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5 Things I Wish I knew As A University Student

5 Things I Wish I knew As A University Student
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In school, you are taught that studying and getting good grades are your raison d’etre (the reason you exist), so when I went to university, I took that along with me. There I was, spending thousands of (my parents’) dollars and many years (more than a decade) thinking the same way as I did when I was 12 years old, “If it worked in school, it’ll work here.” Boy, was I wrong!. When you think that way as a university student, you’re totally missing out on almost everything that a university education can offer you.

Here are five things that I wish I knew when I was a student. I guarantee, these tips will completely change your experience as a student.

1. Know that knowledge is NOT what you’re in university for.

Is there something you’d like to know? Wouldn’t it be cool if you could know it in five seconds? Back in the day, it could take you years to find out these answers, but since we live in the information age (even that’s such an outdated term), all you have to do is Google it! Even though profs can go on and on about how they hate Wikipedia, its credibility has surged in the last few years. It is such a great tool to quickly get a lot of (mostly) good info. You might be thinking that you’re in university to learn and to acquire knowledge. You’re right about the “learning” part, but wrong about the “knowledge” part.

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Universities don’t hold the keys to knowledge anymore, like they used to only a couple decades ago. However, learning how to learn, reason, analyze, solve problems, and think is really why you’re there. By rubbing shoulders with your professors who are experts in their subjects, you’re getting something far more valuable – a front row seat into their minds! That’s why you’re sitting hours and hours in front of these people, despite the fact that (as some of you have realized) you can get all the knowledge they’re spewing out of their mouths by just going to the library and buying yourself a good textbook. Learning the mindsets of the experts is the gold you mine in university.

2. Your career has already started.

Opps! The vast majority of students have no idea that this is the case. That’s why they’re wasting so much time doing unproductive and sometimes destructive things. Instead of strategically making use of their time, they think what they do in university will stay with them when they graduate. This is a tragic mistake. What if you took your time in university seriously? What if you understood that your career and future were being immensely affected by your actions as a student today?

Look around your class. Someone there might be a potential partner for a great company, or your future boss who you’ve kept ignoring, or a key contact that will land you the job of your dreams. Here’s a story I love to help emphasize this point. There once was a guy who dropped out of Harvard when he was 19 to start a company with his friend. There they were, at the world’s best university, thinking, “Wow, we’re so lucky to be here” Next thing you know, they just left it all behind. I mean, couldn’t they have waited two more years! Nah. That guy was Microsoft’s Bill Gates. These guys understood that their career was already in play way before they got that official looking piece of paper (a.k.a. a degree). The believed in themselves so much they didn’t even bother waiting to finish school. That’s what I call seriously thinking outside the box.

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3. Don’t follow the crowd.

Just because you’re in a “program” doesn’t mean you have to behave like a programmed robot. I’ve seen so many students miss out by taking the path everyone else is taking. Be bold enough to be different. Choose your courses by what you like and not what you think might be easier. Dare to take on courses (and professors) that others might run away from.

As a Biology student, I took courses in geology, linguistics, archaeology, and philosophy that had no direct relevance to my so-called premedical program. However, these classes took my university experience to a completely different level. Therefore, choose the road less-traveled in university, even if it seems difficult. You will learn far more valuable things than those who take the congested highways of the program.

4. Engage, engage, engage!

Most students are on automatic pilot in university. They’re focused on the A — the grade and the degree. If they don’t stick to their books, they’ll waste their time elsewhere. Shake yourself out of this habit and decide to be involved in all aspects of university life. Meet your professors outside of class to chat with them, seek career advice, and ask questions.

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Be social and stop telling yourself that you’re not social if you are. Instead, decide to meet new people and cultivate positive friendships. Become an active member in one or two student clubs that share a passion of yours or reach out to the community with valuable services. Most people aren’t intentional (autopilot mode) because it is hard work, but once it becomes a habit it’s as easy as breathing. You’ll dramatically prepare yourself for the real world that awaits you outside. As I said before, expanding your network of contacts is a crucial asset that you should begin working on in university.

5. Pick the right major… even if it means changing the one you’re in now.

I’m a biology professor who is utterly astounded at how half of my students don’t belong here. “Hey, why are you doing biology?” “Uhhh… I dunno. I kinda sucked at math and well… biology is cool!” Meanwhile, I’m screaming inside! “Look, if you like biology, go buy a nice biology textbook and read it in your spare time.” Don’t get me wrong, they can be excellent students, but they lack direction and find themselves where they are by default. They have only a vague notion of the value that the degrees they’re working so hard for actually provide.

You need to ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. The answer to that question has to be razor sharp at all times. What do most students do when they’re about to choose a major? They’ll think about what subjects they were good at in high school and choose the corresponding majors in university. This approach is totally silly (not to say stupid) because contrary to what you may think about yourself, you can be good at anything you want. Alternately, they may have an image of the profession they aim to have one day and because of that image, they’ll pursue the major that leads to it. Most of the time that image was formed on haphazard encounters that give you a very different picture than reality.

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The real question isn’t what I like or not, or whether being a doctor looks better than being an engineer; the real question is: Where do I want to be in 10 years and how can this major help me get there?

That’s why you need to do quality research. What is a degree in your major worth? What kind of jobs will be available to you? Is this a growing or shrinking market? For example, when I graduate will I most probably find a job, or will I be just another fish in an ocean that’s already too crowded with sea food? How do professionals in the career you want to have feel about themselves? Are they rich, but too miserable to enjoy it because they work 100 hours a week?

You need to ask yourself these questions and many more just like them. Do your research — then do even more research. Don’t worry if you’ve already missed the boat in the wrong major. Go back and change it. You’ll thank me for it later!

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Featured photo credit: Charlie Foster via unsplash.com

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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