The 7 Secrets of Highly Successful Students Sycophants

And you thought the secrets to academic success would involve sensible stuff like “Study for two to three hours for every hour of class” or “Keep up with the readings” and “Meet all the deadlines your prof sets.”

But those won’t help you game the system, which is the strategy Don Asher presents as the real key to success.

  • This is not about being smart. This is about being savvy.
  • Sign up for more classes than you can possibly take, and drop boring or difficult professors sometime in the first two weeks.
  • If you get a bad exam or quiz score, ask the professor what you can do to earn extra credit. Reading an optional book, writing a one- or two-page paper, or even just helping the prof out with mundane tasks such as setting up for class can push you back into the A column.
  • Professors are people, too. They worry about being liked, whether they’re gaining a few pounds and whether or not they’re good at their jobs. So go visit them…. It’s probably not a great idea to focus on grades only, as in “What do I need to do to earn an A in your class?” Get your professors to help you be a better student. And maybe ask, “Have you lost a little weight?”

The truly savvy student would recognize that pushing chairs around for profs will probably make the profs gain weight, therefore making them even more susceptible to weight-loss flattery.

(Digression: If you really want to make a prof feel good, how about saying, “Your assignments really challenged me to do some serious critical thinking, and I’m proud of what I achieved. Thank you for having such high expectations of me.”)

I agree that students should visit their profs, join study groups, and read their catalog. But the following excerpts seem best suited to the most financially privileged students who can sacrifice summer job time, and who can rely on regular retakes:

  • Earning money on a fishing boat may be great for the first summer, but those other two summers need to be used for internships to support your post-college career or grad school plans.
  • If you’re not earning the grade you want in a class, negotiate an “incomplete” grade, then do whatever it takes to get that I turned into an A or at least a B…. Or, worst case scenario, drop the class before finals.
  • Take a light load during the semester when you have a known difficult class, such as organic chemistry. And finally, be sure to take enough of a class load that you can ditch a bad class without dropping below minimum credits, especially if you’re on financial aid or your parents are strict about the four-year plan.
  • If you retake a class, do both grades appear, or does the first grade disappear?

Student whose parents have deep pockets (willing to foot larger bills, or subsidize an extra semester or year) are better positioned to act on the above “secrets.”

The article actually offers some good advice about internships — noting that recruiters now expect to see not one, but two. For several years, I’ve encouraged my students to consider doing one on-campus internship during the school year, in order to build their resume for a more competitive off-campus position.

Asher starts off with a good point in the following, but he veers off quickly:

English majors and philosophy majors can get great jobs out of college, but not if they’re hiding out in the game room dissecting Kant and Bukowski and griping about how nobody gives them a chance.

Students can be naive about what will happen once the final notes of “Pomp and Circumstance” have faded, so this self-help boost is welcome.  While it’s true that griping won’t help anyone, in the game-room scene that Asher describes, maybe those English and philosophy majors are actually studying the readings — something that has been known to affect GPAs.

The cynicism and anti-intellectualism of this advice distresses me, but I’m clearly not the intended audience.

Students who keep up with the readings and deadlines throughout the class will not only end up with better grades, they’ll also save time and money. They won’t need to schmooze for 11th-hour pity points, won’t need to drag incompletes into the next semester, and won’t need the retakes that will force them to pay twice for the same credits.

Asher’s article is from Encarta (TM), another fine Microsoft (TM) product.

5 thoughts on “The 7 Secrets of Highly Successful Students Sycophants

  1. So, your advice is “be a sycophant”, “game the system”? Sure. This is wonderful advice. And in the long term, after these student’s who have learned to “game” the system end up “gaming” the economy and try to arrange for themselves golden parachutes and leave the rest of the economy in ruins. After most of them are necessarily thrown in jail for the damning things that they did to everyone else in the economy, perhaps they will remember you as they rot in their cell.

    • Er… this blog entry comments on an essay by Don Asher. The title of my blog entry suggests that students who follow this advice are sycophants. I think the meaning of that word pretty clearly hints at whether I agree with Asher.

  2. Let’s see. Hmmmmmm. A student who has already vetted my boring and difficult qualities and is STILL not doing well in my class decides to visit me in my office and comment to me (a feminist) about my weight loss? Goddess save her/his soul!

  3. In some respects, this article reminds me of my experience as a grad student overseas. As a product of the US educational system (some 20 years previously) I definitely had a leg up when it came to critical thinking. But I was constantly frustrated at the level of “negotiation” many of my international classmates believed appropriate. They tried to negotiate the number of quizzes, whether or not a text would be open book, etc. This could go on for HOURS at the start of a new course. None of them seemed to get my point which was, “Guys, learn the material and then it doesn’t matter how you’re evaluated.”

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