How to build a remarkable college career

The tide of college discussions is slowly shifting from “How do I get into a good school?” to “How do I make college worth it?”  It’s a healthy shift and one that I plan to participate in as long as I’m writing this blog.  Wherever you end up going to college, here are five suggestions for making the most of the experience.  Feel free to bookmark them until you’re packing up to move into your first dorm.   

1. Appreciate the opportunity that’s in front of you.

I certainly didn’t appreciate everything my college had to offer when I was 18, and I think that’s a common sentiment for many adults.  Don’t make the same mistake.  You have four years when you can learn and try just about anything.  I cannot express strongly enough what an opportunity that is.  Don't let it slip by.  I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t go to parties, take road trips and have your share of good college fun—that’s where you’ll make your memories.  But the opportunities for learning and growth are where you’ll make your future.  And there’s plenty of room for both parts. 

2. Study what you really want to learn.

The beauty of a college major is that you get to decide what you spend most of your time learning.  So why not embrace that opportunity and learn something that actually interests you?  If you’re in the right major, you’ll want to attend every class.  You’ll want to do the reading, participate in classroom discussions, and meet with your professors outside of class.  On graduation day, the philosophy major who spent four years leaning into the learning will have a lot more intellectual capital than will the business major who did just enough to get by.   Learning what you think you should learn will feel like work.  Learning what you actually want to learn will be exhilarating.   

3. Each semester, get to know at least one faculty member well. 

Colleges are teeming with faculty members who can give advice and serve as mentors.  You’ve got professors.  You’ve got advisors.  You’ve got directors of on-campus programs—there are plenty of opportunities to find people.  But it’s up to you to forge those relationships.  Find ways that you can work closely with faculty members so that they can get to know you and see you work.  Do this every semester and by the time you graduate, you’ll have 8-10 significant people who can serve as references and can write letters of recommendation if necessary.

4. Find at least one significant involvement outside of class.

“Getting involved” isn’t enough.  It’s one thing to join a club, pledge a fraternity or sorority, or otherwise passively participate in on- or off-campus activities.  It’s another thing to dedicate significant time to that activity–to take on projects and leadership positions where you can really learn more about your strengths and weaknesses.  There will likely never be a time in your life when you can do pretty much anything from studying in France, to playing intramural softball, to DJ-ing at a campus radio station.  Find what interests you, then find a way to commit and really make an impact.

5. Build your resume.

Whether you study engineering or English, business or botany, accounting or anthropology, if you want to get a job after graduation, you’ll need to have a resume that shows real experience.  Take part-time jobs in college.  Use the summers to get internships in fields that look interesting to you.  Always be on the lookout for a way to get real-world experience to use what you’re learning in class.  You don’t necessarily have to spend the entire four years prepping for a career.  But a college degree alone isn’t nearly as valuable as a college degree combined with real-world experience.

Further reading:

Is it still worth it to go to college?

Going to college isn’t so special anymore

What’s your college plan?

What can you actually do?

College as a platform for failure