For many people, college is a time when they come into their own. College gives you the opportunity to not only further your education but also to grow as a person. I realize hindsight is 20/20, however.
Now that I’ve been out of school for a few years, and have a better handle on my mental health, there are certainly a couple things I would’ve done differently.
Tips for Making the Most of Your College Experience
If you’re about to head back to school and start off your fall semester, keep these 6 tips in mind.
1. Make genuine connections with professors
In college, I had a ton of anxiety around speaking up in class. I always got red and sweaty any time I had to speak up, and for that reason, I usually avoided volunteering for discussion. On top of that, I usually ran out of class as soon as it was over to be anywhere else (like Starbucks, or to my dorm to take a nap). Consequently, I didn’t make genuine connections with my professors, and they probably didn’t even know who I was, even though my classes were pretty small.
In some schools, professors are still actively working in their field and can be great contacts, for internships during your college career and “adult” jobs outside of college. If you make a great impression on a professor, and build a good relationship with them (without being too much of a butt kisser), they’ll be more likely to think of you when they hear about a job opening that might be a good fit.
2. Remember that grades aren’t everything
At the beginning of college, I was so set on getting a 4.0 GPA (which, spoiler alert, I never achieved). It’s easy to get caught up and obsess over grades. All throughout our childhood and teen years, we’re programmed to think we need to get straight A’s, or else we’re doomed to a life of failure. Well, I’m here to tell you that this is dramatic and not true! I’m not saying you shouldn’t study at all — but I am saying that you shouldn’t make a habit of taking caffeine pills to stay up extra late to finish a project (guilty as charged). Your health is more important than a good grade.
Plus, depending on the career path you pursue, there may be factors more important than grades when you’re job hunting. When applying to jobs, hiring managers are going to be taking way more factors into account than just your GPA — like your references, your portfolio, and your personality, to name a few.
3. Network with your classmates
When I was in class, I often kept to myself because of my anxiety. Also, I was in a mindset that had me focused on simply getting my work done, so I didn’t really see the point in socializing with my classmates who I didn’t already know. What I wasn’t considering was the fact that your classmates are potentially your future coworkers…or maybe even future bosses. You never know who you can end up in an office with, or whose hands your resume might end up in.
You don’t have to be best friends with your classmates, but networking is always a great idea. Find out where they intern or what their side hustle is. Make a connection and form a relationship. You can even add them on LinkedIn and reach out later on when you see they’re working at a company you’re interested in. Someone who you had a real connection with will be more likely to respond to your message than someone in your class who you never spoke to.
4. Keep track of your finances
I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little careless with my finances during college. I did zero budgeting, and looked at everything with a “Whatever! I’ll figure it out later!” mindset as I went on to buy another couple pairs of shoes I didn’t need. College is your first step into adulthood, and finances (or, ugh, lack thereof) are a big part of adulthood. Even if your parents are helping you pay for tuition and room and board, you can start learning to manage your own money.
Learning to manage your finances is a priceless skill, and it’s one of those things you’ll have to teach yourself outside of the classroom. Luckily, now there are loads of apps to help keep track of personal finances, get into the habit of saving, and begin investing. Also, I strongly recommend opening up a credit card — and of course, being very responsible with it! Start building credit as early as you can, so you can be approved for the good credit cards later on (Helloooo, airline points!).
5. Clubs Aren’t Lame
I didn’t join any clubs until I was nearing graduation, because I thought they were lame. On top of being “too cool” for clubs, I was also held back by — you guessed it — my anxiety. I was nervous to go to the meetings by myself and to try something new. When I finally decided to join the college’s magazine club, I quickly realized it was one of the best decisions I made throughout my time at school.
Clubs are a chance to make new friends, network, and possibly even build up your portfolio. At the very least, it’s something you can put on your resume if the club is related to the career path you’re following. Being on the magazine team, I was able to get some writing experience under my belt and gain some solid clips to show potential employers.
6. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
As you might’ve noticed, this is an overarching theme through several of these tips — but you can really apply it to any aspect of college. One of my biggest regrets in life is not taking the chance to intern abroad in London when I had the opportunity. I was too scared and stuck in my comfort zone! This was the same case for being more friendly to classmates and professors, or trying out some classes that were out of the ordinary.
You don’t have to do something as extreme as studying abroad to feel the positive effects of trying something unfamiliar. You can do something as simple as grabbing a new friend your first week back, and asking them out to lunch at a new off-campus restaurant. Or, try studying in a different place rather than your tried and true corner of the library.
If you feel that you need a little help to break out of your shell, that’s okay! Plenty of college students are seeing therapists, with fantastic results. If your school is lacking in resources, you may even think about going online. Talkspace has a plan specifically designed for making this transition, offering unlimited text, video, audio, and photo messages with the licensed therapist of your choosing.
Enjoy This New School Year!
I don’t spend my days wishing I could redo college or dwelling on regrets of things I think I could’ve done better – but I do believe that others can learn from my “mistakes” and truly make the most of their college experiences.
Follow these tips and you’ll be well on your way to your most successful semester yet!