11 Surprising Factors That Determine Your Success in School

by Staff Writers

You might think that success in school is directly related to IQ, but you’d only be partially right. While high intelligence can help make coursework, from kindergarten to college, easier to understand, it isn’t the only factor that goes into determining how well you’ll perform in school. There are a lot of other things, both intrinsic and extrinsic, that can affect your grades, ability to learn, and ultimately your success in high school and college alike. While you might expect that factors like socioeconomic status and home life would play a role, other factors that contribute to your success are much more surprising. Read on to learn about some of the less obvious influences that shape your success in school.

  1. Social Relationships: From kindergarten on, your social relationships play a big part in how well and how much you learn, perhaps even more than you realize. One study found that strong kindergarten friendships reduced the amount of behavioral problems students have and improved their social skills through third grade, especially in boys. Other studies have discovered that changes in friendships during the often tumultuous adolescent years can signal whether a student will be successful academically or not down the road. Those who develop strong friendships with others who have behavior problems, even if they have good grades, are more likely to see a drop in their own performance. Your friendships may play a bigger role than you realize in your academic performance, even early on, so make sure you’re choosing your friends wisely!
  2. Stress level: While stress can be a motivator to get things done, it can often also be an impediment to high academic performance. Studies on college students have found that stresses like finances, test pressure, depression, low-self esteem, and the dissolution of relationships (among others) can cause changes in eating habits, sleep, and difficulties adapting to new responsibilities. All of these changes, along with the stressors that caused them in the first place, were found to lower academic performance in many students. However, those with strong support systems were better able to cope and were more successful in their academics. In many cases courses on stress management helped students to stay on track with their educational goals, despite any outside stresses.
  3. Curiosity: Curiosity might be dangerous for cats, but it’s essential for students who want to succeed in school. A study published in Perspectives in Psychological Science demonstrated that curiosity is actually a big part of academic performance and that it, and personality traits like it, may actually be more important than intelligence when it comes to achievement in school. Curiosity, when studied in about 50,000 students, was found to have as big of an impact on performance as more expected traits like hard work and conscientiousness. A great reminder to always embrace learning and trying new things.
  4. EQ: While IQ does play a role in predicting academic success, a far more telling clue is EQ, or Emotional Intelligence. Researchers found that being successful in school takes more than smarts; it also takes strong competencies in social and emotional understanding. When K-12 students were put through a course that educated them on social and emotional learning, they were found to be much more successful in school and exhibited many more positive social behaviors than their peers who did not participate in the program. While social and emotional education isn’t a panacea for poor academic performance, it could help many students, young and old, to develop skills that will help them be better prepared to interact with others, work under stress, and complete course work.
  5. Your family: It probably isn’t all that surprising, but your family plays a big role in shaping your attitudes towards school and your academic performance. Researchers studied over 800 students in Chicago and Beijing, discovering that youths who feel more responsible to their parents were more likely to stay engaged in school and perform better. Of course, it’s not just a matter of pleasing parents or fulfilling expectations. Family attitudes towards education, stability, and strong communication between parents and children can also have a deep and lasting impact on an individual’s success in school.
  6. Confidence: Sometimes thinking you can do something is all you need to be able to actually do something, or that’s what some studies suggest. Researchers studying minority students found that many felt that they didn’t belong in college or had feelings of alienation, often leading to lower grades and even dropping out. The solution? A simple 60-minute exercise that helped them to build their confidence, gave them relatable experiences, and made them feel more at home on campus. The results were staggering, with 22% of the students in the program ending up in the top 25% of their class (as opposed to just 5% of students who didn’t participate). While the study focused on minorities, it could potentially be applied to any students who are struggling with school, proving that sometimes putting mind over matter is all it takes to succeed.
  7. Class times: College students should beware when making their class schedules: class time may impact their success in a course. It sounds strange, but researchers have found that students who take classes that start later are more likely to stay up later and drink more, resulting in an accordant drop in grades. Delayed sleep also led to poorer sleep and more sleepiness throughout the day, which, as we’ll discuss, can also take a pretty big toll on grades. Oddly, the opposite is true of students in middle and high school, who were more likely to attend class and be in a better state of mind when classes were held later.
  8. Fitness: If you think heading off to college is an excuse to stop working out or staying fit, then you might want to think again. Studies have shown that there is a relationship between physical activity and academic performance. Those who stay active are more likely to do better in school, perhaps because the activity increases oxygen flow to the brain and helps release endorphins which improve mood. Though physical activity itself has a positive effect, surprisingly students who play sports in high school may not see the same jump, as little correlation was found between playing organized sports and getting better grades. That said, any kind of athletic activity that gets students moving, relieves stress, and gets students in shape is probably a good thing.
  9. Sleep: Few things are as closely correlated with success in school as sleep. Study after study demonstrates the need to get a solid night’s sleep if you want to improve or maintain your grades. Planning to pull an all-nighter to study? It’s not recommended. Those who pull all-nighters are more likely to have a lower GPA. Even more importantly, bad sleep habits have been shown to strongly correlate with lower grades in high school through college. Still not convinced? Yet another study demonstrated that elementary school children who don’t get enough sleep don’t perform as well academically as their peers. So regardless of age, getting enough sleep is an essential, though often overlooked, aspect of academic performance.
  10. Successful college athletics: Is your college football team doing terribly this year? It may be for the best, when it comes to your grades, anyway. A study at the University of Oregon found that male students (and females, too, to a lesser extent) who don’t participate in sports are more likely to get caught up in the excitement of a winning team, increasing alcohol consumption and partying more. This was found to lead to a drop in GPA, which may have many students looking for schools that favor academics over athletics.
  11. Health: If you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re probably not taking care of your grades either, studies suggest. Researchers have found that lack of sleep, excessive screen time, gambling, alcohol and tobacco use, and other health issues have a direct effect on academic performance. Those who engaged in these behaviors were more likely to be stressed, have mental health issues, and record lower GPAs. Researchers hope that the study will spur students to change some of their most unhealthy behaviors, perhaps raising their grades in the process.