How To Succeed In College
194 Powerful College Success Tips for Students
No doubt, college is a formative time for all of us, regardless of when or where you’re attending school.
But, it’s also a big opportunity to set yourself up for success in life after graduation.
The problem is, more often than not, it doesn’t exactly turn out that way.
This guide will walk you through how to succeed in college, including exactly how to avoid the most common student pitfalls, and make the most of your classes, job prospects, and overall college experience.
Success in College: A Skill to Be Learned
For a lot of students, college becomes a slog: another task on the todo list while simply going through the motions for those two, four, or even six years of your life.
And even for those who do manage to get value out of their college experience, it’s often at the expense of something else: a tradeoff between academics, fun, and well-being. But here’s the deal:
What most entering students unfortunately don’t realize is that college success is a topic to be learned in and of itself.
Getting a degree can be valuable.
Bachelor’s degree holders make almost double that of those with only a high school diploma, accounting for $1.6 million in earnings over a lifetime.
Source: University of Washington: What is a college education worth?
But there’s no denying: college is expensive.
The average 2020 graduate left college with over $1.56 trillion in student loan debt.
Source: Student Loan Debt Statistics 2020
Yes, there are academic success and advising programs at virtually all schools, and some even require enrollment in a “University 101” type course.
But with the cost of college higher than ever, and when successful completion of a degree in a field you’re passionate about has such a big impact on the rest of your life (financial or otherwise), this isn’t something that should be left to a one-off orientation, course, or worst (and most common), chance. The truth is this:
College can be tough, but if you learn how to succeed in college, and master the skill-set required for success, you’ll end up with a better education, a better GPA, and better job opportunities when you graduate – all with more fun and less stress.
Introducing The Definitive Guide to the
Web’s Best College Success Resources
From choosing your major, planning your schedule, and picking the best classes… to becoming productive, taking notes, and studying for exams… to motivation, fun, and landing a dream job… this guide has you covered.
If there’s a specific aspect of the college journey you’re looking to tackle first, click the chapter link below to start off there. Otherwise, calm your mind, steady your hand, get ready, and jump right in from the top 😉
How To Get Organized and Plan for the Perfect Major, Classes, and Schedule
Whether you’re studying engineering or underwater basket-weaving, the first step for any aspiring college student is putting together a plan. Going in with a strategy and staying organized throughout the semester can mean the difference between struggling to pass and setting the curve. Here you’ll learn how to succeed in college through choosing a major, picking the right classes, getting organized, and planning for a top-tier GPA.
Resource #1: The Student’s Guide to Choosing A Major
- Calculate your degree ROI. Do some research to determine how much the program will cost, what you can expect to make, and what the overall job prospects look like when you graduate. Use that information to determine which options will provide the best return on investment.
- College alumni most recommend STEM majors. And have the lowest approval ratings for majors in the arts, humanities, and social sciences, according to a recent Payscale poll. In fact, Software Engineering and Mechanical Engineering both came in at 90/100 or above, while Art, Theater, and Sociology were all lower than 42/100.
- Careers in STEM-related fields offer the highest annual salaries. Eight of the top 10 highest earning positions are in engineering disciplines (median pay $50k entry level). Careers in (surprise, surprise) social sciences, arts, and the humanities round out the bottom of that scale as well (median pay $28-33k entry level).
- Use a personality assessment to determine which majors would be a good fit. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a good place to start (a free version here). Ball State University then offers a list of majors that correspond to each type that you can review.
- Be aware of the workload. Not surprisingly, Engineering majors spend the most time studying outside of class (19 hours/week on average), while Communications majors spend the least (12 hours/week on average), according to a NSSE study.
- Create a customized degree. If you’re stuck between two different interests, consider pairing a minor with your major that complements your core studies, which can typically be completed with 4 to 8 courses (sometimes even overlapping your major requirements) in that area of study. Further, a double-major is an option for those who are particularly ambitious or passionate about two different fields of study.
Resource #2: The Roberts Method: How To Fall in Love With Your Major
- There is no such thing as a “right major.” But students still question whether they chose the right one all the time. This questioning is not necessarily an indication that you’re not studying the right thing, but instead is a symptom that you may not be approaching your studies in the right way.
- Do less. By focusing on your major and small number of related activities (if any at all), you free up more time and energy to go deep, and really master the subject matter you’re studying. If you do, you’ll have an advantage over virtually other ambitious student who simply packs their schedule with as much “stuff” as possible.
- Synergize your classes within the same semester. When you’re choosing your classes, “look for synergies between your classes…try to find two classes that cover the same topic from different angles.” This will make your life easier, build your confidence (by mastering a subject in more depth), and stimulate your intellectual curiosity.
- Go to department lectures. These lecture series, while not necessarily directly relevant to what you’re studying, give you a unique view into real scholarship in your field. And this might be just what you you need to inject some energy into your coursework (not to mention to stand out among your peers just by attending).
Resource #3: How to Register for College Classes
- Meet with your advisor (duh). It’s their job to help you stay on track with your major requirements for graduation, but make sure to be proactive. Email or call ahead of time, prepare a list of questions, and come ready to make some decisions about your courses.
- Get your gen ed courses knocked off first. Because these are typically prerequisites for most of your specialized major courses, make sure you take care of these early on (freshman and sophomore years) so that you don’t get “stuck” unable to take a course you need later on.
- Then prioritize courses for your major requirements. Build your schedule each semester around these requirements and you’re less likely to run into an issue later on. Then once you have these planned out, fill in your schedule with electives.
- Start the registration process as soon as you can! The best course times (and the ones most likely to fit your requirements) fill up fast, so do you research and meet with your advisor ahead of time so you have mapped out exactly what you need to take before registration opens.
- If you don’t get in to a course you need, don’t freak out. Register for a back-up course to fill the spot, but then keep a close eye on registration during the first few weeks of the semester. Students tend to drop, so spots may open up. You should also contact the professor directly in case they’d be willing to open up more seats.
Resource #4: The Freshman Guide to Picking Classes Like a Pro
- Look up the professors who teach the classes you’re considering on ratemyprofessors.com. It’s not the most nuanced way of discovering how much you’ll like the class, or how easy it will be. And you may not have much flexibility. But you can at least check for red flags (e.g. if 99% of students say “STAY AWAY”).
- Talk to upper classmen slightly ahead of you. Yes… I know, I know… the whole “talking to people” thing is annoying. But by just simply asking someone who is a year or two (or even just a semester) ahead of you which classes, professors, and schedules are ideal you could save yourself a ton of headache.
- Don’t overload your schedule. The less time you leave between classes, and during the week for homework, studying, and “life,” the harder it will be to manage your time. Don’t sacrifice doing a few things well for doing a ton of things poorly.
Resource #5: Starting a New Semester: How to Get Organized
- Order your books ahead of time. If the materials for the course are listed ahead of time, order them as soon as you can. Otherwise you can send the professor a quick email and ask. Missing key study materials while you’re trying to get organized during the first few weeks of class can derail an entire semester.
- Load up your calendar with class times, locations, and major dates. Get your class schedule in your calendar, but also include room numbers (so you don’t get lost), major academic calendar dates (like add/drop deadlines, withdrawal deadlines, breaks, etc.), and major exam dates (midterm and finals dates listed on your syllabi).
