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Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting College

My kid sister just started college, and I decided to compile some of the advice I wish I received before going. 

Growing up in an immigrant household, there were a lot of things about a successful college experience that my parents simply didn’t know to teach me (Internships? Why would you work for free?). I don’t blame them – and they did everything they could for us – but without the American experience their college wisdom was limited. Combined with a failing public school system, I was completely unprepared for higher education. 

Things I Wish I Knew Before College:

  • Networking. Your diploma is not good enough to get you a job. 50% of the unemployed people in the US have a college degree. Even good grades aren’t enough. I finished Grad school with a 3.8 GPA, and after six months of frustrated searching, became a security guard – a job that required a GED.  When building a network, think quality, then quantity. Do this by adding value to others (remember, people are selfish), and eventually a real bond is formed. Be helpful to the people worth helping.
  • Use your calendar Johnny! Use it to schedule paper due dates, to designate blocks for work, study and social time. Do this as soon as the syllabus is passed out. I’ll never forget my very first semester of college, 6 weeks into my Freshman Orientation class. To this day I hear my professor’s voice, “pass your papers up!” Wait, what? What paper? …I promised myself to never make that mistake again. Until I did one month later, in the same exact class. It would take another seven years for me to admit that my memory sucks, and I have a much more effective brain inside of my phone.
  • Join a study group. “The single best predictor of college success had nothing to do with any metric we associate with collegiate achievement, now or then. It wasn’t GPA, SAT scores, or a number of any kind for that matter. It was, instead, the ability of a student to create or to join a study group. Kids who studied in groups, even only once a week, were more engaged in their studies, were better prepared for class and learned significantly more than students who worked on their own. They even had more fun. Nothing else even remotely approached the power of that single variable in explaining college success. The key to college success is also the key to professional success of just about any kind. Learning is best achieved through relationships—having the right conversations with the right people in the right context—and collaborative action.” – Keith Ferrazi
  • Make friends with your professors. When they say something that resonates, or that you want to know more about, stay after class and tell them. Thank them. They will appreciate this — so much. More than anything else, people want to be appreciated for their hard work. I learned this lesson back in High School, with a teacher that I always spoke to after class. I also never did homework in that class. At the end of the first marking period, I was called to the teacher’s desk, and told that I was failing. The grade book had a 55 written in pencil next to my name. Everyone else’s grades were written in pen. For that report card, I would end up receiving an 85, based solely on the relationship that I built with the teacher, the 55 was just a friend sending another friend a message. Is this fair? No. But the world doesn’t function on fairness, and the sooner you learn that, the better off you will be.
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