Student success is certainly a top priority for college instructors, as well as the librarians that work on campus. Of course, students also want to succeed; after all, most of them are attending college in order to earn a degree or certification that prepares them for their futures, and it behooves them to do well, so that they can graduate or pass the professional certification exams that serve as evidence of their education, experience, or aptitude.

Though the end goal of student success may be the same for students and instructors, we were curious to learn students’ perspective on the key to college success. So, recently, Cengage Learning polled college students and asked: What’s the key to doing well in a course?

The poll presented several answer choices: loving the topic; keeping up with the assignments; active class participation; studying with others; and open communication between instructors and students. In addition, we gave students the option of responding “all of the above,” and we also provided the chance to indicate that something else was the key factor in college success. The results?


Key to doing well in a course - student perspectiveOver half of the students (54%) responded that all of the factors are equally important. We found this encouraging! But it also makes sense: after all, most of us will recognize that multiple factors lead to achievement of practically any other important goal (for example: no one thing makes you physically fit; you need to take a number of different steps to achieve your desired level of fitness).

This result also bodes well for students’ future endeavors; these qualities—keeping up with your responsibilities, finding enjoyment in your work, actively participating in projects and events and projects, maintaining open and clear communication, and collaborating with others—play a strong role in career and professional success.

Results for the other answers:

  • Keeping up with the assignments: 21%
  • Loving the topic: 11%
  • Active class participation: 5%
  • Open instructor/student communication: 4%
  • Other: 3%
  • Studying with others: 2%

(If you would like to see the graph in a larger format, you may click on it.)

As a point of comparison, we also asked the Engaging Minds blog’s audience of educators and librarians a similar question: What’s a student’s key to doing well in a course? Here is how they responded:

Key to doing well in a course - instructor perspective


As in the student survey, more than half (53%) of the respondents to the Engaging Minds poll indicated that all of the listed factors played a key role in college success, indicating that a number of factors contribute to doing well in college. The breakdown of the other results:

  • Active class participation: 19%
  • Keeping up with the assignments: 14%
  • Loving the topic: 6%
  • Open instructor/student communication: 5%
  • Studying with others: 2%
  • Other: 2%

When we reviewed these results, we noticed that our student respondents placed a greater emphasis on loving the topic than did the Engaging Minds audience. Perhaps students get motivated when they have a natural or developing interest in the material, and they’re engaged by the learning experience that they have in the course. And as an expert in a particular topic or professional skill, you can likely relate to that feeling of satisfaction and motivation you experience when you’re engaged in learning about something that deeply interests you.

However, as an instructor, you also recognize that class participation has a strong relation to student engagement in your course; this may be why a greater percentage of instructors (19%) than students (5%) ranked “active class participation” as an important factor in student success.

We also noticed with interest that students (21%) and the Engaging Minds audience (14%) were largely in agreement that keeping up with class assignments helps ensure that students perform well in courses. Again, this is very positive; it indicates that both you and your students recognize that completion of your course’s assignments enable them to absorb and retain the knowledge and content you’re conveying, experience the discovery of new insights and ideas, and ultimately achieve success in your course.


Support college students’ success

Looking for suggestions that can help you support your students’ success in college? The Engaging Minds blog features a number of articles designed to help you do just that. You’ll find:

…and much more!

We also offer a number of posts that provide tips for students—feel free to discuss or share them with any students who are seeking college success strategies.


What do you believe is the key doing well in college courses? Share your opinion in the comments.