How to be successful in college is, like how to get rich, a paradigmatic example of an ill-structured problem, meaning that it cannot be formalized and so is not consistently solvable, at least by algorithmic means. The most obvious source of the ill structure is undoubtedly the vagueness of the term “success.” Nevertheless, even if the imprecision were resolved by operationalizing that concept as achieving above a certain grade point average (GPA)—and I will defend this stipulation shortly—the ill structure does not disappear. There is no consistently winning prescription for getting high grades. Even broad, common-sense recommendations such as “study often” or “do your assignments diligently” can be countered with too many exceptions. There are, we must admit, plenty of students whose assiduousness is met with disappointment and others who, despite general carelessness and slacking, receive excellent grades, at least in some classes. The ill structure, then, derives not only from vagueness but also from inconsistency and mutability; it is as if students are faced with a game whose rules are constantly in flux in sometimes unpredictable ways.
Yet it is also true that certain students tend to do better than others consistently across terms, courses, and disciplines, and there are others whose success appears to be conditioned by certain factors such as subject, task type, and/or modality of expression. Finally, there are those who start out doing poorly despite considerable effort but appear to learn something that makes for sustained improvement at some point in their academic careers. Similar pat