It’s the College Countdown!

Parents dread it. Whippersnappers love it. Bloggers blog about it: : : : : : : : : :  pause for effect : : : : : :

And yet after all this time posts about what to do with starting a new year of college haven’t gotten old. At all! Whelp, it’s time to join the chorus.  Let me begin by saying don’t fret, in the least bit. Different people will say different things about being overwhelmed or being lost or being excited or being happy or being [[insert adjective/emotion here]], but the end result is that once you arrive most of the things that you will spend the summer worrying about will no longer matter.

FirstCollege

As you settle into your life as a college student you acquire a totally new set of problems from those you expected to have. So here are some top notch tips, some you may have heard repeatedly, some—and I hope many of them—you haven’t heard before.

  1. Be. Don’t be cool, don’t be nerdy. Just be. Enjoy the school and let your personality take you to a magical time. This is one of the few times in your life where you will have the resources and support to try, experiment, doubt, and fail with a safety net the size of the Canadian territory of Nunavut. You know who you are, who you want to become, and who you THINK you want to become. Take all of that into account and plan ahead. Your plans will change. The key is to let them change enough that you don’t stress yourself out too much.
  2. Actively seek out opportunities so that they come swimming like hungry sharks to your chum. You are an adult (take it in now, while you can still relish it). You create your opportunities. Yet, one thing that new college students (myself  included) worry about the most is how to create opportunity for themselves for things like internships, jobs, and free sandwiches. Go forth and venture! Learn and try and pick up new skills! You never know when that thing you picked up on the side will come in handy in your career. For example, my freshman year at NC State, I joined the Parkour and Freerunning team—I learned loads about how to stay healthy and how to reduce wear and tear on my body from doing even the most mundane actions more efficiently.  Just join stuff.
  3. It’s not who you know. It’s not what you know. It’s who knows you. You will get tired of hearing the word “networking” by the time you leave school. But think about it, taking the extra time to offer your help to someone. Staying in touch roughly every three months with someone is a great way for you to be remembered. One of my mentors, CEO of her own consulting firm and chairman of the board for a goodly number of companies got her start from a banker to whom she would always say hello. Just remember to keep in touch with those you meet, because you never know from where opportunity will come knocking.
  4. You will fail. Get over it. At some point something will happen: you forgot to study for a test, the subject matter didn’t click, Saturn was in the wrong house of the planet Gallifrey and was at a 36.7 degree angle to the moon Io, and you will fail a test. Or a class. Keep on keeping on! Collect yourself, and remember to learn from those mistakes and get the material. You can get it on your next try. Or you may decide to scrap it and follow a different passion. Hey, it’s college.
  5. You don’t *really* have to be a high achiever. In fact, I’d advocate against it. It’s totally fine to get Bs and Cs—as long as you do so with a robust engagement portfolio. Only a tiny fraction of your learning occurs in the classroom, most of it happens just outside: on the homework, projects, and daily student life. Be the best person you can be, not the best candidate for a job. Because people want to remember you for you. One of the key factors for me getting  an engineering internship was my presidency of a student organization called the Clown Nose Club.
  6. Be kind to your roommate. Odds are high that you have your own room? Feeling nervous about sharing a room? Well, unless your roommate is absolutely CRAPPY (and it can happen…) relax! The best advice I can give you is to be kind, be nice, and be willing to compromise—even (read: especially) if it comes at a discomfort to you. Communal living comes with a certain amount of unpleasantness, filthiness and oddity. You will learn things about this total stranger that you never wanted to know. But here’s the funky part. So is will roommate.
  7. Depth over breadth. Tis better to be highly engaged in one or two organizations than to be spread thin over many of them. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t experiment (see numbers 1 & 2), it just means that you have to decide when is good enough for you? Wanna keep up a 4.0 GPA whilst juggling 2 presidencies a vice presidency and a rice presidency? Sure. I’ll be over here lying in the grass and picking out shapes of eggplants in the clouds. 4 out of 5 corporate reps agree: get involved at a deep level in few organizations to grow your leadership skills. And who’s to say that corporate reps are wrong?
  8. Corporate reps are wrong. Eventually you will get into an interview room. You may be passed up. Well don’t get your knickers in a twist! Rather, pick them up and take your highly-talented knickers elsewhere.
  9. Learn how to study. I quickly learned that I had no idea how to study. I had to learn. Now, there is lots of good and bad advice out there. But I’m not going to tell you how. Partly because I don’t know myself. But partly because what works for me may/will not work for you.
  10. If you disagree with someone, learn more about their side. What you lose in time you will make up with a richer base of knowledge, a stronger foundation with which to launch yourself with, and a good mental challenge as you slowly learn three things: you are wrong. They are wrong. Just because something is wrong doesn’t mean it’s incorrect.
  11. Take Facebook and SHOVE it. You are in a world with people in it! Glorious people! You’re in a place that’s a natural breeding ground for friendships. Go out and say hi, invite to lunch, and interact with humans.
  12. Explore the nooks and crannies of your school. I know about 6 different study spots that are always isolated because no one knows about them, arcane facts and history about NC State, architectural details about most campus building, and a deeper historical knowledge than most average students. Knowing that just makes attending class in those buildings more interesting. Whenever I go to a class in Tompkins Hall, I don’t just see a building in the Humanities Department or my French professor: I see an old teaching mill that once burned down, lost its belltower, and was rebuilt. When I step into Harrelson Hall I don’t see a nuisance, I see the first ever round building on a college campus…then I see a nuisance. Learn and explore during your time here to really appreciate and love your campus.
  13. Attend evening seminars hosted by the school. I’ve been to evening lectures on math in music, on sex with regard to French bread, on New Zealand’s role in the world (by the NZ ambassador!), etc. Be on the lookout for special topics one-off special guest topics held by clubs or the University to be exposed to new ideas and interesting topics. All the better for you!
  14. Google Drive, Drobox, Box, or Skydrive will be your best buddy. Back things up. Sh!t happens in college. Make sure your homework is safe.
  15. What you imagined life to be like during your orientation will more than likely not be what it’ll actually be like. Just sayin.
  16. Don’t stick to just the pizza and fries. Your dining hall has a world of food choices in it, be a little more adventurous and try new foods. Sticking to pizza and fries after a while makes you look like a babbit.
  17. Do your laundry. Go for a 5 mile run. Smell your clothes. If you don’t want to smell that from the person in front of you in Calc—WASH YOUR CLOTHES. Learn how before you leave home.
  18. Integrate yourself into the city/town. You don’t just go to school there—you also live in that city. Go out and explore the surroundings and find your own gems in that area!

These are all lessons I’ve learned during my time in college. It’s the best time of your life and one of the scariest all wrapped up into one academic box. Maybe my advice will be completely useless for you. Maybe it won’t. I guess you’ll find out in a few short weeks!

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