8 effective strategies for academic success

Whether you're currently enrolled at Penn LPS Online or you're considering enrolling in the future, it's important to be aware of strategies you can implement to set yourself up for academic success. Adjusting to becoming a student again can be particularly challenging if you're an adult learner with work and family obligations in addition to your educational ambitions—so it can take determination, discipline, and patience to effectively balance all these roles.

Penn LPS Online was created to make a high-quality Ivy League education accessible and affordable to working professionals like you. Whether you're easing into your studies by taking one or more courses, pursuing a certificate, or earning a bachelor's degree, the flexible online learning format at Penn LPS Online makes it easy to enhance your personal and career development—and help set yourself up for a brighter future.

Read on to explore 8 strategies you can use to help you succeed in your studies and to make the most of your experience at Penn LPS Online.

1. Set SMART goals

Setting goals for each semester can be a highly effective strategy to help you keep your academic priorities in check. The SMART approach involves ensuring that your goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. Here is an example of a SMART goal:

  • Specific goal: Set aside at least one hour a day to read assigned course materials.
  • Measure your progress daily by tracking your time through a study app (measurable).
  • Ensure your goal is attainable by letting your friends and family know that you are unavailable during this set time and, if possible, turn off your phone.
  • This goal is relevant because it will allow you to consistently stay on top of your readings, so you're prepared for class discussions and other coursework.
  • This goal is timely because it allows you to track your progress daily, weekly, or monthly.

The benefits of creating SMART goals are that they can provide you with the direction you need to stay on task with your studies, increase your focus, boost your motivation, and reduce your overall anxiety. Although your SMART goals may be focused on academics, it's important to consider your personal priorities as well, which segues into the next strategy.

2. Make planning and time management a priority

Creating a plan to balance your work, life, and education is integral to achieving academic and personal success. For a typical 8-week course at Penn LPS Online, you may need to spend 10-15 hours per week on readings and assignments. If you're not used to learning on an accelerated schedule, juggling your educational and life responsibilities can quickly become overwhelming. That's why implementing an effective time management strategy is so important. If you work a 9-5 job, you'll need to figure out when you can fit in daily study time in a way that's most productive for you—whether that's in the morning before work, on your lunch break, or in the evening.

“The military teaches you to really think on your feet and adapt to whatever is happening at that moment. Having an assignment due is like having a mission. There’s a lot of planning: if we had a paper due Sunday, I would work backward and plan down to the day what I needed to do to complete it by Sunday.” – Robert Marshall, Penn LPS Online Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology ‘19

If you want to excel in your studies, it's essential that you stay organized. Part of that involves creating a system to track important dates and deadlines so you can best prioritize your time. That could come in the form of a day planner, a Google or Outlook calendar on your phone, or a time management app—what's important is that you can lay out all your important work meetings, family responsibilities, and school assignments in a format that is easily accessible. It may also be helpful to create daily or weekly to-do lists so you can see where you need to spend your time on a micro and a macro level. And don't forget to schedule breaks—giving yourself the space to decompress can be critical to your academic success and your mental health.

3. Get very familiar with the course materials

It may seem obvious, but not everyone realizes what a powerful tool a course syllabus can be when it comes to setting yourself up for academic success. A syllabus gives you the information you need to determine where and when you need to spend your time. It's also something that you can consistently go back to throughout the semester to keep track of deadlines for assigned readings, quizzes, assignments, and discussions so you can plan your schedule accordingly (in your time management app or otherwise).

At Penn LPS Online, you can find the important course info—including your syllabus—by logging into the Canvas course site and reviewing the "Getting Started" module. There, you'll find an overview of the topics the course covers, the specific course requirements and deadlines, and any textbooks you will need. The course site also serves as your virtual classroom where you'll interact with classmates and instructors through video lectures, live Zoom meetings, discussion boards, and more. With a fast-paced, 8-week timeline for most Penn LPS Online courses, it's also critical that you commit to attending all your scheduled classes so that you don't miss valuable information or fall behind in your studies.

