Tips for Academic Success

By Jonathan Wickert, Senior Vice President and Provost

I was asked by Iowa State’s student newspaper to share my advice on what students need to do to be successful. It was an interesting exercise that forced me not only to share conventional wisdom on the subject, but also to look back on my own experience as an undergraduate student.

While some factors have changed over time (I was never tempted to watch Netflix between classes, or search the campus for Pokémon), most of the educational experience is the same as it was 10, 20, and even 50 years ago.

With that in mind, here is my list … Good luck!


  • Go to class. This should be a no-brainer, but I’m always surprised by students who don’t attend every class through the semester. Research shows that students who attend class get better grades.
  • Go to the Library. Learn how to use the Library, which will enhance the depth and quality of your academic work. We have great staff ready to help you find anything you need, even if we don’t have it here in Ames. And you can also get coffee or a Red Bull there…
  • Ask questions. Not understanding key concepts, particularly in fast-paced classes that cover a large amount of material, can lead to poor performance on exams and other assignments. So be sure to ask questions – not only during class, but after class, too, or during the instructor’s office hours. Faculty like it when students ask questions!
  • Visit with your advisor once every semester. This is the best way to ensure you’re taking the right classes, and that you’re making progress toward your degree. An advisor can also give you ideas about studying abroad, or participating in a research project.
  • Make friends. Get to know the other students in your classes. They can help bring you up to speed if you’re ill and miss class, become valuable partners in group projects, or even form a study group for final exams.
  • Embrace diversity. Get to know people who are different than you. Not only will this make you richer as an individual, but it will also help prepare you for your career.
  • Enjoy. The Iowa State University adventure is more than just going to class. Make time to join a club, attend a football game or theater performance, play intramural sports, or participate in a community service activity.


  • Take the easy way out. Reading the CliffsNotes or SparkNotes version of A Catcher in the Rye may be faster than reading the book, but you’ll miss out on the richness of the material, which always shows up at report and exam time.
  • Cheat. This should also be a no-brainer. Giving your phone to a friend so they can log you in for attendance or quizzes, copying from Wikipedia, “re-using” a friend’s paper from last semester, or writing calculus equations on your water bottle are all forms of academic fraud.
  • Be shy about seeking help. Every student has at least one class during their college career where they could benefit from tutoring or supplemental instruction. It’s a lot smarter to take advantage of those services than to try and go it alone.
  • Do all your studying at the last minute. I’ve never met a student who could cram an entire semester’s worth into a weekend. Keeping up to date on assignments steadily pays off in the long run, especially since concepts build on each other throughout the semester.
  • Forget to call home. Seriously. Mom and Dad want to know how you’re doing.


Senior Vice President and Provost Jonathan Wickert