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Six Tips for Getting (and Keeping) a High GPA, From a DCCCD Alumnus

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This blog post was written by El Centro alumnus William Kaseu.

Hi there! I am so excited and elated to share my story with you and hope it will inspire you.

I am William Kaseu, a former DCCCD STEM and Muse Scholar, and I graduated from El Centro with a 4.0 GPA. This fall, I am transferring to the University of Rochester in New York and planning to acquire a double major in computer science and mathematics. My eventual goal is to attain a Ph.D. in mathematics and create a company that will specialize in quantitative risk management.

I was born in Volksrust, a small and rural town in the southern outskirts of Mpumalanga, South Africa. Growing up, I was infatuated with discovery and research and always interested in learning why certain things happen. This quest for discovery led me to understand myself – my strengths and weakness – which aided me at becoming a phenomenal student at DCCCD.

Today, I write this blog to share some of the discoveries I made by providing you with some tips on how to graduate with a high GPA.

Here are my six tips:

Tip 1: Do More Than is Expected of You

You only get out as much as you put in. It is that simple: the more you put in, the more you get out. By simply doing a little more than is expected of you, you can transcend from the realm of the ordinary to the realm of the extraordinary.

For instance, if you can write a good, 300-word essay in two hours, spend three or four more hours writing it. By spending that extra three or four hours on your work – which you can use to proofread and reanalyze your thesis statement, evidence, structure, context, conclusion, etc. – you can eliminate various errors and clarify your position statements which, in turn, can positively affect your grade. To go even further, you can get your essay proofread by three, four or even five different people (who are somewhat good in English, of course) in order to produce an even better, less flawed essay. By doing these extra tasks, you are doing more than is expected of you.

Since for many it may be a new concept, here’s another example of doing more than is expected of you at DCCCD; if you are doing math, instead of only completing your homework, you can do an additional 10 problems a day. By doing this, at the end of the semester you would have done over 1000 more math problems than was required of you, which usually translates to you getting a higher grade on the exam.

You could take it further by attending supplemental instruction or tutoring (two or three times a week). By attending supplemental instruction or tutoring, you can clarify any confusion you previously had and gain a better understanding of the materials. Amazingly, it is not hard to do more than is expected of you and reap the benefits academically.

So, here’s an example of me doing more than is expected: In the fall semester of 2014, I decided to take Honors English 1301 at Richland. Why? Because even though every student is expected to take English 1301, no student is required to take the honors version. So, although I was somewhat ineloquent at English, I knew that taking an honors English class would place me in an environment with other highly intelligent and motivated students. As a result, I knew that this environment would help facilitate an effective learning setting for me and require me to step up my game, which, in turn, would aid me at attaining a higher grade for the class.

By simply doing more than was expected of me, I was not only able to get an A in the class, but, more importantly, also gain a better understanding of English.

Tip 2: Asking Why

When I tutor my students, I always ask them why: “Why is 1+1=2?” or “Why do we need to set the first derivative equal to zero to find the critical numbers/values?” In my sessions, I rarely emphasize the how, but rather the why. Why is that? Because when you understand why a certain process is done, it tends to be ten times easier for you to understand how it is done.

For instance, instead of simply memorizing that the price of related goods shifts the demand curve in economics (how), utilize your time to understand why the demand curve shifts depending on the price of a related good. By doing this, you are more likely to understand the reasons why it shifts, and thus, how it shifts. Another example would be, instead of simply knowing that there are trade-offs in economics, know why there are trade-offs in economics. This will help you understand the essence of trade-offs.

Whenever you are doing a certain problem, ask why. Asking why will really aid you in better understanding the subject matter.

Tip 3: Discipline, Procrastination, Smart Goals and the 110% Rule

We all knew this was coming, as it is pretty obvious. You need to be disciplined in order to succeed. You need to go to class (on time), take lecture notes, review your lecture notes, start studying one week prior to exams, do all your assigned homework and assignments, and do not procrastinate (how not to procrastinate is really a subject for another day as I won’t have enough time or space to cover it in this blog).

