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10 Things I Wish I Knew Before College

Heading off to college is an exciting time in one’s life. It’s when you really begin to feel like an adult – and people start treating you as one as well. It’s not just the independence from your parents that makes it exciting, you’re also beginning your journey of deciding what you want to do with your life. You learn as much about your future field of endeavor as you do about yourself. But, like with any new chapter in your life, there come unexpected revelations. Things that looking back on you might have said, “Boy I wish I’d known that going in.”

It’s with that in mind that we offer the following 10 observations on ways we think we can help you enjoy and get more out of your college years.

If you’re on track to attend a post-graduate program, such as a masters or a doctorate, and your GPA is going to dictate which school you will be able to attend, don’t fall behind in hopes you’ll catch up later. You need to keep your GPA high for all four years. This advice could also apply to undergrads who won’t be doing any post graduate work in that you need to keep up with your classes throughout the year and not hope that cramming for the final will help save your final grade in a course. Besides, businesses also want to know what your GPA was on your resume, so don’t slack off.

You don’t need toxic people in your life, and it’s so easy to get swept up in the social scene in college. Both from a partying point of view and from wanting to hang with the “cool kids.” Don’t hang out with people who treat you poorly, or with people who have bad habits, such as a history of partying all the time. There’s nothing wrong with having some fun, but that’s not why you went to college. You’re there to learn. Both from a scholastic point of view and from a social point of view.

College is a time to learn. Not just scholastically but a time to learn more about yourself. If there’s a class that interests you, or if there’s a class you hear has an amazing professor teaching it, why not check it out? Not every college credit has to be applied towards your degree, and sometimes you are paying for a certain number of credits anyway – whether you take them or not. So, even if it’s not something you think you’d like to do for a living it might be a nice break from the routine and keep things interesting.

Just because you’re away from home and a parent is no longer pestering you to “eat your vegetables” that doesn’t mean you should let yourself go. There’s a reason you need to eat your vegetables, and there’s a reason you need to exercise. The “Freshman Fifteen” is a real thing. A healthy body can help sharpen your focus and build your self-confidence. So, make sure you’re exercising regularly and eating mindfully. Maybe get some workout buddies and turn it into a social situation. When there’s more than one person involved it makes it harder to try and blow it off.

Freshman year you’ll probably be forced to live in a dorm, but after that you’ll be able to decide where you want to live, and while it may sound silly, by renting a house with other people you are forcing yourself to socialize with others and learning how to get along. By living alone, you can slip into anti-social behavior habits and find yourself spending an inordinate amount of time doing “screen time” by yourself. When you live in a home with others you’ve got a social network to support you if things get tough. And you’ll still probably have your own room for when you need some alone time. As an added plus, renting a house with multiple roommates is usually more affordable than renting an apartment and living on your own.

Some may call this “brown-nosing.” Those in-the-know call it a “smart move.” Your professors see hundreds, possibly thousands of students in their lifetime. Half the time their students are taking the course simply because the school requires it, not because they’re interested in it. That means most of their students aren’t even interested in what they’re teaching. So, if you want to stand out, stop by and say hello. They won’t necessarily automatically give you an A for doing so, but by making it known you’re interested in what they’re teaching they may give you a little leeway, or even give you some tips on how you can best prepare for their course and their tests. Also, in just four years or less, they won’t be your professors anymore, they’ll be your peers and they can possibly help you find a job.

That’s high school. College is a time when you’re starting to take courses in what you’re interested in doing for the rest of your life. Pay attention. The professors aren’t the old dinosaurs you think they are. Take advantage of all the opportunities your college or university provides. You’re paying for it. So, get the most for your money. Use the advisors. Use the help they offer when it comes to finding a job or internship. Pick your professor’s minds. Challenge them. “Doing the minimum” isn’t a great way to get the most out of college. Especially not when you’re paying the kind of money you are for your degree.

Are you going into chemical engineering? Then take a look around your chemical engineering class. These are the people who will be working in your industry. This goes for any industry. Make friends with the ones who seem interesting and smart. These are going to be the people who will be successful and they’re the ones you will want to know. They can be helpful down the road when it comes to either finding work or having a successful ally on your side.

And by that we mean get to know people in the industry you’ll be going into. Network with them like you’re already employed. Ask people if they’d be willing to meet you for 15 minutes some morning. Tell them you’ll buy them a cup of coffee in exchange for the opportunity to quickly pick their brain. People love to give advice to students, and odds are, if you asked the same question of five people in the same field, you’ll probably get five different answers. Different perspectives on things can be very informative. These little tête-à-têtes can also be a way to express your interests about any internships their companies may offer students over the summer.

Too many people spend their college years floundering trying to find what it is they want to do with their lives. Now while college is certainly there to help you find your way, it’s not there to figure it out for you. The more you can put into college, the more you will get out of it. The sooner you can narrow in on what you want to do the sooner you can make connections and land internships. Because if you wait until your senior year, you’ll have wasted three years where you could have been networking, studying and finding job opportunities.

All in all, however, college is an exciting time. It’s your first big step in becoming independent and learning more about yourself. It’s also a time when you get to take classes that are specifically geared towards what you know you’re interested in. Just keep up with your classwork, don’t party too hard and you’ll have four years of memories to look back on fondly for the rest of your life.

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