Matt McCarthy flunked out of college, twice, before earning his master's degree at NAU in business and information technology. Now he teaches ASU students the lessons he learned.
His experience is not "a story of redemption," he said, but a "humiliating experience, and it cost me tens of thousands of dollars."
McCarthy wrote "How to Avoid F*cking Up at College," a novel to help students not make the same mistakes he did when he was a student.
McCarthy, principal lecturer at the W. P. Carey School of Business, said he thinks his experience as a former ASU student himself separates the advice he gives from the many others who have written about the same topic.
"If they had known a couple of things that I didn't know either, maybe we could have avoided all that." McCarthy said.
McCarthy teaches multiple classes, such as CIS 105, whose sections take in hundreds of students per year. McCarthy has instructed over 70,000 students in his nearly 20 years of experience as a professor. Many of those students have left rave reviews and recommendations for his classes because of his personable teaching style.
And his personality extends outside the classroom, from making class announcements on Reddit (and poking fun at UA in the process) to building a smaller YouTube presence with a biking channel named "Shut Up and Ride."
His teaching stems from "bedrock" ideas he both implores his students to follow and writes about in his book, with a major one being understanding the difference between motivation and discipline.
"What's the secret to college? Going to class," McCarthy said. "It's a question I ask to all my sophomores, juniors and seniors. It's the same response I get every time."
His understanding of those two ideas led to his own struggles in college. He said he failed to identify his priorities and spent too much time socializing. This, he said, combined with the increased workload and difficult assignments, affected his ability to finish college on time.
Amr ElJack, a senior studying finance who took CIS 105 with McCarthy his freshman year, said he vividly remembers the first lecture about the the "big difference between being motivated and disciplined to do something."
"I didn't know it back then, but having the desire to get work done and actually sitting myself down to finish the work has been the difference between getting an A in a course and having to request a Y grade," ElJack said.
Ryan Travetto, a junior studying business data analytics who also took CIS 105 with McCarthy, said it was the "small things" that helped him "go a long way."
"A lot of it sounded really basic: go to every class, get your work done early, etc." Travetto said. "Even now as someone who is going into his senior year, I often have to remind myself of the things Professor McCarthy taught us."
Travetto said he entered CIS 105 as a freshman considering switching out of the business data analytics major, but McCarthy's teaching pushed him to continue.
"Professor McCarthy gave me a strong overview of what university was going to be like," Travetto said. "At the end of the day, I'm here to learn and succeed."
ElJack said he applied McCarthy’s recommendations in his part-time jobs and internships and "can still see how applicable Professor McCarthy’s guidelines are."
McCarthy said understanding the difference between motivation and discipline, along with approaching professors for help, are a few of the many basic teachings he looks to provide students with, not only in the classroom, but within his book.
"I don't want my students dropping out of college," McCarthy said. "I don’t want to lose anybody."