How do you make the most of college?

You don’t have to go to Harvard to behave like a successful Harvard student. 

Harvard professor Richard Light wondered why some students in the United States make the most of college, while others struggle and look back on years of missed opportunities.  He interviewed over 1,600 Harvard students to learn how successful students improved their college experiences and made the most of their time and monetary investment.  Then he published his findings in Making the Most of College: Students Speak Their Minds

Two of his most significant findings about successful students were:

1. They made an effort each semester to get to know at least one faculty member well, and to have that faculty member get to know them equally well.

By the time they graduated, those students had developed close working relationships with at least 8-10 faculty members who could serve as advisors, mentors and professional references. 

2. They found one activity outside of the classroom in which they became deeply involved.

They may have dabbled in many activities, but whether it was research, student clubs and organizations, community service, internships or part-time jobs—they all found one particular outside interest they were passionate about, and dedicated significant time and energy to that pursuit. 

In its review posted on, Publisher’s Weekly offered this criticism, “…His report on the findings of the Harvard Assessment Seminars would be more accurately titled ‘Getting the Most Out of Harvard.’  Rather than reflecting the experiences of average college students, his findings are more consistent with the experiences of students who arrive at prestigious universities already primed for intellectual inquiry.

I thought two things when I read that critique:

1. That’s true. 

Students who have the intellect and work ethic to get into Harvard are likely to keep displaying those traits long after their acceptance letters arrive. 

2. You can mimic the same behavior at whatever college you attend. 

What you do in college will be more important than whether or not you attend a prestigious school.  If you want to be a successful Harvard student, start by behaving like one no matter where you spend your college years.