May 13, 2013
College is more than just going to class and partying. There is an entire network of resources there that can expand you current interests and passions, as well as introduce you to new ones. That's what we'll discuss today: How to get the most out of your college experience and discover its rewards.
For those of you high school seniors who have enrolled at a college and will be heading off this fall, you should be asking yourself one crucial question: What is the true purpose of college? Of course education should be at the top of your answers to this question, but there is much more. Naturally, the education factor is designed to prepare you for your life's work, even if the perfect fit doesn't happen until years, sometimes many years, after graduation. However, you don't come to college without other needs, such as wanting to apply the passions and interests you had in high school, or even before that. That's where college resources come in.
If you manage your college time properly, and have a bit of good timing and a lucky break now and then, your college experience can result in a very nice segue into a jump start on a rewarding life's work. You have to be a savvy college consumer, though, so to speak, and learn what services and resources your school has that can facilitate your path to a profession.
So, how can you do this?
As I've said many times, college—like youth—is wasted on the young. Many college students who haven't yet navigated the “real world" on their own don't realize how many “free" services come with the cost of a college education. Granted, if you're paying more than $50K per year, nothing really feels “free." But on many campuses, there is no additional charge for benefits that range from resume-writing classes to weight-management programs.
A growing number of college career-services offices have programs that are specifically aimed at younger students, not just at seniors. But even on those campuses where these options don't exist, the career counseling department should be a must-do first-year agenda item. These visits can be a great way to learn what's “out there" in the job world after graduation, along with the steps required to get there … steps that should be taken sooner rather than later. Most teenagers are more or less familiar with the road to law or medicine. But which courses, skills, internships or grad-school programs are right for an aspiring sommelier or CIA cartographer? Most college career offices maintain long lists of internships and even paid jobs for both the school year and summers, often with tips from past students who have already held these posts.
For students aiming for grad school, college professors can be a great source of advice. While there are gazillions of private counselors who point teenagers to the best-match colleges, there are far fewer consultants who help with grad school choices. But the best teachers can be the worst advisors. Some professors only serve as advisors to undergrads because they are required to do so. Any student who feels that he or she isn't connecting with an advisor or isn't getting the kind of help required should try to make a switch. The profs who are great when it comes to suggesting courses may be clueless when it comes to internships or even job options. So if a professor seems awkward at advising, it may be time to change … as diplomatically as possible Also be on the lookout for faculty mentors. While these folks may not formally wear the academic-advisor hat, they may be able (and very willing) to help steer you toward internships, career ideas, study abroad programs, etc.
While many students seek out help for serious problems, which are also swelling among teens, others recognize that a counselor can serve as a good sounding board when it comes to the smaller concerns that adjusting to adulthood can spawn, especially now that the stigmas once attached to mental-health concerns are vanishing.
Step number-one is to know what's available. A good pre-frosh exercise is to sit down with a list of college offices and organizations even before you arrive for orientation. Put a check mark besides those that you think warrant a first-semester visit. Whether you're seeking an activity that might help you meet like-minded others quickly (e.g. the Ballroom Dance Team or the Madrigal Singers) or a stepping-stone to professional opportunities (the Black Pre-Law Association or the Biological Sciences Society), know before you go. HINT: This exercise can offer valuable bonding time with Mom and Dad. Ask for their input as you peruse the lists. Whether you find their suggestions helpful (“Look … you can continue with Model UN") or painful (“Hey… a Magician's Society … you used to be so clever with your card tricks!"), this family powwow can help ease their transition to your college years.
Real-world adults expect to pay for Pilates classes, tennis lessons, or treadmill time in a gym. But college students typically have access to these amenities for little or no charge beyond tuition and fees. College is the perfect time to learn to scale a rock wall or dance the tango, and you may also earn credits doing so. Even busy undergrads can (and should) find time to stay fit, and the college years allow easier access to instruction … and possibly a life-long passion … than can be found almost anywhere else, at least beyond Club Med.
So, you can see that much lies beneath the surface of your so-called “institution of higher learning." In some ways, it's really an almost endless source of help and enrichment for you as you move toward at least your intermediate goal of finding success and happiness after college. Yes, maybe you'll want to continue your education in graduate or professional school, but during those undergraduate years, be sure to maximize your opportunities — and value — by taking advantage of all the aspects your school has available. Remember: The life you enhance may be your own.
Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.
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