College is cool!
High school is fine. It’s certainly a memorable experience, but after it’s over, how many of us wish we could have stayed in high school longer? High school is just okay at best. Happy memories for some; awkwardness for most; great material for teen movie plots. But college… college is way cool. There is no other experience in your life that will be quite like college. In college you are treated like an adult, but you can still get away with acting like a kid. And your parents are paying the bills!
But too many college students don’t get it. They take the experience for granted and waste their college days playing Guitar Hero or sleeping or spending their time only with people they knew from high school or people that are too much like themselves. Most do just enough to get by academically and too many choose a major based on their parents’ expectations or what they think will be a shortcut to a cushy job (think pre-wealth), and then graduate expecting real life to start at that point. But for most, that so-called life is filled with an 8-to-5 (or longer) job that doesn’t inspire, a daily commute to and from work, maybe two weeks of vacation a year, credit card debt, a mortgage, family commitments… Not that all of those things are bad… But at that point, it’s really difficult to find the time to explore your passions and figure out what you’re all about or ought to be about. Maybe that explains the mid-life crisis. Not enough people utilize their college years to ask themselves the ultimate question:
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman
I shared that quotation at the beginning of each of the new student Orientation sessions I spoke at for many years at UGA. If you don’t start figuring out during your college years what makes you come alive, it’s not going to get easier to do that later on in the real world where you have less available time and opportunity.
Be like Dr. Jones. Make college a great adventure.
College should be a terrific adventure. It’s the ideal time to grab life by the throat and seek out experiences that will help you determine what does make you come alive. Don’t sit back waiting for cool stuff to happen; take the offensive, and start doing cool stuff every day. Here are some practical suggestions for living an adventurous college life:
Meet someone new every day. You’re surrounded by interesting people in college, but most fellow students you encounter daily remain strangers. You will learn more from friends and from the relationships you build in college than you will from professors and textbooks. (You’re only in class three to four hours a day. Do go to class. But that leaves twenty hours a day or more outside of class!) Say “Hi” on the bus to students you don’t know. Get to know the names of the students you sit near in each class. Propose study groups, especially in the hardest classes. Join organizations that resonate with your interests. Also, join organizations or seek out interactions that are made up of people you wouldn’t ordinarily encounter. Our campus has an International Coffee Hour every Friday. Go there and meet people from around the world right here on your own campus. You should even seek out people whose perspectives you just don’t understand or even people you are prone to dislike. Jung said “People who annoy us can lead us to a better understanding of ourselves.”
Friendships come easier in college. College students think nothing of knocking on your dorm room door at 1 a.m. to mooch your Cheetos. In my grown-up world, my neighbors don’t do that. (And I’m glad.) I knew everyone on my hall in my college dorm. (Okay, I was the R.A.) I actually know very few of my neighbors now, and that’s sad. College is the only time in your life you’ll have the opportunity and the expectation to befriend so many people. Grown-ups go home from work and shut their door, closing out the world around them. In the big picture, relationships are what it’s all about. (Not the Hokey Pokey, as some would have you believe.) College friendships endure and are of a quality like no other in your life. Build great relationships while you’re in college.
Take interesting classes. Sure, there are some required classes that just won’t do it for you. You have to endure them maybe, but you can do your part to try make them interesting. But in college you mostly get to choose what you want to study. So scour the class bulletin and read course descriptions. Register for classes that look like just plain fun. (An advisor can tell you how they will count in your degree program if you don’t know.) I think that’s how you should choose your major, too. One of my favorite students told me she chose her major by reading the description of every course offered at the university and circling (in the 20th century world of the paper bulletin) those courses she would most enjoy. She then counted up which major had the most courses circled, and she had her major. Brilliant! But simple. Don’t pick a major based on what you think might lead to a great career. (Because who really knows at this point what will be a great job ten years or even three years from now?) Choose a major based on what you think would be most fun to study. (Refer to the Thurman quote above.) I firmly believe you could major in classical Greek and still get a job in the corporate world if you wanted. In fact, most companies would appreciate hiring someone who has clearly come alive rather than someone who’s just sleepwalking in step with the masses. Good organizations hire for attitude and train for skill anyway.
Get to know your instructors. I didn’t do a good job of this when I was a student. I didn’t want my instructors to think I was sucking up, or I didn’t expect them to want to get to know me. I missed out. Most college instructors are in their jobs because they like working with college students. (Not all, and it should be easy for you to notice who they are.) Harvard Professor Richard Light has studied the college experience extensively and concluded that the students who were most satisfied with their college experience had built relationships with their instructors. He recommends that students seek out a mentor relationship with at least one of their instructors each semester. After four years, you would then have eight faculty members who know you well and can counsel you about your educational and life goals and can offer substantive recommendations for graduate or professional programs or for employment references. You could create your own life advisory committee. And I think in every class you take you should at least personally introduce yourself to the instructor in the first two weeks of the semester.
See the world. Participate in a study abroad or work abroad experience while you can. After you graduate and begin working, it’s hard to ask for a couple of months off for travel. Your employer will laugh at you. Or fire you. So do it when you’re a student and your parents can help pay for it. World travel will change you and give you wisdom you can’t get here at home. Most colleges make studying abroad easy. You can even find internships or service projects abroad. My friend Paton interned for Mercedes Benz in Germany twice while he was a UGA undergraduate. (That was time well spent for him. He got to experience life in another country and gain tremendous work experience. He was offered jobs at both Mercedes and BMW when he graduated. He started at BMW in Munich right out of college. Pretty nice company car, too. He’s now back in the U.S. working for Maserati, North America. Talk about your cool gigs…) I spent two months in Turkey while I was a student. It was the greatest adventure of my college years and maybe of my life so far. Get out and see the world, and you will then see yourself more clearly, too.
I could go on with suggestions on making the most of college, and I will at a later time. But don’t let these unique years of freedom and opportunity go by without having an amazing experience.