Let’s be real: college is a big deal. Not only is it usually expensive as shit, in many ways it sets the tone for the rest of your life. The stakes are high and it can definitely seem overwhelming, but the keys to successfully navigating college are the same simple things that you hear me repeat a lot on this site: stay focused, grind hard, and work on building authentic relationships with cool people who will help you level up (aka networking).
And yes, I get it – most of this is probably stuff you’ve already heard from parents and teachers and you might not want to hear it. Maybe you think it doesn’t apply to you, but I assure you that it does – you are not special. And I didn’t listen to my parents or teachers and you probably don’t either, so I’m going to say it again because this shit is important and I don’t want you to fuck up!
With that said – here’s what you need to know to do college the right way:
YOUR MAJOR (USUALLY) ISN’T THAT IMPORTANT
Outside of a few, fairly specific fields (which I’ll go over in a minute), it doesn’t matter a whole lot what you major in. Yes, you will be better off majoring in something practical instead of underwater basket weaving, but the truth is that most employers don’t give a shit what your major was.
Employers usually just want to see that you graduated from college. Most people I know work in fields totally unrelated to their major— for example, a friend of mine who did marketing at Nike and Starbucks has a degree in political science. Don’t let the STEM people scare you into thinking that you’re fucked unless you majored in engineering or computer science. You’ll be fine (but that said – if you think you can handle a STEM major, it’s hard to go wrong there).
If you aren’t sure what to major in, don’t stress about it too much. Pick something that’s interesting to you, at least somewhat practical, and go for it.
WHEN YOUR MAJOR *DOES* MATTER:
The most common scenario where your major matters is technical fields like engineering (software, mechanical, electrical, chemical, etc), accounting/finance and obviously law or medicine. It can also matter if you want to go to grad school— for example, a lot of law school applicants did political science in undergrad. So if either of those scenarios applies to you, then consider your major carefully.
Also, since a lot of people reading this are probably interested in creative careers, note that your major also matters a LOT in the design industry. These fields are very specialized, so if you want to be a graphic designer you really should have a degree in graphic design. This might seem like elitist bullshit, but it’s really not. The stuff you learn in design school is super important and very, very hard to learn on your own. If you don’t have 4 years of education in your field, you’re probably going to have a lot of gaps in your knowledge that you can’t fill in with a couple weekends of Youtube tutorials. It takes years of grinding to get good at mission-critical things like typography and composition, and if you didn’t go to school for design it’s pretty unlikely that you will be able to catch up. So if you want to be a designer, I *highly* recommend going to art school.
Three books that blew my mind and taught my valuable shit I use to this day – all of which I found in the library at my school
TAKE FULL ADVANTAGE OF ALL THE RESOURCE AT YOUR SCHOOL
College is expensive, and a big part of what you’re paying for is a bunch of resources that most people never take advantage of. Make sure you check all of them out and use as many of them as you can— you’re paying for them, so why not? A couple specific suggestions:
The library: I used to check out 3-4 books every week on random stuff that I thought was interesting like military history, architecture, quantitative finance, urban planning, etc. I didn’t finish most of them, but even so I think those readings were as educational to me as what I learned in the classroom– incredibly valuable stuff. Schools also have subscriptions to a lot of academic journals that you’ll probably never have access to again in your life that are full of mind-expanding ideas- I read every copy I could of Academy of Management Review, for example. (This reminds me, I need post a PRMBA reading list soon)
Office hours: Professors are required to have these every week, and almost nobody goes to them so the professors usually sit around grading papers by themselves. If I thought a professor was smart, I would go to their office every could weeks and just talk to them about stuff related to the class. For example, one of my professors worked for the SEC and taught me a lot about financial markets, equity, and IPOs during those office hours— information that helps me a lot working at a startup. They’ll be stoked that anyone actually shows up for their office hours, so don’t be afraid.
Independent study: At most schools, you can apply to do an independent study for a quarter instead of taking a class. This is awesome because it’s a lot more interesting than sitting in a classroom, and it can also be a great piece of work to show in job interviews. I wrote a paper on how companies should structure their creative departments, which is super relevant to me today where I spend a lot of my time managing creative teams.
My buddy Steve Rennie (former manager of Incubus) on why networking needs to be a priority TODAY
START BUILDING YOUR NETWORK + MAKE SOME FRIENDS
Last but certainly not least, college is a great opportunity for you to build relationships that can last a lifetime. It will never be easier for you to meet and connect with new people than it is during your college years, so make sure you take advantage of it.
Talk to everyone. Especially people who you think you don’t have anything in common with (normies). It’s not healthy for all your friends to come from one circle, especially if that circle is punk/hardcore shows or skateboarding. I think you will find that a lot of them are actually really cool people and that you aren’t as different as you thought. Check out my introvert-friendly guide to networking for more tips.
Join some clubs. They’re a great way of meeting people from outside your comfort zone. I was in the student government club for my school (University of Cincinnati College of Business), and it was awesome for me to learn that I could fit in with a bunch of normie accounting majors (and like I said above, it turned out that a lot of them were really cool and ended up being some of my best friends).
You might even want to look into fraternities/sororities. I know, I know – that doesn’t sound very punk, but here’s the real deal: I ended up hanging out with a lot of these people in college due to being a business major, and a lot of them are really cool. Most of them aren’t a zoo full of drunk douchebags like you see in the movies; most fraternities are basically just roommates who do cool, positive things together like study groups and community service.
DEFINITELY do at least one internship. Make this your #1 priority. This will look great on your resume and there’s a good chance you’ll be offered a permanent job at the end of the internship. If your school/major has an internship program, do it. If they don’t have one, hustle to create your own internship by calling up companies you want to work for and asking about their internship program.
If your college experience resembles this video, you probably need to pump the brakes.
TAKE SCHOOL SERIOUSLY / DON’T BE A FUCKING IDIOT
Don’t skip class. Do your homework. Study hard for all your tests. Don’t go to shows/get wasted on weeknights. I know this is all basic shit that your parents have told you a million times, but I’ve seen smart people dig themselves into a very fucking deep hole by acting like an idiot for a quarter so it bears repeating. Be smart.
With that said, have fun with it!! Don’t feel overwhelmed— just remember that school is what you make of it. Put in 100% and it will pay off. Put in less than 100% and don’t be surprised when things don’t turn out the way you wanted 🙂