Discovering how to be successful in a subject you don’t like is not easy. We have all been there – the A+ students and those of us who struggled more. Some courses we naturally loved because the subject just spoke to us and some because we were blessed with a fabulous professor who could make reading the phone book fascinating. But there was always the one (or more) course that was meeting a requirement and it was a subject you just did not like.

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Today students are focused on the relationship of what they study to the jobs they see themselves having. Given that perspective you may not like a course if it does not relate to your future career goal. There is the reality too that every professor does not teach like a rock star.

But there are ways to approach this problem of not liking a subject. And it is a problem because not liking a subject leads to less focus and attention to the class and maybe then to a lower grade. Readings do not get read. Dozing or texting in class happens.

Hands do not go up when questions are asked. GPAs can be damaged. Think of 25% of your grade for class participation being shot because you did not like the subject.

So here is what I suggest when you think you do not like a course. First find out what skills you are going to get from it? Does it push you to read, research, write, collaborate with others, and solve problems? Which of these skills are you likely to need in the workplace where you see yourself? Your motivation can be to really perfect those skills because they will be useful to you for achieving your dreams. You may like it more if you see how it can help you. I knew a student who did not like history until he found out that he was learning the forensic skills he needed to become a CSI in his history class.

Second, what might you learn about the world that could be good to know. Does it help to know something about how the body fights disease when you have a sick grandmother? Does it help to know something about the political process when the outcome of an election can change your quality of life? If you know how this subject relates to your life you may like it more and find you are being successful in a course you thought you did not like.

Does it help to know enough of literature or the arts that you don’t feel like a dummy when your work colleagues are talking about books or a joke has a reference to Shakespeare and you don’t get it? Or you are the idiot who does not know who Paul McCartney is when collaborating with Kanye and gets laughed at all over the internet.

Some of what you learn just helps you be part of the conversation but those who are part of the conversation get ahead. It is another reason to find things to like in courses you thought you would not like.

Maybe the most important, is to ask your professor what drew them to the subject in the first place. They have spent their lives deeply immersed in a field they love. They want you to love it too. They can get excited talking about it. Getting to know your professors is always a smart strategy. And so getting them going on what they love will maybe turn on the light bulb for you and create a good impression. Both outcomes are good for your grades. And a strong GPA is a motivation to begin to be successful in a course you don’t like.

Talk to upperclassmen who are doing this as a major. They usually love it like their professors. Use the experience of those who are absorbed in the subject but closer to your own goals and life experience to see what they see through their eyes. How do they study? What professors do they love? What questions excite them?

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The struggle to like a subject can also be because you are not studying effectively. It is easy to be “bored” when the issue is really not understanding. Study groups can energize a subject because you have several minds and skill sets being brought to bear. Figure out how you learn best—if you are a visual learner then charts and pictures may help for example. Use your school’s tutoring centers to learn how to best approach each subject so you have a better chance of getting it. One thing you may not realize is that you need to learn how to read for college. Some academic disciplines require close reading, some require memorizing key concepts, and still others involve a process of skimming and comprehending. Some sciences, like biology, may require a lot of memorization, but you also have to understand what you are memorizing. So reading with access to a glossary or dictionary is wise.

If reading in the humanities (history, philosophy, art) or social sciences (psychology, sociology, economics), look for themes or key concepts and evidence to support them. Once you know what you’re looking for, it is easy to read faster. A key skill in learning to argue with evidence, so see where you disagree with the author’s premises and why. Having that kind of debate can also get you interested in a subject that you think you don’t like.

Sometimes it helps get interested and like a subject better if you have to explain material to those who are not familiar with it as a way of testing your own understanding. Students who tutor younger kids find it helps them maybe even become successful in a subject they did not like.

If you learn how to be successful in a subject you do not like, the odds are that you will find lots of other things you can become successful in along the way.

Learn more about Marcia Y. Cantarella, Ph.D and her book I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide at College Countdown

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