- Put your professor’s office hours in your calendar. A great way to do this (if you’re using Google Calendar) is to create a separate calendar called “Professor Office Hours.” Enter in each professor’s availability as a recurring event, and then you can turn that calendar on and off as you need it during the semester.
- Introduce yourself to your professors. Not only will this earn you some brownie points, it’ll also help you “get over the hump” of that initial resistance towards going to office hours and asking for help when you really need it.
- Change your habits while you’re motivated. Use the excitement and motivation that comes along with a new semester as an opportunity to change your habits. It’s during these times of changing schedules, living arrangements, and classes that you’re most “primed” to engrain new positive study habits. Take advantage. Set up an ideal study location. Schedule in an ideal and consistent study time on your calendar.
Resource #6: 45 Tips for Staying Organized in College
- Plan at the beginning of each week. Sit down before the week starts and plan out specifically: which classes to prepare for, which assignments or exams are coming up, and any other tasks or activities. Get them in your calendar or planner and stick to it as best you can. It’ll help you stay focused and productive, even if you don’t follow it perfectly (don’t worry, you won’t).
- Give your due dates a buffer. If a big paper is due on Thursday, give yourself an artificial deadline 2-3 days prior in your calendar, and add reminders beforehand. This will make sure you’re not surprised by assignments that creep up on you and increase the likelihood you won’t leave everything until the last minute.
- Build consistency into your schedule. Wake up at the same time each morning. Make your bed right when you wake up. Build in a consistent study time each day. This consistency will give each day a predictable rhythm that help support your productivity and positive habits.
- Clear your desk and floor each night. A cluttered desk = a cluttered mind. Clearing your desk each night before bed is also a nice way to signify that work is done for the day. Same thing goes for the floor in your room. Plus it’s just easier to find stuff.
- Set up email tags and filters – and use them. Set up tags for both personal and academic emails. Break it down further into different activities and classes. Then, instead of leaving everything sitting in your inbox, just simply categorize it when you’re done so that it’s stored away and organized.
Resource #7: How I Use My Calendar Efficiently
- Your calendar should act as part of your “quick capture” system. Get assignments, todos, events, or anything else you remember you have to do out of your head as quickly as possible and into your calendar. Then use your calendar reliably and you’ll no longer have to worry about forgetting stuff when you need it most.
- Use Google Calendar. Sure iCal or Outlook or stone tablets can work, but Google Calendar gives the most flexibility, the most integration options, and you can access it from any computer.
- Set up multiple calendars (optional). We mentioned in the section above to add in your professor’s office hours as a separate calendar you can turn on and off as you need it. You can also do this with: classes, your work schedule if you have a job, and your personal life (e.g. time for gym, friends, events, etc.).
- Use Calendly for scheduling one-on-one meetings. Calendly allows you to send your calendar to another person you’re trying to coordinate a meeting time with, and have them select and schedule in a time that works for them directly. No more 15-email-long-back-and-forth chains of “no Tuesday doesn’t work, how about…” This also integrates with Google Calendar nicely so you won’t get double-booked.
- Use Doodle for scheduling group meetings. Doodle allows you to set up a poll with multiple available times that everyone you want to invite can vote on. Then simply pick the time that works best for everyone once they’ve cast their vote. Then they’ll have no excuse for not showing up to work on your project for the 3rd week in a row.
Time Management 101: How to Be Super Productive
Getting more done in less time is the dream of many a college student. It’s also one of the fundamental building blocks of college success. Below you’ll learn how to stop dreaming, and start doing. From effectively managing where your time goes, to using science-backed principles to beat procrastination and improve your productivity as a student, these resources will show you how to succeed in college by mastering the clock.
Resource #8: How to Manage Your Time Better
- Record how you spend your time. The first step to managing your time better is understanding where you spend it now. Grab a notebook to carry with you during the day. Then, from the time you wake up, until you go to sleep, write down everything that you do. Do this for at least a day, preferably 2 or 3 days to get a full picture.
- Analyze where you spend your time. Review the time log you created and highlight any chunk of time you don’t feel like you used productively (Really? 2 hours on Facebook after lunch!?). Add up all of the time you wasted, and identify your top 5 time wasters to focus on changing.
- Set up a todo list and start prioritizing. Write this out at the beginning of the day, or the night before. Limit the list to 5 items, and order them by level of importance. This will significantly improve your level of focus.
- Declutter your study (and living) space. The less time you spend searching for what you need, the more time you can spend being productive.
- Use your calendar from Chapter 1. Review this while creating your todo list. Establish cleanly segmented start and stop points for your work so that the day doesn’t drag on. Stick to it as closely as you can, and adjust as needed.
Resource #9: The 168-Hour Exercise
- Start each week with 168 hours to “spend” and work backwards. We all have the same amount of hours in the week. Understanding and planning out how you want to spend those hours will go a long way towards improving your productivity, and ensuring you’re getting what you want out of your time in college.
- Clearly identify your academic goals and how many study hours it will take to achieve them. Determining what your GPA goal is at the beginning of the semester, along with an honest assessment of how many hours you’ll have to study for each course each week will set your schedule in the right direction from the very beginning of the semester. Add it all up and subtract the total amount of study hours from 168.
- Take into account work and other responsibilities. You don’t exist in a vacuum, so make sure you estimate allocate the appropriate amount of time for personal care, meals, commuting, your job, sleep, and other fixed activities. Add it all up and subtract the total amount of “fixed” hours from [168 – study hours]. What you have left over is leisure time.
- Review and evaluate your priorities. Do I have an appropriate balance of work, school, and recreation each week? I say grades are important, but do I spend enough time on my academics to justify that belief? Do I have a lot of leisure time left over that just seems to “evaporate” each week? Asking these questions will help clarify what, if any, changes you might want to make.
- Identify time wasters, and establish a plan to eradicate them. If you determine you need to put more of your time to good use during the week, identify your biggest time wasters (both self-imposed and external) and establish a detailed plan for reducing or eliminating them.
Resource #10: The Science of Productivity
- Your willpower alone is not enough. Trying to simply “muscle through” and try harder to be productive is typically an uphill battle, and may actually be counter-productive.
- Getting started is both the biggest barrier, and the best first step to improved productivity. Before starting on a task, our brain visualizes the hardest portion and provides inertia against diving in. This leads to a desire to fill time with small, mindless tasks instead of doing your work. Instead, take advantage of the Zeigarnik Effect by just starting on a small portion of that task. Breaking your large todos into smaller sub-tasks will also help.
- Spend time on deliberate practice in 90-minute bursts. By focusing the study time you have allocated on your most difficult tasks in short, concentrated bursts, you’ll make significantly more progress than spreading that effort across an entire day. Intersperse those work periods with 15-20 minute periods of rest to maximize their intensity.
- Give yourself a deadline. Establishing a target due date for a specific assignment in your calendar, or even just a goal time to complete a task can improve the likelihood that you’ll complete it.
- Use an accountability chart. Take your schedule for the day, and write down next to each time period what you actually accomplish. This allows you to realistically evaluate your work, instead of inaccurately assuming what you’ve done. This improves future planning and helps avoid falling into small mindless activities.
