By: Jason Loebig
Everyone told me college would be the best four years of my life. Whether that remains true or not (because every day is the best day ever), I wish I would have protected my time with the same level of care that I do now. If only I knew then how much freedom I truly had!
There is no other experience in life quite like college - plentiful free time, (fairly) limited responsibility, and unlimited (but often under-utilized and underappreciated) resources at your fingertips. The capacity for self-exploration, adventure, and trial and error is so great in hindsight it’s a wonder why there isn’t a high school class dedicated to explaining what I’m about to tell you.
I started to reflect on these bits of advice as I counsel my younger brother who is headed off to school to become a Hoosier at Indiana University. I’ve visited several times, for Little 500 and otherwise, so I know what it has to offer.
The following, in no particular order, are 19 steps to taking advantage of college to become the best student, professional and human being possible to change the world in your own unique way.
If you’re a to-be college student reading this, be receptive. Try everything. Be open, non-judgmental, tolerant, and don’t forget to smile and wave - it’s the key to success in this world.
If you’re a parent of a to-be college student, feel free to tailor these tips to fit your values, parenting style, etc., but also be open to letting your child choose for himself or herself. It is ultimately through self-experimentation that we learn the most about the world and about ourselves.
1. Study Abroad
I went on a multi-site trip through eight European countries and lived on a sailboat for a week with 80 of my friends. It was the single defining period of sustained happiness in my college life – I formed some of my best relationships from school on the trip, caught the adventure bug, and haven’t stopped traveling since.
2. Create a set of “commandments” for yourself
When in doubt, rely on your guiding principles. You’ll certainly find yourself in precarious situations off at school with no clear answer or direction. Having a toolbox of guidelines, before you need to make tough decisions, will always help you find your path.
3. Learn a skill
Play the guitar, dance the Salsa, learn to juggle, (attempt to) hit a golf ball straight. Even just 15 minutes a day over four years will go a long way.
4. Learn to set goals
This includes those related to your (future) career, financial well-being and budget, travel, exercise, etc. Use your free time, newfound social experiences, and academic undertakings to help shape the person you’d like to become, every single day.
5. Keep a journal
Take notes and record your thoughts. You develop so much in college; physically, mentally, and spiritually. Your outlook on life, love, travel, work, and play will change. It will be nice to see how far you’ve come once you graduate (and p.s. – beers don’t help you remember better. Write it down).
6. Learn (or continue learning) a language
One of my only regrets in college is giving up my passion for learning languages. Even if you take classes irregularly, stay with it, and then go study or live where it’s spoken at home.
7. Read. Read. Read.
Learn to love learning. It is a practiced skill, and one that will pay dividends far into your future.
8. Minor in something you think is cool or that you are curious about, not something you think will aid your career.
This topic is one of the most important on the list. Effective learning (and ultimately comprehension) is about passion. If you’re not invested, the “A” you receive won’t be worth it. Sure, there are subjects you’ll be required to take that you won’t enjoy, but the ones you choose willingly should have meaning to you.
Your health is priority #1. It’s the single greatest aid or obstacle to your success. If you cannot give 100% of yourself to the world, someone or something is being short-changed. Develop healthy habits in college, which will stay with you forever.
Take time to de-stress. There are a lot of new pressures in college, especially social stressors. It’s hard to find alone time – I suggest making some. Use an app like Headspace.
11. Learn to Cook
I promise you’ll thank me for this. Being able to both cook and entertain is impressive to everyone.
12. Visit friends at other schools
You’ll be surprised how small the world really is when you travel around to see friends. I had a blast getting to experience several other colleges and meeting new people, with several amazing relationships to show for it.
13. Join a club
Or better yet, start a club. Employers want to see initiative, even if you fail. First try, then fail. It promotes first-hand learning, helping you to grow and succeed. Nobody cares if you follow a route of comfortable adequacy.
Find something you’re emotionally invested in or have been affected by – you don’t have to look far to find someone in need. It is our duty to help those that are suffering or are less fortunate. Even better - start your own foundation.
15. Learn to handle alcohol
It wasn’t until after college that I realized the value of not waking up hungover every weekend. When I stopped having regular hangovers, my week flourished. Please, by all means, enjoy college – alcohol is an awesome social lubricant to aid in having fun, but it shouldn’t be a slip’n’slide to not remembering what happened the night before. The last shot of tequila you take at 230am is never worth it.
16. Go to office hours
You have “free” access to experienced professionals to seek advice and mentorship. Plus, it’ll help your grades. If you are attending a large college, it is likely you won’t ever have direct contact with your teacher in a 100 or 200 level class, besides the occasional participatory response during lecture. Be proactive and put a name to a face.
17. Actively manage your time
Ever had so much free time you find it’s actually hard to prioritize? If you haven’t been to college yet, probably not. Once you graduate, however, you’ll have the opposite problem. In both cases, learning to schedule your time creates discipline, which then helps you enjoy much needed downtime afterwards. I suggest scheduling a little class, work, study, play, exercise, and social time each day. You can use something as easy as Google Calendar to set reminders. You won’t feel as guilty watching TV before bed - you’ll have earned it.
18. Live socially
Your network is your power in life. Being a connector is invaluable beyond your wildest imagination. But first, be willing to help. Provide value, favors, constructive feedback, friendship, and loyalty. When the time comes to ask something of your circle, the response will be “how high?”
19. Your reputation and word are all you have
You are the average of the people you surround yourself with, especially in reputation. Tough and unfair as it may be, you will be categorized and judged based on who you associate yourself with - at some level, however, it is a reflection of your personality, morals, likes and dislikes. Social media has improved how we connect with others, but it also can be a tool of destruction. Do your best to make smart decisions and protect yourself – as my grandfather used to say, “Know when to say no.”
Here are a few other items your high school teachers probably never shared with you (and likely your college professors may not either).
Employers want passion, leadership, a hungry appetite for learning, and a willingness to buy-in. It’s okay to say no and to not know the answer to something – as long as you are willing to help find one.
“Real world work” hardly ever appears in the classroom. Find clubs to join that reflect your professional interests, be a campus ambassador for a brand, or find an internship early.
“Getting rich” isn’t an end game. Your salary may keep the lights on in your home, but if it doesn’t keep the lights on inside you, it isn’t worth it. You will spend the majority of your time after college working, and I promise you - you’ll never get paid enough. Strive to make a positive difference in yourself and in the world. If you’re passionate and persistent, the money will come. Don’t let the side show that is comparing salaries among peers deter you from your unique path to change the world.
Long-term consistency trumps short-term intensity, in almost all aspects of life. You will overestimate how much you can accomplish in one year at school, but underestimate the power of accomplishment over the full four.
Finally, you can actually do whatever it is you want in life, and it’s never too late. I know people who have gone back to medical school in their late 20’s, majored in government and become investment bankers, and I myself have switched from a career in public accounting (with a CPA) to being a fitness coach and entrepreneur.
When you’re away at college, fiercely protect your time. Find the courage to be the best version of yourself, no matter the circumstances. Don’t let us down – we’re all counting on you.
(Disclaimer: These tips are based on my experiences (of which I’ve had many) and should be tailored to your interests. Use them to spark some creativity. If you need help, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org)