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5 Things I Wish I knew As A University Student

5 Things I Wish I knew As A University Student

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day, it could take you years to find out these answers, but since we live in the information age (even that’s such an outdated term), all you have to do is Google it!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!

Featured photo credit: Charlie Foster via unsplash.com

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Last Updated on September 11, 2019

Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work (And How to Change That)

Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work (And How to Change That)

How often do you feel overwhelmed and disorganized in life, whether at work or home? We all seem to struggle with time management in some area of our life; one of the most common phrases besides “I love you” is “I don’t have time”. Everyone suggests working from a to-do list to start getting your life more organized, but why do these lists also have a negative connotation to them?

Let’s say you have a strong desire to turn this situation around with all your good intentions—you may then take out a piece of paper and pen to start tackling this intangible mess with a to-do list. What usually happens, is that you either get so overwhelmed seeing everything on your list, which leaves you feeling worse than you did before, or you make the list but are completely stuck on how to execute it effectively.

To-do lists can work for you, but if you are not using them effectively, they can actually leave you feeling more disillusioned and stressed than you did before. Think of a filing system: the concept is good, but if you merely file papers away with no structure or system, the filing system will have an adverse effect. It’s the same with to-do lists—you can put one together, but if you don’t do it right, it is a fruitless exercise.

Why Some People Find That General To-Do Lists Don’t Work?

Most people find that general to-do lists don’t work because:

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  • They get so overwhelmed just by looking at all the things they need to do.
  • They don’t know how to prioritize the items on list.
  • They feel that they are continuously adding to their list but not reducing it.
  • There’s a sense of confusion seeing home tasks mixed with work tasks.

Benefits of Using a To-Do List

However, there are many advantages working from a to-do list:

  • You have clarity on what you need to get done.
  • You will feel less stressed because all your ‘to do’s are on paper and out of your mind.
  • It helps you to prioritize your actions.
  • You don’t overlook so many tasks and forget anything.
  • You feel more organized.
  • It helps you with planning.

4 Golden Rules to Make a To-Do List Work

Here are my golden rules for making a “to-do” list work:

1. Categorize

Studies have shown that your brain gets overwhelmed when it sees a list of 7 or 8 options; it wants to shut down.[1] For this reason, you need to work from different lists. Separate them into different categories and don’t have more than 7 or 8 tasks on each one.

It might work well for you to have a “project” list, a “follow-up” list, and a “don’t forget” list; you will know what will work best for you, as these titles will be different for everybody.

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2. Add Estimations

You don’t merely need to know what has to be done, but how long it will take as well in order to plan effectively.

Imagine on your list you have one task that will take 30 minutes, another that could take 1 hour, and another that could take 4 hours. You need to know the moment you look at the task, otherwise you undermine your planning, so add an extra column to your list and include your estimation of how long you think the task will take, and be realistic!

Tip: If you find it a challenge to estimate accurately, then start by building this skill on a daily basis. Estimate how long it will take to get ready, cook dinner, go for a walk, etc., and then compare this to the actual time it took you. You will start to get more accurate in your estimations.

3. Prioritize

To effectively select what you should work on, you need to take into consideration: priority, sequence and estimated time. Add another column to your list for priority. Divide your tasks into four categories:

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  • Important and urgent
  • Not urgent but important
  • Not important but urgent
  • Not important or urgent

You want to work on tasks that are urgent and important of course, but also, select some tasks that are important and not urgent. Why? Because these tasks are normally related to long-term goals, and when you only work on tasks that are urgent and important, you’ll feel like your day is spent putting out fires. You’ll end up neglecting other important areas which most often end up having negative consequences.

Most of your time should be spent on the first two categories.

4.  Review

To make this list work effectively for you, it needs to become a daily tool that you use to manage your time and you review it regularly. There is no point in only having the list to record everything that you need to do, but you don’t utilize it as part of your bigger time management plan.

For example: At the end of every week, review the list and use it to plan the week ahead. Select what you want to work on taking into consideration priority, time and sequence and then schedule these items into your calendar. Golden rule in planning: don’t schedule more than 75% of your time.

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Bottom Line

So grab a pen and paper and give yourself the gift of a calm and clear mind by unloading everything in there and onto a list as now, you have all the tools you need for it to work. Knowledge is useless unless it is applied—how badly do you want more time?

To your success!

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Featured photo credit: Emma Matthews via unsplash.com

Reference

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