Dear college student: welcome back! By now you have settled into your cramped living space for the coming academic year. You have already been overcharged for your books and have reviewed your syllabi in hopes that your professors didn’t collaborate to schedule their tests and major papers at the same exact times this semester.
For those of you who have arrived on campus for your very first semester of college, don’t be too impressed with yourself just yet. You’re not a real college student until you have one successful semester under your belt. When you return to school next January after your holiday break, some of your peers won’t be there due to their inability to manage their time during the previous four months.
Although my own college experience has receded into the distant past, I want to share with you some insights. Like many of your classes, only some of this will be useful to you, but also like some of your classes, you will have to endure the whole thing before you can figure out which 10% is actually relevant.
College is society’s parking lot for the 18-23 year old demographic. If you are in this age bracket, then you are likely too old to stay at home and too young to be set loose upon society at large. Therefore, our educational system has created this important way station where most mistakes you make will occur in a controlled environment in hopes that nobody will suffer any permanent damage.
Once you leave college, the world will need you to be good at learning new skills quickly, since almost any job market you enter will be going through some sort of big transition when you arrive. And because the rate of change will only continue, college is the perfect time for you to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Failure in a few worthy efforts while you’re in college will likely make you a better person later. Go ahead and stretch yourself.
Although you will be hearing a lot from your college about how they hope to prepare you for the changing world you’ll be entering, chances are they would prefer that change to stay off-campus. Whether it’s the professor/publisher alliance that artificially inflates textbook prices, or the stasis associated with tenure, many colleges would prefer you to bring forth change in industries other than their own. You might even see your own version of Professor Binns, the Hogwarts ghost who continued to bore students with pedantic lectures despite having been dead for many years.
But enough of that negativity! One of the great things about your generation is that you are energetic and positive. You have left some of the ugly sides of previous generations aside. You are comfortable in a diverse environment – as a matter of fact, you might prefer it. If you haven’t already done so, you are more likely to travel to other countries than any generation before you. And although you’ve been given too much positive affirmation, causing the majority of you to consider yourself “above average”, the generation before you had a pretty elevated opinion of itself and did ok. Life has a way of resetting your concept about how awesome you are.
I hope you know how fast the remainder of your college experience will pass by. I hope you join campus organizations and explore interests outside of school. I encourage you to live a balanced life, since too much fun, too much work or terrible nutrition isn’t what life is about. Remember that school is more fun when you’re doing well in the classroom, so as they say, keep the main thing the main thing.
I hope you’ll remember that you are entering a world where your only real asset is your reputation, and for good or ill it is much easier today for others to discover your reputation without ever talking to you. Pay attention to how you present yourself on weekday mornings, weekend nights and in social media posts.
Although you probably don’t have much time for non-classroom reading, don’t be the person who never opens a book after graduating. As time passes after college, people won’t care too much about what degree you have or what school you went to, but they will be interested in how curious and insightful you are. Curious and insightful people don’t just skim blog posts. They read deeply. Keep reading.
Finally, I don’t want to scare you, but right now there are ambitious students your age on the other side of the world who are burning the midnight oil in places you’ve never heard of. They will be your co-workers, your competitors, your customers, and possibly your boss. They are smart and they work hard. You need to prepare yourself now to succeed in a more competitive world tomorrow.
End of lecture. Have fun, throw some Frisbees, and get to work.
Published September 5, 2013.