When I was in college, my studies felt all-consuming, and it was difficult for me to explore different opportunities outside my day-to-day tasks and assignments. However, it was these experiences that became the most fulfilling and life-changing during my time in college. Three years after my graduation, I'm sharing five tips I would tell my younger self to get the most out of college!
1. Get Off Campus!
Here’s the hard truth about college: It isn’t the “real world,” even though it’s allegedly preparing you for it. I first realized this when I went off campus for the first time during my freshman year, and it felt like a surge of oxygen filled my lungs. I was deep in my philosophy and politics classes when I started going to Countryside Bible Church, which was literally in the middle of a cornfield 20 minutes outside my rural Michigan college town. I went from learning about Plato and Aristotle to having conversations with the wheat and dairy farmers about harvest projections and dairy output. What a different world from my childhood in Los Angeles!
I cannot stress enough how grounding my community outside my campus became during my college experience. It’s one thing to learn about lofty ideas on campus, but it’s another thing entirely to be grounded in how these lofty ideas impact people in their everyday lives. It was through my church community off campus that I discovered my passion for interviewing and writing about people in different industries, and I would never have discovered that about myself unless I had stepped off campus! Though it might seem counterintuitive, spending time off campus can be more productive overall to your time in college because it allows you more opportunities to discover passions and interests that could direct your studies and life after college.
Spending time off campus allows you to discover interests that could direct your studies and life after college.
Volunteering with clubs that go off campus can be a great way to switch up your surroundings. However, it can be as simple as going to a coffee shop in your college town to write your essay, taking your morning run through your town or city rather than in your campus gym, or joining a small group from your town. Curating a well-rounded experience on and off campus can make your time in college much more fulfilling!
2. Create a Fitness and Diet Routine
If I could change one thing about my experience in college, it would be creating a fitness and nutrition routine during my freshman year, rather than waiting until my junior year to take my health seriously. When I first began college, I felt as though I had no time to exercise between the demands of my assignments and extracurricular obligations. It wasn’t until my junior year that I began running regularly off campus, and it was a game changer! My mental health improved overnight, I began to have more focus and mental clarity, and I had more energy to get through my classes and assignments!
Don’t sacrifice your mental and physical health to accommodate your busy schedule. Your studies and tasks will actually suffer more if you don’t take care of your body.
3. Take Advantage of the Free Absent Days Per Class
Ah, yes, the infamous classroom syllabus. I remember glancing at those 2-3 allowed absent days without giving them a second thought – my goal must be to attend all of my classes, right?
In retrospect, I wish I had taken advantage of those 2-3 allowed absent days. Use one of those absent days to take a three-day weekend and travel! I only did this once when I was in college, and I regret not using those absent days to see more of the beautiful state of Michigan. Just like paid time off, don’t let those days go to waste!
4. Get Work Experience
Deep into your studies, it’s hard to remember that your time in college is intended to prepare you for life after graduation. The best way to set you up for success after graduation is getting a job while in college! Whether working at a coffee shop or your college admissions office, you will be getting hard skills that are transferable and valuable for employers offering entry-level jobs. If you’re interested in writing, start by offering articles to publications for free to start a writing portfolio ready to go after graduation! Try summer internships to get you the connections to land a job after graduation. I wouldn’t have landed my job if it weren’t for my internships while in college!
You will get hard skills that are transferable and valuable for employers offering entry-level jobs.
Getting work experience in college will help you to stand out in the sea of other graduates once you hit the job market. Plus, it’s fun to develop new skills, and it will give you confidence when landing your first job out of college!
5. Study Abroad
Studying abroad is hands-down the best decision I ever made while in college. I took advantage of a scholarship to spend my final year of college in Germany where I finished my studies in German literature, and the experience was truly life-changing. Living in a different country broadens your world unlike any other experience. It was one thing for me to learn about Germany, to read German books, and to research German politics. It was another type of learning entirely to become a part of my German community, to cultivate German friendships, and to learn their perspectives on the world.
Not only was my time abroad life-changing for my personal development, but it has also given me skills and expertise that have been coveted by my employers. Regardless of whether or not you become fluent in the language of the country you study abroad in, living there turns you into a link between your employer and the country you have lived in. This has been particularly true of my case in the political world. It’s very rare to find people in DC who have experience living abroad and who know a second language, and employers in policy seek out people who have on-the-ground experience in a country rather than just textbook knowledge. However, living abroad will set you apart in any field you apply to.
Whether or not you know the language of the place, the humility, empathy, and experiential knowledge you gain from living abroad will truly be life-changing and open doors for your career!
It seems counterintuitive to delegate time for activities that aren’t related to school. However, it’s precisely because these experiences are not related to classes that they’re so fulfilling and impactful. Whether it be getting a job, joining an off-campus group, or studying abroad, these experiences put what you’re learning in the classroom into a real, human perspective and help set you up for success after graduation.
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