- Stop multi-tasking. The research is clear: if you attempt to multi-task you’ll be less productive than if you focus on one task at a time. Instead, make your todo list for the day and follow it sequentially.
Resource #11: 50 Productivity Hacks to Help You Get More Done
- Prepare food ahead of time. Getting all of your food for the week (or at least some portion of it) prepared ahead of time will help you spend less time every day worrying about what to make.
- Use the 80/20 rule. Twenty percent of your actions produce 80 percent of the results. Apply this to your academics, and focus on which 20 percent of assignments and study activities produce the most results in your grades. Then spend less time (or no time) on the stuff that doesn’t matter as much.
- Use OHIO when checking email and doing assignments. OHIO is an acronym for “Only Handle It Once,” which means that as much as you can take care of something in the moment (instead of looking at it and telling yourself you’ll do it later), you’ll improve your efficiency.
- Start papers and projects right away. Doing large assignments at the last minute virtually guarantees stress and a low-quality outcome. Instead, start on it right away, even if you’re just coming up with ideas or making an outline, and you’ll be surprised at how much easier it is do to a good job and finish on time.
- Learn to say “no.” The sooner you can learn how to politely turn down offers for going out with friends, parties, and other activities, the better. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have fun when it’s deserved, but you should be able to control when that happens instead of feeling like you’re always obligated to say “yes” whenever someone asks.
- Use the Two Minute Rule. If you can complete a task in two minutes or less, do it now with no questions asked. This will help you avoid creating unnecessary planning time, and also generate momentum for getting things done.
- Identify your “productive time.” Pay attention to how you feel and how much you get done during the day and identify your optimal time window. Then schedule your most difficult and important work during that time and stick to it.
- Become a contrarian (go against the grain). By going against the grain (e.g. going to the gym at 7am instead of 6pm) you’ll be doing things when others aren’t, which will reduce the amount of time you have to spend fighting traffic, waiting in lines, or dealing with interruptions.
Resource #12: My Algorithm for Beating Procrastination
- Learn to notice when you’re procrastinating. Even if you don’t do anything about it, simply noticing when you’re procrastinating and building that awareness is a useful skill for eventually learning to use your time better.
- Determine which part of the “motivation equation” is causing you to procrastinate. When you procrastinate, it’s most likely because you lack the appropriate motivation for the task at hand. This has to do with (a) how likely it is that you will be rewarded when you complete it, and (b) the size of the reward. It also has to do with (c) your level of impulsiveness or impatience, and (d) how much delay is involved in the reward that comes along with completing the task. Take a look at your situation. Is it low value (e.g. a small homework assignment worth very little and unlikely to help you on an exam)? Is it unlikely you’ll be able to complete it (e.g. a very difficult programming assignment)? Are you tired or bored? Is it something you won’t see the results of for a long time (e.g. studying for you final exam early on)? Diagnosing the problem is the first step towards solving it.
- Use OHIO when checking email and doing assignments. OHIO is an acronym for “Only Handle It Once,” which means that as much as you can take care of something in the moment (instead of looking at it and telling yourself you’ll do it later), you’ll improve your efficiency.
- If your task is low value, increase the reward. Connecting a task that doesn’t have much value in itself to something that does (e.g. eating chocolate, playing video games) can help you get over this motivational hump.
- If the task is unlikely to produce a reward, make it easier. For large, difficult tasks, the best way to do this is to break it down into small, achievable tasks that you know you can complete.
- If the task involves a delayed reward, create intermediate rewards. For example, if studying for your exam in 2 weeks, break down that studying into individual chapters. Test yourself on each chapter when you’re finished and reward yourself with something you enjoy.
- If the task is boring or you’re feeling impulsive, use commitments and build habits. Making a public commitment to a friend or an accountability partner can help you stick to what you’re working on. Positive work habits will help you stay on track more readily.
Resource #13: How to Actually Stop Wasting Time on the Internet
- Go Cold Turkey. Cold Turkey is a free cross-platform application that will block any website you add to the “blocked” list for a period of time you specify. Use it when you sit down to start work to eliminate the temptations of social media, email, and other random browsing to improve your focus.
- Work with old-fashioned pen and paper. Most of us assume that pretty much all modern work happens on the computer. But consider engineering in periods of time each day where you go without, grab your books, print out your assignments, and head to the library to work or study computer-free, and therefore distraction-free.
- Use the Pomodoro Technique. Set a timer for 25 minutes and commit yourself to focus and work until the timer runs out. Then allow yourself a 5 minute break. Working in this manner will help to break the cycle of procrastination by reducing that initial resistance to getting started, and giving yourself a short-term goal to achieve.
Note-Taking Fundamentals: How to Take Amazing Notes
Love ’em or hate ’em, a good set of notes can make or break your study sessions and help you get the most out of class. Here you’ll not only learn how to take world-class notes from lectures, textbooks, and everything in-between, but also how to choose the note-taking method that best fits your personality and course content.
Resource #15: How to Take Great Notes
- Don’t just copy down what the lecturer is saying or writing. When you simply copy down what you’re hearing or seeing, you’re not actually engaging with the material in a way that promotes learning. You’re actually saving the learning until later on when you study or try to complete assignments, which is incredibly inefficient.
- Take notes in a question/answer/evidence format. Instead of writing down facts, reformulate what the professor is saying in terms of a question (e.g. “What is the central theme of Romeo and Juliet?”). Then answer that question based on the information they’ve provided in class, and add in some evidence if applicable. This method maps more directly to how you would use the information you learn in an essay or on a test.
- Teach back your notes to a friend after class. Don’t just re-read your notes after class, try to teach them to a friend or classmate to test your comprehension. This is a far more effective way of studying, and will improve your ability to recall that information in the future.
Resource #16: How to Take Notes in Class: The 5 Best Systems
- Use The Outline Method to take well-structured notes in fact-based courses. To do this, you’ll create high level bullet points that represent the main concepts, problems, and topics discussed during the lecture. Then you’ll fill in the details underneath those higher level bullets as you go along. This method works well if you’re taking notes on a laptop because you can go back and re-organize the structure of the outline easily.
- Use The Cornell Method to create study-ready notes the first time around. Divide your paper into 3 different sections: the “cue” column on the left, the “note-taking” column on the right, and the “summary” at the bottom. Take traditional outline-style notes in the right column. Then as soon as you can after class write out questions or phrases as cues in the left column that correspond to the information on the right. Then write down a summary of the lecture at the bottom. When you’re done, you’ll have a set of notes that are easy to study from at a later date, rather than having to rewrite them (more on this below).
- Use The Mind Map Method to take more free-form notes in non-linear lectures. If you’re in a class that covers a wide range of non-linear off-shoots around a central theme (e.g. a philosophy lecture covering different modes of consequentialist thought) this method allows you to create more free-form notes that follow that model more closely. Start by writing the topic in the center of the page, and then “branch out” as you cover the different trains of thought.
Resource #17: The Cornell Note-Taking System
- Take notes during class using “telegraphic” sentences. This means take short, concise sentences that capture the thought without worrying about grammar, punctuation, or sentence structure.
