Category Archives: University

What traits do the most successful students have?

The transition to university is a major and sometimes challenging experience for student s and their parents.  My eldest child is starting later this month.

This year, parents play a more important role than ever before, since schools have not been able to provide the usual guidance and preparation.   There are a host of considerations such as: social and emotional wellbeing, logistics, independent living, managing finances, safety etc. 

Many parents and schools have a tendency to hover and micro-manage, so that despite reaching adulthood, students are not necessarily self-reliant, independent thinkers and learners.  Schools may be great at teaching content but ineffective study skills can be a real barrier to educational success.

I believe what sets students up to reach their full potential at university is ‘learning how to learn’.

I have always been fascinated by how children learn and read an immense amount on study skills, revision and memory techniques.  Last year, I discovered the leading gurus on this topic: Steve Oakes and Martin Griffin, authors of ‘The Student Mindset’.

Educating Matters have recently teamed up with Steve and Martin to deliver talks on student mindset to parents at work.  Between them they have over 40 years of teaching experience and interviewed thousands of students to identify the key traits and behaviours shared by the most successful.  They discovered that the non-cognitive habits, systems and behaviour are what leads to real growth.

What is so amazing about their books is not only do they define these traits and nail them down to: Vision, Effort, Systems, Practice and Attitude (VESPA).  They also have tangible, practical strategies and exercises to help students actually understand these non-cognitive skills. This is equally applicable to school age children.

I highly recommend you get your hands on the book but here is a brief rundown of VESPA:


Determined and successful students, know their purpose, set clear objectives and stick to the plan which pulls them forward.  These need to be their goals and targets, not their parents!!!


We all know that hard work is important but what counts is the right type of effort and knowing the difference between passive completion of directed tasks and active independent study. 


Successful students really know how to organise their time and resources.  They also understand how to prioritise according to need and impact and meet deadlines.  These are of course vital life skills in the workplace.


High practice students don’t devote the majority of their time to simply memorising information.  They complete extra work to hand in, practice under timed conditions and pay very close attention to feedback.  Many students spend too long learning the material and not actually practising what is required in exams.


High attitude students have a broader and more robust range of tactics when times are tough and stressful.  They are confident, emotionally intelligent and have a growth mindset.  They understand that failure is an important part of success and learning can be a series of sharp inclines, plateaus and setbacks.


Preparing your child for life

Children going off to University

Over the Summer I have been busy preparing a seminar for Rothschild directed at parents of children about to start university.  I must admit until now I hadn’t focused too much on this stage as it is not something I have yet experienced with my own children.

I do often remind parents that their main role is to prepare their child for adult life.  Seeing them off to university is a sure sign that you have done something right as a parent and hopefully given them the skills to be independent.   However, your relationship with them will never be quite the same again.  One of your greatest loves is walking out the door.  Of course they will no doubt be back in the holidays, once again creating a mess and making demands!!  Also the reality is that many children come to live at home after uni as the cost of having their own place is extremely prohibitive for new graduates.

During this period from what I have heard from friends and speaking extensively to other parents who have been through it, your child will grow up like never before and unlike their first 18 years of life, most of that growing up will be happening without you. You then prepare for what’s likely to be the longest phase of your relationship with your child which is your relationship as 2 adults.

What does your child need to be prepared for University?

As I was putting together the content for the seminar, I realised that I could give very practical advice such as a checklist of what to buy/take and how to handle the emotional element of dropping them off, staying connected whilst they are away and thinking about careers after uni.  However, all the most important preparatory work should start by parents years in advance, such as:

  • Handling strong emotions, relationshps, setbacks and being resilient
  • Tools for independent living: handling money, budgeting, cooking, washing, cleaning
  • Tools for independent learning: time management, self-motivation, handling procrastination and stress
  • Staying safe: online safety, drugs, alcohol, sex
  • Problem solving, thinking for themselves, handling mistakes

My eldest is 15 and hopefully if he gets through these next 3 years of exams he will be off to uni.  Preparing this talk has really encouraged me to focus on my priorities and ensure that I am not just worrying about the academics but actually raising an adult.

I have also got drawn into many articles by parents and psychologists on the ’empty nest syndrome’.  I can only imagine that letting go of your kids is hard and happens so quickly.  I also expect that when the time comes, I will feel a whole lot better if I have done my job as a parent and prepared my children as much as I can for life so they are ready for the next phase of the adventure.

Even if your child is quite young and uni seems like a long way off, start thinking about:

What are the core skills, qualities and characteristics your child will require?

How will you ensure they have these before it’s time to leave your home?


As a starting point, a great book that I read on this topic is by Julie Lythcott-Haims a former dean of Stanford.  During her time there she noticed the rise in parental involvement in students’ live and the damage that causes.