Sunday, August 4, 2013

Notes to my college self

Today I visited the university campus I attended for a performance by a sibling's band at an open day for prospective students. As I navigated my way through crowds of wide-eyed prospective students, I couldn’t help picture being in these spaces in the past. I pictured high-school me, sitting in a courtyard while waiting for school band competitions at the campus to start. I would watch the students, so mature and sophisticated looking as they juggled their books and coffee. I could picture me at an open day much like the one I was attending. In other parts of the campus, I could picture first year me, learning my way around the complex and illogically arranged collection of campus facilities and experiencing various aspects of campus life for the first time.

I pondered what I would tell these past versions of myself if time and space was to bend in a way that made that possible. Certainly I would tell me practical tips about effective library use, how to negotiate university bureaucracy and the dangers of over-caffeination. But more importantly, I’d tell me some of what I wish I’d known or that I discovered by accident about what it means to not waste those years. Unfortunately I can’t send these notes back in time, but I can put them out there for those who have university/college study ahead of them. So here goes...

Dear student self,

I know it seems like you have a lot of years of study ahead of you. As cliche as it sounds, the time really does fly and before you know it you’ll be graduating. Yes, student life is busy, but it is worth investing time and effort into a few things that will make you more likely to feel like you made the most of these years when you graduate.

Learn more than you have to. You’ll see lots of your fellow students doing their best to spend as little time studying as possible, learning exactly what they need for their exams (and absolutely nothing more). It’s tempting, but don’t be like them. You’re spending all this time and money to learn, so you may as well learn as much as you can. Read some of the non-required readings or go find some library books on a topics your classes don’t fully cover. If you’re busy, find some educational podcasts or audiobooks to listen to on your way to campus or while exercising. In addition to the intrinsic benefits of learning interesting things, the extra effort will probably help your marks and make you sound more intelligent in class discussions too. 

Expand your interests. You’ll have access to a huge range of sporting, arts and cultural activities happening a few minutes walk from where your classes are held. Make the most of this, since once you graduate being involved in such things is often more expensive, difficult to fit around a work schedule and might require travel time. So go to talks on interesting topics unrelated to your degree or go to recitals featuring a style of music your favourite radio station would never play. Join the quidditch team or the choir and maybe go watch the debating club in action sometimes. It’s a great time to be finding new passions and creating memories that will enrich your life now and in the future.

Invest in relationships. Your university campus is a big place with lots of people. You won’t have many people who are in more than one of the same classes as you. This means that you will have to put effort and planning into making and maintaining friendships.That looks a bit different for everyone depending on their interests and personality, but do whatever it takes to have regular, meaningful interaction with friends.

Invest in your career.Unfortunately your degree will count for a lot less than you hope it will in the job market, even though you are going to a very good university and will get good marks. A lot of what they teach you at university won’t be that job focused and most of the people you’ll be competing with for your future job will also have a degree. One day at a future job you’ll get the task of reading applicants' resumes and get sick of hearing how their group projects taught them teamwork and communication skills! Put time into volunteering, part time work and other experiences that will give you something to show to prospective employers. As boring as they are, take the job hunting and career skills workshops your university offers. Don’t leave it to your last semester, the earlier you can be getting ready for post-study life the better.

So, student self, time to get busy making the most of all those opportunities.

Your future self.