What I wish I knew before starting College
1) Sifting Information Is Half The Battle
Getting started in college feels like a firehose of information. “Why are there 18 different course websites? Is that assingment due this week? How do I answer problem 3.b. on the homework? Why didn’t anyone tell me there was a club info session? There was an exam review yesterday?!?” On the bright side, all of this information is usually either provided to you or accessible within a quick search. On the not so bright side, nobody will be looking over your shoulder to make sure you didn’t miss anything; that’s your job now!
Google, classmates, and staying organized will become your new best friends. Taking notes when exploring syllabi, course websites, readings, and homework worked best for me. Keeping all important details in one place helped me sift through the noise and keep my head screwed on right.
2) Stay Organized
With all that information, it’s easy to forget an assignment, exam or event. Even when you manage to keep track of due dates and meeting times, it’s easy to get behind if you procrastinate. College classes often give you large chunks of work and expect you to manage your time accordingly.
My organization system changed over time in college. My assignment and exam tracking shifted from a notepad to a Google Doc to Google Keep. My calendar shifted from screenshots of my class schedule to Google Calendar. Be flexible, experiment with new systems, and find what works for you.
3) Consistency is Key
If you’re a chronic procrastinater (like me), it can feel like you‘re incredibly efficient in bursts of work. However, college taught me that small, incremental chunks of work have better outcomes.
Lets take personal finance as an example. Setting up a savings account, emergency fund, monthly budget, and getting your credit history started is daunting all at once. But if you break your finances into smaller chunks, it becomes manageable. Schedule time on your calendar every Saturday to work on something small. Start by opening up a savings account if you don’t have one. Next Saturday, make a plan for getting an emergency fund started. The following Saturday, link your accounts to Mint to see how much you spend monthly. And etc… Being consistent and strategic in finishing tasks is far more effective than trying to grind through them all at once. Try it out for studying, exercising, or anything else you want to build habits in. To keep yourself accountable, get an accountability buddy or start a habit journal where you check off habits as you complete them daily.
4) Get Involved
My biggest regret in college was never finding my niche. I tried the robotics club, hackathons, and even joined a research lab. Ultimately, I wasn’t interested enough in any of these for them to be truly meaningful experiences. I spent too much time on activities my heart wasn’t set on without being willing to quit and try something new. Optimize for what brings you energy and motivation. It will be way easier to go through college having activities to make your time enjoyable.
If you’re like me and you don’t find your niche, don’t worry. Every failed experiment gives you knowledge about what you don’t like doing. In a world with tons of opportunities, having a few things to say “no” to is powerful.
5) Do What You Enjoy
There’s no point in taking a class you won’t like just because someone says you should. If you can skip a class with AP / IB credits, do it. If you can substitute a pre-requisite or skip a course, do it. This will free up time for you to take a class you’re actually interested in or find a hobby that makes you happier. If you’re not sure what you’re interested in, try as many different classes, clubs, jobs, and whatnot as you can handle. Over time you’ll come to learn what you like and don’t.
College is an awesome experience, but only if you make it one. Try to experiment and find what systems and habits work for making you enjoy your time the most!