Building Academic Discipline for College Success

After getting used to a regular routine in high school where you’re on campus the same seven hours a day, five days a week, and nine months a year, it’s hard to imagine college would be any different. The truth is, college is a whole new world in so many ways. Class schedules can be sporadic, there’s much less hand-holding, and grades are more heavily based on how well you do on exams and big projects, for example. In short, once your college classes start, it’s time to say goodbye to the comfort of high school. To succeed in college, having discipline and being able to work well under pressure is a must.

What to Expect in College

Before starting college, it will help to get an idea of how things will go, so you can be prepared for it. Here’s what you can expect:

Sporadic Class Schedules

In high school, you may be used to taking the same classes, back to back, one after another for 7 hours straight, with a recess and lunch break in between. College is different in that your schedule may look much less structured from day to day. Depending on class availability each semester, you may find yourself super busy with most of your classes taking place on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and have more free time on Tuesdays and Thursdays, for example. Unlike in high school, some college classes also have mandatory discussions and laboratory sessions that will take up additional time blocks in your schedule.

Less Hand-Holding

College is a test of independence and responsibility in a lot of ways. Parents are naturally less involved especially for those living away from home, and professors don’t connect with students one-on-one as often as in high school. Students going to a college with a smaller student body may be able to benefit from a more personalized education experience. However, those at traditional four-year universities are going to have to work harder and take it upon themselves to reach out for help when needed, and go to office hours to build a relationship with professors.

At the end of the day, your college experience is what you make of it. That being said, it’s best to be as involved as you can and seek help early on if you need it. College classes are a lot more rigorous and fast-paced, so waiting a week to get clarification on a topic covered the week before can put you behind on your studies.

Grades Heavily Depend on Exam Performance

Students are not always sure where they stand academically in college. This is because grades are not equally dependent on homework assignments, test scores, quiz scores, class participation, and projects anymore. Professors may assign homework, but either not grade them at all, or make them a very small portion of the overall grade. Participation is not always mandatory. So, students used to relying on homework assignments or class participation points as “grade cushions” are in for a surprise when they enter college. Suddenly, big projects and exam scores take the spotlight. More than ever before, it’s important to study hard for these and perform well to earn good grades. Your GPA depends on it!

Tips for Building Self-Discipline

Moving on from a structured high school lifestyle to a more flexible college atmosphere can be an intimidating experience for many. This is where building solid self-discipline comes in handy. It’ll help you adapt and increase your chances of success. Start developing that discipline with a few of these key practices:

Master Time Management

Since your classes in college won’t run on the same fixed schedule every day like they did in high school, there will be gaps in between for you to get chores and errands done, and to do your homework. The problem is it’s easy to get carried away and not make good use of these time frames. For example, students may procrastinate and choose to hang out with friends rather than focus on upcoming deadlines.

To ensure success, students should use the breaks in between classes to catch up on reading assignments, write essays, and work on other projects first. It’s definitely important to have a sense of balance with both work and play in college, but getting priority work out of the way first allows you to stay on top of your classes, and then you can have fun with friends later without worrying about falling behind or missing deadlines.

Stay On Top of Deadlines

Having a planner helps a lot with organization and keeping up with deadlines. With multiple classes, it can be hard to keep track of every due date otherwise. As soon as you get your syllabi for each class, it’s a smart idea to jot down the due dates for important papers, exams, projects, etc into the planner. Keep this planner with you so that you are always aware of your first-priority assignments. Without having some sort of planner handy, it’s easy to forget about an assignment or underestimate how much time you really have to finish something.

Be Patient

It may take a little longer for you to receive grades on assignments and classes in college. Being anxious over grades while you wait for the outcome is no fun, which is why it’s so important to have academic discipline. Having discipline on your side increases your chances of doing well on major papers, projects, and exams so you don’t have to spend your time agonizing over grades. Once you know you’ve given it your best and your all, it’s crucial to be patient as this will play a big part in maintaining sanity throughout your college years.


Knowing what to expect in college and incorporating these simple tips can help you develop the self-discipline needed to adapt to and succeed in a new academic environment. When all else fails, discipline steps in to save the day! Not only is it a powerful quality to have in college, it will come in handy for many years to come in your post-graduation professional and personal life.