5 Ways to Make the Most of Your College Experience

My final column in The Optimist.

In a few weeks, I’ll be graduating from ACU. In a few short years, you will too.

As unemployment continues to rise and college education becomes an expectation rather than a distinguishment, it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate ourselves from the mass of graduates. Now that companies value experience over education, our degrees no longer give us a competitive edge. After all, we’ve spent the past four years in classrooms, not workplaces.

Does that mean we should pull a Steve Jobs and quit school? Not necessarily. College can still be an excellent environment for personal and professional growth. But the benefits of education aren’t handed to us on a silver platter. The burden is on us to milk the college experience for all it’s worth. Here are a few principles to follow as you do just that.

  • Be a sponge. Soak up all the knowledge you can. Design your degree around what interests you, even if it doesn’t add up to an official minor on paper. Ask questions. Be curious. Learn all the things! The quality of your education is entirely up to you.
  • Find mentors. Don’t hesitate to forge friendships with professors, even ones from different departments. College is built around the idea of mentorship and it’s why professors teach young people for a living. So be someone’s disciple (or young padawan, if you prefer).
  • Make class work real work. Think of every project as an opportunity to build your portfolio. Measure yourself against industry standards, not the other students in your class. In the end, your work will be more competitive in the real world.
  • Commit to a lifestyle of leadership. After your first year, choose a few groups on campus to invest in. Rise in the ranks and take the group as far as it can go. Then work yourself out of a job, raising up leaders to take your place. You’ll be wiser for the leadership experience and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you left a legacy.

And before you know it, you’ll be walking across that stage, ready to take on the world.