My Number One Tip for College Students

by Carlos Portocarrero on 22 September 2011 2 comments

When I was in grad school getting an MA in writing, a visiting writer came into our classroom and talked about her career. She took questions at the end and as a young, 23-year-old wannabe writer, I only wanted to know one thing — what's your number one piece of advice for young students like us that are trying to "make it" as writers?

I'll never forget her response — take advantage of your time.

She said time was the number one thing she regretted about when she was in our shoes. You don't realize it until later, but when you're in college, you have more time than you'll ever have again.

As a 30-year-old with a wife and family, I know exactly what she means. When I was in college, I wasted thousands of hours doing unproductive things like watching TV, drinking too much beer, and "hanging out."

I'm not saying you shouldn't have fun while you're in college, but having this much time on your hands is also a great opportunity to get a leg up on everyone else who's going to be vying for a job in a few years.

How can you better spend this valuable time? Here are three ways you could be more productive with your time while you're in college. (See also: 5 Tips for My Career-Clueless College Self)

Learn Something New

This is the perfect time to learn something new. And it doesn't have to be something like writing computer code (although that sure would come in handy) or patent law.

What about learning a new language? Maybe you took some Spanish classes in high school and want to stay fresh before it all completely gets forgotten.

Or learn to play the guitar — learning to play a musical instrument can give you a unique perspective on things for the rest of your life.

You can also challenge yourself and pick up something completely random: chess, swimming, ballroom dancing, magic — whatever you want.

Whatever you wind up trying is almost secondary to the fact that you took the initiative to learn something new all on your own. Whether you fail or succeed matters less; it's the journey that will be valuable.

Perfect Something You Know

Millions of people are "pretty good" at stuff like playing the guitar. But how many are really, really good? I don't know — but I can guarantee you it's a lot less (how's that for scientific?).

Anyway, if you already know how to speak a little Spanish, spend some time to become fluent. Are you a decent tennis player? Try to move a step up and become closer to an elite player.

When I was in college, I was already a very good baseball player. But I spent a lot of time trying to get even better. Part of it was because I still thought I could go pro (I know, I know). But part of me simply loved the game so much that I wanted to use my time to perfect my craft even more.

The larger lesson here? No matter how good you think you are at something, you can always be better. Put in the work and push yourself to be even better than you already are.

Meet New People

A lot of people think going to college is a waste of time (and money). And one of the comebacks you always hear about is networking — you can't get the benefits of networking from a book. Being surrounded by other like-minded people who will soon be out in the world is an invaluable resource.

Unfortunately, most of us stay in our comfort zones and hang out with the same people we always hang out with — people like us. That's not very exciting or helpful.

So instead of falling into those same crowds, seek out different people. Talk to them and get to know them. Learn about their dreams and goals. Find out what makes them tick.

Exposing yourself to different types of people and understanding them is like traveling around the world — that added perspective will make you a more worldly person with more tools to deal with adversity when it comes.

Seriously, Don't Waste Your Time

I hate sounding like the crotchety old guy, but please don't waste all this time. Have your fun, but try to also do some of these things. It will make you a more well-rounded person and when job interviews come around, you'll have a leg up on the competition.

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Meg Favreau's picture

I'd second this, and I think it can apply to anyone at any point in life. If something interests you -- especially a skill -- follow it in your free time. One of the most useful career moves I think I ever made wasn't purposefully a career move at all -- I taught myself HTML in middle school so I could make my own website.

Carlos Portocarrero's picture

Great point! I think learning HTML was a great foundation for all kinds of computer stuff I wound up learning. Go HTML!