- Formulating questions a summarizing helps clarify meaning, reveal relationships, and strengthen memory. By using the “cue” column to develop these questions after class you’re improving your understanding and retention of the material. The “summary” at the bottom of the page plays a similar role.
- Study from your notes by covering and reciting. After you’ve created your notes, you can now cover the “note-taking” column with a sheet of blank paper, and ask yourself the questions you posed in the “cue” column. Say aloud, in your own words, what you think the answers to your questions are. Then remove the sheet and compare how you did.
- Spend time each week on (active) review of your notes. This will continue to cement that information in your memory so that you have it available both for current use and for your exams.
Resource #18: Back to Basics: Perfect Your Note-Taking Techniques
- Keep your notes simple. Keep your sentences short. Write in your own words and shorthand. Try your best to only write down what matters.
- Highlighting, underlining, or re-reading your notes aren’t worth your time. Instead, focus on taking them once and doing your best to capture the key points from the text or lecture. Then use that information to do homework, active recall practice, and take practice tests in order to get the most from your studying.
Resource #19: 6 Ways You Can Use Evernote to Dominate Your Classes
- Use Evernote to take organized, accessible notes on your laptop. Evernote allows your to take notes as your would in a normal word processor, but then organize that information with tags and within notebooks. It’s also easily searchable (in case there’s one specific concept you want to look up) and it immediately syncs across all of your devices, and is accessible through any web browser.
- Quickly assemble research and study materials as you browse online. You can also use the Evernote Web Clipper browser extension to take any article, photo, or screenshot and add it into your notes as you go.
- Take a snapshot of your paper notes and make them searchable! I have to say, this is quite amazing, especially for STEM majors. Because with Evernote you can take notes with pen and paper as you usually would, but then simply take a photo of them with your phone. Evernote then will digitize and store your notes, and make your handwriting searchable so taht you can reference anything you’ve written at anytime. Touche Evernote, touche.
- Study anywhere, at any time. Remember how Evernote syncs across all of your devices? Tell me: when do you not have either your laptop or your phone on you? This opens up a world of opportunity. Whip out your notes at any time, and do some quick recall practice to your heart’s content.
Effective Studying: How to Make It Stick
Time to rid the “I thought I knew it until I got to the test” phenomenon from your vocabulary, and learn how to study so that the material actually stays with you. These resources will take you through research-backed learning strategies you can use to maximize the value of your study sessions.
Resource #20: The 9 BEST Scientific Study Tips
- Study in small, short chunks spread out over time. Research shows that studying for twenty 30-minute sessions spread over a few weeks is far more effective than studying for one 10-hour chunk. This concept is called distributed practice.
- Flash cards work. While passive reading and highlighting have been shown to be ineffective (and sometimes detrimental) to studying, the old tried and true flash cards method reinforces memory very effectively. You can also work in study sessions quickly on the fly.
- Learn the material as if you had to teach it. Studies show that students told they would have to teach material to a class vs. be tested on that material performed better. Try thinking about your studying with that frame of reference.
- Practice tests work (like really well). Testing yourself frequently on the material you’re studying significantly improves your ability to recall that information later, even if you get the answers wrong. It also helps you identify mistakes so you know what to study, and improves confidence leading up to the actual test.
- Turn off the music. While much of the research isn’t clear, some studies have shown that rhythmic background noise can be detrimental to learning. Virtually no studies have shown a benefit.
- Turn off the phone. Text, email, and social media notification severely decrease concentration.
Resource #21: Study Less Study Smart
- Reward yourself at the end of the day. If you’ve legitimately put in a good day’s work and managed to work in some good studying throughout, make sure to reward yourself with fun or relaxation. Good habits are reinforced by positive reward.
- Create a dedicated study area. This will “prime” you to get into study mode whenever you enter that area. Make sure to separate it from leisure and other activities not related to studying or schoolwork.
- Study actively. More detail on this below, but make sure you have a purpose for each study session, and don’t let yourself fall into the trap of re-reading or passive review. Put it into your own words, and test yourself throughout.
- “Survey” before studying from your textbook. Go to the end of the chapter and read through the review questions so you know what knowledge you’ll need to extract and how it will need to be used before you study the chapter itself. This will make your reading much more effective.
- Use mnemonics when you’re studying facts. Recalling raw facts from memory is difficult unless their built into a particular context. A good way to do this is through mnemonic tools like acronyms, coined sayings, and image associations.
Resource #22: The Straight-A Method: How to Ace College Courses
- Capture, organize, and regularly review everything you have to do as a student. By taking stock of all of the tests, homework assignments, application deadlines, and other administrative tasks you need to take care of, you’ll build a better picture of what needs to get done and maintain a sense of control over your life. This will in turn help you focus on your studying.
- Control your daily schedule. Make a short-term plan either at the beginning of the day, or the night before, that spells out exactly how you’ll spend the hours during the day and how you’ll break up your studying and assignments to fit within those time blocks. This will help you get your schoolwork done on your own terms.
- Never actually “study,” plan instead. The word “study” conjures up feelings of guilt, boredom, and pain. Instead, simply make your plan on how you’ll prepare for an exam or start working on a specific homework problem set, and then execute.
- “Evolve” your study routine over time. There’s now way you’re going to get it exactly right the first time around… or even the 100th. Instead, constantly evaluate and reevaluate your strategies and update them as you learn how you work best over time.
Resource #23: Active Recall: How to Not Blank on Exam Problems
- Avoid passive learning at all costs. You’ll know your being passive whenever you’re feeling comfortable. You should never feel like the “recipient” of information. Learning is hard work, and your brain should feel like it’s getting a workout.
- Don’t confuse recognition with recall. Recognition is driving along on the highway not knowing where to turn, seeing the exit, and remembering “oh yes, this looks right.” Recall is being able to describe the route to someone beforehand from memory. When you’re taking a test you need recall, not recognition. So study accordingly and don’t let yourself get lulled into a false sense of security because you can recognize material you’ve seen before.
- Start with a blank sheet of paper, and solve problems or answer questions from scratch. This “active recall” method builds the recall muscle and significantly improves your ability to answer exam problems. Don’t review any study materials before or during these sessions. Only go back to check your answers after you’ve finished answering.
How to Ace Your Exams
While many argue that tests will never represent what you’ve truly learned about a subject, the reality is, exams matter in college – like, a lot. Here you’ll learn how to transition your standard study sessions into curve-busting exam preparation, all while keeping the dreaded test anxiety at bay.
Resource #24: How to Prepare for Exams Like A Pro: The Exam Prep Cycle
- Exams don’t test your knowledge, they test your ability to perform. Drop the romantic view that exams are a true test of how well you’ve learned the material. They’re more like a single snapshot in time… a race, a game, or a musical performance. You should instead focus on developing the ability to recall and use the specific and practical knowledge you will most likely need to answer the questions that show up on the exam. This will significantly improve your chances of success.
- Avoid the “I thought I knew it but blanked on the exam” Phenomenon. This common occurrence (also known as the Fluency Illusion among education researchers) happens when you have a gap between your general knowledge about a subject and your ability to apply that knowledge when called upon. This comes from preparing by re-reading notes, studying the textbook, practicing relatively straightforward problems while following examples – all things we’ve previously discussed are ineffective.
