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16 August 2011

STRATEGIES FOR GETTING THE MOST OUT OF A COLLEGE EDUCATION

OR, WHAT THEY DON'T ALWAYS TELL YOU DURING FRESHMAN ORIENTATION BUT WHAT YOU REALLY NEED TO KNOW!

1. Relationships Matter Most: The greatest resource in any college or university is the people. You need to develop relationships, not just with your peers but with your professors. Mentors will not always find you, you need to find them. Nothing is more important for your success, not just in the classroom but later in life. After the first class, go up to your professor and introduce yourself! Any time you can spend with your professors is very valuable; they're your greatest resource. You may need to go out your way though to make this happen; they're not going to seek you out--find people you connect with and spend as much time with them as you can. Counselors and staff people matter tremendously, too, so always treat them well and learn everything you can from them. You need to ask questions to get answers, so don't be shy. If someone helps you out, show your appreciation with a note or a card. A little kindness goes a long way. People will remember you.

2. Consciously Build Your Circle of Friends: Friends are very important in college. You'll learn from them and model their behavior, whether you know it or not. Choose them wisely. It's not a bad idea to spend time with people who are very different than you are; you'll learn more from such friends. Also, spending time with people who are smarter or more talented is a great thing. If you're the smartest person in your circle of friends, you need to widen it. Your academic environment can become challenging and competitive in a a good way if you're often striving to better yourself to keep up with those around you.

3. Don't get Too Obsessed with Your GPA: Never have I seen a more meaningless number that students fixate on as if it were some kind of holy grail. Truth is, after college, it matters very little. No one, especially you, will ever care what your GPA was. If you play it safe to pad or protect your GPA, you're doing yourself a great disservice. You'd be better off challenging yourself and even failing from time to time rather than always taking the easy way out. Sometimes you learn way more from the losses than the victories. You are not merely a consumer who got the best bang for his or her buck by getting a higher GPA than the next person!

4. Go Easy on the Inebriation: Look, almost everyone is going to party to some extent in college, but if you find yourself spending half your time getting wasted and the other half recovering, you're going to be on the fast track to alcoholism rather than a great life. Partying is just not that important. Don't make it such a priority. Trust me on this one. You're spending a lot of time and money on these years, don't you want to remember them?

5. Study Abroad/Internships:
Any opportunity you get to study abroad or do internships is time well spent. In fact, any "learning" that takes you out of the classroom is probably a good thing. Service-learning, where you get credit for volunteering or working somewhere is another great option. Again, success is all about relationships and life experience, not just the academic content you study.

6. Don't Declare a Major Right Away: Unless you've known since you were three what you want to do for the rest of your life, it's great to experiment and take different courses you have an interest in. Resist the mental safety-net of declaring a major early on. Most people do not know what they are going to do when they first start college, so don't sweat it--enjoy the freedom. Follow your bliss as they say. Take courses and professors to which you are drawn, even if they're not immediately thought of as "practical" or fitting into your grand plan for the rest of your life.

7. Explore the Local Surroundings: If you're in a new environment, get to know the locals. Don't spend all your time sequestered in the safe environment of your college. There's a whole world out there, or at least a small town, to explore.

8. Always Challenge Yourself/Don't be Afraid to Fail:
Again, this means don't get too obsessed with your GPA. Challenge yourself again and again. Take chances. Don't be afraid to fail. Like no other time in your life, these are the years to stretch yourself beyond the limits of what you thought you could do. If you knew the outcome before you started, what would be the fun in that?

9. Be Responsible and Professional: Develop good study/work habits. If you're supposed to be somewhere, show up on-time and be ready to work. Don't make excuses for your shortcomings--professionals get things done without a lot of words. Lead by your example, let your actions do the talking. Turn off your cell phones in class and don't text--be present wherever you're at and not (mentally) a million miles away.


The bottom line is that you must take responsibility for the quality and relevance of your college experience. You have within your means the ability to a great degree to shape your college years. Don't let them just happen, but play a conscious part in cultivating relationships and experiences that develop your character and push you out of your comfort zones so you get the most benefit from all your hard work. If you take my advice to heart, you will look back on those years as wonderful, meaningful, and life changing, as well they should be.

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