of thousands of elite, average and awful students from throughout the U.S. and worldwide have proven this to me as true.

I acknowledge that gifted students often earn good grades and honors with less than their full effort.  I define such as underachieving, regardless of their perfection on paper, and not success.  How can we call falling short of one’s potential a success?  For that matter, how can we gage one’s potential?  It is indeed a moving target.

When it comes to your brain and use of it, the more you work it, the more potential you have.  Perfection is also a moving target.  Perfection and potential can be viewed as two marathon runners.  Perfection is a professional who glides far ahead from the starting line, accelerating farther out of sight as the race goes on, while potential is an amateur chugging along in its chase toward a finish well behind but in hope of a better time than its last attempt.  The notion that a grade of A in a class, even with a 100 percent average, is representative of perfection implies that the class and its exams captured all that there was to know about the subject.  This is absurd.  The argument that an A or 100 are all the perfection that is necessary reflects an attitude that places the game of chasing grades above education.  It is an argument true of a lesser goal.  If the earth represents one’s college classes, the universe does, or should, represent their education.

A greater goal for a college student is to steadily increase both their potential and knowledge, aiming to master course content while being willing to push beyond mastery for a deeper understanding and the fruits of that.  Fortunately, the amazing human brain is designed to accommodate all of this and more, … much, much more!

Have you ever heard a news story about someone who bought a painting at a garage sale for a few dollars only to discover later that it was a lost masterpiece worth thousands or even millions?  The underachieving student who does not appreciate the true power of their brain and attempt to maximize its use is like the hapless person who sold the masterpiece for a few dollars.

There is not one key to a strategy that will lead where you intend, or, hopefully, dream of going.  There are multiple keys that work together, information and skills that can transform bad habits into good ones, wasted effort into production, and frustration into nothing less than satisfaction or even joy.  Those keys include an understanding of yourself and how your brain works, your dominant learning style, memory and techniques to harness it, study skills, management of your time, stress, mental and physical health, motivation and discipline, critical thinking and creativity.

We have learned more about the human brain in the last few years than in the previous one hundred.  Thousands of neuroscientists have studied it and yet there remains much that we have yet to discover.  It is obvious that the brain’s potential far exceeds our use both in capacity and the intricacies of its function.  This is just as true for the marginal undergraduate student struggling for passing grades as for the Summa Cum Laude candidate eyeing their pick of graduate schools.  Improvement of such students, and everyone in between, is indeed possible, and, to be sure, success.

Stay in the race!