How To Dominate College
First of all, I’m so proud of you and all of your accomplishments so far. You’re light years beyond where I was when I was your age and I can’t wait to see you continue to grow. I was thinking about you today and I wanted to give you some things to think about as you start your college career. The following are nine insights about college that I’ve had from being both a student and a professor. And several of these points I learned the hard way, so hopefully you’ll avoid many of the mistakes I made along the way.
1. Life is an Optimization Game
To this day I remember one of my Finance professors at the University of Arizona giving a great lecture on the last day of class (to be exact it was Sharon Garrison in Finance 311). It was very much like Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture or the “How To Live a Fantastic Life” presentation I’d give to my students on the last day of class. What really stuck in my mind that day though were these five words: “Life is an optimization game.”
This basically means we all have a limited amount of time and resources and we can’t do everything at the same time. Between academics, social life, work, health/fitness, friends, and family, you’ll have to choose which levers to push. This is especially true in college where you’ll have unlimited opportunity to spend your time. So choose wisely. Which brings me to my next point…
2. Choose Quality Over Quantity
Although most people today act like the opposite is true, college is a game of quality, not quantity. Don’t go for the most, go for the best. This applies to all sorts of things: student organizations, special projects, sporting events, parties, girls, etc. A lot of something of inferior quality isn’t as valuable as something of superior quality. You deserve the best the world has to offer and should settle for nothing less (as does anyone else reading this right now). Just ask and you shall receive.
3. How To Get An A In Every Class
First of all, getting good grades is fairly easy as long as you follow a few principles that might seem like common sense, but few students actually follow.
- Show up – That’s right. Actually show up to class. Every class. You’d be surprised how many students fail to do this.
- Show up on time – Professors notice when people are late. I can say this with certainty after being on the other side of the classroom. Don’t let something simple like being late ruin your professor’s perception of you.
- Smile, nod, be engaged, speak up in class – Now that you’ve made it to class on time, actually do something. We both know about the power of a smile, it works when you’re sitting in a crowded lecture hall as well. Also make sure you’re paying attention and speak up when you have something of value to add to the discussion.
- Sit in the front couple rows – I’d say the magic row is right where the professor and you are meeting at eye level. This will vary from classroom to classroom. This will also help you to pay closer attention. Also, professors have learned over the years that students who sit in the back row are goof-offs. I know from experience that whenever I sat in the back row, I’d find myself quickly immersed in a game of Scrabble or Facebook chat. So do yourself a favor and sit up close.
- Get to know who’s smart, and then work with them – When I started the MBA program I made it a goal to meet everyone in the program as quickly as possible. I actually made checkmarks on the roster that they gave us during orientation. This helped immensely for making teams in my second year when I knew everyone and their strengths. It also made school more fun because no one was a stranger. Do the same thing in your classes.
- Make a connection with your instructor early – You should make this connection in the first couple weeks of class. How you do it is up to you. Ask a question after class, participate during class, or even simply introduce yourself with a smile and a handshake. From being on both sides of the classroom, I can tell you it definitely helps.
- Do the assigned reading and assignments – Again, this seems like a no-brainer, but a lot of students don’t do the required reading and assignments. If you spend the time to do the reading, you’ll breeze through most of your classes. If you fail to do the reading even once, you’ll find yourself quickly lost and falling behind the rest of the class.
- Study in groups – I found the best way to study for me was forming groups of 3-5 students and meeting before exams to go over our notes together. People always pick up different things in class so by combining our notes, we were able to fill in the gaps. Be careful though. It’s very easy to get off task in these groups so pick study partners who are serious about studying.
4. Be A Student Leader
There are hundreds of student organizations across the campus that are all doing great things. Pick one or two that you are really passionate about and start stepping up. It’s better to be deeply involved in one or two student organizations than to be barely involved in eight. Running a student organization will also give you those early leadership lessons that will serve you well when you graduate and move off into your career. I made dozens of leadership blunders as a student leader, but at least it was in a safer environment than when I was starting off in my career.
5. Be a Connector
You’ve already done a great job of creating a large network of friends and associates, now start putting that network to use. Connecting like-minded people is a powerful way of enhancing your network. Know a couple friends who share similar interests? Or who came from the same city? Or who played the same sport? Make a simple introduction by sharing that common interest. People are wired to connect. Even if they aren’t interested, they will appreciate the offer.
6. Go To Office Hours
Office hours are this magical time period where the student teacher ratio goes from 30:1 (or sometimes 500:1) to 1:1. Office hours are an ideal way to informally ask questions about a paper or even get some extra help on a difficult homework assignment. I’ve found from experience that most professors are eager to help and actually appreciate the visit. I remember many of the office hour sessions that I held where I just sat and did homework or read a book. When a student came I was excited to help them out in any way possible. The one risk though is to avoid overexposure, so only go when you have a real question or something of value to talk about.
7. Your Integrity Is All You Have
For most people, college is the first time they are on their own to make their own decisions. There’s no mom or dad telling you what to do. You’ll be faced with many opportunities to take shortcuts, cut corners, or flat out cheat. Although those opportunities might be tempting, the added stress of not doing what’s right isn’t worth the short term gain.
I didn’t always do the right thing. If you knew me in college, you may not have liked me. I’m not sure I liked myself that much. Over the years though, I learned integrity and it had made life so much easier. Doing bad things may be fun, but it’s stressful. Doing good things feels good, it raises your self esteem, and you get great results.
8. Get A LinkedIn Profile
LinkedIn is Facebook for grown-ups. Unlike your Facebook, which should just have your actual friends, feel free to add anyone you meet to your LinkedIn page. You never know who might be able to help you in the future (or better yet, who you might be able to help). I’ve gotten a lot accomplished through LinkedIn and I’ve also had the chance to help a lot in return.
9. Have Fun!
Finally, and most importantly, enjoy yourself! Never again will you be in such a culturally rich environment where your only job over the next several years is to learn (unless you go back to grad school full-time which I highly recommend).
Take your studies very seriously, but don’t be too attached to the results. If something doesn’t go your way, remember it’s only a tiny, tiny fraction of your life and has nothing to do with your value as a person.
The world is your playground. So go out there and play.
(If someone you love is starting college this fall, please feel free to share this post with them.)