I wish someone experienced enough would have had a chat with me before hand about how to squeeze my university years and get the best out of them. Instead I discovered it the hard way: by myself.
I have always been an excellent student. I finished a couple of BS Degrees and never failed a single course. I passed all exams at 1st attempt. However, did I really seize the opportunities of being a university student? In retrospective, I don’t think so. Let me explain you why. I was an extremely shy young person. I never asked questions in class, never volunteered and always tried to remain unnoticed for the majority of the time. Then I used to study hard at home and passed every single test. Was I a great student? Yes, I was… in a traditional world. In a world were my home country universities still live. In an isolated world where sharing and collaborating were considered odd. And it wasn’t until my exchange year abroad that I started to realize I had to get out the dark side immediately.
I spent an academic year at City University in London as part of an European exchange student programm. Yes, it was short but it was also definitively one of the most clarifying and revealing experiences of my life. The broad range of diversity impressed me at first. Then I learnt to share and mix with them. By the end of the first month, I had absorbed more real-world knowledge than in all my previous years at a traditional college. A respectful attitude and conscious opened eyes and ears can do miracles for you in such situations. The way lectures were structured was another shock for me: I needed to speak. Being unnoticed was not an option anymore. I luckily found great classmates who help me with my undeveloped communication and public speaking skills. Thanks to them and to a deep desire to persevere from my side, I ended up the year actually enjoying it. Not only I improved my communication skills, but also my adaptation, flexibility, empathy, negotiation, self-confidence and leadership capabilities got better.
This experience changed my life and since then I haven’t stopped learning and absorbing aiming to make the most of anything I have been involved. I invite you to follow me through some tips on how you can make the most of your university time as well.
1. Education as a whole life habit.
Studying need to be considered from a non-ending learning approach. Today‘s world changes so quickly that an average student will be outdated by the time he reaches his mid career, if not earlier. If this trend continues, it will be common in the future to go back to college for one or two total make-overs during one‘s career. Being up-to-date with existing technologies and practices will be, even more than today, the key to continue adding value to the business as an employee. Therefore instead of considering education as an isolated part of our lives with a begining and a defined end, it would be better to embrace it as a whole life habit. MOOC platforms are great for this purpose.
2. Ask questions
A common forgotten aspect of university lectures is asking questions. Most students just attend classes, take notes and leave without communicating with professors. That’s why classes are sometimes tedious and boring. Try to turn classes into vivid ones by asking questions. Teachers like two-way communication lessons and remember students who participate. So just stand out of the crowd and ask questions. If nothing comes to your mind in class, you can make a bit of research on your own before class and introduce any interesting current issue or news related to the topic.
Not only it will help you refine your communication skills, but also you will build stronger relationships with your teachers and this will have a positive impact on your marks. Additionally, the fact that you will need professional references when applying for jobs can’t be ignored. If you don’t have much work experience, relationships built with teachers are your best bet at this stage. But if they can’t remember you, how are they going to serve as your references?
3. Practice public speaking
This tip can’t be stressed enough as the benefits of public speaking for anyone‘s career are countless. Apart from honing your communication skills, which are key in the workplace, many other aspects of your life will be improved by practicing public speaking. Some examples are gaining trust and respect from others, presenting new ideas more effectively, building self-confidence, increasing awareness of the environment, developing relationships and rapport with colleagues, improving selling and negotiation skills and positioning yourself as a leader. It will make you visible and memorable among your classmates.
So next time you need to speak in public, consider it as a beneficial training instead of a malicious torture. Read some good books about public speaking and start practicing. The rewards are worth the effort.
4. Volunteer for anything
Volunteering is a great way to be involved and to gain an insight into your university or community life. It provides an easy way of social networking. And it also promotes the feeling of making a difference which helps increasing self-esteem and personal growth. There will be many opportunities to volunteer during your university life. Just choose the ones you like most and enjoy them.
From a professional perspective, it provides productive results since it is a valid method of filling blank gaps in your resume, specially if you don’t have much work experience. Therefore it improves your employability. More about this a bit later.
5. Avoid procrastination
Procrastination is the unconscious process of delaying tasks that need to be acomplished now. All of us suffer from it to a certain degree. It is based on laziness by giving priority to more pleasurable activities rather than others not so enjoyable. While studying you will face many situations like this: let’s say you have to start a coursework to be handed over in two weeks time. The task involve researching from diferent sources, summarising information, compiling, structuring, writting, analyzing, providing references, preparing presentation materials, creating and giving a stunning presentation and some others. Your natural tendency will be to postpone it until the last minute. How can you finish such an enormous task?
