What to Expect in College and How to Excel
This is NOT one of those lists that tell you to "study hard but live a balanced life, go to the professor's office hours, you can always choose your major later, etc." Our readers already know how we feel about choosing a major and treating college as an investment.
Students often wonder what to expect in college, how to handle the course load, how to live a balanced life, and how to deal with living on your own for the first time.
Each university has its unique environment and quirks. But to be honest, the “what to expect” part is more or less usually the same. More relevant is the “how you respond” part, which depends on what you’re trying to optimize for: being comfortable, having fun, or finding a job after college?
Focusing on what to expect in college without first knowing what YOU expect out of the college experience is useless because in and of itself, the former is not actionable. If you’re just letting things happen to you during your first year of college and beyond, instead of attacking them with a purpose, you’re going to get mediocre results.
So when listening to tips from people regarding the freshman experience, always first understand what outcomes the advice is optimizing for.
Since our mission is to help students get accepted into college and launch their career, our advice will be tailored around those two outcomes.
Below are what you can expect in each aspect of the college experience and what guiding principles you should master to secure a job offer before graduation and maximize your career options after college.
Many college students are involved in some combination of activities beyond their school work. Finding the right balance can be hard as many people will point out, but don’t confuse “difficult” with “improbable” or “impossible.”
(1) Time allocation: Being able to properly gauge how much time something will require of you will also be key. Too often we see high schoolers underestimate how much time they need for things and that’s when we see things like taking 5 AP courses simultaneously. This is a skill that will serve you well in your professional career when you deal with clients and projects.
(2) Best way to study as a college student:
- Go to class
- Don't fall behind
- Understand the concepts instead of merely memorizing them
A lot of universities tape their lectures and make them available for students to stream. It’s fine to do that if you have an emergency and really can’t make it to class. But make that the exception, not the norm.
It’s an ugly feeling when your midterm is tomorrow and you realize you have to watch 10 new hour-long lectures. That’s not the freshman experience you want.
Accountability to yourself: College coursework is honestly not that much harder than high school. The real difference is that when you go off to college, you’re dealing with more than just college coursework; you’re dealing with college life as well.
It won’t be like in high school when you could just waste chunks of your day and still get away with it. But as long as you are disciplined and organized with your time (especially given there won’t be anybody there to force you to study or go to class) there should be no problems being able to get good grades while participating in other activities and accumulating work experience.
Surround yourself with the right people (i.e. those who share and/or care about your priorities and values). Not only for motivation and focus, but also for future connections.
In a job setting, it is hard to really get to know a person just from an interview (whether you’re the one hiring or the one being hired). But when you eat, study, and play together during college, you’re more uninhibited and you are more likely going to see people’s true character. Find the high integrity ones and build relationships with them.
Personal & professional growth
You’re going to see others at parties, at the gym, in the cafeteria, or during other activities, and it’s going to seem like that’s what you’re supposed to do as part of the freshman experience, that you don’t have to be selective with how you spend your time. Don’t believe that for one second.
What are you there for? It might not be what their goals are.
Are you going to consume your time for short term pleasures or invest your time in yourself for long term, lasting gains?
All that said, here are some of the most important lessons to learn from the college experience:
(1) Ignore the noise, the vanity criteria: Don’t care about the things that others care about (social scene, what the dorms are like, cafeteria food, etc.). Unless if you want to be the average of all of them (by definition, the average will be…mediocre), those are trivial in the grand scheme of things for you.
(2) Respond to adversity and maximize your results when the situation isn’t ideal. How do you carry yourself when you struggle to keep up with the rest of the class? Or when things go sour with your roommate? You’ll need this mental toughness later on in life, so start honing it now.
(3) Self-accountability: This is a great time to practice choosing what your priorities are and accepting the consequences (good and bad) of that. Some choose to care about maximizing their fun. Others choose to maximize their career options after graduation. If you see this as an investment into your future, college should NOT be the best four years of your life. It is NOT so you can have fun (although you are allowed to have some, it’s not the primary purpose). It is so you can maximize your investment in the form of future career options. Otherwise just take the $250,000 and spend it on travel and resorts, because that’s essentially what you’re choosing.