- Create practice exams 6-10 days prior to test day. A big mistake most students make is not studying what’s actually likely to show up on the exam. Spend some time ahead of test day to review your lecture notes, the syllabus, and any study guides or hints your professor has dropped about what the exam questions might look like. Then use previous quizzes, homework, example problems, sites like Docsity, and other resources on Google to construct at least two different homemade practice exams to take.
- Do exam rehearsals 5 days prior, and 2 days prior to test day. This means sitting down with your practice exams, a timer set to match the time you’ll have to complete the actual exam, and no study materials or distractions. Take the exam all the way through as if you were doing it for a grade. The purpose of the first exam is to understand where you stand, and pinpoint where your mistakes are. This is what you should focus on studying. The second exam rehearsal is to circle back, after you’ve studied, and work out the kinks and the jitters prior to test day.
- Intersperse exam-specific study sessions in between practice tests. During these hyper-specific sessions you’re not just “studying,” but instead putting in a very specific type of practice: finding the problems and concepts you had difficulty with during your practice tests, and specifically working through where you went wrong. Then solving similar problems from scratch. Repeat until you feel comfortable answering those types of questions.
- Do a quick refresh and mental rehearsal the day before the exam. Do some light active recall problem solving just to stay sharp. Then take advantage of visualization to help reduce test anxiety. Mentally rehearse some potential scenarios where you might get stuck of have trouble (e.g. you blank on answering a question, you realize you’re doing it wrong halfway through, you start to run out of time, etc.), and then how you’re going to overcome those obstacles.
Resource #25: Ace Your Next Exam: 10 Revision and Test-Taking Tips
- If you’re prone to test anxiety, write down what you’re worried about. Getting those negative thoughts out of your head and onto paper has been shown to help students improve their test grades.
- Keep an eye out for clues on the exam itself. If you find yourself stuck on one question, move on and return to it later, because other questions often cover similar material that may trigger something in your memory that will help you answer it.
- Create a cheat sheet (even if you can’t use one on the exam). Creating a one-page summary sheet is a great way to actively summarize the material for your exam. You’ll solidify concepts in your memory more effectively if you do.
- Simulate the conditions of the exam while you’re studying. By replicating the time constraints, test format, and even the room your exam is going to be held in as closely as possible, you’ll create context for the information you store in memory that will increase the probability you can recall it on the exam itself.
- Apply Hofstadter’s Law to your study schedule. “It always takes longer than you expect, even when taking into account Hofstadter’s Law.” You’ll probably need about 50% more time than you think, so plan accordingly.
Resource #26: How to Prepare for Finals in College
- Study cumulatively prior to the end of the semester. Periodically work in old material into your study sessions will significantly improve your ability to study for finals when the end of the semester hits.
- Keep all of your old exams (or at least record what the mistakes were). If you find yourself stuck on one question, move on and return to it later, because other questions often cover similar material that may trigger something in your memory that will help you answer it.
- Add your finals schedule into your calendar. Review your syllabus, check the course website, and make sure you have any changes to exam times accounted for.
- Start studying early. Finals tend to strike fear in the hearts of college students, so the temptation for procrastination is high. Try to start as early as you can though, just with short study sessions, to take advantage of distributed practice and avoid cramming.
- Alternate study environments. Research has shown that changing study locations can improve retention because your brain associates learning within the context of the environment you’re in. A more varied approach means your knowledge becomes more robust.
- Attend the review sessions offered by the professor. Yes, these will probably be boring. But these sessions are a goldmine for information likely to show up on the exam. In actuality, many professors will literally show you what the exam will look like, or at least give you a list of topics to study or problems to solve.
- Focus on your health. Studying for finals is not an excuse to stay up all night, or let your diet and exercise routine go out the window. Those things are as important as ever, especially because finals can be stressful, and you’ll perform better if your mind and body are in prime condition.
Resource #27: How To Handle Finals Week: My Secret Formula
- Figure out what grade you need on each final exam. Review your syllabus and identify the grade weighting for each assignment and exam, including the final. Calculate your current grade, and then what grade you’ll need on your final exam to maintain either an “A” or a “B” depending on what you’re aiming for.
- Prioritize the study hours you have available prior to finals. Figure out how much study time you realistically have. Add it all up and then divide it by class based on how you’ve prioritized your courses.
- Schedule in your planned study time for each exam around your finals schedule. If one exam is earlier than others, add in that time first. Then fill in with the remaining hours you have divided out.
- Simulate the conditions of the exam while you’re studying. By replicating the time constraints, test format, and even the room your exam is going to be held in as closely as possible, you’ll create context for the information you store in memory that will increase the probability you can recall it on the exam itself.
- Use the Exam Prep Cycle principles during your study sessions. Find problems, create practice exams, use active recall and reverse learning to study, and get yourself as prepared as possible to perform on test day.
How to Thrive in College: Stress, Sleep, and Overall Health
The archetype of the stressed-out, sleep-deprived college student is so common it shows up in movies, TV, and books, and is for the most part assumed as an inseparable part of college life. But in stark contrast to the portrayed harmlessness of the “tired student” image, we continually hear about the devastating effects burnout, depression, and lack of sleep can have not only on your grades, but also on your overall health and well-being. Below is a set of resources that will guide you through how to manage stress, get better sleep, and keep your body and mind in top shape so that you can keep up your grades, friends, and your sanity.
Resource #28: University of Michigan: Managing Stress During College
- Expect to feel more stress in college. The demands of academics in college require significantly more effort than in high school, so it should come as no surprise that stress will show up with more frequency and higher intensity once you start school. Don’t expect to just simply know how to deal with it either – stress reduction techniques are a learned skill, especially in an academic setting.
- Develop a sense of control over your schedule. Understanding what you have to do and when, as well as learning how to manage your responsibilities while balancing that time with rest and relaxation, is a necessary part of managing stress.
- Set specific goals. Setting specific and achievable goals is also a key component to keeping your stress levels under control (and your mood and motivation high). Do this both longer-term (for the year or semester) as well as weekly.
- Set realistic expectations. Do you continuously fall short of what you feel like you “should” be able to accomplish? Understand your limits and work within them. Try to improve, but don’t set yourself up to fail by setting unrealistic goals or holding yourself to an unachievable standard.
- Reach out to your support system regularly. Talk to friends and family about your experiences. Yes, go ahead and discuss stressful situations, but don’t focus exclusively on the negative. Think of 3 things that are going well, and make sure to share those as well.
Resource #29: How to Make Stress Your Friend
- Don’t believe stress is bad for you. In a 2012 University of Wisconsin study that tracked 30,000 adults for 8 years, people who experienced a lot of stress had a 43% increased risk of dying. But that was only true if they also believed stress was harmful to their health. If they alternatively believed that stress was “good” for them, they had a lower risk of dying than even the people with the lowest level of stress in the study. By changing your mind about stress, you can change your body’s response to stress.
- View stress as your body responding positively to a challenge. Studies at Harvard have shown that by training participants to view things like an elevated heart rate, and increase in adrenaline, or more rapid breathing as your body preparing to confront a challenge, their reaction to stress more mirrors emotions like joy and elation rather than anxiety. Remind yourself that stress can be a positive, and it might just become one.
