Being a little nerdy, I like to keep lists of life tips, but after assisting with new student orientations all summer, I decided to actually write down a list of the best lessons I've learned while getting my Bachelor's (check), Master's (three more classes), and working on a college campus.
So here's the list of my top tricks for getting ahead while getting your degree:
1. Time yourself and learn how long it takes you do things.
First things first: you need to learn straight away how long it takes you to get from one building to another: on a sunny day; with headphones in; if you stop for coffee; or if it's raining. Time yourself! Wear a watch or use the timer function on your smartphone. Having accurate counts of how long it takes you to do certain tasks helps you be more efficient, do more things, and manage your new-found freedom wisely.
Even more importantly, you also need to time how long it takes you to answer a discussion question, read a packet of articles versus reading a book chapter, and how long it takes you decompress each evening before hitting the hay. (Insomnia is no fun, so be prepared to adjust to college hours where they often start club meetings at 10pm!) Timing tasks is perhaps my most often-given piece of advice to anyone: When you know how long it (honestly, truthfully) takes you do to tasks, you are more efficient. It also helps you schedule down time, which is essential when dealing with the pressures and stress of deadlines, expectations, and new challenges.
2. Learn to find answers for yourself.
At colleges, there are a million people to help you do everything from register for classes to practice mock interviews. However, just because colleges are spending your tuition dollars on hiring helpful faces, doesn't mean you shouldn't learn to find answers on your own. Attempt to make your own schedule, then have your advisor review it. Don't call the departmental receptionist to ask for your Professor's email (or name, eek!) -- look it up on the website directory. If you're stumped on a math problem at 3am, don't give up -- at least watch a Khan Academy video and see if you gain any understanding when the material is presented differently before hitting "Send" on that desperate email to the math lab TA demanding help.
That said, after you've attempted to find the answer yourself, use the help provided you! From my experience, most of the folks who work in academia are inspired by students and love their energy. We genuinely like to see students succeed for the warm fuzzies it brings. By all means, utilize the resources you pay for and meet the staff who can help ensure your success... which leads to #3.
3. From Day One, start developing your network and making friends.
Some 7 years after my college graduation, am I finally realizing how important the network I made in college is to me now. I made connections with peers my age, a few years older in graduate programs, and with professionals during my time as an undergrad. Through the magic of Facebook, I now see those connections experiencing wild successes from publishing books to being featured on national news! I am so happy for them and when they offer advice, I listen. Keep in touch with these people and be a good friend. Don't just collect names and business cards; really invest in a manageable amount of friendships and working relationships. In today's economy and business environment, a group project classmate who remembers your work ethic and pleasant disposition could be the most valuable thing you gain from college (but definitely not the only thing!).
4. Read widely.
This is advice for life! Read what your instructors assign (and learn when to simply skim it) but also read what the opposition says. Read dissenting arguments and contemporary research, read what different voices say on the matter, and keep a file of your favorite scholarly articles that relate to your field. I still have a purple file folder in my garage of some of the most relevant articles I picked up in college and yes, I occasionally refer to it to pull out an author's name or quote. Having this knowledge not only makes class discussions richer and more enjoyable, but it also begins to establishes you in your chosen industry. Even a few years after graduation, you'll be able to say that you have been "following the literature" for nearly a decade. Being relevant and knowledgeable is critical to success in your field.
5. Find an easy, comfortable, "go-to" outfit that looks professional and put-together - and wear it often!
College is the only time you get to run around interacting with professionals in PJs. Enjoy this time, but don't abuse it. Professors respect students who look awake and engaged in their classes, and it's okay to cheat a little on this tip: a comfortable pair of black leggings, ankle boots, and an oversized button-up shirt are just as comfy as sweatpants, but look a million times better! Invest in a khaki blazer -- preferably one with elbow patches -- and wear it over a solid t-shirt and jeans and flats. A jersey dress with sandals (and that same blazer) feels like a nightgown, but worn with a wisp of mascara and stud earrings, looks instantly polished. Image isn't everything, but college is the time where you get to determine your style. Experiment with looks, but remember: Dress for the job you want, not the one you have.
... So do you have any life tips to add?