Self Discipline: A Necessity for all College Students by Dr. Earl Paul

Dr. Earl Paul of Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Florida shared this wonderful article that he wrote. Happy reading!

Self Discipline: A Necessity for all College Students

College versus high school. What’s the big deal? If you are one of those students who claims that while in high school you never picked up a book, never studied or “whipped up a paper in five minutes flat,” then you will probably be in for some academic and psychological shock when your college classes begin. High school is a different experience than college. You must first understand that basic premise. Although some high school classes are rigorous and certainly high school students exist who study hard to do well in these classes, based on the feedback I have obtained from students through the years, many of them did as little as possible to “get by” and managed to make passing grades. But do not count on that experience to continue as you begin your college career.

Yes, some college classes are easier than others; some professors are easier than others, but overall, most college classes will require a commitment on your part, a larger commitment, than you made in high school. Thus, you must change your mindset from thinking you will not have to put much effort into college classes to pass if you are to succeed.

As someone who has dealt with students for many years working in student affairs and as a professor, I have learned that a major reason students do not succeed, at least at the community college level, is because they are not exercising one character trait that will make them successful in the college environment. The basic to which I am referring is the self-discipline needed to spend time outside of the classroom to learn the materials, read the text, write papers, finish the projects, or whatever else is needed. Trust me on this — if you do not practice self-discipline then you will not be successful in college … period.

Unfortunately, the reality for most community college students is that they must work to pay for many of their living expenses as well as tuition and books if they are to attend college. According to research, the number one reason community college students either don’t do well in classes or drop out of college is that they work too many hours and cannot keep up with the demand of college classes as well as the demands of the work world. The work world generally wins because, let’s face it, having food on the table and paying rent and other bills will generally take precedence over attending college classes.

However, this reality is not true in all cases. Most students I have known work part-time. The fact is, though, that they do have free time, some of them a lot of it that they could utilize to their advantage.   But they choose to do anything else but study. I know from seeing students who hang out in the SGA lounge or the cafeteria for hours on end, socializing or “killing time,” when they could be spending that same time preparing for class, studying for exams or working on papers. Also, these are generally the same students whom I overhear talking to others about skipping classes, because they’d rather “hang” with friends than go to a boring class. But self-discipline is required to do what you know you should be doing. Yes, most of us would rather do “fun stuff,” but the students who succeed in college realize they must be serious about their college commitment and forgo the “fun stuff” at times.

Here’s another area that differentiates high school from college … one that is not your fault. This particular phenomenon happens to all of us, whether we want it to or not. What is this phenomenon? It is simply turning 18. All of a sudden on your birthday, from literally one day to the next, you move from being a teenager to an adult, at least in the eyes of the state of Florida. And, if at the same time you are matriculating into a college, you will be entering an environment, unlike high school, in which you are viewed as an adult. With that new recognition, you will also experience newfound freedom. Here’s where the self-discipline comes in. With that new found freedom comes more responsibility. That means no one (unless your parents are paying for your education and tracking your daily activities) is going to make you attend classes, make you complete assignments outside of the classroom, or make you do whatever will be necessary for you to be successful in a class. Some professors will take roll in class; some will not. Most will have an attendance policy, although some will not care at all about enforcing that policy. Since professors consider you adults, most will not be following up on why you have not been in classes, believing, as an adult that attendance on your part is your choice, and they have other important things to do than to chase down students to ask why they haven’t been in class.

Paradoxically, this same professor who may not be chasing you down about class attendance, will be expecting you to complete assignments, take part in class discussions, pass exams and do whatever else is detailed in the syllabus if you want a passing grade. As an adult, too, he/she will be expecting you to follow the syllabus as the roadmap to what is required of you in that particular class. Stating that you didn’t know an assignment is due, a test is scheduled, or a particular chapter is to be read will not be an acceptable excuse.

All of the above ties in with self-discipline. On a practical level, self-discipline simply means that you are going to have to say no – to yourself and others. You have to learn priorities. Ultimately, if you do not possess the self-discipline to say no to yourself or others and make yourself do things you don’t want to do or choose not participate in things you would like to do, then you are setting yourself up for failure. The bottom line is for you to be successful in college (and life), you must either practice or develop the characteristic of self-discipline. Without it, you are doomed.

In closing, I am not trying to paint a bleak picture. What I am doing is attempting to have you look in the mirror and ask: do I have self-discipline, how much do I want to succeed in the college realm, and am I willing to sacrifice time now so that I can complete my academic goals? As I observed in the opening of this article, college is a different animal than what you might be accustomed to. Realize that, determine to have a mindset that incorporates self-discipline, and you will be successful.

Earl E. Paul, Ph.D.
Hillsborough Community College
Tampa, Florida

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