Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Defining Student Success

It's easy to say that being successful in school is a measure of grades. This definition is a measurable, quantifiable description on how a student performs. It can be used to compare individual students, groups of students or institutions as a whole. Grades are the first step in getting into college. they're the first hurdle to get over in obtaining non-need based financial aid. Ok, but are they a true measure of your success?

The good news is that as soon as you are enrolled in college, your prior academic background is wiped clean. From that moment on, you get to define what success means to you. Yes, you have to achieve adequate academic progress and meet minimum GPA requirements, but that's not what I mean. Success can take many forms. Success can mean you identified your end goal and, at least in part, the path you take to get there. It could mean that during pursuit of a goal you stumbled onto something completely different that ignited a new passion. Success can also be found in the failure of not achieving a goal.

Let's take a couple of examples:

Student #1: You set your target (goal) as a degree in Marketing. You know that you have to take general education classes and, taking you're own strengths and weaknesses into account, you choose the ones that schedule around your business classes. The schedule allows you to focus larger blocks of time on what you are most interested in. You define your success in the business classes as devouring as much content as possible. You read every article, do every assignment, and engage your professors in positive discussions about their work experience. 

This practice will likely get you A's, but it may not. It will get you further toward your goal (degree) and may also yield some untangible benefits like internship opportunities or after class peer groups. In the gen ed courses, you define your success as learning as much as you can, knowing and accepting up front that you will likely get a C's. Your cumulative GPA on your transcript, the traditional measure of success, will likely be 2.5-3 out of 4. Not very successful quantitatively, but when you leverage your acquired business experience and connections you end up getting your dream job with a former classmate at a company run by a former colleague of your advisor.  

Example #2: You have the same goal as the previous example. You work just as hard in your business classes but instead of excelling you fall flat on your face in failure. No matter how much you study or network or plant yourself in your professors office it is just not clicking for you. You end up taking a semester off from business classes to get the gen eds out of the way (maybe at a community college). Turns out that one of the gen eds you take, let's say English 101, sparks your interest because of a great instructor or the opportunity to write a narrative about your experiences. 

You decide to fuel the spark by taking more courses in creative writing. That spark ignites into a full blown passionate fire for writing that you then use to constructively blog/review/critique the business community that didn't make sense to you (and likely others). You may even get the opportunity to help businesses communicate to others who share your perspective. Again in this example the traditional view of success would say that this student failed out of a career track and missed their goal. In reality this student is probably far happier and successful than a student who "stuck it out" in business school. 

The moral of the story is this: you define your success. Success may not come right away, but your ability to redifine what success means to you over time will always get you there.  

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