As the saying goes, hindsight is always 20/20. I had a lot of fun when I was in school, but there were a lot of things that I wish I knew before I went. Here’s a short list.
The “Real World” begins NOW
This isn’t like the summer, or nights & weekends jobs that you had prior to college, and it’s definitely not a reality show on MTV. You’re on your own. You are responsible for you. It’s up to you to take care of your classwork, your homework, your schedule, your budget (do you even know what this is?) and the list goes on.
Your professors don’t care if you’re in class
Let me let you in on something. Your professors don’t care if you’re not in class. Many won’t even notice. Some will have attendance policies but my experience was that it wasn’t usually anything more than a sign-in sheet that got passed around at the beginning of class. They’re not going to call your parents and tell them you’re not there. They’ll just fail you.
Personal financial management is essential
It doesn’t take too long to figure out that life will be drastically different than it was at home. You should absolutely learn as much as you possibly can about managing your personal finances, if you haven’t already. Personal finance should be a required class for every incoming freshman everywhere.
Stay away from the credit card tables that give away junk for filling out a credit card application. That’s bad news – graduating from college with a mountain of debt is just a bad idea all the way around.
College is more than a degree – it’s a network
Be intentional about building relationships with your professors. Take your questions to them during their office hours and take advantage of that time. A lot of times, you’ll be the only one who does, and it just may be that you want to go to grad school so it’s good for your professors to know you when you’re ready to ask them for letters of recommendation.
Surround yourself with people who have similar goals. It’s often been said that you become those things to which you expose yourself. Bad company corrupts good character. Conversely, good company encourages positive growth.
Be very wary of the college lifestyle
You’ve most likely seen the movies and so have I. People swinging from the rafters, and getting crazy, missing classes, being hung-over and getting in trouble. What’s worse is that this isn’t that far from the truth.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t have fun or enjoy your time in school, but you’re setting precedents for your life so invest your time wisely, have fun, study abroad if you can, and take in all that you can, but stay away from the party lifestyle. It may seem cool when you’re 22 that you can funnel beers with the best of them. Not so much when you’re 30, back home living with your parents and doing the same thing. And leave the “experimentation” for the science labs.
Learn how to schedule your classes
This is a trick I learned from a friend early on – whenever possible, don’t schedule your classes back to back. Give yourself at least an hour, or even two, between your classes and use this time to go back over the lecture notes and homework from the previous class. It will help you to absorb the material more easily and will help to store it in your long-term memory which is the whole point of college.
Learn how to study
I wish I was a better student looking back. Some folks are better than others. But learning how you learn is a key to learning how to study. Set a regular time to each evening to go over your homework and lecture notes from the day and get your stuff done. All-Nighters just suck.
Follow your syllabus. Your professor is going to stick to that outline, so it’s in your best interest to come to class prepared. I’ll never forget one time in my classic Greek language class how my professor went up and down the rows of those who were actually there (the number diminished significantly as the semester went on) with a question regarding the homework and student after student had not done their homework. Embarrassing. Be prepared and engage.
Those Student Loans – not such a good idea
For some folks, like me, you simply wouldn’t have been able to go to school without them. If you’re going to college without much in the way of any financial help, then you need to find creative ways to finance your education. Legal, ethical creative ways. You don’t want those student loans hanging around your neck year after year after you graduate. Trust me.
Choose a major that’s marketable and in demand – hard sciences
If you’re going to study 17th Century English Literature then you need to build a plan on how you plan to convert that knowledge in to income. Sure, we’re all idealists in college. However, when you graduate if you don’t have a plan on how to make the most of your literature degree, you could find yourself back at Chili’s waiting on tables. Again. Then you can entertain your guests with trivia about Milton and Bacon.
Instead, look at hard sciences – engineering, mathematics, chemistry, etc. – for possible majors. You can still take your english lit classes, but you’re preparing for a future where you want to earn a good income. If you look at the harder degrees, you’ll be on the right track.
“Begin with the end in mind”
This is a staple of Stephen Covey’s philosophy in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In fact, read that book before you go to college. Before you start think about what you want the outcome to be at the end of you college years. What does it look like? What do you want your GPA to be? What are you going to do about choosing majors and pursuing career fields? Make a list of all the potential outcomes you’d like to see then make a plan for getting there.
Do you have any that you would add? Add them in the comments below.