The iconic college experience mixes a lot of fun in with learning, and idealizes those years as a carefree time of life. However, for some students college is all about training for a profession while working hard to pay for tuition and fees.
Whether you are at college for the solid education or more for the lifestyle, all students have an opportunity to make college an experience that will elevate the course of the rest of their lives. Here are some suggestions to make college as big and life-enhancing as possible:
- Develop relationships with a wide variety of people. It is possibly the easiest time in your life to form relationships, as you are surrounded by students, faculty, and staff; some may become lifelong connections, some you’ll just know briefly, but relationships you begin in college can provide sustaining friendships, a source of inspiration and motivation, as well as future roommates, job referrals, and more.
- Join extracurricular activities. Everyone says it, but this is a time when a rich smorgasbord of activities are available, and most are covered by student fees. Some opportunities that colleges may offer: attend theater, lectures, music and dance performances; meet with visiting scholars and dignitaries; participate in intramural sports, outdoor adventures, service projects, academic and social clubs; host a radio show or join a drumming group; learn about bee keeping or organic gardening. And if you get a chance to lead a club or other group, take it. Even leading a team for a class project helps you gain skills and see yourself in the leadership role.
- Take classes in unexpected subjects and develop a well-rounded background. If you are a science major, take studio art or photography. If you are a theater major, try computer science or biology. Everyone, take some history and psychology. With exposure to a variety of subjects, you’ll enhance your writing skills, presentation / public speaking skills, analytical thinking, and also collaborative skills through group projects. These are the skills that will provide career resilience in addition to a more satisfying experience as a citizen and participant in civic life.
- Aim to do an internship. During your college years, or soon thereafter if your schedule is too packed, apply for internships and invest the time in them. Work experience you gain during college will teach you about what you like and don’t like in terms of organizations, supervision style, tasks, pace, culture. And it will help your degree pay off in your future job search, both through skill development and contacts.
- Take care of your mental health. If you experience anxiety or depression symptoms, seek help directly and don’t let them wear you down. The mental health of students is a major concern for colleges now, and most are equipped to support students with mental health services. Most campuses host a counseling center, and your student services office will have referrals and ideas for coping.
- Look for faculty mentors. Visit your professors during office hours to talk about your goals as well as questions and challenges from class. Ask for ideas and guidance to develop your strengths, professional identity, and future career. Ask them about their own career path and how they chose their fields. Welcome their suggestions and know they might be a source of professional or graduate school recommendations, help you present at conferences, or offer you research roles, internships, and other opportunities.
- Seek life balance, but forgive yourself for getting off track. Life balance is important, but it can be a big challenge to maintain during college, especially for students living on campus. Some common behaviors that sidetrack students include: getting too little sleep, alcohol and drug use, gaming, social media involvement, but also isolation – particularly in remote learning conditions. To keep in balance, monitor these behaviors or others that tend to sidetrack you. Exercise is also important for regulating physical well-being, mental health, and reducing stress.
- Take risks and embrace failure. These may sound trite, but really when you consider how you’ve learned valuable lessons so far—failure and mistakes probably rate pretty high. The point is to recover and learn from them and to not take them too seriously. That’s genuinely how resilience gets built and college is a great, mostly safe, place to explore how it feels to fail and recover.
As a foundation-building experience, college is also a time to learn about yourself; discover what you really do like, dislike, value, or want to drop. Go into college with a mindset of openness and discovery to help you learn more about you.
Also check out a 2018 Gallup study entitled “Career-Relevant Education Linked to Student Well-Being”. The study relates students’ experiences during college to their long-term well-being in life and work after graduation.