College students hear the same advice over and over, from the importance of going to office hours to the need for extracurriculars.
Yet there are some useful pieces of unconventional advice that often go unsaid. On a recent Quora thread, users responded to the question, “What is some advice that most college students are not ever likely to hear?”
We’ve summarized some of the best advice below.
If you have any interest in mathematics, engineering, or the hard sciences, now is the time to explore it. “Many subjects you can study in college — like history, literature, languages, business, law, or art — are also subjects you could learn later, through personal or professional experience, or through independent reading.”
However, STEM subjects tend to be best mastered in college, where you have teachers and classmates to help you work through difficult problems. “If you don’t tackle them now, the odds are strongly against you ever doing so in the future.”
You can’t just learn these hard skills through casual reading. They are much easier to learn in a classroom setting with specialized equipment and instruction. Also, these subjects are good to know whether you want a career in them or even if you just want the intellectual satisfaction. —Mark Binfield
Adjust your schedule around when YOU are the most productive and creative. While most people would advise you to do your work first thing after class, in the end, you know what’s best for you. “If you’re nocturnal and do your best work late at night, embrace that. It may be the only time in your life when you can,” writes former MIT admissions counselor Ben Jones in blog post, which is referenced in the Quora thread.
Even if you feel like you’re most productive the hour before your assignment is due, embrace it. You don’t need to listen to others when they tell you to be more organized or plan better. Different things work for different people. —Daniel Wetterstrom
Don’t be afraid to take time off. Many students are ashamed of leaving for a year, because it implies they couldn’t handle the rigors of school or had to take a break to discover themselves. Yet these days, gap years are becoming increasingly popular.
In fact, most students find their time off to be one of their best college experiences. They can use it to pursue internships, travel the world, live independently, and do what really matters to them. It can help you discover what you want to do after graduation and also provide you with some cool stories to share. —Edgar Wang
The Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns applies to your GPA, too. Of course, you should maintain a respectable GPA, but know that once you cross 3.5, it matters less and less. The difference between an A and an A- is not worth you endlessly poring over a textbook instead of spending valuable time with friends or working on extracurricular activities. The amount of energy needed to get perfect grades could be put to better use. —Marli Creese
Take advantage of this time to become the most amazing version of yourself. You can think of college as an incubation period, where you can develop your skills and character. You are likely never going to have as many resources, like-minded peers, free hours, and opportunities as you do in college again — so use them wisely. —Ching Ho
Leave your door open in the residence hall. It’s one of the best ways to spontaneously meet people and show you are open to new friendships. “Better yet, walk into open doors you see on your hall. Everyone is just as scared as you are and will be excited to make new friends!” —Chelsea Hunersen
Focus on your relationships more than your studies. With the plethora of free information available online, you can always learn about something later. However, you will probably never again have the opportunity to be surrounded by so many like-minded people who you can stay connected with for years to come. College is a great opportunity to build lifetime relationships, so make the most of it. —Rob Edell
Make a new music playlist every month. “In college, more than ever before, songs will attach themselves to memories,” says Jones. You should make a new mix CD or mp3 folder just to document whatever phase of life you are currently in. “Ten years out, they’ll be as effective as a journal in taking you back to your favorite moments.”
Another great piece of advice is to take a lot of pictures. They’ll be fun to hold onto and look at in years to come. —Daniel Wetterstrom
Recognize that it’s OK to be sad. With all the pressure of college becoming the best four years of your life, it’s hard to admit when you’re not happy. However, college is also a major time of transition. For some people, it’s the first time they are away from their friends and family and have to find themselves in a completely new environment.
You will probably be lonely at times, and sometimes feel overwhelmed, but it doesn’t mean your college experience is any worse than anyone else’s. In fact, these are growing experiences that will probably be most valuable to you later on. —Meredith Winn
Be intentional in your friendships. It’s easy to just latch on to the first friends you make in the beginning of freshman year, but this isn’t always the best idea. “Decide what you are looking for in a friend, and then find people with those qualities and seek out time with them. You won’t magically find your best friend.” Be nice to everyone, but when you find a friendship you truly want to pursue, do so unabashedly. —Meredith Winn
Don’t watch TV. “When you’re living on a college campus with 400 things going on every second of every day, watching TV is pretty much a waste of your time and a waste of your parents’ money,” says Jones. If you’re going to watch, at least watch with friends, so you can create memories and make a valuable social experience out of it. —Daniel Wetterstrom
Understand that the biggest cause of roommate conflicts is a failure to communicate. If you don’t start being honest with each other early, it only gets harder in the future. A great thing to do is to create a roommate contract in the beginning of the year, so you can be clear about your responsibilities and make sure you are on the same page about what is and isn’t allowed in the room. —Chelsea Hunersen
Don’t be too quick to specialize. “The problem with specialization is that it makes you into a specialist. It cuts you off, not only from everything else in the world, but also from everything else in yourself,” says William Deresiewicz in a talk he delivered at Stanford. —Arsène Hodali
Build yourself, not your resume. Many students will do extracurriculars or gain leadership positions just because they want to impress future employers. However, if they focus more on developing themselves as strong, well-rounded people, they will be far more memorable in interviews and in the working world. —Vishal Agrawal
Don’t wait to figure out your life after college — start now. Spend time thinking about who you are and what you eventually want out of life. Do something ambitious and difficult before you even feel ready — don’t put it off just because the career world seems too far away.
“The only way you will find out what truly matters to you is by viewing your college experience as your opportunity to take risks, put yourself in uncomfortable situations, and diverge from your peers with the goal to identify the areas of life that you want your life to be about.” At the same time, make sure you are embracing the present and not living entirely in the future. —Michael W Ellison
Make time for yourself. While it is tempting to always surround yourself with people, alone time will become extremely important to you in college. Carve out some time to reflect and think about how you are doing. —Meredith Winn
Spend some time learning how to communicate. You’re better off learning how to speak and write clearly and concisely than you are in learning a bit more about your major through an extra class. “Learning how to think critically, apply sound logic, and develop solid conclusions is the most valuable skill of all.” —Craig Humphreys
Don’t be proud of your college — make your college proud to have you. Many students fail to go the extra mile, and a frequent regret is that they didn’t contribute more to their college campus while they had the chance. Try to be one of those students that your professors and classmates will remember in years to come. Make an impact. —Debarghya Das