I would like to offer a couple of thoughts on this subject based on my own personal experience as a student and on observation of present-day college students.
Many students take more courses than the school requires. It seems as if a lot of young people are anxious to get into college, and then, after they have been in college for a year or so, they are anxious to get out. I think students would be well advised to take the minimum number of units each semester or each quarter. Less is more. They would learn more and experience less stress and anxiety. I remember talking to one young man who was getting close to graduation. He told me he was going to take seven courses in two summer sessions--four in one six-week session and three in the other. I have no doubt he passed all of them because he was smart and young; but I doubt that he really got much out of any of them except grades and units.
I think focusing is very important. And the best way to focus in studying, it seems to me, would be to study only one subject each day, or night, and to put all the other books and papers clean out of sight. Sometimes this would not be possible, but I think it would be possible most of the time. If a student spends, say, one hour on history, then an hour on science, and another hour on English--isn't that bound to be confusing for most ordinary mortals?
These days I see both boys and girls going to a local university with enormous backpacks that remind me of Christian in Pilgrim's Progress. How much tonnage do they really need on their backs for one day at school? The backpacks seem like visible signs that they are taking on too much work? A person can only absorb so much learning in a day. A person can only sit through so many lectures a week without becoming catatonic and feeling 'burned out."
If I had it to do over again, I would take five or even six years to get a bachelor's degree. And I would try to take courses that were interrelated, so that I could apply what I was learning in one course to another course, and vice versa.
I have attended a number of commencement exercises over the years. The graduates are always ecstatic. Some are wearing bathing suits under their graduation gowns. They seem to think that the worst is behind them, whereas the worst is really ahead of them. Many will look back at their college days as a sort of paradise lost.
In order to be successful in college you must realize one thing: YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR SUCCESS OR FAILURE. That means self discipline, time management, and organization are tools that you must use every day. You can't do what other students around you are doing, you have to be responsible for yourself.
You also have to realize that college is very different from high school, and it's your job to figure out what you need to learn and how long it will take to learn it. You need to read through every class syllabus, make a calendar and note when papers are due and when exams will be held, make a plan for success, and stick to your plan.
Another behavior that essential to success in college is having a strong sense of self. As others have noted, there are many distractions in college life, but if a person knows themselves, they can stay true to themselves and make the most positive experience possible. This covers many aspects of a person: morals, intelligence (or weaknesses here), interests, goals, etc. College is a time when there are many positive and negative "role models" around, and successful students find positive role models and stay true to their best selves.
Time management is number one I would say. It is such an essential skill and one that many do not learn until even after college (I'm guilty of this). Doing work on time until waiting for the last minute is such a simple concept that some people just don't grasp. Another one, which would also seem simple, is attending class. When many students go to college, it's the first time in their lives when they aren't held accountable- especially at a large college or university. It's easy to become anonymous in a classroom and only attend when one feels like it. I think just attending class and really paying attention can have a huge impact. Again, a simple concept that people tend not to make a priority.
I tell my high school students (who happen to go to a high school that is not a college prep school) that they must realize that they will have to study in college. Many smart students, who graduate from a less rigorous high school, don’t realize how challenging college will be. I also tell them that they will have to take notes. By this I mean that they must listen intently in class and write down the important things the professor says, eliminating superfluous info, stories, and examples.
If the class is a particularly challenging one, I suggest re-copying notes, either by hand or on a computer. The recopying process serves to increase understanding and retention. Then when the time comes to study, just read over your copied notes.
While studying I suggest highlighting words or phrases in your notes that you will need to know. Glance through each page of notes until you get to a highlighted phrase. Then put the notes down, and try to remember what the highlighted phrase is about. Finally check yourself by using your notes.
I think the most important behaviour, apart from disciplined study, is that of time management, and in particular the ability to balance the academic side of college with the social side. It is incredibly important to be able to prioritise your work but at the same time to make sure college is not all about hard study. Making time for leisure activities and friends alongside a disciplined and rigorous study schedule will be something that will guarantee you a great chance of success.
I agree with all of the answers already posted. I would add that showing a real interest in one's studies while in the classroom is also important. Teachers want especially to help those students who seem to want genuinely constructive feedback and assistance. In other words, they especially want to help students who seem genuinely interested in learning. The best students are often the most humble, because they realize that we all have lots more to learn, no matter how much we may already know.
College life can offer so many distractions. It is usually a student's first time away from home, and the temptations that arise--such as socializing, drinking and romance--can conflict with the importance of studying and attending class. Be sure to prioritize your educational responsibilities and then use what little free time remains for extra-curricular activities.
I have to agree that taking one's studies seriously is of the utmost importance. In order to succeed in college, studies need to be the first priority. That being said, as pohnpei points out, do not burn yourself out. Take classes which are balanced, meaning do not take all very hard classes at the same time. Give yourself some breathing room. Once you reach your senior year, all of your classes will (most likely) be difficult. By this time though, you will have been able to learn how to study and succeed.
The most important behavior is disciplined study. Any college student (except for those who are simply brilliant) must be dedicated to their studies before anything else. This is not to say that successful students will do nothing but study. But they must have the self-discipline to put off other things when it is important for them to study.
A closely related behavior is good time management. Successful students must budget their time so that they can have some amount of fun (so they don't simply burn out) while still being able to find the time to study to the amount that they need in order to do well in their classes.
I am about to enter college this year and so I can tell you what others have told me. Stay organized and stick with your plans. Prioritize academics over social life but don't become a recluse. Seek out student organizations and homework / study groups. Lastly, don't expect the stellar grades you got in high school.
Have a set study time and remove all distractions away from you. Make sure you can study and pay attention without having to deal with text messages popping up every 5 seconds. The best way is to simply make a study plan and stick with it.
As someone in their second year of college, I can truly say that college is a different experience than it is in high school. In college you're at school for a shorter time, but they teach information at a quicker pace than what you're maybe used to. Also, don't expect teachers to spoon-feed you the information. If you're having trouble, you are expected to read from the book and take notes or confide with your teacher during their office hours. Make sure you never fall back with studying or learning because it will affect you greatly.