4 Things I Wish I Knew Earlier as a College Student

#1: Network. Network. Network. 

Spend time getting to know your professors, mentors, classmates, authors of journal articles (yes, you can reach out and communicate with them!), blog authors, books, etc. I missed too many opportunities earlier on because I was so shy, and afraid to meet people, or felt like I would say something goofy. It is amazing the willingness people have to talk with you, let you know about their research, writing, or area of passion. Any chance you have to interact with others, take advantage! It could possibly save you time later in your education, but it will absolutely keep your mind open and the gears grinding.

One thing I let people know later in my PhD work was how passionate I was about the area I was researching (personal and professional experiences of downsizing managers). When I let that secret out, people began asking me how the process was going and what I was learning. This got me out of several slumps, as I was so excited to talk with others about my research.

Another way to build relationships and meet others in through social media. I have met so many awesome people via Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn and numerous other social media platforms. Those have become great friendships and support systems for me. Use hashtags (#) alongside terms that you are interested, and find groups, pages, and connections that you can begin networking. I did this with the terms #leadership, #phd, #graduate #management when I first took to social media after graduating (yet, had I realized the benefit, I would have done this search years earlier).

#2: Manage your time.

Take advantage of any waiting I used to take a book or article with me almost everywhere when I was in school. If I had to wait at an appointment, or when picking someone up to go out, or even waiting for a meeting to begin, I would pull that out and use the time to my advantage.

Another great way to manage your time is through time blocking. This provides an opportunity to determine the time that should be focused on your studies, family commitments, friends time, working out, relaxing, and so on. If you have difficult spending too much given time focused on something (say a two-hour study block), then use the Pomodoro technique where you set a timer for 15-20 minutes and focus on the task at hand during that time. When the timer goes off, you take 5-10 minutes to get up and walk away, taking a break from that. Repeat the Pomodoro technique during your time block and you will have results and not be exhausted.

Securing an accountability partner is another great way to manage your time. You can run things by that person, and they can help you to stay aligned with your goals, and provide feedback or criticism to help you get back on track when you start to fall.

#3: Dig a little deeper.

One thing I did during my earlier PhD days was to take two elective writing classes that built upon each other. I knew that would help prepare me for my upcoming coursework, as well as the amount of writing I would be tasked to complete during my dissertation milestone. I encourage you to consider signing up for an additional course, workshop, webinar, seminar, etc. that will help you build the skill set(s) you need to be successful in your studies and beyond.

Another way to dig deeper is to really take the knowledge and feedback of your professors and mentors and look at ways to integrate and improve your work. Don’t get offended when they slaughter your paper. Instead, take it as a learning opportunity and find ways to improve.

Use the mindmapping technique to expand upon your ideas. This is a great tool, especially for individuals that are visual. I learned this when I was in middle school from Sandy, a schoolteacher friend of my mom. It has served me well, as I have continued to use the technique to this day, even beyond the college classroom and into the workplace.

#4: Don’t be so hard on yourself.

I can’t stress this enough. You can be emotional – college is a giant growing pain for many. The key is to make sure you don’t stay in that emotional purgatory for too long. Reach out to your support, or (back to Tip #1), network and find support along your journey. Sometimes the most understanding of your situation are those that are in it like you. I could get support and feedback from my fellow classmates and other college students. My connections in social media that had similar experiences as mine have also been extremely supportive in helping me to get back on my feet after the emotional whirlwind that hit.

Pat yourself on the back – this is HARD stuff! Not everyone goes to college and you should realize why – it’s not easy. Give yourself a little break every occasionally.

Lastly, some people start college and shit happens. Maybe it is a personal or family event, or maybe college isn’t right for you, whether that means right now or permanently. It’s not for everyone and there are other opportunities outside of college that can be taken. Don’t stress over it or worry about whatever judgment people might pass on you if your decision is to move forward without college. Don’t live your life to please others. Do what is right for you.