9 Things I Wish I Knew Before College



You know those things you wish you had known? College can be a great experience. After all, you’re surrounded by bright young men and women who are glowing with aspirations. For all you know, the guy you just met may become the next Fortune 500 CEO. That girl down the hall may become a world class musician.

That’s the beauty of college – who knows what will happen?

On the other hand, it can be a difficult time. It’s filled with uncertainty and there are plenty of decisions to be made – some of which will have a profound impact on who you will become.

I’ve made some mistakes but I’ve also learned a lot along the way. These are some of the lessons I’ve learned and I hope you can learn from them as well. This is a personal guide of some valuable things I learned. Cheers.

1. Learn How to Learn

Work smart. You’ll do more in less time – and your time matters.

Your task is to reach the top of the Empire State Building. Will you take the stairs or will you take the elevator? Presumably, you will take the elevator. However, what if the elevator was hidden inside a wall? You can break down every wall but it will take some time to find it. However, once you find it, the way up will be a walk in the park.

Learning is about exposing your mind to new ideas, understanding how these ideas connect, and applying them. I chanced upon The Feynman Technique in my search for a smarter way to learn and it’s been extremely effective for me.

In short, the Feynman Technique can be broken down into 4 steps.

  1. Define the task
  2. Explain the concept
  3. If you get stuck, go back
  4. Simplify and use analogies
If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.  – Albert Einstein

This saved me countless hours and gave me a great sense of satisfaction when I realized that I could acquire new skills much more quickly. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it works. Take some time to figure out how to learn. If you can accomplish the same thing in less time, why wouldn’t you do that?

Search for a method that works for you. But remember, don’t invent the wheel.

2. Sleep

Why do so many college students pull all-nighters? Because they’re doing something wrong.

It took me a while to figure this one out. I know, I know. We hear it all the time – sleep is important. Perhaps I wanted to believe that I was different. Maybe I’m just foolish.

The Herculean effort it takes to stay up all night is just not worth it. Don’t let pride get in the way here. Maybe you’re used to getting 4 hours of sleep. Working off of very little sleep is tough, but the facts are clear. You should get enough sleep.

If you’re doing things right, you shouldn’t have to pull an all-nighter in the first place. It may be tempting to push through the night, and sometimes it may be necessary, but if you have the option of going to bed, take it.

For the first part of college, I ignored this piece of advice. If I had a big assignment due very soon, I would stay up all night to finish it. Instead of completing everything I set out to do, I would accomplish very little and the next day would be ruined.

What really convinced me was when I finally decided to get some quality shut eye after a tough week of little sleep. Before I hit the bed, I was scribbling on a piece of paper, trying to figure out a problem that had been stumping me. The next day, after 8 hours of sleep, I arrived at the solution in half an hour. And my notes last night – I had no clue what I was writing.

Sleep is essential. It plays an important role in memory consolidation, attention span, reaction time, and overall health. Sleep is not wasted time. Sleep is a way to make you happier and more productive for tomorrow.

So please. Get those hours in. You’ll feel better and get more done.

3. Be Really Good at One Thing

At some point, you need to figure out what interests you, and work on developing that skill.

You know that guy who can do just a little bit of everything? He knows enough about programming to put together a basic website. He can play 5 songs on the guitar. He can hold a brief conversation in 3 languages.

But, he doesn’t know enough to be a programmer. He can’t play the guitar well enough to be a musician. He doesn’t know 1 language enough to be a translator. As you imagine, this can lead to a lot of headaches when searching for a job.

It’s tempting to try a lot of things, and you should. The idea of the Renaissance man is intriguing. After all, who wouldn’t want to be good at everything? It’s great for personal development and broadening your horizon, but be careful.

Having one strong area of expertise makes you confident in yourself, valuable to employers, and opens up a lot of paths after graduation.

If you still want to be good at everything, you can. Just be good at one thing, one at a time.

4. Learn to Speak Well

Did you know that we elect politicians with deeper voices? I’m not saying you should speak with a deep voice. But I do think that speaking is a skill that is often overlooked. The first time I realized this was when I joined the board of a student organization.

