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5 Ways to Get the Most Out of your Degree

5 Ways to Get the Most Out of your Degree

Many students are experiencing their first semester of college this fall and are discovering many new things at once. First time living on their own, more rigorous course work, living in a new city, and finding new friends are all exciting and sometimes scary parts of the college experience.

As if that weren’t enough, college freshmen also have the daunting task of choosing what they want to study. Some of us are lucky enough to have known years before we got to college, but most of us are less sure, and some of us even switch multiple times. Having been through college myself, these are five of the things that I would have liked to hear at orientation.

1. Diversify your Schedule in your First Year

As I said before, most college freshmen don’t know exactly what they want to major in and that’s completely fine. Freshman year is a great time to get your general credits out of the way and take a wide variety of classes in the areas you are interested in majoring in. This helps to make you a generally more informed individual. For instance, taking a class on WWII or a music class gives you a broader knowledge of the world and you never know when that will come in handy during a job interview!

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Taking a class or classes in something you don’t necessarily want to major in, but you believe will set you apart when it comes to your career, is a great idea as well. For instance, if you think you want to major in Business Administration or Communication and you have an interest in computers it would be a great idea to take a couple classes on coding languages such as Javascript or Python. In taking the classes, you might find out that you want to minor in Computer Sciences. Either way, you’ll set yourself up with skills that will set you apart as a candidate upon graduation.

2. Apply for Scholarships

This is something I really wish I had pursued more actively during my college tenure because, believe me, paying student loans is the worst. Well, maybe not the worst, but it certainly doesn’t add enjoyment to your life. The U.S. alone has 1.3 trillion in student debt, with the average undergraduate carrying $46,000 in student loan debt upon graduation. That is a burden that will stick around with you for awhile. Fortunately, you can mitigate that cost with scholarships.

When applying for scholarships you need to be prepared to write essays, complete projects and pass tests to prove why you should be selected. Make sure to stay on top of deadlines, apply for scholarships that you actually qualify for. Don’t waste your time or the committee’s, and thoroughly follow all instructions for the application so you give yourself the best chance of being selected. Once you’re ready, check out one of these or numerous other sites to find scholarships: Peterson’s, Unigo, Chegg, Scholarships.com, and Niche.

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3. Declare your Major Early

This goes hand-in-hand with the last tip. Graduating as soon as possible will help to cut down on your student loan debt. Graduating in the traditional four years or sooner also shows initiative to employers, proves that you’re focused and can set your mind to a long-term task without getting sidetracked.

This isn’t to say that it’s a bad thing to change your major later in college if the major you’re seeking really doesn’t fit you, but the earlier you figure out your major, the better off you will be in the long run.

4. Pick a Degree in a Growth Industry

Everyone wants to get a job as soon as possible when they graduate. Student loans kick in six months after graduation and you want the assurance that the last four or so years wasn’t a total waste. The best way to place yourself in a hireable position upon graduation is to major in a growth industry.

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I’ll give you an example of both sides: for many years the oil industry was booming, consistently seeing growth year after year and petroleum engineering was a major that would virtually guarantee you a high paying job upon graduation. Recently, however, that has changed. The industry has seen a significant downturn as alternative energies continue to grow, leaving many recent petroleum engineering graduates, like Radiohead before them, high and dry.

The flip side of the coin would be a computer sciences major. As the internet continues to expand exponentially, so does the demand for good coders. A Bachelor’s degree in computer sciences essentially guarantees you a job upon graduation and is the second highest paying undergraduate degree.

5. Complete As Many Internships as Possible

Nothing speaks as loudly as real world experience. The knowledge you gain in the classroom is great, invaluable in most cases, but it needs to be supplemented with actual, on the job experience. According to a study done by NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) 62% of undergraduates that were employed upon graduation had completed at least one internship.

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In addition to the experience you gain during an internship, if you apply yourself, you’ll gain a reference as well, which will set you apart when applying for jobs. Even before you qualify for internships, just holding a job during college will help to bolster your resume and shows initiative. Sites like Craigslist are good places to start pitching and advertising your talents. Learn about the top industries hiring in your area to really get ahead of the game.

I know this is a lot to process and you still have 40 pages of reading to do before class tomorrow, but if you start implementing these tips into your college experience, you will have a leg up on the competition when you graduate!

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Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

There’s a dark side to the conveniences of the Digital Age. With smartphones that function like handheld computers, it has become increasingly difficult to leave our work behind. Sometimes it seems like we’re expected to be accessible 24/7.

How often are you ever focused on just one thing? Most of us try to meet these demands by multi-tasking.

Many of us have bought into the myth that we can achieve more through multi-tasking. In this article, I’ll show you how you can accomplish more work in less time. Spoiler alert: multi-tasking is not the answer.

Why is multitasking a myth?

The term “multi-tasking” was originally used to describe how microprocessors in computers work. Machines multitask, but people cannot.

Despite our inability to simultaneously perform two tasks at once, many people believe they are excellent multi-taskers.

You can probably imagine plenty of times when you do several things at once. Maybe you talk on the phone while you’re cooking or respond to emails during your commute.

Consider the amount of attention that each of these tasks requires. Chances are, at least one of the two tasks in question is simple enough to be carried out on autopilot.

We’re okay at simultaneously performing simple tasks, but what if you were trying to perform two complex tasks? Can you really work on your presentation and watch a movie at the same time? It can be fun to try to watch TV while you work, but you may be unintentionally making your work more difficult and time-consuming.

