The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for College Success

Posted by Jennifer Verta on Oct 8, 2015 5:07:00 PM

Ultimate Cheat Sheet for College Success

When students begin their academic careers, a smorgasbord of new things are thrown at them:

  • What major are you picking?
  • How many classes are you going to take?
  • What classes are you going to take?
  • What classes need to be taken now, or wait until later?
  • How are you going to pay for these classes?
  • What books do you need?
  • Health insurance? Immunizations?



Needless to say, this process can be OVERWHELMING - while there are even MORE IMPORTANT tasks that get forgotten, misunderstood, or just missed completely.

"Yea! MORE stuff for me to think about?!" You exclaim.

Fear not gentle reader, that is why I am here today - to share a checklist of tips and tricks so you can have a chance at more college success!

Tips for College Success


1.) Think Ahead

When searching on and off campus to find a source for juicy tips regarding college success, I came across a CU Denver Alumni who has already been there, done that, and graduated with a degree in Music Industry Studies: Mario Rodriguez.

Not only has he done that, he has widely branched out in the music industry, from DJing at night clubs to radio hosting on the popular Lakewood Colorado station KS107.5. Mario Rodriguez, more widely known as DJ Chonz, has even appeared on Colorado Biz Magazine's front cover with a spread commemorating his achievements:

CU Denver Alumni DJ Chonz


The hip-hop DJ has worked with various artists from Dr. Dre to Eminem, Snoop Dogg, 'Lil Wayne and Drake. He shares his connections and knowledge with up-and-coming artists to educate them about the industry and continually works to promote other talent and bring the positive aspects of music to his community.

With Chonz being so successful in his endeavors, I had to get some insight. So I picked his brain on what he thought was an important tip for college success, and this is what he told me:

 "College isn't just an extension of high school. You don't have another four years just to go to school and think about getting a job when you graduate. The experience that you need for your resume starts now. Start looking for that dream job now. If the job doesn't exist envision what the job will look like in the future and create the job."


2.) Be Open-Minded When Choosing a Major

Choosing a major with an open mind

When I first began my academic career, I didn't have a clue about what I wanted to do with my life.

Nursing looked interesting, I could help people and it would be a lucrative job choice. (Here is an interesting post about Public Health Nurses that you can browse at if nursing is drawing your attention!)

But on the other hand I really wanted to be a writer... however, it's not as straight forward to get a writing career. Do writers even get paid much?

So I decided to take the route down the nursing path, I have to be financially stable right?

According to, this is apparently a common trap most students fall into, which is basically "to rule courses in or out based on a simplified view of the world. This is thinking along lines such as economic subjects are for future economists, science is for scientists, etc. While intuitive approaches to choosing are fine, they need to be supported by knowledge. Every college major can lead to a wide variety of different careers. There can be surprising opportunities in unlikely areas."

Oftentimes students feel pressured to choose a major. The "right" major.

Especially one that is perceived to attract more careers that are lucrative and/or have higher job security.

Truth is there are a million different things to know about all majors, and even when it seems all hope is lost and something is just not going to work, you learn something new about it that changes the game.

When sitting down and truly analyzing what you want to do, there are some important questions you need to ask yourself:

  • What do I enjoy doing most?
  • What do I hate doing?
  • What am I good at?
  • And most importantly - WHY do I like (or dislike) these things?
Be brutally honest with yourself, and do not be afraid to move forward with your dreams. It may seem a bit generic, but that is why these questions get overlooked. 

Your Move: Sit down and write a list of all the things that fit in to those above categories, then start thinking about potential jobs that you could get for those categories; and do research!

Here are 50 fun career quizzes that you can take to get you started in the right direction!

The beautiful thing about college is that you must first take general education classes and while you take these classes you can also do extensive research on the majors you are interested in.


3.) You Have More General Electives Than You Think

Multitude of general electives - like pastries in a pastry shop

A few times over the course of my academic career I have taken a general education class that was very similar to another class that I had already taken. On other occasions, I had taken a class that was not really necessary for my major.

Your Move: It is imperative to do research on the class and ask your advisor before registering for them.

For instance, if it is a very immersive and advanced level of biology or chemistry course then communications majors should stay away. There are more appropriate classes designed for non science majors that would satisfy the requirement.

On the University of Colorado Denver website, there is a place where students can go to get course descriptions.

Some classes even have syllabi from previous years that the class was taught and can be available through the CU Denver website. It is a very handy tool for getting to know your classes before registering.

It definitely doesn't hurt to shoot an email to an academic advisor, they are great with making sure you stay efficient in class selection.


