Last updated on November 18th, 2022 at 07:25 pm
I would suggest that you have already realized just how difficult college can be. The truth is, you don’t know what you don’t know, and that ignorance (lack of knowing) is our greatest obstacle. Seeking important college advice can save you a lot of time and energy as you pursue your academic goals.
The purpose of this blog post is to share with you a few tools that I wish I knew before starting my college journey 9 years ago. I stated this in a previous blog post, How To Get The Most Out Of Your Education: Advice From An Ivy League Student, but most of the guidance I am sharing with you is what I learned from trial and error and through amazing mentorship.
This is the same advice that helped me overcome failing a college course as a freshman to being one of the top applicants in my Ivy League doctoral program. Trust me, information works when you work the information.
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1. It is important to understand HOW to use a degree
This may take some time to sink in, but it’s vitally important if you want to make the most out of your education. Before learning this, it was always my belief that my college degree was to make me better than people who didn’t have one.
It isn’t always explicitly stated, but it’s definitely implied. Think about it, having a degree is supposed to make you more competitive in the workforce. Some jobs won't even consider you unless you have been through some form of college training.
You are not your degree. Your True Self is far greater.
As someone who tied their self-worth to their academic achievements, this was a hard pill to swallow, but when I fully recognized that I was not my degree, that it was only a tool, my college experience became infinitely better. I no longer felt the need to prove my worth. I understood my worth AND the worth of the degree separately.
Most people never get this lesson, and they wind up working at a job that they hate after graduating. To make matters worse, they didn’t even need a STEM degree to do it! Just like with any tool, you have to learn how to use your degree if you want to be successful after graduating. No one ever teaches you how to use your degree, only that you "need" it. That is the greatest disservice to students everywhere.
2. It is okay to fail
This may be an unpopular belief because college culture does not encourage failure at all. You are expected to know the answers and to communicate that you do either through exams or written essays.
Learn to fail successfully.
I’ve spent years studying some of the most successful people in the world (some of them never received a college degree), and all of them were able to fail successfully. What I mean by failing successfully is to use failure to lead you in a better direction. It is the course correction process that Maxwell Maltz talks about in his phenomenal book, Psycho-Cybernetics.
When I failed my first course as a college freshman, I was devastated. I cried in the Chemistry building for an hour before mustering up enough strength to drag myself to my dorm room and cry there. But, looking back, if I had never failed that course, I would have never realized that there was a better path for me. One that was more aligned with my academic strengths.
That path led me straight to Yale, and I am grateful for it. Had I stayed a chemistry major, I most likely would have flunked out before junior year.
3. Networking is a POWERFUL tool
You won't really learn this from a college course, not unless you’re lucky, but you really have to learn the skill of networking. That’s right, it is very much a skill, and any skill can be developed. However, networking is one of the few skills that will help you prepare for life after college.
Be willing to talk with others about your goals. Talk with others about THEIR goals.
You might learn that their conversation may spark a light in you. When I look back over these 9 years in higher education, some of my biggest leaps came from knowing someone. In the aspect of networking, college isn’t much different from the job market.
an example of networking.
Let’s use an example from one of my coaching methods. When students who are applying for competitive graduate programs come to me, one of the first things we do is reach out to faculty members who share common research interests. This has helped my clients get into prestigious universities like Yale, Columbia, UNC, and The George Washington University.
If two applicants are applying for the same program, and both applications are almost identical, they will choose the applicant they know. They will go with the one who has visited the campus and connected with the faculty there. I have met graduate students who never did this, but I promise you it won’t hurt if you are confident about what you bring to their program.
4. Developing emotional intelligence helps you get ahead
Emotional intelligence deals with your capacity to understand and manage your own emotions and to recognize the emotional state of those around you.
A study conducted through the National Library of Medicine found that overall emotional intelligence contributed to individual cognitive-based performance over and above the level attributable to general intelligence, and this relationship was positive (p < 0.01).
Essentially, having emotional intelligence helps you perform better compared to only having general intelligence. Emotional intelligence is also a consistent predictor of future success.
5. There is A LOT of money available for students
I remember when I first moved to Washington, DC to start my master’s program in Epidemiology. The cost of living was absolutely CRAZY in DC, especially compared to my previous residence in Auburn, Alabama.
I searched everywhere for jobs around campus, and one day, I finally got an interview in the financial aid office at GW.
My job description was to create scholarship applications so that the money donors contributed to the university could be distributed to students. I was shocked when they told me how much money was just sitting there.
Ask for help.
Most universities have plenty of funding available for students. You can search for this information on their website. It’s usually found in a “funding” tab. If you don’t see anything there, then go to the financial aid office yourself and ask.
My grandmother used to say, “closed mouths don’t get fed.” Ask for support. When I was awarded over $670,000 in scholarship funding, I had to ask about A LOT of the scholarships I applied for. I still had to do the work and apply, but the temporary work paid off because I never had to pay a dollar toward my tuition ever.
The money is there. Don’t be afraid to ask for additional help even after you are admitted into a university. They have it. Trust me.
6. Your gifts will make room for you
leverage your academic strengths.
No one really talks about leveraging your “academic strengths” when you are in college but doing this is something that helped me get ahead for sure.
I knew that I suffered from test anxiety, so following an academic path that required me to take various standardized tests did not serve me. That proved true after failing my fourth chemistry exam, which ultimately led to me failing my first college course altogether.
I was hurt initially, but this event led to a greater understanding of what I was naturally good at (written communication and scientific research). It made all the difference after changing majors, and I was able to graduate cum laude by the end of my four years.
success attracts success.
What are you good at? Have you taken the time to study your academic strengths?
You don’t have to have it all figured out right away. Follow a path that will lead to the greatest success for you. And that path often resembles one of passion. Success is compounding. Meaning, that developing your gifts leads to greater opportunities for you whether that is in higher education or in other areas of life.
7. The state of your mental health often determines your performance
Mental health in higher education isn’t something that receives a lot of attention in academia. It is discussed less and less as you continue to climb the academic ladder.
Mental clarity leads to better performance.
In 2021, 31% of college students suffered from anxiety disorders and 27% dealt with depression or other mood disorders. If you ever feel like you are the “only one,” I can assure you that you are not. Even with all the resources available to students for managing their mental health, very few seek out help or even address that there might be something wrong.
It is not easy trying to navigate a college degree when you are not 100% yourself. At my lowest point in college, I could barely get through a semester without having a panic attack. I was suffering. However, after taking the time to prioritize my mental health and seeking out counseling services, my college experience has improved dramatically.
Relax. You still have time
Don’t worry if a lot of this does not sink in right away. Sometimes we learn through experience. A lot of clarity comes over time, as we grow and evolve.
Who you are at 18 is nowhere close to the person you will become at 28. This is a good thing.
I am grateful for these past 9 years in college and what they have revealed to me about myself and others. However, I am even more grateful that I get to share that experience with you.
Maybe you can learn from my mistakes or successes (whatever your learning style is). Be sure to join my email list if you’d like to stay updated on future posts!
Talk to you soon.