The degree of success one has in college is essentially determined by three measures. Intelligence and discipline are relatively obvious and are discussed and examined in a majority of college prep materials. There is one measure, however, that receives little attention despite being the most controllable factor of the three. This factor is flexibility, or adaptability, and it is arguably as important to success as any other single element. College is no doubt a time of intense personal transformation for many people, and those who fall short aren’t necessarily those of lower intelligence, but those who are less willing to adapt.
The importance of adaptability is most apparent in the classroom. College class sizes and structures are often much different than those previously experienced. Take, for example, some of the general education courses that are taught in enormous, echoing lecture halls. In this setting a student can easily slip into anonymity, which makes it exponentially more difficult to absorb the material being presented. In order to get the most out of such courses, a quick adaptation is crucial.
There are a small handful of tips that will, if you let them, act as buoys, or as a pair of stilts in pools of quicksand, and allow you to move fluidly through such classes while digesting the important concepts. The pitfall to be avoided at all costs is the tendency to slip into anonymous mode. The first time that I walked into one of those monstrous lecture halls I instinctively sought out the most inconspicuous seat available, and I suffered for it all semester. I found that the closer to the front you get not only keeps more distracting activity behind you, but makes easier to feel engaged as well. Eye contact with the professor becomes more natural, and through this you might get a better sense of what this person teaching you is all about.
Another method for staying tuned in is to take the time to visit with your professor when you get the chance. The more that they see you, the more familiar you will become. It is important from every angle to build this rapport early on, as it will help you immensely down the road. As a general rule, even if you have to pretend at first, the more open-minded and curious you appear to be the higher the regard your professors will have for you. Beyond reaping the obvious benefits that this brings, you might also find yourself becoming sincerely interested in new ideas. In other words, if you have difficulty developing genuine interest in a subject, try to act interested. I have used this technique many times and with many subjects, and have found that usually when I play like I’m curious, I spontaneously develop at least a vague interest in whatever it is, and all teachers love an interested student.
No matter how large or intimidating the size of a class, or how unfamiliar and uncomfortable a setting that you find yourself in, remember that creativity and flexibility are more reliable allies than either intelligence or self-discipline. These two traits are often difficult (discipline) or impossible (intelligence) to improve on. The ability to adapt, however, takes only the willingness to slow down and relax. It is a tool that is simple to develop, yet will get you faithfully through a class of any size or a situation however rough.