Well, the problem is the perspective you are using. Looking at it as a one enormous task is a mistake. Instead considering it as a sum of small individual tasks is the key. You will realize that absolutely nothing is as hard as it looked when you started. Dividing daunting tasks into smaller chunks that can be easily acomplished individually, will allow you to gain confidence and boost your motivation towards the completion of the once-intimidating task. This is because as you progress, it will soon become a doable task. Besides, this approach helps you develop project management skills, which are very valuable in the workplace.
6. Reward yourself, even for small or partial success
Everytime you achieve an academic success, practice the healthy habit of rewarding yourself, even if it is a modest reward. When you work hard and achieve your goals, it is fair to have something you enjoy in return. In the short term, you will just feel good but in the long run, it will create positive associations in your brain that will move you forward to a great future. This is because it reinforces self-confidence and encourages keeping motivation high, two key elements of a successful career.
Have you passed a test? Have you produced a brilliant coursework? So take yourself out for breakfast or dinner, go out of town for the school break, go on shopping therapy, relax on a massage session, and so on.
7. Work as early as possible
I have heard so many times the complaint about the vicious circle of work experience. Simply put, you are not getting jobs because you don’t have enough work experience, and you can’t gain such experience if you are not offered the first job opportunity. Well, let me tell you something: this is a fact and you are not going to change it. So the sooner you accepted it, the better for your career. Instead of complaining, just focus your efforts on breaking the circle.
My advise is try to get a job as early as possible, prefererably while you are still studying. Combining work and school is positively recognised by recuiters and employers as it will develop your ability to multitask and plan your work and study loads in advance. Summer internships, student programs, volunteering positions and casual jobs are very useful in this regard. Can‘t you find these positions? Well, you can create them . Choose a business you like and offer to collaborate with them on an unpaid basis. More often than not, you will end up as a paid employee.
As mentioned earlier, you need to improve your employability. For that reason, bear in mind that valuable work experience is as important as academic qualifications and there is nothing as poor as a no-work-experience resume. In fact, while every industry is different, it is extremely difficult to break into particular industries without showing that you can apply what you have learnt at college.
On top of that, you will understand to a higher degree what is taught in class and how courses are intertwined. In addition, you will ask better informed questions based on real life situations. Finally, professors will value your street-smart insights and you will make the most of your student time.
8. Network as much as possible
A savvy student looks for opportunities to network as a useful tool for the future. According to some estimations, approximately 60% of jobs are not advertised. They make the so called hidden job market and networking is essential to find them. Unless a member of your familiy is the CEO in a business, you will need to create your own contacts. At this stage, don’t feel desperate about it. Just try to create strong relationships with your teachers and classmates. It is said that a Master’s Degree is as good as the quality contacts you make on it. Have this mind and make it extensible to your Undergraduate Degree.
But how do you do that in practice? First of all, apply all tips in this list, specially ask questions, practice public speaking and volunteer for anything. You will be remembered, you will be considered special and you will be seen as a natural leader. Someone who people wants to be around with. In addition, you can use a very interesting technique: changing seats. Have you ever though that you might be surrounded by future success? Many of your peers will have reponsibility positions in the future. So start creating strong relationships with them now. Changing seats is a great way of getting to know them. Don’t create useless barriers between you and the world, instead create constructive links with as many individuals as possible. Be respective, listen, show genuine interest and be useful by helping as much as you are able.
Do you want to take your networking to the next step? If networking in class is not enough for you, there are opportunities for developing your contact netwok out of class as well. Attend networking events to interact with target people who belong to organizations you are interested in. They can be seminars, job and career fairs, conferences, public lectures, etc. Your previous research is key at this point. You need to know who will be present at the event and why you want to meet them. Prepare a brief introduction of yourself and a reason why connecting would a good idea for both. Have some business cards with you (Yes, business cards. If you are serious about networking you must have a business card). After you have met in person, don’t forget to connect with them online through social media.
This tip is so obvious that it goes without saying and you are probably already doing it. But seriously, when you start working full time, you will notice how much free time you had at college. So don’t play around and just seize the opportunity. Your future YOU will appreciate it.