Your brain on multi-tasking

Your brain wasn’t designed to multi-tasking. To compensate, it will switch from task to task. Your focus turns to whatever task seems more urgent. The other task falls into the background until you realize you’ve been neglecting it.

When you’re bouncing back and forth like this, an area of the brain known as Broadmann’s Area 10 activates. Located in your fronto-polar prefrontal cortex at the very front of the brain, this area controls your ability to shift focus. People who think they are excellent multitaskers are really just putting Broadmann’s Area 10 to work.

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But I can juggle multiple tasks!

You are capable of taking in information with your eyes while doing other things efficiently. Scientifically speaking, making use of your vision is the only thing you can truly do while doing something else.

For everything else, you’re serial tasking. This constant refocusing can be exhausting, and it prevents us from giving our work the deep attention it deserves.

Think about how much longer it takes to do something when you have to keep reminding yourself to focus.

Why multitasking is failing you

Multitasking does more bad than good to your productivity, here’re 4 reasons why you should stop multitasking:

Multitasking wastes your time.

You lose time when you interrupt yourself. People lose an average of 2.1 hours per day getting themselves back on track when they switch between tasks.

In fact, some studies suggest that doing multiple things at once decreases your productivity by as much as 40%. That’s a significant loss in efficiency. You wouldn’t want your surgeon to be 40% less productive while you’re on the operating table, would you?

It makes you dumber.

A distracted brain performs a full 10 IQ points lower than a focused brain. You’ll also be more forgetful, slower at completing tasks, and more likely to make mistakes.

You’ll have to work harder to fix your mistakes. If you miss an important detail, you could risk injury or fail to complete the task properly.

This is an emotional response.

There’s so much data suggesting that multitasking is ineffective but people insist that they can multitask.

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Feeling productive fulfills an emotional need. We want to feel like we’re accomplishing something. Why accomplish just one item on the to-do list when you can check off two or three?

It’ll wear you out.

When you’re jumping from task to task, it can feel invigorating for a little while. Over time, this needs to fill every second with more and more work leads to burn out.

We’re simply not built to multitask, so when we try, the effect can be exhausting. This destroys your productivity and your motivation.

How to stop multitasking and work productively

Flitting back and forth between tasks feels second-nature after a while. This is in part because Broadmann’s Area 10 becomes better at serial tasking through time.

In addition to changing how the brain works, this serial tasking behavior can quickly turn into a habit.

Just like any bad habit, you’ll need to recognize that you need to make a change first. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to adjust to a lifestyle of productive mono-tasking:

1. Consciously change gears

Instead of trying to work on two distinct tasks at once, consider setting up a system to remind you when to change focus. This technique worked for Jerry Linenger, an American astronaut onboard the space station, Mir.

As an astronaut, he had many things to take care of every day. He set alarms for himself on a few watches. When a particular watch sounded, he knew it was time to switch tasks. This enabled him to be 100% in tune with what he was doing at any given moment.

This strategy is effective because the alarm served as his reminder for what was to come next. Linenger’s intuition about setting reminders falls in line with research conducted by Paul Burgess of University College, London on multitasking.

2. Manage multiple tasks without multitasking

Raj Dash of Performancing.com has an effective strategy for balancing multiple projects without multitasking. He suggests taking 15 minutes to acquaint yourself with a new project before moving on to other work. Revisit the project later and do about thirty minutes on research and brainstorming.

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Allow a few days to pass before knocking out the project in question. While you were actively work on other projects, your brain continues to problem solve-in the background.

This method works because it gives us the opportunity to work on several projects without allowing them to compete for your attention.

3. Set aside distractions

Your smartphone, your inbox and the open tabs on your computer are all open invitations for distraction. Give yourself time each day when you silence your notifications, close your inbox and remove unnecessary tabs from your desktop.

If you want to focus, you can’t give anything else an opportunity to invade your mental space.

Emails can be particularly invasive because they often have an unnecessary sense of urgency associated with them. Some work cultures stress the importance of prompt responses to these messages, but we can’t treat every situation like an emergency.

Designate certain times in your day for checking and responding to emails to avoid compulsive checking.

4. Take care of yourself

We often blame electronics for pulling us from our work, but sometimes our physical body forces us into a state of serial tasking. If you’re hungry while you’re trying to work, your attention will flip between your hunger and your work until you take care of your physical needs.

Try to take all your bio-breaks before you sit down for an uninterrupted stint of work.

In addition, you’ll also want to be sure you’re attending to your health in a broader sense. Getting enough exercise, practicing mindfulness and incorporating regular breaks into your day will keep you from being tempted by distractions.

5. Take a break

People are more likely to head to YouTube or check their social media when they need a break. Instead of trying to work and watch a mindless video at the same time, give yourself times when you’re allowed to enjoy your distracting activity of choice.

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Limit how much time you’ll spend on this break so that your guilt-free distraction time doesn’t turn into hours of wasted time.

6. Make technology your ally

Scientists are beginning to discover the detrimental effects of chronic serial tasking on our brains. Some companies are developing programs to curb this desire to multitask.

Apps like Forest turn staying focused into a game. Extensions like RescueTime help you track your online habits so that you can be more aware of how you spend your time.

The key to productivity: Focus

Multitasking is not the key to productivity. It’s far better to schedule time to focus on each task than it is to try to do everything at once.

Make use of the methods outlined above and prepare to be more effective and less exhausted in the process.

If you want to learn more about how to focus, don’t miss my other article:

How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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