I’m the epitome of the millennial who didn’t use college to their advantage. I enrolled at a public university and immediately mimicked the lifestyle of every bro in every college movie you’ve ever seen. I wasn’t there for academic success. I was there for an advanced tutorial on partying. I undoubtedly reached my fun quota, but when it all came to an end, I had very little to show for it.
The reason I failed to exploit college for all its potential is that I was living under the illusion that if you go to college and get a degree, you’ll get a job and things will simply fall into place. While that might have been a possibility in previous generations, it’s not the case for millennials. Now I’m playing catch up and wishing I had taken the time and effort to follow a few simple steps in order to have positioned myself better for the real world. Alas, all one can do is start trying their best at the present. But if I can be of any help to college students preparing for adulthood, I offer a few words of wisdom: don’t be me and consider these five rules.
1a. Challenge Yourself.
School should be hard. If it isn’t, something is wrong. Remember, this is your job. And while you most likely have to get a second job because life costs too much money these days, the reason you’re going to school is to give yourself an edge in the world. If all you’re doing is partying, you should just drop out, move to New Orleans and waste less money having fun (which I definitely recommend if you’re not ready for college). Unless you’re on a full-ride scholarship, a semester of tuition, plus the dorm and food, is running you a cool $3,000 at public university. I don’t even want to know what private college cost.
1b. Go Easy On Yourself.
Very few high school graduates know what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Even those who say they do are probably delusional. In short, don’t go to college just because it seems like the responsible thing to do. You know what’s responsible? Not spending $20,000 or more on a degree that doesn’t position you towards a career. I recommend taking a six month to a year break from school while you find yourself and your passions. If your primary interests are traveling, partying, or gaming, don’t get roped into going to school just because conventional wisdom says you should. It’s good to get fun out of the way if you’re not ready for making school you number one priority. Just don’t pigeonhole yourself into a life of debauchery.
2. Get Involved.
If you’re a Greek, this will happen naturally. If you don’t have the luxury of being apart of a good ol’ boys or girls club, well, you need to join a free one. You’ll have many different options. All over any college campus there are organizations where you can immerse yourself with people of similar interests who will help you grow and learn. If you like music and news, get involved in the school radio. If you care about the environment, there’s at least one farm or community garden where you can embrace your inner tree hugger. If you are a dyed-in-the-wool, Reagan-loving conservative, there are even clubs for Ayn Rand fanatics. The reason you should join a club is to build a network. The most important capital in the world is social capital. No one is going to give you a job because they saw you kill it in flip cup during sophomore year. Your best job will be a result of the connections you make during college. Plus, socializing beyond your safety net is actually a lot of fun.
3. Know Your Professors.
Don’t be a brown-noser. Everybody can smell the feces on your schnoz; even the professor. Most people smell BS like sharks smell blood. But don’t be Zach Morrison either. While it’s sometimes cool to be nonchalant and carefree, it’s always cool to be intelligent. And as it turns out, getting to know your professor will help your mind-brain do gooder. Plus, you’re going to need recommendations someday and having a professor as a reference is a great way to establish yourself professionally.
4. Do An Internship.
Everyone knows the classic college graduate catch-22; kid needs to gain entry-level experience, but the entry-level job requires experience. How do you get a job in this situation? The best solution is to use the cheat code “internship.” Well, it’s not so much a cheat code as it is a sacrifice. You work for free. You are someone’s minion. You must remind yourself that, even though working pro bono is a scam, it will help you in the long run. And do a handful of them. Not just one. Lots of them. The more people you meet and the more organizations you work for, the greater number of doors you will open. Along the way, you will discover the career path most harmonious with your personality. What kind of problems are you passionate about? What missions inspire you the most? Where do you see yourself after college? Internships will provide you with a robust network and clearer career direction. Not many people mention this either, but it’s also a great way to discover what you don’t want to do with your life.
5. Learn Skills.
The most in demand degrees today are Computer Science and Engineering degrees. While we don’t all fit into the mold of STEM students, it’s important to know why these degrees are coveted and the reason is quite obvious; graduates of these fields develop valuable skills that the average person will find utterly overwhelming. That’s why over the course of their careers, the average Computer Science grad will make gobs more money than the average Philosophy student. It’s all about value. But that doesn’t mean you should force yourself to enter these fields against your best interest. The point I’m trying to make is that it is essential to acquire skills that will improve your status as a potential employee.
College should be one of the greatest experiences of your life. You should let loose and have stupid amounts of unadulterated fun. But, don’t let it go to waste.