In my last post I mentioned a few regrets I had about college. I have been in college for a long time (undergrad, grad school, now I’m a professor). If I could start all over again here are the top 10 things I would do differently knowing what I know now.
Join in on the community. This might be easier to achieve now that most students are all but forced to live on campus, but I wish I had joined in the community more. If I could do it again I would join multiple different clubs and organizations. Clubs and organizations don’t just allow you to experience whatever they are about, they also allow you to make friends, and they are prime networking opportunities. Networking with peers is crucial. When you’re out in your career 5 or 10 years down the road, these peers are going to be the people to help you get a job, transition jobs, or just to lean on.
Go to office hours. I almost never went to office hours. It wasn’t until my senior year when a professor took pity on me and let me work in their lab that I started seeing a professor in their office regularly. Now, as a professor, I’ve done research on office hours and it’s clear that going increases student grades not only in that course, but in others as well. But most importantly, it is the single best way to network with a professor. We cannot write good letters of recommendation for students who we’ve only ever seen in our class. We have a lot of students and doing well in our class is not enough to talk highly about you, we need to know more. This happens during office hours, so go!
See my advisor. I don’t even know if I had a specific advisor. Honestly, I don’t even know what the advising structure at my undergrad university looked like. I went to one my junior year and she told me not to do biopsych courses because I failed biology. I didn’t like her after that and I never returned. (Also, she was very wrong about that, I did just fine in future biopsych work). Not going caused me to stay an extra year in school because I didn’t know how to pick classes. Seek out your advisor and if you don’t like them, don’t just stop going, find another one that fits you. Advisors can help you figure out what career you want, what classes to take, how to apply to grad school, and so much more.
Visit the career services center. Looking for a job on your own is daunting. Career services will help you find a job, help you prepare for that job (writing a resume, practicing interviews, etc.). I didn’t know this even existed until I was in my Master’s program. I needed to find a job around town that was a low time commitment while I went to school. They found me several options! They can help with jobs during school and especially with finding jobs or careers after school. Invaluable.
Use more of the “free options” like tutoring, writing, career, gym, and more. Universities love to tell you that they have “free” amenities like gyms or tutoring centers or counseling services. Make no mistake, these things are not free. They are part, or most, of the reason for the inflated tuition costs. So if you’re going to go into 100’s of thousands of dollars worth of debt, make it worth it (I mean, as much as you can, seriously those prices should be illegal!) Use all the “free” services you can and use them a lot! I specifically wish I had used counseling more, or at all. Now I have to pay for it and it’s expensive. Would have been nice to have it lumped in with tuition so I didn’t see it come out of the bank account and earlier on in my life.
Think about the future outside school/career. I wish I would have focused more on what I wanted to build for my life that wasn’t just my career. As someone 4 years into my career and not making enough money to afford rent in the city I live in, a career is not the most important thing. I would have focused more on my friendships, relationships, and what I wanted my life to look like. Not just what type of career would look great, but did I want to work 9-5, did I want flexibility, did I want a liveable wage, did I want to move a lot, etc… I would have focused on what careers look like overall rather than just prestige because prestige doesn’t pay the bills.
Take breaks. This is what I focused on in my last blog post. I wish I would have taken more breaks and not focused so hard on my GPA. I am in academia as a college professor and no one cares about my GPA now. Sure it helped getting into grad school, but after that, it doesn’t mean anything for most careers. I would have gotten more B’s in order to live my life, rest my mind, and take care of my mental health. Especially for those going into industry instead of grad school, med school, or law school. Even for me going to grad school, I still wish I would have taken better care of my mental health because life is too short to devote all your time to the grind of capitalism.
Travel more! I wish I would have done a semester abroad. My mom, a travel agent, always suggested college trips for the summer to backpack through Europe or galavant across Australia. I thought I couldn’t afford it. I could afford the actual trip cost, surprisingly they are kind of low, but I wouldn’t be able to afford to come home and put a new down payment on an apartment. So I skipped it. If I could go back, I would have couch surfed from friends, or moved back in with my parents temporarily, to make it work.
Be more present. I have always been wrapped in my own head. Even as a child I would spend countless hours just imagining whole worlds inside my head. When I got to college this ended up being kind of a bad thing, for me at least. I would think about too many things, worry about too many things, until the point that I wasn’t fully paying attention to what was in front of me. I wasn’t networking as much as I should have been, with both peers and faculty, because I was too afraid of rejection. I network all the time now and realize I had nothing to worry about, so many people want to meet others and share their stories. I worried about joining clubs/organizations because I thought I didn’t have enough time or that I was too good for it, wrong on both fronts. I didn’t pay enough attention in class because I was worried about my social life, I missed a lot of great lessons. I didn’t read enough, I didn’t participate enough, the list goes on and on. If I could go back, I’d analyze all the things I wanted out of that experience and I’d push myself out of my comfort zone and get them.
Listen to those around me. I spent a lot of time hearing what faculty, grad students, other students, and coworkers said around me without actually listening to it. I would have my own thoughts and ideas bouncing around and I’d be like “sure, yeah, I know I should pick a career based on those things, but I really want to go to grad school”. Man, if I could make that decision again. I would listen to what advice other people had and I would take what worked for me and throw out the rest instead of just throwing it all out. My professors had been where I wanted to go, listening to their advice could have saved me time, money, and my mental health. I’m not sure I can actually change this one though, because I wasn’t at a developmentally appropriate space to understand what I needed to know, but if I could I would try harder I guess.