How to Be Successful in a Subject You Don’t Like

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.

Some because we have 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.

With the right approach, though, you can be successful in a subject you don’t like.

Throughout my career, I have seen plenty of students do so, and helped several more to achieve this very goal.

Today, I am going to share my advice with you.

Why Might You Dislike a Subject?

How to Be Successful in a Subject You Don’t LikeToday students focus a lot more 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.

Sometimes, you may just not be compatible with the subject (or think you are not).

And it is a problem because not liking a course leads to less focus and attention to the class and maybe to a lower grade.

Readings do not get read.

Dozing or texting in class happens.

Hands aren’t raised for questions.

GPAs start falling.

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.

5 Tips on How to Be Successful in a Subject You Don’t Like

1. What Skills Will You Gain from This Course?

How to Be Successful in a Subject You Don’t Like

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.

You may not enjoy the subject, but the skills you learn from it can help motivate you to be successful in a subject you don’t like.

2. What Would Be Good to Know About This Subject?

How to Be Successful in a Subject You Don’t LikeSecond, 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 could impact your quality of life?

If you know how this subject relates to your life, you may like it more and find yourself successful in a subject you don’t like.

Subjects you think don’t contribute anything to your life might have real-life applications you can’t even imagine.

Knowing enough of literature or the arts could help you not feel like a dummy when your work colleagues are talking about books or a joke has a reference to Shakespeare.

Knowing of Paul McCartney before he ever collaborated with Kanye could save you from being the laughing stock of 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 classes you thought you would not like.

3. What Makes Your Professors and Seniors Like This Subject?

How to Be Successful in a Subject You Don’t LikeMaybe 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 are 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 helpful 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 absorbed in the subject from the perspective of your own goals and life experience.

It can help you see what they see through their eyes.

How do they study?

What professors do they love?

What questions excite them?

Experiencing the subject by stepping into the shoes of someone who loves it can help you appreciate it and be successful in a subject you don’t like.

4. How Can You Study This Course Effectively?

How to Be Successful in a Subject You Don’t LikeThe 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 skillsets 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 yet 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.

An essential skill in learning arguing with the 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.

5) Try Tutoring Others in the Subject

How to Be Successful in a Subject You Don’t LikeSometimes it helps to involve yourself.

You might like a subject better if you have to explain the 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.

It teaches you perseverance, compromise, problem-solving, among a host of other skills.

And knowledge is never a bad thing.

Hopefully, this article has helped you figure out how you can succeed in a subject you don’t like.

Which tip do you think will do the trick for you?

Which are you going to try first?

I would be happy to hear about it!

graduationDr. Cantarella is the author of I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide ( and a consultant on higher education, access and success. (

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[Updated : July 23, 2020]