4. Engage with your instructors and peers

Another effective strategy to help ensure your academic success is to connect with your instructors and peers early andoften. A peer-reviewed article published in Innovative High Education found that positive student-faculty interactions are linked with improved academic outcomes and can help reduce retention gaps in higher education, especially for college students from underrepresented backgrounds.1 To that end, all Penn LPS Online courses include a participation requirement with the expectation that you'll actively engage with your course instructors and fellow students. Examples of meaningful online participation—whether through audio, video, or typed text—includes:

  • Posting thorough and thoughtful responses to discussion topics
  • Sharing personal insights and experiences with your peers
  • Contributing ideas and effort into group projects

When in doubt, ask a lot of questions! At Penn LPS Online, it's easy and beneficial to you as a learner to get to know your instructors and teaching assistants through online office hours, appointments, text chats, or email. If you feel hesitant to reach out, it's important to remember that your instructors are invested in your success and can be invaluable resources if you're struggling with the subject matter or adjusting to online learning.
It's also essential to connect with your peers at Penn LPS Online—and you'll have many opportunities to do so through online discussions, group work, and Zoom lectures. If you're someone who learns better with input from others, you can also start your own online study group to share class notes, discuss questions, and study for quizzes or exams. Engaging with a study group can also be a good way to hold yourself accountable and stay on top of the required coursework. If you're willing to open yourself up, you may also create relationships that can serve as a valuable network once you graduate.

"Everyone was brilliant. Each course was such a melting pot, professionally and culturally, and everyone was able to shine a different light on the material. And even though we are so extremely different, we are all adult students who are moving forward in our education. It was great to collaborate with peers who share that experience."—Mary Koenke, Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences ‘20

5. Take advantage of Penn LPS Online resources

There is a plethora of resources available at Penn LPS Online to help support you along every aspect of your educational journey. A great place to start is with your academic advisor who can serve as your go-to guide for support. Your advisor is well-equipped to help you choose and register for courses, clarify certificate or degree requirements, address academic issues or concerns, identify resources including library, counseling, and disability services, and navigate the transfer credit process.

If you find that the technical aspects of your online courses are causing you concern, you can also reach out to the Penn LPS Online Learning team for 24/7 support. Whether you need guidance navigating the Canvas online learning platform or you're having issues with internet access or hardware, you can email the team at online-learning-help@sas.upenn.edu for troubleshooting support.

Finally, if you're looking for academic assistance, chat-based tutoring is available for subject areas including English, math, and science through Brainfuse, which you can access via Canvas. If you need coaching on effective writing practices for your assignments, the Brainfuse Writing Lab is a great resource—and you'll receive feedback within 24 hours of submitting your work.

6. Take care of your physical and mental health

Balancing university, work, and life in general can be stressful. That's why it's essential to stay on top of your physical and mental well-being. One of the most important things you can do to maintain a healthy lifestyle is to make sleep a priority; you can't expect to absorb your course materials if you're running on empty. If stress or anxiety are preventing you from sleeping well, you may want to consider adding meditation into your nightly routine to help quiet your brain and prepare your body for rest.

It's common for busy students to rely too heavily on caffeine and sugar to get through the day, which often ends in a crash. To avoid falling into this trap, keep a water bottle on hand to help you stay hydrated, and try to eat balanced meals with protein, nuts, fruits, and vegetables that fuel your body and leave you satisfied. This will require additional planning, but the benefits are worth it. Finally, whenever possible, set aside time to stay active throughout the day—whether that's a quick walk, a yoga class on your lunch break, or a stop at the gym before work. Getting moving can provide a reset in your day that is good for your body and your mind.

7. Follow your passions

It can be easy to forget that exploring your intellectual curiosities, strengths, and passions is beneficial to your ability to thrive academically and personally. Research from psychologist Andy Tixfound that what distinguishes successful learners is the belief that intelligence and ability can be expanded, a "growth mindset" that motivates students to seek out and overcome intellectual challenges. The highest-performing students are also intrinsically motivated, which means they're guided by their own sense of purpose a desire to learn for learning's sake.2

There are many ways to feed your intellectual curiosity at Penn LPS Online. One option is to commit to taking at least one class a semester that strongly piques your interest or takes you outside of your comfort zone. Another is to consider the Individualized Studies concentration for the BAAS degree. The Individualized Studies concentration allows you to combine complementary areas of study so you can explore your unique academic interests while building the skills and knowledge to help you meet your career goals.

8. Have fun!

This final strategy is simple: Immerse yourself in your studies, ask questions, explore what intrigues you, and take the time to get to know your peers and professors. Your university experience is what you make of it, so commit to making it as enjoyable as possible.
To learn more about available Penn LPS Online services to help make your academic journey successful, please visit the Student Resources page.


1 Mariana T. Guzzardo, Nidhi Khosla, Annis Lee Adams, Jeffra D. Bussmann, Alina Engelman, Natalie Ingraham, Ryan Gamba, Ali Jones-Bey, Matthew D. Moore, Negin R. Toosi, and Sarah Taylor. "'The ones that care make all the difference': Perspectives on student-faculty relationships." Innovative Higher Education 46 (2021), p. 41-58.
2 Andy Tix. "Psychological Factors in Student Success." Psychology Today. April 15, 2020.

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