Important Tips on How to Succeed in the U.S. College System

The following tips are to help new international and immigrant students succeed in the U.S. college system.  



Tip #1: Complete the Online Orientation on Self-Service

You must log in first, then click on Step One under Orientation/Placement/Advise.


Tip #2: Log in to Self-Service to learn your English/Math/ESL placement.

1. Take the English/Math Placement Questionnaire on Self-Service to learn your English/math placement.

If you qualify for ESL, this questionnaire will recommend the ESL guided self-placement tool. You must log in first, then click on Step Two under Orientation/Placement/Advise.


2. Take the ESL Guided Self-Placement Tool on Self-Service.

If you qualify for ESL, find the guided self placement tool under Orientation/Placement/Advisement. 


3. Find your placement results on Self-Service under Orientation/Placement/Advise.


Tip #3 Take the recommended Math, English and ESL courses.

Self-Service will not allow students to enroll in math and English classes above their proficiency level, so take the math, English or ESL courses in which you have been placed.



Tip #4: Before choosing a course, read its description in the college catalog, check its prerequisites, and visit the bookstore to review the assigned textbook(s).

The description of the course will tell you whether or not you have already covered or still need to cover this material. If the course has a prerequisite class, you must complete it first or show that you have completed an equivalent at another college. Looking at the text(s) will show you the level and content of the class. If the text is too difficult, you might want to take the class after you have studied more English. After you have considered all these things, ask yourself, "Do I have the English skills to be successful in this class?"




Tips #5: Take ESL or English classes in the beginning.

If you do not have adequate skills in English, it will be more difficult to succeed in your other classes. A strong English foundation should be your first priority. It is also important to take at least one English class each semester until you have completed all of your English courses.


Tip #6: Enroll in no more than 12 units your first semester.

Schedule your time carefully. Think about the time required for work, family, transportation, exercise, relaxation, and other activities outside of school when you decide on the number of courses to take. For every hour that you are in class, you need to study for at least two hours outside of class. For example, if you take 12 units, you will need to study or do homework for at least 24 hours a week. This means a minimum of 36 hours a week are needed for your studies. In addition to these hours, you will sometimes need to meet with instructors, other students, tutors, or do research or lab work.


Tip #7: Once you have completed ESL 098, take some general education courses.

After you have completed ESL 098, your English proficiency may be high enough to enroll in certain general education classes. Meet with an academic counselor to advise you on appropriate classes.


Tip #8: Soon after the beginning of your first semester, make an appointment with a counselor to set up your educational plan.

It is important to have an overall plan that shows which classes you want to take each semester until you graduate or transfer to a university. If you are on financial aid, this educational plan is required.




Tip #9: Add and/or drop classes before the end of the first two weeks of classes (semester-length) or during the first week of classes (short term).

If you drop a semester-length class during the first two weeks, you can get a refund of your tuition/fees and the class will not show up on your transcript (record of classes taken and grades). If you wait until later than this, there will be no refund, and the letter W (Withdraw) will appear on your transcript. When trying to decide whether or not you have chosen the right classes based on your English level, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can I understand this teacher’s speech?

  • Can I find the lecture information in the textbook?

  • Can I understand the textbook?

  • Will I get the assignments far enough ahead to complete them?

  • Can I finish the homework on time?

  • Do I have to write a research paper?

  • Will I be graded on class participation?

  • Will I have to give an oral report or do a group project?

Depending on how you answer these questions, you may decide to drop the class and choose something that is more appropriate for your level and needs.

Tip #10: If you want to add a closed class, put your name on the class waitlist using Self-Service. On the first day of class, show up early and sit in front where the instructor can see you, or email the instructor the week before classes start, if classes are online.


Many instructors will add more students to their closed classes if there are seats available. You may have to be persistent but polite to get the instructor’s permission to do this. If the instructor tells you to come back to the next class, do so and have any homework prepared, even though you are not in the class yet. Other students wanting to add may get discouraged and not come back, so your chance of getting into the class will improve. At the same time that you are trying to add classes, be sure to continue attending the classes that you are registered in. You may not get into the closed class.

Tip #11: If you want to drop a class after the first two weeks, you can do so through Self-Service.

If you stop attending a class, do not expect the instructor to drop you. It is your responsibility to let Admissions and Records know that you have dropped. If your name is still on the class list at the end of the semester, and you have stopped attending the class, you will get an F or NP in the class.

Tip #12: Check the calendar in the class schedule and drop a class before the deadline for withdrawal.
You cannot drop after the official withdrawal date. The instructor must give you a grade if you do not remove your name from the roster by this date.

Tip #13: International students must see an international student counselor before dropping any course.
If you drop below the required 12 units without approval, your F1 Visa and student status with immigration may be cancelled.

Tip #14: Students on financial aid should check with their EOPS counselor or financial aid counselor before dropping a class.
If you drop a class during the semester, your aid may be lowered or cancelled.

Tip #15: Repeat courses in which you have earned a below-average grade as soon as possible.
You must repeat a course in which you have earned a "NP," "F" or "D" grade if the course is required for graduation or for transfer, or if the course is a prerequisite to another course. The new grade will be used to determine your GPA, but the original grade will remain on your transcript with a note. In some cases, it is not necessary to repeat a course in which you have earned a "D." You may repeat a course three times without special permission.

Tip #16: If you have an "Incomplete" grade in a course, you must complete any missing work by the end of the next semester.
You must meet with the instructor of the class as soon as possible to plan how and when you will complete the course requirements. An Incomplete Grade Contract must be filled out and signed by you and your teacher. If you have an incomplete at the end of the fall semester, you must complete the missing work by the end of the spring semester. If the incomplete is for the spring semester, you have until the end of the fall semester to finish the work.