- Help others in order to create more resilience to stress. When you lend a hand to your roommate, or help a classmate study for an upcoming exam, you are more likely to be resilient against stresses in your own life. It turns out that by extending yourself further to help others, you actually gain in your ability to work through stress of your own.
Resource #30: Getting Enough Sleep is Vital to Academic Success
- Wake up at the same time every day. Even on the weekend try to get up at the same time as you would during the week. Allow yourself some leeway to catch up on missed sleep, but this should be kept to a minimum so that your circadian rhythms stay consistent.
- Go to bed on time. Take your usual wakeup time. Calculate back 7-8 hours. Make sure you’re asleep by that time to ensure you’re getting enough sleep. Otherwise you’ll start to lose sleep over time, which impairs memory, learning, attention, and vigilance (the ability to stay focused) – not good for a student if you ask me.
- Stay out of bed during the day. Don’t study or read or chill out on your phone. Use your bed only for sleep, because otherwise you’ll interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night.
- Limit naps. If you’re feeling exhausted during the day, make sure that if you do nap it’s less than an hour and before 3pm.
- Avoid caffeine after lunch. Caffeine will stay in your system for many hours after consuming it, which can not only make it hard to fall asleep, but can keep you from sleeping through the night. Get your fix in the morning and then cut yourself off.
- Wind down and dim the lights before going to bed. Take 15-30 minutes to relax quietly before falling asleep, away from your computer, phone or TV. Dimming the lights will also indicate to your body that it will soon be time to sleep, so that falling asleep is easier.
- Expose yourself to bright light right after waking. Letting in the sunlight in the morning, or going for a morning walk will boost your alertness, as well as set your circadian clock so that you also have an easier time falling asleep at night.
Resource #31: How to Get to Bed on Time and Stop Losing Sleep
- Use sleepyti.me to calculate your optimal bedtime. Try to time your bedtime so that you wake up at the end of a sleep cycle. This will help you to feel more alert in the morning.
- Create a consistent wind-down ritual. This is a specific sequence of activities to be performed each night prior to sleep that signal to your body it’s time to rest. This might include turning off your phone and computer, brewing a cup of decaf tea, cleaning up your room, light reading, meditation, etc. Regardless make sure it’s consistent, and set an alarm to let you know when it’s time to start that process.
Resource #32: Run, Jump, Learn! How Exercise Can Transform Our Schools
- Complete 15-30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise to improve learning performance. Research shows that this level of exercise boosts a brain chemical called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) by 3 to 10 times baseline levels. This means your brain is primed to more readily form new connections.
- Exercise to de-stress and remain positive. Research also shows that regular exercise helps to regulate mood and enhance sleep, two things that are critical especially during high-stress periods like midterms and finals.
Resource #33: Finding Time And Motivation To Exercise In College
- Add workout times to your schedule. This will help you ensure that you have enough time to get exercise in, as well as give a realistic picture of how much time you have left over to study or take care of other responsibilities.
- Do a 7-minute workout each morning. This little app will run you through 7 simple body-weight exercises that are perfect for getting your body revved up in the morning, as well as fitting in some sort of exercise within a busy schedule.
- Get a gym accountability partner. Find a workout buddy who is equally as serious about regularly working out and will hold you accountable. This will increase your motivation (or at least help you eliminate excuses) for exercising.
- Commit yourself to tiny habits to start. If you don’t have any sort of exercise habit, and you’re finding it difficult to convince yourself to go to the gym regularly, separate the “ignition” of the task from the task itself. In practical terms this means committing to get up and put on your gym clothes each morning. Give yourself a reward for doing so. Eventually, once you get the habit down, gradually increase the difficulty of the task until you find yourself actually at the gym working out. Counterintuitive, but it works!
- Find exercise that you enjoy. You don’t have to chain yourself to a treadmill if you hate running. Instead find exercise options that you enjoy and you’ll be much more likely to stick with them. This could include intramural sports, hiking, or even Nintendo Wii or DDR if that’s how you roll.
Resource #34: The Scientific Power of Meditation
- Meditate regularly to decrease anxiety, and increase memory and self-awareness. Regular meditation has been shown to decrease negative emotions, and increase pain tolerance, empathy, and happiness. It can also literally grow your brain in areas associated with learning. All it takes is 10 minutes per day for a few weeks to start seeing benefits.
How to Stay Motivated
Follow the steps in the preceding chapters of this guide, and you’ll soon find yourself a super-organized, high-powered learning machine. But none of that will matter unless you can find and maintain the motivation and drive to keep going. The semester is long, and each one brings new challenges. Here you’ll learn how to tap into your natural motivation for learning, adopt a growth mindset, and establish goals that inspire you to keep putting in the effort each week.
Resource #35: How to Fulfill Your Potential: The Growth Mindset
- Reject a “fixed mindset” view of your abilities. Students that have a fixed mindset think that intelligence and abilities are unchangeable. Dweck’s research shows that holding this mindset alone is a significant predictor of lower test scores. If you approach your academic life (and life in general) with this attitude, you’ll be less willing to try for fear of looking or feeling dumb, and you’ll avoid the very tasks you need to take on in order to improve and ultimately succeed.
- Foster a “growth mindset.” Students with a growth mindset believe that can learn and build intelligence through focused effort, dedication, learning, and mentorship from others. By holding this belief about yourself, you’ll learn faster, get better grades, and more confidently tackle difficult tasks even if the probability of failure is high.
Resource #36: What’s The Point of Studying So Hard?
- Figure out your “why.” A lot of us end up at college after just going through the motions. It’s what you’re supposed to do after high school, so that’s what we do. But as it turns out, by working through and clarifying what we want to get out of college, it can have a profound effect on how motivated we are to do our work day to day. Start with just a 15 or 20 minutes writing about why you’re in college and what you hope to get out of it.
- Set big lofty goals. The research shows that we’re less likely to perform at a high level when we’re reaching for low-hanging fruit (e.g. “I just want to get a job”). Instead find something that really motivates you, whether that’s working for Space X or doing ground-breaking research. Regardless, big goals help keep your motivational fire burning, and can actually inspire others to rally around you.
Resource #37: 8 Simple Tips to Stay Motivated
- Surround yourself with people who keep you accountable. “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with” is actually true. Having people you interact with, study with, live with who regularly keep you accountable to your goals goes a long way towards staying motivated and on track to achieve them.
- Turn your goals into habits instead. It’s easy to say you want to achieve something (e.g. “I want to get a 4.0 this semester”), but then make no progress towards it because you haven’t actually changed your behavior. Break down each of your goals into habits you can build into your routine each day. This will keep you progressing towards your goals.
- Break up your tasks during the day. Big chunks of time titled “study” on your calendar are almost guaranteed to be de-motivating just by the shear size of the task ahead of you. Instead, switching more frequently between studying, chores, and other obligations during the day can help keep you motivated and engaged.
- Start on a Monday. Despite the old trope, “Starting on Monday I will…” research actually suggests you may be more likely to follow through on your goals if you do actually start on a Monday. This sets a “temporal landmark” that helps you to more easily recognize that a change has occurred, making the new activity more likely to stick.
