As I approached graduation from college, I reflected on my years as a college student. Above and beyond the memories and life-changing experiences, there were 5 specific things that I took away most. Here’s that list…
1. Follow your passion.
Being in college is the perfect environment to test out ideas, take risks, and pursue your passion. Whatever you do, don’t just be a normal college student who goes to class and hangs out with friends. Build something! Create something! These 2-4 years of your life are great for asking the big questions and finding the big answers, such as “What do I REALLY want to do?”. Asking these questions may lead to finding a major that really fits and it may lead to a lot of opportunities down the road. I found my love for design and business while in college. I made it my goal to explore all of my creative interests. This led to me deciding on a major in Marketing, which was the best fit for me. Most students go to college and fail to leverage these years to their advantage. They end up graduating and are forced to look for a job that may be entirely outside of their passion and interests. Finding your passion while in college not only brings true fulfillment to your life, but it also sets you up to beat your peers who will eventually be competing with you in the job market after you graduate. You’ll have years of experience in your passion along with your degree while they’ll only have a degree.
2. Self-educate yourself.
This has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve learned thus far. I know we all look to college as a major educational platform. However, I’ve learned more about marketing, graphic design, web design, personal brand development, blogging, and entrepreneurship by using Google, Twitter, reading other blogs, and reading books (not textbooks!). Honestly, my personal thirst and curiosity for knowledge led to a self-education that taught me more than any 4-year college could ever teach me. And guess what… self-education is FREE!!! I spent more time at Barnes & Nobles reading books and buying books on the topics I listed above and learned more about them than I did by reading textbooks. For example, I think Google is the best educational tool on the planet. If you’re interested in learning something, your education is only a search away. I also use Twitter to connect with likeminded entrepreneurs, bloggers and designers. Most of them offer advice, tips and free content. Honestly, I realized that I could have taught myself everything I needed to know without paying thousands of dollars to sit in a bunch of lectures with boring professors giving outdated information. Even if you decide to go to college anyway, don’t forget that the FREE web is at your fingertips. Take advantage of it.
3. Save your money.
Since most college students don’t have a lot of bills to be responsible for, this is a great opportunity to create ways to generate income and save a lot of it. This may mean getting a part-time job, applying for work study, starting your own side-business, or saving your refund checks. Whatever you do, DON’T just spend it all. There are a lot of websites that teach you how to budget. Also, stay away from credit cards at all costs. They will only add to your student loan debt in the end. Plus, if you learn to discipline yourself financially in college, you’ll have greater financial success as an adult later on. For example, I’ve set a savings goal every year, and I budget every week and every month to ensure that I meet that goal. One of my goals was to have at least 8 months of expenses saved just in case something crazy happens. This is called an emergency fund (I learned this from reading Dave Ramsey’s book – Total Money Makeover). I achieved that goal within my first year of saving. Another goal was to pay off all of my credit cards. I achieved that goal a year later and I haven’t touched them since. Your income may not be as big since you’re in college, but trust me… you’ll feel great graduating with no credit card debt and money set aside in the bank.
4. Stand out in class.
Find ways to differentiate yourself in your classes, especially classes you like. Most students won’t put in the work to do this. It’s not just about getting a good grade. Learn to inject your passion in everything you do. This is a great way to test out your interests and get experience following your passion. I like to think of it as WOWing my peers and my professors. This simple discipline will help you in the future when you’re competing for job promotions and positions. Since I built my own business as a graphic and web designer while in college, I used my skills and creativity to stand out in most of my classes. Most of my group projects were exceptionally better than most of the other groups in many of my classes. I realized that one of the best ways to improve my skills was to look at my group projects as opportunities to test new ideas and concepts. Plus my group members were pleased with how the final project affected their grades, and my professors admired my work. The way you may choose to stand out in class may be different than mine. The point is that you have that opportunity every day to do so if you choose. Two great books you can read on this topic are two of Seth Godin’s books, Linchpin and Purple Cow.
5. Plan your future early.
While in college, you have all the time in the world to plan your future. Most college students push this off until they’re close to graduating. Then they panic, trying to figure out what life will look like after graduation. You, however, can plan early. As you discover your interests and passions – by taking advantage of the 4 tips above – you’ll have a better chance of figuring out what you want to do. Begin looking for ways and steps you can take to ensure that you won’t be just another college graduate with a degree. There are thousands of students graduating every semester with your same degree and major. You have to decide early that differentiating yourself is the best strategy to win. Here are some things you can consider:
- Apply for internships that you know you can excel in, and find ways to WOW the company if they hire you for the internship.
- Find people online or offline who you admire and would like to learn from. Get in contact with them and ask them if you could buy them coffee or lunch in exchange for some of their wisdom and advice. Come prepared with questions and a willingness to learn. Those moments tend to be the most rewarding, and all it will cost you is buying them coffee or lunch.
- Build your networks. Social networks are great for making connections with valuable people. Find ways to help them and they will find ways to help you. The more positive connects and relationships you have, the better.
- Set goals (maybe 5 major goals) every semester that you can realistically accomplish so you can see progress.
- Whatever you do, WRITE STUFF DOWN! Put your plan on your wall, on your computer, in your car, on your refrigerator, etc. Make sure you are constantly aware of your plan and goals.
- Find likeminded peers who can keep you motivated and accountable.
For example, I launched my own website and used it to blog about my interests and ideas and to showcase my design work. Now I get thousands of visits to my website a month, I have a diverse design portfolio, and I have years of working with clients and teams. By planning my future early, I have way more to offer a company looking to hire me than a typical college student with just a degree in Marketing. This was my differentiated strategy for planning early. Remember… This is YOUR life, and you don’t have to wait – so don’t fail to plan.
Now it’s your turn.
Which one of these tips stood out to you the most and why? Have you been applying any of these tips already? If so, let us know. Do you have any other tips that you’ve learned that may help others in college?
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