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Tips for Incoming College Freshmen

A new academic year is upon us. Soon-to-be college students around the country, and the world are packing, ready to embark on new adventures. And while this is an exciting time in their lives, they can certainly benefit from the advice of people who have been there and done that. Over the past weeks, I have been collecting nuggets of wisdom from those around me. These advice givers range from fresh college grads close to the experience to seasoned professionals who have the advantage of perspective.


– Be prepared to be humbled. In college, you are going to meet some of the smartest young people in the world. They will be accomplished across multiple areas of life. This is a good thing. If you walk in thinking you will be the smartest person on campus, you are going to disappointed and may even retreat. Rather, take advantage of the opportunity to hang out with such a fantastic group of people. You will learn more from the people you meet than the books you read in class.


– The money you spend comes from somewhere. Whether you are on financial aid or have a trust fund, the money being spent to send you to college has value. Assume that you will have to pay back every penny. So spend wisely. Don’t take on credit card debt, and certainly don’t do it just so you can have more fun in school. Get a job if you need to cover your expenses. Assume that everyone around you has a trust fund. Don’t spend like them just because you can. College debt is a real thing and can limit your opportunities later in life.


–  Learn for the purpose of learning. No matter what you want to do in your career, expand beyond just the required courses. Explore new ideas and classes because you can. College is the place where you can study algorithms, Freud, derivatives, and classics all in one day. Content knowledge becomes obsolete quickly. But learning how to think and problem-solve and create — those are skills that never become dated.


– Don’t graduate early. You might be eager to get out into the real world and start making some money. Even if you go to grad school, there is nothing like your college experience. Absorb every ounce of it that you can. Take additional courses, perhaps even a minor in something that excites you. Study abroad. Get out of your comfort zone. Never again will you get to live in another country under the safety net of a university. While college is expensive, the opportunities are at your fingertips.


– Get to know your professors and alums. Their long list of accomplishments might make them a bit intimidating, but chances are they ventured into academia because they enjoy connecting with students. Treat them like real people Take them to lunch. Ask them for advice. Respect them always. It gets harder to network across hierarchies later in life, so learning this skill now will benefit you. Alums are often excited to talk to current students — sometimes more than talking to other alums. And you never know how their words of wisdom can change your perspective.


–  Don’t do anything that makes you uncomfortable. Don’t join a group because everyone else is joining. Don’t feel pressure to do anything that violates your beliefs or values. Don’t make friends with annoying people. The people you meet in college might become your lifelong friends, perhaps even your life partner. Spend meaningful time with people who matter. Never again will you be surrounded by so many people your age with a shared experience. Savor it. Avoid the drama of spending time with people who want to turn you into something you are not.


–  Some academic basics: Go to class. Every class. Do your work on time, even if it is work that does not get turned in. Read ahead of the class. Get help when you need it. Go to office hours and ask appropriate questions. Sit in the front row even if your friends are in the back. Your top priority is to do well in school. It will open up more opportunities for you down the road. Your grades matter to future employers and/or graduate schools.


– Look for a summer job or internship in the fall. I know it can be scary to have to think about next summer when summer just passed, but it is important. Waiting too long will limit your opportunities. Find out when the recruiting happens on campus and get prepared early. Build your resume. Talk to career services. Talk to alums who work in the organizations you care about.


– Call your parents. They miss you. You may soon realize that they actually know you better than anyone else in this world and can give you the best advice.


College is an exciting time, but it should not just be flitted away. Walk in armed with your goals and your priorities. You will have a more meaningful four years if you do.


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