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Is Being Bright Enough to Be Successful in College?

In high school, it is common that smart students can skate by with little to no effort. They have their teachers and parents who facilitate them in finishing work and ensuring they are prepared for tests. However, in college, students are living on their own and responsible for their work. This is often the first time this is true for them. While being bright is helpful, it is not enough to make sure a student is successful in college. Success requires them to manage their time, finish work, and clarify when they do not understand the information or requirements. These skills take time to learn and can be particularly challenging for students who struggle with executive functioning.

Value of Intelligence in College

Bright students often do not have to work hard and can get through high school with ease. In college, this intelligence will also be helpful. Intelligence helps students to understand any complex subject matter. Additionally, being bright helps students to think critically and solve problems quickly. This helps them to do well on tests and perform well in the classroom when asked.

Skills Needed to Succeed in College

However, while intelligence is helpful to succeed in college, it is one of many skills necessary to do well. When students learn to manage their time, emotions, health, and communication they can truly thrive as they enter into living as an adult.

Time Management

In high school, teachers and parents serve as managers for many students' lives. Teachers will break projects down into small pieces and emphasize deadlines to help students ensure they manage their time well. However, when a student gets to college, this drastically changes. Students are expected to turn in assignments, know when tests are, and manage their own time.

Time management helps students to be successful. This is because it keeps them on a schedule that ensures they finish their work and are prepared for classes. For students to manage their time, they need to look forward to what needs to be done and break it down themselves. While this looks easy, for many students it can feel overwhelming. However, as they learn the skill of time management, they will improve their performance in college and learn a skill necessary for living and working as an adult.

Emotional Intelligence

As a concept, emotional intelligence can be thought of as a student's ability to perceive how they feel, monitor their and others' emotions, and use their understanding to make different decisions. For many young adults, this is a skill set that has not been cultivated. However, in college, it can make or break a student's success.

According to research, high emotional intelligence is a predictor of academic success in undergraduate students. When students can manage their emotions, they are more likely to be emotionally stable. This leads to more ability to focus, think clearly, and pay attention in class. Additionally, students with high emotional intelligence can adjust based on how they feel. Therefore, they may decide to go to bed early or do other types of self-care more readily.


Being able to communicate is important for college students and young adults to be successful in their personal and professional lives. However, many students in college are faced with a necessity for communication that is significantly more than it was in high school. University professors are less likely to hold students' hands throughout classes. Therefore, it is up to the student to ask clarifying questions or request help when needed.


When young adults move away from home for the first time, they are solely responsible for their health. This includes exercise habits, eating, and more. Commonly, this leads to them taking up habits that have a negative health impact such as vaping, smoking, or lack of healthy exercise and diet habits. While some changes are expected when a student moves away, it can result in a negative impact on their academic success.

Research indicates that a student's health habits are connected to their GPAs, showing that students with less healthy habits are more likely to have lower GPAs. This is because when students care for their needs, including mental health, they can better manage their time and focus, and ultimately be successful in college. While healthy habits will look different for each student, students who learn to incorporate healthy habits into their life at college are more likely to succeed.

Learning the Skills to Be Successful in College

Being bright is very helpful in college success. However, it is not the only thing students need to thrive. Skills like time management, self-care, and emotional intelligence are all vital skills that improve a student's success. Fortunately, these skills can be learned.

Learning the skills to be successful in college looks different for each student. However, regardless of the specific steps, having structure and support can help. By working with a structured program including counseling, coaching, and more, students can practice these skills and learn how to adjust them to ensure success in college.

Being bright is often enough to get by in high school. However, college students must self-manage. While intelligence does help students to be successful in certain aspects of college, other skills are necessary to do well. At Northwest College Support, we understand that each student is unique. Our programs help each individual to learn the skills they lack, transition into living as an independent adult, and thrive in college. This includes learning to manage their time, communicate, and have a firm understanding of their needs as an individual. If your student is struggling or you suspect that transitioning into college will be difficult for them, call (877) 485-2776 to learn about how we can help.

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