Succeeding in College:  Don’t be a Diva

 While most university students are a pleasure to teach, a few turn out to be “divas,” demanding rock star treatment in class. This, of course, does not endear these individuals to the professor’s heart.  In fact, by their attitudes and actions such “High Maintenance Students,” too often destroy any chance they have of getting the very success and special consideration they crave so much.

 Thanks to world-famous author and speaker Mary E. Demuth, here are some ideas on how to be the kind of stand-out student that professors will go out of their way to help: 

  1. Be confident, but never arrogant. The more calmly confident you are in yourself, the slower you’ll be to react to criticism and the more accurately you’ll be able to discern when a professor is really trying to put you down and when he or she is not.

  2. Meet deadlines early. If you turn in your assignments early you’ll shock and please your professors and at the same time make a very good name for yourself.

  3. Write thank you notes. You will stand out of the crowd if you occasionally e-mail thank-you notes to professors when you are especially grateful.  But always be sure to make your gratitude specific and genuine, never just kissing up.

  4. Join or form a study group (even in classes that don’t require one!). Find (or organize) a group of classmates who get along with you and who can ruthlessly critique your writing and your class work before you turn it in, while you do the same for them.

  5. Put down the phone.  Don’t call professors unless they invite you to. A quick e-mail or a visit during their posted office hours is much easier for them to respond to, and causes them far less interruption.

  6. Don't sweat grades.  Hounding your professor about grades comes across as desperate and scared. Of course if you have a legitimate question don’t hesitate to ask, but don’t pester and never plead for points you haven't earned.

  7. Prepare to be flexible. Particularly when you’re new at the college game, you’ll have to bend a lot to meet professors’ expectations. Chalk it up to learning. Later, when you’re more confident you can decide when to argue with a professor and when it is not worth the time.

  8. Think before you hit the “send” button.  Before e-mailing or posting a complaint or “flame” on social media let it sit and cool for a few hours. Remember that e-mails, tweets and social network postings can take on a terrible life of their own, and nothing you put on the Net ever truly “goes away,” not even after you delete it.

  9. If something is especially good, share complimentary e-mails, tweets and postings at will. Messages and postings that praise something specific in a class never go away either, and can definitely make friends for you. If a class or assignment is particularly good, you should consider complimenting a professor to the Dean, department head, or to his or her colleagues!  Word travels.

  10. Do your homework. Before pestering a professor about an assignment, research it in depth on your own. Re-read the assignment instructions line by line. Stay informed. Simply knowing what the professor expects from you will go a long way toward making you a star student.

  11. Go the extra mile. Go to talks, conferences and presentations in the subject of the class, or in your major. Maybe you’ll meet your future boss there!  Read widely on your own, both within and outside of your major. Go to public lectures, seminars, symposia, meetings and films. Take a non-credit class. Try new things. Grow, grow, grow!  Above all, seek to make yourself an expert in your major or your future field.

  12. Network widely. Join or organize a campus club or student organization in your major or professional subject area. A student with a large network of academic and professional contacts among faculty, fellow students and working professionals in his or her major field will be well on the way toward building a successful career even before graduation, and will be respected by professors and peers alike.

  13. Watch your tongue in class Remember, if you establish your reputation as a High Maintenance Student right out of the gate it’s hard to change first impressions. And even though the university may seem large it’s really just a small town, and gossip spreads.

  14. If you have to fight, do it right If you didn’t like the way a particular professor treated you and you can’t resolve it face to face, go through proper channels. Don’t spread your anger all over the Net, to fellow students, or to other prof’s. If you spew, other professors will think, “Hmmm…if this student is so ready to diss my colleague, will he or she be ready to slander me next?”

  15. Be a pro, and look and play the part. If your professor asks you to put up a website, make it look scholarly and professional. If you have a Facebook, Twitter or other social networking account remember that the world might some day be able to see it, perhaps including professors and future employers.

  16. Be patient. Professors are sometimes terribly busy and often can’t answer your messages or get back to you with grades or feedback on your timetable. Accept that as a given.

  17. Accept feedback. If a professor’s or peer reviewer’s comments on an assignment initially make you angry or defensive, wait to respond, argue or rewrite until your emotions have cooled down.

  18. Start small. If you’re in the university, recognize you have a lot to learn. Use this time to “learn the ropes” and to become a sharper student and a smarter professional.

  19. Above all, be humble. Here’s an irony: Those bursting with themselves and their own mighty wisdom often start out thinking they’re God’s gift to the university and the universe, but in reality they are setting themselves up for failure. However, the most successful students soon learn that success at university isn’t always measured by grades, that succeeding, even if you have great talent, takes guts and work and sweat, and that when you're ready to listen to professors’ constructive feedback you’ll grow.

Adapted with author's permission from “Don’t be a Diva,” by Mary E Demuth. Writer’s Digest, August, 2008, 18-9.  Contact Ms. Demuth at


 OW 11/08 rev 9/17


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