4.) If You're From Out of State, Know About Tuition Policies

Become familiar with out-of-state tuition

According to about 37% of the University of Colorado Boulder's students are from out of state; adding to that, at the Denver campus the amount is at about 7%.

With all of these students that are out of state, many do not know about the residency policies that mean a lot for your wallet. If I would have looked into this long before even attending CU, I could have saved tens of thousands of dollars. 

Adding to that, college can definitely be expensive and it is important to try and estimate what it will cost and how that debt will be paid. If your interested in delving a bit further, check out my post: "What Does It Cost To Go To College in Colorado", to begin your research.

First off, it is important to note, that the Colorado higher education policy requires at least ONE full academic year's worth of documented proof before you are considered a resident.

Even though according to the state rules that you are technically a resident after

  • you have gotten a Colorado license
  • obtained employment
  • resided here for 90 days

Academically you need documentation of this (as well as a few other things) for at least 12 months.

Domicile is established when one has a permanent place of habitation in Colorado and the intention of making Colorado one's true, fixed and permanent home and place of habitation. The tuition statute makes it the student's job to provide proof of their residency. No one else. The question of the student's plan to reside here is one that must be proven with legal documents proving the student's ties with Colorado. The most common ties with the state are:

  1. Change of driver's license to Colorado;
  2. Change of automobile registration to Colorado;
  3. Colorado voter registration;
  4. Permanent employment in Colorado;
  5. And most important, payment of state income taxes as a resident by one whose income is sufficient to be taxed.

Your Move: Get started on establishing residency as soon as possible; I waited a few months before I even went to the DMV for a Colorado license, and could not be considered a resident for a year and a half. Here is a direct excerpt from the UCD website on what they are looking for:

For more information on the higher education policies for establishing residency in Colorado, feel free to click that blue link!

5.) Save Up for a Semester Abroad... ASAP!

Save up now to study abroad

Leaving the country and visiting a land that is foreign to me has always been a fascinating dream. How incredible would it be to completely uproot and take a vacation to learn about new cultures while taking in some breath-taking sights and tasty new foods?

CU offers a variety of exciting places for its wide variety of students. There are even some financial aid options available.

If a semester or Maymester abroad is still too long or expensive for you, there are some alternative winter break options available at CU every year where the prices are much cheaper, and the time you are gone will be significantly shorter. The trip is about one week in length; and the price, including airfare, transportation, lodging and all meals is around 250 dollars. With an alternative winter break, students will have the opportunity to:

  • Participate in service projects that impact the local community
  • Develop community amongst the student participants
  • Have new and exciting experiences in another part of the country.

A little different from semesters abroad, alternative winter breaks focus is to challenge and inform your understanding of relevant community and social justice issues in our society. 

Your Move: Since the price is higher than what I and most students tend to have in bank accounts, it is definitely imperative to start saving up early. To have the least amount of pressure, start saving at least a small amount each month your freshman year.

I have done some investigating into the semester abroad options and first steps. The office of Global Education is who handles these, and it is required to first set up a meeting with a study abroad advisor. My meeting went fantastic and my advisor was very friendly and helpful. 

Map it out. Right where you stand. Think about what disposable income you have and want to put towards the trip each month. The earlier you start, the less you have to put in, and it's definitely worth it. Here are a few of CU's semester abroad options.


6.) Utilize All of Your Resources

College success by utilizing resources

Most universities have a plethora of perks that come with having a student ID and CU Denver is no different.

Did you know you can ride the bus and train all around Denver and metro areas for free with your student ID? You can also utilize the campus gym every day for free with this card.

Your Move:

Check out and take advantage of this list of CU Resources:

  1. The Advocate (student newspaper) - The purpose of The Advocate is to provide students with information about campus issues and events. You can also get a job here! Not only does the Advocate serve as a resource of information, it takes a part in the encouragement and development of writers, journalists, artists and other student members.
  2. Career Center- Stumped on how best to move towards that desired career? The Career Center delivers a full array of services just for help with that. Advisors guide students with understanding and leveraging their skills, personality, values, and interests as they choose an academic major and determine a career direction. Services include job search and strategies, resume development and writing, practice interviews, and salary negotiation.
  3. Counseling Center- The UC Denver Student and Community Counseling Center provides mental health counseling services to the UC Denver student body as well as the Denver Metro community.
  4. Scholarships- The Scholarship/Resource Office provides information about scholarships and offers guidance in the scholarship application process. This place helps you polish your essay skills as well as how to prepare a scholarship application. Here are 5 ways that you can also utilize to get these scholarships to pay for your education.

The university offers many more resources to aid in college life as well as preparation for after. Not only does your student ID grant you these resources, you also have many discounts at several companies outside of the university that can knock of several hundreds of dollars off of your prices. Check out 95 student discounts that I found on a very helpful website called Gift Card Granny!