As for smart goals, you should always set realistic and attainable goals. For example, if you have a ten-page research paper to write in a month, set a goal to write three pages a week or structure a schedule which allows you to finish the paper two days prior to its deadline (I will go more over smart goals in the next tip). Lastly, you need to put in 110 percent in all the assignments, homework and exams you do. You need to consistently try your best (that’s what matters). Putting in 110 percent comes back to doing more than is expected of you.

Tip 4: Know Yourself

Know your limits and boundaries. It’s often hard to identify them; however, it is possible. For example, to understand whether you should register for a class or not, ask yourself a series of questions before you register for it. Here are some sample questions:

  • Do I like the course and, from prior experience, am I good at it?
    1. If you haven’t had prior experience or if you don’t know whether you like a course or whether you are good at it, go online and watch a lecture on YouTube, etc. It will give you a taste of the course and you will be able to answer this question.
  • Can I reasonably devote enough time to the class?
    1. If you like the class or are good in it, you will not need to spend as much time as someone who doesn’t like the class or isn’t good at it.
    2. Depending on who you are, you should spend over ten hours per week outside of class if you don’t like or are not good at the course.
    3. If you are good or if you like a class, you should be prepared to spend over six hours a week outside of class.
    4. In order to do more than is expected of you, you need time. Therefore, if you can’t devote this time to a class, don’t take the class.
  • Am I willing to go to tutoring (seek help) consistently if I do not understand something?
    1. It is absolutely important for you to seek help if you don’t understand something – there are no exceptions to this rule.
    2. You have to understand nearly everything in the class in order to get a very good grade.
  • Can I really do this?
    1. Can you really take an 8 a.m. class even though you aren’t a morning person?
    2. Can you really take 20 credit hours, even though you work full time?
    3. You need to think hard and answer these types of questions.

Answering these types of questions will aid you at better understanding yourself. You need to know yourself in order to determine whether you will be successful at taking a specific class or workload, etc. When evaluating yourself, be realistic and honest. Knowing yourself and your capabilities makes it easier for you to get and maintain a high GPA.

When I took seven classes (two were advanced math classes and four were honors classes) in the spring of 2015, people thought it was suicide. However, I knew my limits and capabilities and knew I could make it. It doesn’t matter what others think; you can challenge and defy the status quo by understanding your own capabilities.

Tip 5: Chill, Have a Break

Always take a break, as it helps refresh your mind and self. When you work around the clock without a break, you risk getting burnout which can end up disastrous. Many people believe in the notion that smart people and students with high GPAs do not take any breaks. This could not be further from the truth. Many smart students take breaks, however, they do so strategically. So, it is perfectly fine to have a break and have fun and relax. It will help you revitalize yourself.

Tip 6: Stand Up

When you fall down, stand up. In other words, when you don’t get the result you want, work harder to achieve it. That’s how you will truly succeed, by putting in 110 percent. When I took Honors Psychology 2301, I made a C+ on my first test. I was devastated and thought that this was the class that would end the streak and dismantle my 4.0 GPA. So, instead of complaining, I decided to work as hard as possible to improve my grades in the class. When I fell down, I tried my best to stand up and, fortunately, I did. It is really important that you find the will to stand up once you have fallen.

You don’t necessarily need to be the smartest person in the world to graduate with a high GPA; you just need to know how to work smarter. By doing more than is expected of you, asking why, having discipline, knowing yourself, having breaks and standing up, you already know many of the prerequisites to getting a high GPA in college. It is really up to you to decide whether you want to succeed or not.

As the saying goes, “You can’t be upset by the result you didn’t get with the work you didn’t do.” You will only get as much as you put in; so, put in a lot and you will be on your way to attaining a high GPA at DCCCD. Thank you for reading my blog, and I hope these tips can really help benefit your life.

Good luck,
William Kaseu

William Kaseu graduated from El Centro with a 4.0 GPA in Spring 2016. Starting next fall, he will continue his education at University of Rochester in New York and is planning to double major in computer science and mathematics.
William Kaseu graduated from El Centro with a 4.0 GPA in Spring 2016. Starting next fall, he will continue his education at University of Rochester in New York and is planning to double major in computer science and mathematics.

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