Beyond The Books: What You Truly Need To Succeed In College

Support Network to succeed in college

No one achieves success alone, and it’s no different when it comes to graduating from college.

If you look on the surface it may seem like simply studying hard and showing up to class is what it takes to be a successful college student. But, students with strong support networks increase their likelihood of graduating.

So, although at the end of the experience, your name will be printed on the degree, the efforts to get you to that milestone are collective ones.

You might immediately think of friends or family members to include in this network; however, it’s important to cast a wide net and include a diverse set of champions in your corner.

Sondra Jones, program director for the pharmacy technician program at Virginia College in Birmingham, Alabama knows this first hand. Known as “Mama Jones” around her campus, we got some insight from her on building your support network beyond friends and family to help find success as you pursue higher education:

1. Mentors:

Mentors are people you admire, with more experience than you, that help guide you on your path to achieving your goals. To add mentors to your circle you have to put in the work to be your best self and put your potential on display in as many arenas as possible. This essentially means study hard and show up! Go to conferences, panels and speaking engagements featuring people you admire and want to learn from. Sign up for free workshops and networking events. Putting yourself in these environments and then putting your best foot forward, following up and keeping in touch opens the door for potential mentorship.

As you work to attract the right mentors, it’s perfectly fine to also identify and follow the advice of the “mentors in your head.” These are the superstars in your industry of choice who embody your ultimate goals, but may be out of reach in terms of gaining access. Luckily we’re in the age of social media so people like Oprah, Sheryl Sandberg or Shonda Rhimes are all accessible via social media. Keep up with them and follow other inspiring people online to keep a constant stream of positive vibes and motivation.

2 . Your On Campus Career Counselor:

Often students wait too long to enlist the help of their on campus career counselor. From the moment you step on campus you should schedule to meet with the career office. Finding a job after college is a process that starts way before you graduate. It’s more than just applying online or sending out resumes. It’s a process that begins with your experience, your reputation and your relationships. Your resume and job application are simply the portals to carry that message. Build a rapport with your campus career counselor, so they can think of you when opportunities for internships or jobs arise. The more the career counselor is invested in your journey the better they’ll be able to help you market your skills and experience to employers and uncover job leads.

3. Your Advisor:

Often, your school will assign  someone to help guide you when it comes to selecting courses and deciding on a major. Some students don’t meet with this person beyond course selection, but it is vital to invest in this is relationship. As an advisor to multiple students over the years, this person has insight beyond what your friends or other students have when it comes to creating a blueprint for success. Let them know your goals, and keep them included in your decision making factors such as what you have going on outside of school. Your advisor will offer insight on the best course of action, as well as point you in the direction of the best resources.

If you’re lucky enough to be a student at Virginia College, your advisor will likely go above and beyond to ensure your success. “That’s a good part of what I do as program director — develop my instructors and help them find ways of reaching the students, so they can leave here successfully,” explained Jones.

“I spend time with the students beyond the classroom. We get to know our students individually. We get to learn what their weaknesses are, what their strengths are. We track their normal performance and behavior, and when there’s something that dips down like their attendance or their grades, I’m able to see those things.”

4. Instructors:

It’s tempting to go to class and leave without investing time outside the classroom to speak to your  instructors, but instructors have office hours for a reason! They have a deep well of knowledge, connections and wisdom to share. It will serve you well to develop a strong rapport with a handful of instructors you can check in with beyond your time with them in the classroom. This comes in handy for a range of things including recommendations for opportunities!

5. Clubs and Organizations:

Finding your tribe at school can be tough. Put yourself out there by joining an organization or club that aligns with your interests. This isn’t the magic trick to finding your true support system, but it opens the door to finding people who share your interests and goals. Within these meetings and club activities, you’ll begin to form bonds, and within those bonds, you could potentially find your peer mentor or accountability partner. This is someone who understands your experience because they’re also going through it; someone who can offer encouragement and advice to push forward when things get tough. Even beyond words, they can encourage you through action. When you’re in the library or at a study session at 2 a.m. and you look up, they’re right there grinding along with you. Sometimes that’s all you need in order to get a boost to keep going.

Jones recalls an alum coming back to speak to students who echoed the importance of peer mentors/accountability partners.

“Look around you. Get your graduation crew right now. The people you’re going to study with, feed off each other’s positive energy and do well in your classes together. Find that crew right now.”

6. Volunteer Groups:

If your school has a community service day, sign up!  Take time to volunteer in your local area or the neighborhood where your school is located. Giving back relieves the pressure you feel regarding your own life and puts things into perspective. Sometimes college can be the springboard to helping and supporting your community as a whole, creating the space in turn for your community to support you. Beyond giving back to those in need, the experience creates a moment for you to connect with fellow students, staff and instructors.

7. Student Services:

If you see this office listed as a resource on your campus, do not overlook it! Jones shares how dynamic the support is from this office on her campus.

“One example of what we provide our students is a ‘Career Services Closet.’ We’re teaching them how to go out there and conduct themselves in an interview, but they may not even have clothes to wear for that interview. The ‘Career Services Closet’ will help them get what they need.

“We have students [who are going through] hard times and don’t have resources or food. We do have a kitchen pantry where students can go to get something to eat if they get to that point and there’s a need for them. Our student services have many other resources that they can reach out to and [call]. For example, we can connect students with a shelter if they need a place to stay. I’ve had students who’ve gone through the entire program homeless and living in a hotel. Resources were provided for them for food, transportation and things of that nature.”

8 . Someone You Can Be Vulnerable With:

This could be anyone from a peer to a staff member. On Virginia College’s Birmingham campus, Jones is usually that person. She goes above and beyond to push past the surface level and get to the root of what could be wrong if you’re feeling overwhelmed or falling off in any way.

“Part of my purpose is reaching as many as I can and making sure they’re successful in what they’re doing, Jones explained.

“I feel like part of my success is measured in the success of my students. I want to reach out to as many as I can because I know how hard it can be when you’re trying to make that decision – to make that decision that’s right.I know what it’s like when you have people who are predicting you won’t be successful and you just need to prove them wrong.”

Be open to a person like Jones to help you get in touch with your best self.

[This post is sponsored by Virginia College.]

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