Friends, Fun, and The College Experience
College is an opportunity to learn and set yourself apart academically. But it’s also one of the only times in life where you have to freedom to explore your interests along with minimal responsibilities. Yes, some students take it too far (hence the ever-present “C’s get degrees” slogan). But if you do it right, college can (and should) be one of the best experiences you’ll have in life. The resources below will guide you through how to have fun, make friends, and get the most out of college, without sacrificing your education to do it.
Resource #38: What Should An Undergrad Do to Get The Most Out of College?
- Leave your room and do something new. It can be easy to fall into the trap of either being in your room, getting food, or in class, with not much in between. But to achieve better balance, and to keep your mind active and out of a rut, you need to get yourself out there and do stuff. That could be intramural sports, an engineering competition team, or even just doing your work at a coffee shop where you might bump into someone. Be active.
- Get curious. Don’t just go to your professor’s office hours for help with homework, ask them about what they’re working on… and genuinely care. Or pay attention to what your university offers in terms of seminars, research opportunities, or study abroad programs. Bottom line: don’t assume that you’re just there to get your degree, but take advantage of the rest of what your university has to offer too (I mean… you’re paying for it after all).
- Learn to introduce yourself. It can be easy to stay on your own little social bubble, especially after you’ve carved out a group of friends Freshman and Sophomore year. Fight that urge and while you’re out and about, practice introducing yourself to people and striking up a conversation. Casual social interaction will never really be this easy again, so take advantage of it.
- Ask, “What can I learn from this person?” Embrace the differences you’ll inevitably find between you and your roommates, classmates, and others on campus. Ask them questions and then genuinely open your mind and listen to what they say. This will be an education in itself.
- Don’t watch TV. Seriously, you’re on a college campus with about 400 different things going on every day. Watching TV means you’re not living up every possible experience you can while you’re there.
- Become friendly with your favorite professors. Don’t be weird about it, but introduce yourself, do well in their class, and show an interest in their work. If they’re worth their salt, they’ll be interested in seeing you do well too. And it doesn’t hurt to have an ally when you venture out into the real world either.
- Take some classes that have nothing to do with your major. As long as it doesn’t impact your other coursework, or interfere with your ability to graduate, have some fun! And you may be surprised what you learn and how it may expand your horizons beyond the narrow domain of your course of study.
Resource #39: How to Make the Most Of Your College Years
- Make friends around your interests, not just your proximity. Don’t just default to only making friends with your roommates, dorm mates, or people you happen to run into during class. Go out of your way to introduce yourself to people who are in the same clubs, play the same sports, or have the same career goals as you do. This will enrich your social life and support your college experience at the same time.
- Find a “partner-in-crime.” Make a friend who is willing to come with you to things, even if they’re not all that interested. It helps to have a safety net to break the ice when you’re putting yourself out there and doing something new.
- Organize something. Whether that’s an event, a party, or a group or association on campus. People will come to you, as the center of a small network, instead of you having to go out to find them. You’ll keep meeting new people and see new opportunities flow your way.
- Don’t eat and drink like total crap. With an endless flow of pizza and alcohol available at all hours of the day and night, it’s way too easy to get fat and out of shape while you’re in college. At a minimum, just focus on eating well and during the 90% of meals that aren’t out with friends. And drink tons of water. You’ll thank me later.
- Do you. Yes, go to class, get your grades, and graduate with your degree. But doing the same thing everyone else is doing doesn’t mean you’ll be successful, in college or in life afterwards. Focus on developing yourself and your interests, and you’ll develop a more unique set of skills, abilities, and areas of expertise that will set you apart both personally and professionally. As long as you have the fundamentals covered, don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path.
How to Wow Recruiters and Land Your Dream Job
At the end of the day, getting a job is right up there at the top of the list of the reasons why we go to college, and want to succeed. We all want a vibrant professional network, incredible internship opportunities to build experience, and ultimately, to be able to find and land a job we love right out of school – all while keeping up with classes, exams, and everything else college life has to throw at us. Well these resources are designed to show you exactly that.
Resource #40: The Ultimate Networking Guide for Introverts
- Practice your social skills when the stakes are low. If you’re not naturally extroverted, start small. Practice striking up conversations with cashiers, waiters, that guy you just played pick-up basketball with, etc. Give them a genuine complement or just ask how their day is going. This will start to improve your social confidence.
- Use The 3-second Rule to get over your initial anxiety. The biggest obstacle you’ll face in meeting new people is just simply the courage to approach them and start that initial conversation. The 3-second Rule requires that if you see someone you want to talk to at a meet up, event, on campus, etc. you have until the count of 3 to walk up and start a conversation. If you wait longer, you’ll over-think it and psyche yourself out. Once you’re in the conversation, the hardest part is over.
- Make a great first impression. Yes, it’s a cliche, but it’s true. Studies show we make “snap” judgements of people within the first 7 seconds of meeting them, after which that opinion is unlikely to change much as time goes on. Remember people’s names. Make eye contact. Stand up straight with your shoulders back. Dress well. Be interested and smile. All of these little things add up, and can make a big difference in how the conversation goes from there.
- Learn to make small talk. As annoying as you may find mundane pleasantries, like talking about the weather, it’s a game you need to learn how to play. Because mutually beneficial relationships aren’t just about transactions…. about just “getting to the point.” If that were the case, you’d be screwed, because as a student you don’t have much to offer. Thankfully, people are interested in, well, other people! We’re designed to be social, and small talk is the best way to build the foundation for a long-term relationship that can serve both people in the long run. Take the active role and as a few simple questions. Ask about what they’re up to. Ask about where they’re from. Whatever. Just make it light, and don’t let the conversation stop.
- At the career fair, zag where everyone else zigs. Career fairs are typically a mad rush of job-hungry students, many of which have identical resumes, experience (read: none), and pitches. Instead of focusing on your GPA, classes, and experience working at Wendys, think about what makes you unique. When everyone else is competing on the standard metrics, you can stand out by talking about something entirely different with the recruiters. This could be a specific project or research you’re interested in, or even just a hobby. Think about what might be interesting about your story and tell it. Worst case, they’re not interested and you move on. Best case, you say something that strikes a chord and you have a fast track to the “approved” resume pile.
- Keep track and follow up. Set up a spreadsheet with all of the friends, professors, acquaintances, recruiters you’ve made headway with that you’d like to keep up with. This is the best way to maintain those relationships instead of letting them fizzle out (which is what most people do). Follow up periodically when you have something of note to share (finishing a semester, starting an internship, finishing a project, etc.) and ask them about their work too. If you do this consistently, you’ll be surprised how many opportunities come out of it.
Resource #41: 97 Actions To Become THE Person Companies Want To Hire
- Tailor your resume to the job you’re applying to. Taking that same tired old resume and sending out the same copy to every job ad you come across is the fastest way to get thrown into the “discard” pile. This practice says, “I’m lazy” and most recruiters can tell immediately. Instead read the ad and look for the specific qualities and experience that company is looking for. Build your resume around that.
- Don’t write the same boring cover letter as everyone else. “Dear Hiring Manager, I am writing to express my intent to apply for…” is the same way every other college student who has copied over a cover letter template and filled in their details looks to recruiters, and it’s a big missed opportunity. Instead, be creative. Be a little weird even. Use your cover letter to tell a story that sticks out.
