Arrive and Thrive: Defining Success in College

I think one of the biggest challenges for college students – particularly in the first year – is formulating a healthy definition of success in college that is aligned with their values and purpose. At a school like Hopkins, most students viewed their high school education solely through the lens of the college admissions process, and so grades, SAT scores, and awards take on outsized importance. Because the success of that approach is evident in the fact that they are now at a good college, the impulse is to then replicate that same approach for their undergraduate education. This is especially true for pre-med students (many of whom view their college education solely through the lens of the medical school admissions process), but even for those students who don’t envision graduate school in their future there is a tendency to see their GPA as a reflection of their success and self-worth. My goal for this class is to help students reframe this dysfunctional belief and articulate a definition of success in college that is rooted in their values and aligned with their Collegeview.

Dysfunctional Belief

My grades are a reflection of my intelligence, self-worth, and success in college.


Success in college (and in life) can mean many things – I need to decide what success means to me based on my values and purpose

To help frame my discussion, I’ve asked students to read selections from John Bader’s Dean’s List: 11 Habits of Highly Successful College Students. I first encountered Bader’s book when I was at Princeton, and used selections from Dean’s List in the Peer Academic Adviser trainings that I’ve developed. I like Bader for a couple of reasons. For one, the advice he offers is quite good and consistent with the advice I shared with my students as a Director of Studies. He also supplements his own advice with short bits of advice from other advisers from top institutions, many of whom I know personally and respect as educators. But I also like that as a former Associate Dean in charge of advising at Hopkins, Bader’s examples often reference the Hopkins curriculum and experience, making his advice seem even more relevant to my students.

“As an alternative [to a definition of success based on grades], consider that the best measure of college success is how much you feel fulfilled and challenged by your education. College should be a starting point for a rich and full life, one in which you appreciate the human experience – culture, art, music, literature, religion, history – and the natural environment.  A good college education introduces you to the broad canvas of life, here and around the world, past and present. And it gives you the tools to make sense of it. It is not enough to look at something and resect its beauty or complexity or scale. You need to understand it, using the skills higher education offers.”

John Bader, The Dean’s List, p. 19

One thought on “Arrive and Thrive: Defining Success in College

Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Website Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: