Advising: What do you wish you knew when you just started College?

"You have four years to be irresponsible here. Relax. Work is for people with jobs. You'll never remember class time, but you'll remember time you wasted hanging out with your friends. So, stay out late. Go out on a Tuesday with your friends when you have a paper due Wednesday. Spend money you don't have. Drink 'til sunrise. The work never ends, but college does..." -Tom Petty

With Labor Day just around the corner in the US and summer winding down, it's nearly time for the school year to start up again.

Only this time, I get to advise the incoming Freshmen. Of course, the most important part of the plan is to listen. To their interests, to their concerns, to their hopes and aspirations, and to what they hope to get out of their time here at College. And to help them select classes in their first semester that will help them succeed at their goals. I also plan on encouraging them to grow as people, which will likely include exploring student life, discovering the city that many of them are new to, and opening themselves up to new and varied learning opportunities.

So my chance to advise many of them also affords a great opportunity for general advice and guidance. I meet the incoming Freshman on Friday morning, starting at 9:00 AM. So my questions to you (depending on your age) are:

  • What advice do you wish you had received when you were just starting college?
  • If you were speaking to an 18-year-old incoming freshman today, what advice would you most like to give?
  • If you're college-age or younger, what are the most important (to you) topics that a faculty member could advise you about? What information would you be most glad to receive?

You've got roughly 24 hours to reach me with useful tales and comments; let's hear it!


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#1- Go to class- EVERY CLASS.

If you follow that, you're already ahead of probably 75% of college freshmen. It's more important than studying, more important than keeping the partying to a minimum... and if the professor sees your face every time, then he/she will be MUCH more inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt if something goes wrong.

That's it. Just don't miss class, even if you're hung over, even if you're tired, for anything short of a death in the family!

Undergrad is a great opportunity to take classes just because they look interesting. :)

Biggest thing for me would have been being more aware of the different services that are available... they tell us all this stuff at orientation, but a big infodump like that is overwhelming. Getting it more personalized and in smaller chunks - "Oh, you're taking Calc, the math dept does tutoring sessions on Thursday afternoons for all Calc students" would be more helpful.

Advice I wish I had heeded (which is slightly different than your question, but not too much so):

- Extracurricular projects are absolutely necessary, and will distinguish you from your peers.
- Grades actually do still matter. If they're too low, you close off opportunities (especially if you ignored the first bit of advice).
- Work your ass off. Even if you're smart enough to coast through without doing much work, it just means you need to dive that much deeper to get something meaningful out of the class.
- Connections with professors should be sought and cherished.

In relation to point 2:

Be enthusiastic and make yourself known (if only by showing up to class and asking questions not always directly related to the assignment that's due soon- although there is a line between showing an interest and being a pain in the arse). If you need help or something goes wrong a lecturer is far more likely to be sympathetic to someone who shows an interest in what they're obviously passionate in. (Yes, there may be some element of faking an interest there, in some instances, it doesn't hurt. Or at a minimum, don't let the lecturer know you don't care)

Do your prep, or at least enough prep that you don't look like you don't care. (In history, which is what I do, out of a reading list of 10-20 articles/ chapters, I'd try to read as much as I could, but on busy weeks I could make it seem like I'd read everything on one or two pieces)

Have good general knowledge of your subject, it helps (also in relation to point above), but don't try to bullshit your instructor. They know *much much* more than you.

If you need help, ask for it- better to look inadequate/ foolish than to fail.

Don't be afraid to learn/ challenge yourself, and don't assume you know much or anything. College/ university is an entirely different world, and 18 year olds may have been the very big fish at school, but no matter how smart they are at university, someone's going to be smarter than them (and in first year, it's a very very big jump and a lot of kids just don't realise how far out of their depth they are). Don't be arrogant (see also point one).

Yes, have fun, but remember the goal (and don't screw up your chances of grad school/ med school/ law school if that's an option you might want to consider)

(I think this is all applicable to the US- all of my education has been in Australia and the UK. I'm about to *finally* start my PhD- I've been at university since March 2004- and this is the stuff that has helped and mostly continues to help me, although naturally it's different as a postgraduate)

Take courses outside of your requirements -- ones you think you will enjoy. If you play an instrument, join the band or orchestra. If some seminar from the english or history department strikes you as interesting, take it. Maybe not the first semester, but once students figure out the lay of the land in terms of time managment.

As a side note -- I don't know if this is true everywhere, but at my school they didn't charge extra tuition for one class beyond a normal fulltime course load.

My advice: CHILL OUT. You don't need straight A's. Class attendance is important (especially in smaller schools) but perfection is not.

Don't go to junior/senior parties your freshman year. Really, don't. You'll get sick and sleep through classes; see the point about attendance. If you're going to go ahead and drink, play it smart and don't get wasted. If you don't want to have more to drink (or you don't want to drink at all), never let anyone pressure you into it. Tell them it's your job to respect yourself (it is).

Read syllabuses carefully and set up an email filter with your professors' addresses to highlight that stuff bright freaking red. Know what every professor's late work policy is. Use this to prioritize when you don't think you can get everything done.

Sincerely, two recent computer science graduates :)

Stick with programming, even after it gets tedious. Your chances of getting an academic math position, even going to a top-flight grad school, are extremely slim and when you fall back to the private sector nobody will hire you because you're smart. They'll hire you if you can do something they want.

Go to class. All of them. Really.

Stay in touch with the professors. And the lab TAs. Don't be afraid to ask questions if you don't understnd something. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

Do something other than classwork and party. Join the band or orchestra or choir or the SF club or the movie club or the greenhouse gang or the drama club. Something that gets you out of the grind of class-lab-homework.

Take an art class, or drama, or history class because it looks interesting and you can. Some of my best classes were lit classes that I didn't have to take.

1. For most people, at no point for the rest of your life will you ever be with a group of people that come so close to sharing your interests, goals and passions. Take advantage of it. Spend time with your peers, talking about whatever subjects you have in commong. Talk with your professors about subjects that interest you. Listen to the opinions and viewpoints of others. Take as much of this in as you can, because it will go a long way towards shaping your for the rest of your life. After your first job, no employer will care about how well you did in school. They will, however, care about kind of person you are.

2. Your on your own for probably the first time in your life. Don't think that's a license for non-stop partying. With your first freedom comes your first responsibility. Don't take that responbility lightly.

That having been said, don't worry too much about making mistakes. Everyone makes them. Most people don't care how foolish you look for more than a passing second...then they turn their attention back to their own problems. So if you make a mistake, take note of it (to avoid it in the future) and move on.

By Bruce Johnson (not verified) on 26 Aug 2010 #permalink

If you were the super-smart kid in high school who never needed to study or do homework to get high grades, break that habit now. Natural talent and ability to learn effortlessly will only take you so far, and you will find what their limits are if you push it. Learn to study and do the work. It'll take you much farther.

Ask questions in your classes if you don't understand the material. You probably aren't the only one who is struggling, and it's a good thing if the professors remember you for asking questions.

If you are having problems, bring them to the attention of the professor sooner than later. He or she is much more willing to give you extra help to pass the class in the first half of the semester than right before the final.

By Blaise Pascal (not verified) on 26 Aug 2010 #permalink

Oh, and if you can't go to class (hopefully for a very good reason- deadly ill, family tragedy, etc), write to the person running to the class to apologise and explain. That seems to be appreciated when I've done it. (Don't say "I had a hangover" or "I had a paper due for someone else's class"- better not to explain if that was the reason)

Simple-keep up with your classwork and you'll never have to pull an all-nighter-I got through college in 3.5 years by taking summer classes and a few more credits each time (while holding down a part time job each term.) It can be done...

By Lynn Gillespie (not verified) on 26 Aug 2010 #permalink

It's a good idea to visit your professors' office hours early on, even just to say hello.

In the end, it may not be necessary to go to every class session. That's highly dependent on your learning style and each professor's teaching style. But it's going to take some time to develop the ability to recognize how often you need to go, and in the meanwhile you're likely to think you need to go to class less often than you really do. So go to every class for your first few semesters, and only then very cautiously evaluate if that's necessary in the future (and the answer will be different for each class).

In anything math, engineering, or science related, do the practice problems. Then do some more. Then think of your own variations on them (preferably expressing some curiosity of your own) and figure those out too. Get really good at actually doing the work.

Get to know the secretaries and academic counselors in your department. They can make things happen and give really good advice.

By idhrendur (not verified) on 26 Aug 2010 #permalink

Go to office hours at least once. Even if it's just the first week to say "hi", it will help make you stand-out from the crowd and make you more at ease when you need to ask for help.

By Dale Sheldon-Hess (not verified) on 26 Aug 2010 #permalink

1. Read the Syllabus. Not all of the information will be useful, but some of it might.
2. Homework shouldn't be a chore, think of it as extra time to learn the material and practice.
3. If you really do enjoy something, there is every likelihood that you will be able to earn a living doing it.
4. Learn how to measure success in a different way. See above.
5. Learn some of the names of those people that sit near you and study with them. The relationships that develop may be lifelong.
6. When in doubt choose C.
7. Choose a path for you not your parents.
8. Have a lot of fun

Another vote for going to office hours here. I didn't go at all during my undergrad career--what a waste! Sometimes I felt the professors were too unapproachable. Sometimes I was just shy. Sometimes I thought I would look stupid for asking a question.Sometimes I didn't care.

What I learned later was that (1) professors who seem prickly in front of a large group of students are frequently a lot friendlier one-on-one, and (2) even professors who can't present a good lecture to save their lives can frequently explain things better in person. Of course there are always professors who are rude or confusing when you go in to office hours, but you won't know who they are until you try.

My second comment: You are not just there to pass classes. You are there to learn. If you're doing better than the rest of the class, you may have guaranteed yourself an A. But just because your classmates aren't mastering the material doesn't mean you can get away with skating by. You need more than just another A: you need skills and knowledge that will serve you well in the future. You never know when you will need the knowledge you so casually dismiss as "unnecessary." {I should note that I skated through gen chem as described. Later I decided to be a chem major...oops. I really felt my earlier lack of dedication.}

Go to every class. Even if you don't study you will benefit from regular exposure and it encourages both you, and the professor, to have enthusiasm and dedication to the class/subject. Make a point of getting to Monday morning and Friday afternoon classes. It forces discipline and shows commitment. Professors notice.

Sit in the front row. Being on-the-spot in the front row focuses your attention and keeps you engaged. Having the professor know your smiling, or hungover, face helps.

Read what they tell you to read. You can't discuss, or even ask intelligent questions, without knowing the right words and the basic concepts.

Write down a set of questions on the concepts you are less clear on and go visit the professor during regular office hours. You can be dumb as a brick but if you have read the material, done the exercises, and gone to class you should have enough to ask intelligent questions. Most professors will see that you're trying and do what they can to explain and make things clear. Professors usually like the attention if it is from students who are genuinely trying.

Old school advice is to be friendly to and pump department secretaries for information on course and professors. Back in my day department secretaries were a prime resource. Now I hear you can get this information elsewhere; possibly online. Still, those secretaries are often more objective and intimately familiar with courses and professors than anyone else.

They can tell you which courses/professors will teach you the most and which to avoid. Not all professors are equal in teaching ability and disposition. Not all courses give you the same amount of education for time served. Not all terms are good times to take all courses. A course that covers a huge amount of material may not be what you want to take on a short term. Difficult courses may be easier if you take them during a term that has fewer students.

Set time aside for partying and being social. Taking trips and going to events is better than generic hanging out. Make a point of talking to suitable sexual partners. Even if you're not in their league, or you're too busy, make a point to talking to them. Most of the prettiest girls/boys are lonely. Be social. Be friendly. Don't be afraid of making a fool of yourself. Ask them to lunch or a cup of coffee. Expect to be rejected, and do it anyway.

Set aside time for exercise. Ideally you get some every day. Something as simple as going for a brisk walk around campus for fifteen minutes helps to clear the mind and allows you to go back to study refreshed.

Eat good food regularly. Set aside at least one day a week to sit down and have a real meal. Even if it means you have to scrimp and save to do it. If you can't cook go out to eat. Fast food and Ramen noodles don't count.

I wish I had been told that if your newly immigrated Korean calculus instructor is impossible to understand, the math department offers tutors.

By Nick Dvoracek (not verified) on 26 Aug 2010 #permalink

Take notes during lectures -- not everything verbatim, just the key concepts. When you do the reading, add new points if necessary. Your notes should represent what you're responsible for learning. When you study for a test/quiz, study from your notes. This is a form of data reduction, and it's a work skill (if not a Life skill) you'll need forever in your career.

For lists you must memorize, make flash cards. Yes, it sounds childish, but it works. I've used it for everything from Chemistry (compounds), Logic to Japanese (Katakana). "Symbol" on one side "meaning" on the other, in whatever context is relevant. Go through them once a day (but no more), setting aside the ones you get wrong, going over them until you get them right (should only take 2-3 passes). Do one side one day, the other side the next. It might be tough at first, but do not cram and burn-out -- the point is to work the contents into medium/long-term memory so that you can recall it easily during tests & homework.

Do your homework as assigned each day. Practice the skills you're learning each day until you "get it" each day, then chill out. But work your skills often, daily if you can.

Remember, repetition is the key to learning.

Repetition is the key to learning.

Repetition is the key to learning.

Play The Game. Grades do count. Find an under-employed attorney if you want proof. (there are plenty) Later on, you will find that companies only look at those with the top FIVE percent. Seriously!

Do not take a penny more in Student Loans than you absolutely have to, no matter how easy the school makes it sound. Most people do NOT make the kind of salary they are promised.

Look before you attend. Get the syllabus before registration. There are slack-off profs, ask around for recommendations. If it is 'fluff' course, find an easy grading prof; if it is a core class, get a good one at whatever cost. You are paying dearly for this, after all.

If the class merits it, attend every class. Certainly never cut because of laziness. If it is a fluff class, spend your time on something more meaningful. My top grade in undergrad was in a class I tested out of, having never seen the book. (And the embarrassed Prof. was my adviser.)

Forget extra-curricular games and nonsense; you are there to get an education, not be a sports nut.

Oh, I almost forgot. Make sure your prof is able to speak clearly; and if they are not clear, stop them, and ask for an explanation. You are paying dearly for this.

Find an organization or place where you can talk to sophomores, juniors and seniors about which professors to take and which to avoid. For me this was the IEEE lounge. Sadly, the choice of professor was often the difference between learning and dropping a class to try again the next semester.

Find someone with old tests from a professor and study them to learn how they give exams. Keep your old tests, when allowed to and pay it forward.

1) Don't rely on advice. You need to worry over things for yourself, or you'll make wrong decisions based on summaries of summaries of something that happened to somebody else 20 years ago.

2) A lot of people try to fall in love with a person at University. Try to fall in love with a subject at University. Even if you never make a living at it, learning it will be a very cheap and very practical hobby for the rest of your life.

By Andrew McDowell (not verified) on 26 Aug 2010 #permalink

I wish someone had told me the cost in dollars PER class (every 50min period/Lesson), then I'm sure I would have skipped less classes, regardless of how hungover/stoned I was. 30,000 dollars is hard for a freshman to really understand, but 100 dollars wasted every time you skip a lesson is a much clearer metric. Good luck!!!

This is sadly more practical than academic.
1. Don't run out of money.
2. Have a huge sack of rice for when you run out of money- that way any few cents you can find can be spent on vegetables rather than ramen noodles.
3. Know the standards and rules for assignments inside out- the format that one prof will mark you up for might make another less sympathetic to you.
4. Go to class even if hungover. Set your alarm clock earlier than usual rather than later- it gives you time to decide not to go and then to reconsider.
5. If there's a chance to meet one of your intellectual heroes, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD TAKE IT! Even if it means going to class hungover. Especially if it means that.

I am not sure how you would tell your students this but LISTEN TO YOUR ADVISER. Maybe if you told them it came from a 20 something that made his own college career a lot harder then it had to be because he knew better. Advisers are there because they have done all of this before.

If you are in the Humanity's (I don't know if this works for science) text book publishers are always sending books to your department office. At my school they where always left out on the table by the office for free. If you have 50 pages to read in the class text book get through them but skim the corresponding parts of another book even if it takes some time away from the main text. It really helps to cement the concepts you are working on if you get two perspectives.

By Beardedbeard (not verified) on 26 Aug 2010 #permalink

Remember to be serious about studies but don't stress too much. Have fun too. Attendance is key, and if you can, establish a connection with your professor. Always ask questions if need be and speak out in class when given the opportunity to exchange in interesting dialogue with your professor or peers.

I wish people would have told me more about books. Editions aren't usually important, if you can get an out of date edition for a fraction of the cost, do it. Don't buy all your books until you attend the class, some books you won't need until halfway through the semester and you can always get it free via a library, school or otherwise.

And as someone above stated, you're paying thousands of dollars for these classes, get your money's worth.

I'm glad you posted this Ethan. I'm beginning graduate school in a couple of weeks and I am a TA and was wondering what to say myself to my students. Some great ideas here.

I'd sum up my advice as: Go out of your way to do whatever doesn't come naturally to you - it'll be easier and have less consequences for when you screw up than any other time.

I'm more of a natural academic, not so much a social person. For someone like me, I'd say don't worry so much about classes, projects and grades, since they aren't nearly as hard as they say, especially your first year or two, and getting a perfect 4.0 doesn't matter as much as you think. I've done recruiting in my job here, and I'd much rather hire and work with someone with a 3.2 GPA and lots of life experience than someone with a 4.0 and all of the honors who spent all of their time studying by themselves. You really need to spend as much time on your social life as your academic. Make friends with as many people as you can, go to every group that sounds even vaguely interesting, go to as many parties and trips as you can. If a person or group isn't to your liking (or doesn't like you), then get rid of it and find another that is. Turn off the TV, get off the computer, and go talk to some people.

Or if you're naturally a social person and don't do that well on tests, you may have to learn to cut down on the partying and keep your grades up. Yeah, partying is fun and social skills are important, but you do have to actually graduate at some point, and you'll look better to employers if you graduate on time too. Figure out the best way for YOU to learn things - it may not be the same as your smart buddy or what your professor/TA tells you to do. Be proactive in getting studying and projects done - organize some groups to help you out and try to learn as much as you can from them.

Also, internships/Co-ops. Get after them, hard, from day 1. Talk to people, find out which employers have good and bad ones, and get those resumes going. They're very good for you academically, socially, financially, and for your job prospects. I didn't really get this until it was pretty much too late to get one, and I had a much harder time getting a job as a result.

You will never be around this many good looking young people again. Never feel to embarrassed to talk to a girl/guy. Go out there and spit some heat at 'em. If you fail you'll forget it in a year anyway.

1) If you have an hour between classes, don't waste it. Do the homework from the class that just ended - it'll go faster when it's fresh.

2) Work hard at the beginning. If you don't need to work that hard, it's easy to slow down, but it's very hard to catch up if you find you're not working hard enough.

3) and Most Important: Sometime between graduating high school and beginning college, you were deemed an adult. No one told you, but now you're expected to take on the burden of learning. In high school, it was your teachers' job to cram it down your throat. Now, no one will try to help you unless you ask for it. Your professors have something that belongs to you: an education. But they're not going to chase you down to give it to you - you have to stand up and demand it.

By Chakolate (not verified) on 26 Aug 2010 #permalink

Some very good advice in the earlier posts. I wold just add, try to get take as many classes outside of your major as you reasonably can. It is not uncommon to change majors during your college days. Who knows, one of these classes may awaken some new interests, sooner rather than later. Also, many graduates ultimately work in areas other than their college major and a well rounded background will make career transitions much easier.

About studying: Don't let any time go to waste on common tedium. When you're waiting in the hallway for the classroom to turn over, or on the train or at the station waiting, or any other pure downtime, go over your books and notes. Even if it's only a few minutes it will add to your overall
preparation and let you save up your real leisure for quality time. You will probably have to do this in your working life one day, so get started with the habit now.

Advise I wished I had heard and understood:

1. Get a useful underdrad degree in the sciences or engineering if you're going to get a post graduate degree. MDA, JD, or Phd.

OK: I got a business degree and an MBA later. Needed to leverage science degree to have a field in which to practice business in. Good frined of mine got an engineering degree, then a JD. He's a patent attourney and couldn't be anything else or happier.

Advice that a kid today should hear and understand:

2. Go to every class. Take notes on everything the instructor spews out for the three hours a week. At the mid-term and the first and last half of the class notes respectively. If its on the test, proffessor probably brought it up in class. That's the secret. Didn't even try to graduate from UC with honors...they just gave it to me. That's the secret.

Get sleep. Can't be emphasized enough. However tempting it might be to stay up just a few more hours, your productivity drops sharply with fatigue. Get that sleep and pick up your work in the morning, when it'll go much faster. Sleep also helps cement material in memory, so make sure to review the day before an exam and get a decent sleep in between. Take breaks while studying to get up, move around, and think about something else. You can cover more material in less time and retain it better.

1. Register for classes as early as humanly possible. Having a hodge podge schedule can be a nightmare.

2. You don't get nearly as many grades as you did in highschool so do all your homework and every assignment. Its hard to recover from a bad start early in a class.

3. Ask questions if you dont understand.

4. Most instructors will make it clear what their pet peeves are so make notes of that on the syllabus they gave you. Whether its late work, late for class, or bringing food/drinks into the classroom make sure you don't give them a reason to not like you.

5. Don't be afraid to ask a classmate who you have befriended to not be so talkative during class. Some people just can't shut up and professors do not like 2 people yapping the while they are trying to teach.

6. Study groups are key. Get to know the people around you.

7. Always ask people if they have taken a class your going to take next semester. Knowing which teachers are reccomended and which you should avoid is key.

No one has mentioned sunscreen yet?

On a more serious note: At the first class, sit next to someone you don't know yet, and get to know him/her. I got to know some of my best friends that way.

In my opinion, these are some often taboo tidbits of advice that need to be given to incoming freshmen:

⢠College is not for everybody.
There are many career paths that can be better learned at a vocational school, apprenticeship, or self-taught. Many employers, especially in smaller businesses, prefer a strong portfolio over a degree.

⢠Not all degrees are equal.
Don't think your degree in sports management deserves the same respect as a degree in physics.

⢠It's okay to wait for college!
If you have no idea what you want to pursue when you arrive for college, it might be best to take a year or two off and discover what you are really passionate about than to drift from major to major, wasting your time and money.

What advice do you wish you had received when you were just starting college?

If you were speaking to an 18-year-old incoming freshman today, what advice would you most like to give?

"Lissen, kid... Unless you're planning to take this thing all the way up to a Doctorate or something, you're going to be doing nothing but kick off a life time of crippling debt years before you even get to the point where you MUST to go into debt to feed your family. That's like digging a hole to find a good spot to dig a deeper hole. Skip it and save yourself the cash. You got about the same job prospects either way. Do it while you're young enough to get away with it.

If not, at least try to keep a condom on you at all times."

Buddy up to the prof. Not to brown-nose but to at least make a connection. It doesn't matter if you graduate with a 4.0, they still won't know you and it's infinitely harder to get into grad school without those recommendations.

Intramurals are awesome. even if you're not athletic

Whatever you do, don't sign up for a credit card. Things will only end badly

Thanks for all the great advice, everybody! Time to go forth and meet the new students!

Establishing a good rapport with your professors is definitely a positive, but do not forget the support staff like the department secretary. Especially the secretary for whatever you end up majoring in. While they are not the ones handing out your grades, the secretaries are the ones who handle much of the paperwork and university related matters. Getting signatures, finding professors and/or teaching assistants, applying for money, and all the assorted stuff that can be a real pain is made easier when you develop friendly relations with the secretary. Cross them at your own peril.

Similar for anyone else like your building's janitors, IT people, or any shop machinists and the like. Usually these are people who have been around a little while and know some things that can prove useful. For instance, if you end up working on a project for some professor and your experiment has a critical failure leading to a broken heap of mess, you will need the access to the janitor's closet to clean up, a machinist who can help fix or rebuild broken parts, and a secretary who will know what paper work/receipts are needed to have the costs covered under the correct research grant.

Getting to be a familiar and friendly face to this group of people early in my junior year was like the difference between night and day compared to the two previous years navigating my comings and goings on campus.

By william dyer (not verified) on 27 Aug 2010 #permalink

Paul Graham wrote this excellent essay on the subject:
What you'll wish you'd known

To entice you to read here are some excerpts but to do the essay justice, click on the link!

We need to cut the Standard Graduation Speech down to, "what someone else with your abilities can do, you can do; and don't underestimate your abilities." But as so often happens, the closer you get to the truth, the messier your sentence gets. We've taken a nice, neat (but wrong) slogan, and churned it up like a mud puddle. It doesn't make a very good speech anymore. But worse still, it doesn't tell you what to do anymore. Someone with your abilities? What are your abilities?


I think the solution is to work in the other direction. Instead of working back from a goal, work forward from promising situations. This is what most successful people actually do anyway.


And what's your real job supposed to be? Unless you're Mozart, your first task is to figure that out. What are the great things to work on? Where are the imaginative people? And most importantly, what are you interested in? The word "aptitude" is misleading, because it implies something innate. The most powerful sort of aptitude is a consuming interest in some question, and such interests are often acquired tastes.


If it takes years to articulate great questions, what do you do now, at sixteen? Work toward finding one. Great questions don't appear suddenly. They gradually congeal in your head. And what makes them congeal is experience. So the way to find great questions is not to search for them-- not to wander about thinking, what great discovery shall I make? You can't answer that; if you could, you'd have made it.

The way to get a big idea to appear in your head is not to hunt for big ideas, but to put in a lot of time on work that interests you, and in the process keep your mind open enough that a big idea can take roost.

When I went to college, my priorities were: 1) Reliable transportation, 2) a high-quality surfboard. If I had it to do over again, I would probably choose the same. You only live once.

By CherryBomb (not verified) on 27 Aug 2010 #permalink

I saw this a couple times, and I want to say most vehemently, DON'T DO EXTRACURRICULAR stuff unless you want to. I can't stress enough that you have to keep your commitments low to keep your enthusiasm up. Definitely do what you want to do, but heaping stuff on yourself accomplishes NOTHING. I got into the number 1 graduate program in my field without doing ANY extracurricular stuff during undergrad. All that was required by my field is that I do some lab work, and I did that after graduation. What set me apart from the rest of applicants was, by and large, my GRE performance. I invested about 40 hours into that to rise to the top. Hundreds of hours of extracurricular crap wouldn't have done 1/10th as much. If you understand what is expected of you for the next step, you really need to focus primarily on those things.

Keep it simple stupid.

And have a ton of fun. Make reasonable mistakes. Getting wasted and passing out in a stranger's house doesn't really do any harm. Getting wasted and starting a bar fight might get you a police record that could screw you over. There are fine lines.

-Tell them NOT to EVER use their credit from an AP class in high school to skip a class in college. Doing so was the worst mistake of my college life. For example, AP calculus in high school will AP classes will give them a great head start in first semester college calculus, but will not in any way prepare them for the second semester of college calculus. Skipping first semester calc. will get them ahead by a semester. Taking the class will give them an invaluable opportunity to learn how to work and study at a college level while getting comfortable the course material on a far higher level than they had to in high school.

- Tell students (or tell them who can tell them) what they are actually supposed to do if they went to go to grad school. There is usually an official recommendation, but when I was an undergrad there was a sort of secret understanding that if you were going to grad school, you would also be tutoring, TAing, doing research, etc. from the very beginning. if undergrad research is technically optional, but is actually required if they plan to go to grad school, for fucks sake tell them!

1. Turn off your phone in class. For many professors a phone will get you recognized for all the wrong reasons.
2. Likewise, don't bring a laptop to class just to screw off and ignore the professor. If you aren't going to listen then why be there? Professors are smarter than you think, and pick up on these things.
3. Don't find shame in asking for help.
I personally always found ease in writing papers. Then one class I couldn't solidify a topic for my final paper. I kept putting it off thinking something good would come to me until it was too late. See the professor! See a peer! Don't wait until its too late to finish. That was one of the biggest failures and biggest lessons of my college career.
4. I know it's been said a million times but GO TO CLASS. I had a professor help me out when I needed it not because I brown nosed, but because he simply saw me sitting in his 400 student lecture every week. It makes a huge difference.
5. Not every course will be your strong suit but try to pull something usefull out of it that makes studying it worthwhile.
6. Be open minded. Change can be fantastic.
7. Keep in mind you have debt. It's not some far off thing that should never be considered.
8. Be openminded about which career you'll end up in. You never know...

College/University is not trade school. You can just learn a skill set and get a related job. But that is like using a Swiss army knife strictly for the blade.

  • Study the weird stuff. If you don't understand what a course title means, then find out.
  • Wonder why different departments use different terms for the same ideas. If you don't see this semantic divide, then you're not studying widely enough.
  • Help people in classes that you haven't taken with their homework. I learned a lot this way.
  • Spend social time with people from different religions, countries, and ethnicities. This will be your best chance to learn that different people are not that different.
  • Follow all of the other advice above. Especially where it conflicts.