The four years you spend at college will greatly shape your life in ways you can hardly fathom. You will assume more independence and responsibility for your life choices; choose a career path; connect with many new friends and possibly meet a future spouse. For some of you, you may earn a paycheck for the first time; learn to properly sort your laundry; eat – a lot; pull back-to-back all-nighters like a pro to finish multiple assignments; travel & (insert another life alerting experience here). The bottom line – tons will happen in your life and change will be vast and fast. The key is to take things one year at a time. I’ve asked some of my colleagues – and ex-students/recent college grads – for their best advice and here it is – the Top 10 snippets of advice every college student should heed:
1. Mix & Mingle. Socialize with folks outside of your normal circle and embrace others of a different cultural milieu. Talk to every one. Get invited to their potluck dinners, their study groups, their book clubs, their volunteer programs. Become that person on campus who is friendly with a variety of folks from across the globe. And make friends with a future doctor, lawyer, and. accountant. You will probably never again have the opportunity to be surrounded by so many intelligent and like-minded people who you can stay connected with for years to come. Thus, college is a great opportunity to build lifetime relationships, so make the most of it.
2. Get Around Town. As in explore your campus and local town/city. Join organizations & attend random school events. You’ll meet lots of new faces and possibly land an incredible meeting/job or opportunity. Take advantage of all offerings in terms in attractions, sports and entertainment. Despite being originally from a tropical island, I was determine to master “the cold” and so I enrolled in ice-skating classes for a year. Trying new things and exploring new places will help make your college experience much more fulfilling and make you feel more connected to your new zip code. However, don’t try to join everything and be selective. You shouldn’t have extracurriculars or join campus orbs just because they want to impress future employers. Get engaged in ways that help you develop yourself as a strong, well-rounded individual.
3. Say No to Drugs. Drugs are bad. Cliche but best said. The consequences – getting kicked out of school, embarrassing yourself/family & maybe even jail. Drug use and abuse will generally cause you to make painful and regrettable decisions – that will likely end up posted on social media. See #5.
4. Do The Turtle. That is to say bravely stick your head out, don’t be shy and be known in your classes. Professors will bend, lean, break rules for you if you are a strong participant in class if they know who you are. That also means – you have to actually go to class and office hours. Even if it’s 8 am. Speaking from experience – I once had a tough professor who I got to know very well through frequenting his office hours. He ended up giving me my very first very well-paying job as the sole web designer for his research facility. Another example – a colleague shared that he fell asleep during a final exam and the professor (because they had developed a relationship) allowed him to take the make-up exam. Fact: Not every professor will be this nice.
5. Be Virtually Unseen. At this stage, you’ve probably already either witnessed or had a not-so-pleasant run-in with the residual ills of sharing too much on social media. However, once you turn 18, everything you say, can and may be used against you – in a court of law. If your parent or a future employer would spazz out over your latest Facebook activity, then it’s time to rethink and delete. Instead focus on character building and positive networking. After all, the end-all game at college is to get a J-O-B. Any not do anything stupid that will derail these plans.
6. Travel. Everywhere. The next town over, a nearby college, the neighboring state and get on a train, plane or automobile every time life permits. And if you have the chance to study abroad, do it. Preferably a full year if you can. Your school may even have a campus abroad so get to investigating early, be strategic with your classes and and carefully plan for the time you will be overseas. Studying abroad will serve as one of the most rewarding experiences you can ever have in college. (Check out Geektreks.com for some additional advice in this area.)
7. Say No to
Drugs Credit Cards. You should definitely say no to illegal drugs- and the unsuspecting red punch at the frat party – but being mindful of your finances is critical. Often, college students know very little about the basics of financial literacy – like how to write a check, balance a checkbook, how to budget, use credit appropriately, and indulge in positive credit score practices. This really should be in the form of some sort of mandatory college class but alas – it generally isn’t. Talk to your parents/guardians, Google as much as you can and in the meantime, stay away from those enticing credit card offers. Who needs a free mug anyway? Heck- even if they offer you a free trip- say NO. Speak to someone you can trust to get answers/advice on choosing your first credit card. For starters, check out this great piece on 7 Finance Tips for college students.
8. Get an Internship. Trust me – you do not want to be that graduate who can’t land a decent job because of a lack of work experience on your resume. After freshman year, every summer should be spent partly doing something that will provide some insight into a field of interest, give you some practical experience and (hopefully) earn you some money. You may develop an acute interest you didn’t know was there or decide that you totally despise an area and decide to switch fields/majors. Interning for two consecutive summers is what helped me realize that I did not really want to work in mechanical engineering at a manufacturing facility and helped me transition quickly into education once I graduated. That saved me years of frustration.
9. #Turndown solo. Not every weekend should be spent indulging in out-of-this-world fun. It will be very tempting though. (Especially if you are attending one of THESE schools.) While it is tempting to always surround yourself with people, alone time will become extremely important to you in college. Sometimes you may feel lonely, overwhelmed or even sad, but recognize that this is normal and you are not the only one feeling this way. Carve out some time to reflect and think about how you are doing overall. And make sure you spend ample time studying, seeking academic support, planning, strategizing, or simply enjoying the peace and quiet of a dorm/apt to yourself when your roommate/s leave. Remember, you/your parents are paying an exorbitant amount of money as an investment of your future. So ensure that you take advantage of the opportunity to acquire strong skills and learn as much as you can through your classes. And if you can, live alone at least one year while away at college. It will serve as invaluable preparation for having to be fully responsible for all aspects of your life once you graduate.
10. Be Nice. To everybody. That means university personnel and students alike. Honestly, you never know how your paths will cross again with future graduates or old teachers. Maintaining positive relationships with others are important because generally, it’s nice to be nice and secondly, you may end up having to reach out or even work with an individual. On another exciting note, niceness may lead to lovely dates and perhaps a spouse down the line. 🙂 In regards to developing friendships, it is rather easy to latch on to the first friends you make in the beginning of freshman year, but slow down. You need to reflect and decide what you are looking for in a friend, and then find people with those qualities and seek out time with them. This is what will make you happiest.
Best of luck students!