7.) Research Your Professor

Research professor

There have been countless occasions where I had taken a class with a certain professor, their teaching method did not work for me, and then I didn't do so well.

After re-taking the class with someone else, I did magnificently well. 

What grade you get in a class is highly based on the professor and their methods of teaching. Different methods work for different people after all.

Your Move: Ask the upper-classmen in your major. They know a lot about teachers in those hard to take classes.

Adding to that, a VERY handy website that I have utilized for the past several years is It is a fantastic website where students will do as the title says, and they rate the professors they've had. This website mainly rates professors on a 1 to 5 scale focusing on overall quality. The other categories that are factored in include:

  • Would ake again
  • Level of difficulty
  • Hotness

There is even a helpful comment section where individual ratings are posted with useful descriptions from students about what they liked or did not about the teacher and course.

I have never picked a teacher without this website since I found out about it. It has almost every one of my professors in it, and it has always been pretty spot on!

8.) School Books Are a LOT Cheaper Online

School books are cheaper online

Looking at my book list and comparing it to bookstore prices always makes me cringe with sadness.

Most college students need to cut the cost off of everything possible, and here is another place to do it.

There are several online places to find your schoolbooks where the price will be significantly reduced from average bookstore pricing.

Your Move: Go online.

One website in particular where I have found most books for as much as 90% cheaper is Not only do you get the book, but you get a nifty little care package as well. Chegg fits in some snacks, a magazine and usually a couple of Tide laundry packs. What else could a college student ask for?!

A lot of the books on this website are also available in e-book format; in order to reduce the weight in that backpack! In case you desire that hardback copy, you can still utilize the e-book version for certain books while waiting for it to arrive in the mail.

9.) Keep a Planner!

Be successful with a day planner

On the first day of class this year, one of my classmates noticed me pulling out my planner and writing down assignments in it. She then said to me: "You must be a freshman, only freshman write in their planners." I wondered why.

It must not be considered "cool" to know when assignments are due? Or maybe as you advance in college your memory is supposed to increase?

Well that definitely has not happened to me, so I will write it in my planner.

Your Move: Always write down assignments. It doesn't matter what grade you are. Especially as you advance in college and increase the difficulty in courses, you have way more work to do, and it's all that much more complicated.

Not to mention life itself is full of all kinds of twists and turns and I have missed way too many assignments and cut myself short by forgetting due dates not to have a planner. While it may not be considered the "cool" thing to do, it is essential; ignore that stereotype and write it down. 

 10.) Go to Campus Events

CU Denver students on campus

On some occasions I have been persuaded by teachers to go to seminars and other campus sponsored events. Every single time I have been pleasantly surprised. The events are always entertaining, offer a lot of helpful information and almost always have free food.

Your Move: Just go. Job fairs are a great place to test out your resume and talk to employers about what they look for; some even have mock interviews!

Other events that campus will host: movie night, block parties and concerts, all of which attendance is usually free. There are usually tons of flyers and advertisements scattered throughout campus that announce these activities. Don't just ignore them, give some a try. 

Benefits include:

  • New experiences
  • Free food
  • Expand your knowledge and information,
  • Expand social circle with new people
  • Chance to network with the host (which may be a valuable contact for your future career)
  • And some teachers even offer extra credit for the attendance or participation!


11.) Join a Student Organization

Network with student organizations

At the University of Colorado Denver, there are over 120 student organizations. Student organizations are very wise steps to take because they promote student engagement, leadership skills and collaboration. All of which are essential in everyday life and future careers:

According to "In today’s society, employers are hiring students more on what they can do, not their grade point average. Participating in extracurricular organizations shows future employers that students can handle school, work, and other activities, which in turn shows responsibility and organization"

So, what are you interested in?

  • Sports?
  • Business?  
  • Volunteering?
  • Writing?
  • Politics?

Your Move: Whatever your interests may be, there is a student organization that will work for you. Check them out. Just another great way to meet people with similar interests as you to network and build long lasting relationships while simultaneously getting involved with your community.


Ace college


When it comes to college, there is always something more that could be done, another step that could be taken to go that extra mile.

These are ten things that I find would have drastically helped me had I started off knowing about it all.

Take a look at this list above and try to add more to it yourself.

What do you think you could have done differently in college that would have you further ahead?

If you haven't started college yet, take a guess at some important things that you think would be helpful and feel free to leave some tips of your own in the comments below!

Hope you read me again soon!

-Jen OUT-


If you'd like, you can either leave a comment below request more information about college success with CU Online.


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