I had to speak in front of a large crowd, and I wasn’t fond of public speaking. It pushed me out of my comfort zone. After some time, I adjusted and I realized how much a difference a speaker can make. Why is it that when some people speak, you listen? You’re attentive and you find yourself not trying to pay attention because you’re actually paying attention for once.

It’s a skill that may not be particularly useful now, but later down the road, you will be glad you spent the time to learn how to speak in an engaging and inspiring manner. (Don’t freeze up and sound like an elementary school student giving his first speech).

It’s the delivery that matters.

5. Learn to Write Fast

Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking.

You only have so much time, and there are classes, extracurricular activities, and parties to go to. Take some time and brush up on your writing skills. Invest time in this skill, and I guarantee you will appreciate it.

If you’re not convinced, consider this. Writing is the only skill that is relevant in every career path. Investment bankers write, entrepreneurs write, managers write, actors write, Lebron James writes. And so on. I challenge you to think of a profession where you don’t have to write anything – and yes, emails count as writing.

The purpose of writing is to communicate your ideas. Writing that contains unnecessarily big words for the sake of containing large vocabulary is writing that tries to look good but isn’t. Be concise and don’t waste words. Don’t waste your reader’s valuable time and don’t waste your time.

Here’s a tip that worked for me. Know what you want to write before you write it. There’s nothing more intimidating than staring at a blank page with no idea what do to – especially if it’s a paper due tomorrow.

Write clearly, write to convey information, and write fast.

6. Think Hard Before You Decide A Major

It’s easy to think that you have all the time in the world. After all, 4 years seems like a long time.

Well, if you take some time and think carefully, you’ll save yourself a lot of anxiety, stress, and time later on. I have some friends who are switching their major in their junior or senior year. It’s a tremendous amount of work and really stressful.

Do yourself a favor and think about what you want to do. Why you want to do it. And do it. You’ll find college a lot more enjoyable if you’re studying something you actually enjoy.

7. Reach Out to Professors

I learned a lot in the classroom. I also learned a lot outside of the classroom.

Some of your professors may be terrible, but most of your professors are intelligent and accomplished individuals who can offer a wealth of insights.

At first, it may be uncomfortable. It may be intimidating. Get used to being uncomfortable. That’s how you grow as a person and how you learn more.

When a professor holds office hours, ask something interesting. They are eager to share their knowledge as well. You just need to connect. No one is going to hold your hand and walk you through college. Do some things you’re not used to doing.

You’ll be surprised at the wealth of insights you can get from a brief conversation.

8. Learn from Your Peers

If you ever find yourself lacking in conviction and motivation (happens a lot for me), just look around you.

There’s a difference between knowing what you need to do, and how to do it. I think most students have a vague idea of what they want to do. As for how to do it, everyone’s just shooting in the dark and learning as they go.

I realized there was so much to learn from the people around me when I finally really looked at the people around me. Make the decision to learn from everyone. Get to know people for who they are. Listen and see what drives them, what do they want to accomplish.

You will hear so many amazing ideas and so many new perspectives. Everyone around you has the potential to inspire. Just give them a chance.

Try to see the best in everyone around you. It’ll make a big difference in your growth. Not to mention, looking for the positive around you is liberating – after all, negativity sucks.

9. Build the Right Habits

These are the habits you will take with you into the real world.

Pavlov’s dog experiments showed the world that classical conditioning can turn anything into a reflex. A learned response, which can be waking up at promptly to an alarm, can be turned into a reflex.

With the right habits, the possibilities are endless. Wake up early and workout before everyone else. Maybe you have a book you want to read but don’t have time. Well, make a habit of reading half an hour a day. Positive thinking and a healthy lifestyle can also be made into a habit.

Waking up early sucks. Maybe I’m just a lazy student, but I’m not too fond of it. When I had morning classes, I felt miserable. Well, I conditioned my body to adjust and a week later, waking up on time was a reflex, not a chore.

The main thing to keep in mind is consistency. Whatever it is you want to do, keep at it, and it will become easy. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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