- Do your research. Research the companies you want to work for. That doesn’t mean just spending 20 minutes browsing their website. Know their products. Know their philosophy. Watch interviews of the CEO on Youtube. Pay attention to what they’ve done that’s been in the news. Also, research the person who will be interviewing you. Look them up on LinkedIn and Twitter to get a sense of what they’re passionate about. All of this will set you up to stand out during the application and interview process.
- Set up a LinkedIn profile (like right now). In 2018, if you aren’t using LinkedIn, and you don’t have a well-constructed profile, you’re way behind the 8-ball. Get one set up now. Find someone you admire who has a job you want, and use their profile as a template. Then reach out and connect with everyone you know, people you meet at networking events, recruiters you speak to at career fairs, etc. The broader your network, the more it will benefit you in your job search.
- Ask people who work at your target companies out to coffee. Find someone who has a job you think you’d be interested in, local to you, and email them asking them out to have coffee. Show genuine interest in their work, and ask intelligent questions about how they got to where they are now. People love talking about themselves, so let them do most of the talking. Don’t ask for a job. Pay for their coffee or meal. You’ll get more insights from one 30-minute conversation that you will from weeks of browsing Google.
- Learn a bit about business. Even if you’re not a “business major” or have no intention of ever owning a business, you’re certainly going to work for one. Know the basics and you’ll understand how the job you want fits into their overall goals. That means you can talk more intelligently about how you’ll benefit them if you get hired. The Personal MBA by Josh Kauffman is a great place to start.
- Start your internship search 9 months in advance. A lot of companies start their recruiting process the year before (in the fall) the summer internship period actually starts. Get on it.
- Get better at keeping up with email. Non-responsiveness is a huge turn off for hiring managers and recruiters, not to mention any networking contacts you have. So work on an organization system for your inbox. At a minimum, figure out a system to ensure you’ll respond to important messages in a timely manner.
- Do practice interviews. Given how much effort it takes to get an interview, and how important the interview is to the ultimate decision on whether you get hired or not, you should absolutely practice this. Your school’s career center probably offers this service. If not, have a friend interview you. You can even videotape yourself and review it afterwards to make corrections.
- Start a side project. Have something interesting that you’re working on outside of school or work. Whether it’s a skill, a business, or something creative, if you put in the time, and put it out there into the world, you’ll attract new relationships and opportunities because of it. Plus, it’ll make you more interesting, which is particularly useful during networking meetings, applications, and interviews.
- Don’t sell yourself short. You need to get comfortable with self promotion, because no one else is going to do it for you. Be truthful and honest. Have some humility. But also don’t be shy about sharing your abilities and accomplishments.
Resource #42: My 10 Best Pieces of Career Advice for College Graduates
- Build a career full of “experiences.” What your major is, or how long you stay with one employer are no longer the central barometers of competence in the working world. Instead, you want your resume to show a series of experiences that indicate you’re a skilled, diverse, life-long learner who is out to solve problems.
- Focus on having an impact right from the start. When you start with a new company, if you make a big impact within the first few months, even if it’s on a small initial project, that reputation will stick with you. Your company will view you as more valuable, and you’ll open up opportunities to take on bigger projects, faster, which will accelerate your career.
- Keep track of your achievements at work and build case studies. All student resumes essentially look the same. Worked at X company for 3 months. Did a summer internship at Y organization. Instead, you can stand out of you have specific results or achievements you can point to rather than just “time at company.” The more specific and measurable the better. Put a number on it (e.g. “worked with design team to implement 3 product cost reductions in 16 days”). This will set you apart.
- Make sacrifices now to succeed later. This one is simple but overlooked. Work hard now so that you’re in a better position 2-5 years from now. Put in the time. Delay short-term gratification (e.g. going out with friends, making big purchases). This effort will pay off ten-fold later on in life.
Resource #43: The Complete Guide to Writing a Student Resume
- Stick with the standard student resume format. Recruiters are looking for very specific information on your resume, so your goal with your resume format shouldn’t be to get all fancy and reinvent the wheel. You stand out with the content of your resume, not the format. Instead, you want to feed them that information in a format that’s as easy to digest as possible. This includes, in order, contact info, objective, education, work experience, skills, other (volunteering, certifications, hobbies and interests). Zety has some great templates to start from here.
- Make your resume objective concise and focused. Lead with your strongest trait relevant to the job, specify how your education qualifies you, name the position you’re applying for, and close with how you will contribute to the company’s goals. You can expand on this in your cover letter.
- Make your education and experience sections precise and relevant. Yes, include your degree program, your GPA, where you worked, what your job titles were, and all of the other standard information. But don’t just leave it at that. Comb through the job description and pick out the specific skills and achievements you may have accumulated during your time as an employee and student that directly reflect what the job is calling for. Include those as bullet points. The more specific the better, with quantifiable results being the gold standard. Compelling stories are a close second. Bottom line: make it as relevant and interesting as possible for the hiring manager.
- Match your “Other” section to the work culture at the company you’re apply to work for. Want to work for an athletic company? The bottom section of your resume should be filled with sports interests, high school or college sports achievements, or personal hobbies related to exercise and being active. Applying to an automotive company? Yup, something about fixing up cars would be high up on the list. You don’t have to force a match if it’s not there, but if there is something about that company you can directly relate to your interests, it gives you the opportunity to connect with someone who works there over another more generic candidate.
More World-Class College Success Resources
While everything you’ll find in this guide is top-of-the-line, below you’ll find some of the best stand-alone resources on the interwebs on college success to help you on your journey. Bon’ voyage!
Resource #44: Cal Newport’s Study Hacks Blog Archive
If you haven’t come across him already (which would be a shocker), Cal Newport had the concept of college success down do a science form early on. His books, How to Become a Straight-A Student and How to Win at College are absolute classics, which I highly recommend. And at the link above you’ll find an archive full of additional tips and resources for studying, exams, and how to succeed in college as a whole.
He’s also moved on to apply similar principles and thinking to the post-college working world, so I also highly recommend his books, So Good They Can’t Ignore You and Deep Work for some killer advice on how to succeed in your career after college as well. Happy reading.
Resource #45: The College Info Geek Blog, Youtube Channel, and Podcast
Thomas is a friend and a ridiculously prolific content creator on almost anything you would ever want to know about how to succeed in college (and after college too!). College Info Geek is a treasure trove of resources, including his tools and essential books lists, massive archive of blog posts, youtube videos and podcasts, and his free book: 10 Steps To Earning Awesome Grades.
Resource #46: Learning How to Learn Coursera Course
Here’s a conundrum for you: why is it that no one actually ever taught you how to learn? We get thrown into courses, studying, homework, and tests, most of us with some vague notion of how we actually learn what we’re being taught. Well this course aims to fill that gap an excellent primer into the framework of how to learn more effectively.
Dr. Barbara Oakley (one of the instructors), who at one point was terrible at math only to turn things around eventually become a professor of engineering at Oakland University, also has an excellent book that I’d recommend picking up: A Mind For Numbers: How To Excel At Math and Science.