Seven Things You Should Do to Maximize Your College Experience

Updated on September 30, 2017
AlexisG profile image

Alexis is a former special education teacher who is now an in-home therapist. She enjoys traveling, writing, and playing the violin.

New York City Public Library
New York City Public Library

College Isn't Just About Academics

Ten years ago, as of August 29th, I walked into my first college class. It wasn’t English 101 or a math class, but instead a Tai Chi class in a martial arts school. While a lot of time has passed, I can still visualize my undergrad school and with little error, recite the classes I took each semester. I truly enjoyed my college experience and despite the student loans (please go away) I don’t regret much from my experience.

Part of that is because I felt that I maximized most of my college experience. There are some things I regret not doing. Then again you really don’t know anything when you’re 18 (or early 20s for that matter). You can just hope you’re smart and brave enough to fuddle through the "free years." If you’re entering college or still in college, hopefully this list will give you some guidance!

1. Prepare for Life After Graduation Starting in your Sophomore year

Going to jump the gun on this one and say you should be thinking about your future, starting in your sophomore year. Generally your freshman year consists of learning to be independent and taking general education classes. In your sophomore year you start to plunge headstrong into classes in your intended major. This is often a time when some students realize that maybe their intended major isn’t what they thought it would be.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should start applying to jobs, but it does mean you should be looking into ways that make you more marketable. That could be doing independent projects, taking a part-time job in the area you want to work in, learning how to design a great resume or cover letter or networking with professionals in the field you’re pursuing. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but it should be something.

2. Money

Don’t be scared when you read this number, U.S. Citizens, but the average student loan debt is over $30,000.00 In fact, the class of 2016 has a debt of $37,172! It’s only going to get higher as the cost of college rises almost yearly in most colleges or universities. How can you eliminate the need for student loan debt? Through a lot of ways, but it’s still likely you’ll need to take on some debt. You can decrease the amount you’ll need by doing the following;


  • Start saying from your part-time job in college
  • Study hard and apply to scholarships
  • Attend a public University
  • Work during school (but not enough to impact your school work)
  • Join rebate programs to get money back
  • Use your credit card sparingly
  • Look for ways to cut costs such as buying used textbooks or opting for a cheap meal plan

The key is to plan. Don't just plan your expenses, but choose your area of study carefully. It's 100% okay to make mistakes and okay to have some debt, just know what you're taking out.

Intern

This is one that is often neglected in college. Let me say that an internship, even a short one, is a wise investment. Why? I personally know a couple people who scored fantastic jobs before even graduating because they completed an internship in that company. Companies prefer hiring people they know after all!


A word of caution, however. An internship does get your foot in the door, but that doesn’t mean it’ll necessarily lead to a job. I had an internship my sophomore year in Human Resources. It was a great experience, but it never let to a stable part-time or full-time job during the summer months. That’s how it goes!


Also avoid unpaid internships like the plague.

4. Network

Networking has become a buzz word in recent years and rightfully so. In todays world, jobs are more often obtained through who you know rather than what your resume or cover letter states. College is an ideal time to start honing your abilities to network and it can mean a number of things such as;

  • Forming professional relationships with your professors
  • Befriending others in your field and helping each other
  • Attending local events
  • Going to job fairs
  • Volunteering in the community

It goes without saying almost, but always treat everyone as you would like to be treated. You never know when you will run into someone again and it could be your interviewer for your dream job! Case in point, this summer while volunteering, I worked with someone I went to college with while I was in another state! Life is strange and it’s a small world!

6. Volunteer

The college that I went to required us to complete several hours of volunteer work to get our degree. You read that right, it was part of our final thesis that was connected to our degree. While this program has been disbanded since and seems high schoolesque, the benefits and overall experience was phenomenal. I was able to get job experience, network and explore other career options. I currently still volunteer for one organization that I started at in my senior year of college!

If you’re in college or heading there, look into joining an organization this semester. A google search or college community board will yield a couple organizations in your area. If you don’t like it, then try another one out later. Keep in mind that some can be one time stints, but others do require a commitment of a set amount of time. Having opportunities in multiple sectors can also be very beneficial. For example, volunteering one semester in an after school program and another as a fundraiser at a local non-profit. The experience and sheer fact you’re making a difference is almost always worth every minute!

5. Take at least two ‘fun’ classes that aren’t part of your major

Have you ever wanted to take a class on cyber security but your major is Psychology? Or maybe you want to learn how to make pottery, speak another language or learn what Behavior Analysis is. College is the perfect time to do that exploration.

During my undergrad years, I took 2-3 college classes that had nothing to do with my two majors or minor and I throughly enjoyed them. It can make you a more well-rounded student and you never know what you’ll learn about yourself or interests when you take a class outside of the prescribed coursework.

As an added bonus, a fun class means you’ll likely be enjoying the material and get a higher grade too, right?

Taken while in London, Canada.
Taken while in London, Canada.

Anything Else?

As I stated in the beginning, college is an experience. I still look back on my college experience fondly. After all, I met two of my best friends there as well as several others who I continue to be friends with today. While I have changed careers since leaving, I still use the experience and networking I gained in college presently and will continue in the future.


Anything I missed? What advice would you give an incoming or current college student to maximize their time in college?

7. Study Abroad and Travel

This is hands down my biggest college regret. I almost DID take a trip abroad, but baulked at the price and never ended up having another opportunity (my fault). Therefore, let me firmly state that going abroad is more than worth the price and a fantastic experience. It’s unforgettable and the benefits are overwhelming.

  • Learn/Practice a new or existing language
  • Gain cultural knowledge and Experience
  • Gain new perspective
  • Overall knowledge acquisition
  • Bragging rights

Long-term speaking, some companies specifically LOOK for potential employees who have spent time abroad. So take that semester in England or even that winter break trip to Tokyo. You won’t regret it.


In the event you don't travel abroad, take trips! You don't have to plan a week in cancun, but taking a road trip with friends or traveling for a weekend trip someplace new is well worth the money!

Sources

Josuweit, A. (2017, September 13). U.S. Student Loan Debt Statistics for 2017. Retrieved September 16, 2017, from https://studentloanhero.com/student-loan-debt-statistics/



© 2017 Alexis

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    • AlexisG profile image
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      Alexis 2 months ago

      @Ian

      I did General Studies for my associates before transferring to a 4 year. I'm taking Violin right now, but next semester I plan on doing stats to prep for graduate school.

    • Ian Rideout profile image

      Ian Rideout 2 months ago from Alberta, Canada

      For my very first year of college, I took General Studies, as I didn't really know what I wanted to do at the time. After that, I took Multimedia Production, which I eventually graduated from. I took a year off from school after that, as I'd been at college for several years at that point and needed a break. But then I just recently went back. Right now I'm in General Studies again. I may do this as a one-off year, or else I may try to get an English major next. We'll see.

      What are you taking right now?

    • AlexisG profile image
      Author

      Alexis 2 months ago

      What was your first major in? I'm planning on doing Grad school officially either next Fall or the following year. I've taken some fun classes and a few post-grad classes. Definitely someone who is taking classes for the rest of her life!

    • Ian Rideout profile image

      Ian Rideout 2 months ago from Alberta, Canada

      *decided to go back, I meant to say.

    • Ian Rideout profile image

      Ian Rideout 2 months ago from Alberta, Canada

      After taking last year off from college, I recently began a new semester. I had already graduated from my previous program and gotten a major, but I decided it'd to go back and take some of the 'fun' courses I'd always wanted to. So yes, I agree, definitely a good suggestion. School's been keeping me busy so far, but all in all it is nice to be back. My instructor's a pretty cool guy.

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