So, you've graduated high school...?
Having learned from my many mistakes (as well as a success here and there) during and after my college experience, I have developed the following list of top ten suggestions to maximize your chance for a successful experience in the coming few years. (Actually, there's thirteen; who can keep to just ten?)
Note these were originally written for students in the U.S., and specifically those who might not have had a chance to experience the world in an international context. Adapt them for your own circumstances as needed.
I hope you'll find this guidance relevant whether or not you pursue higher education.
My Two Cents
1. Don't be afraid to take some time off.
There's nothing wrong with going straight off to college,
especially if you have a passion for architecture, or medicine, or social work, or business management, or something else
and want to get on with studying it.
But don't feel pressured to head right off to the university if you can afford to take a year off first to explore your world
and yourself --
especially if you have no idea what you wish to study or what school you want to attend.
But fill such a time with worthwhile activity.
The world is littered with the sad, limp bodies of students who took a gap year without clear goals
and ended up making an impression on
no one but their mom's living-room sofa.
You might work for the first few months to earn travel money, then take off to backpack Turkey, bike New Zealand,
or intern at a tiny company that makes horror masks or floating first-aid kits or political billboards.
Reject and move beyond the typical naval-gazing of high school.
Do something for someone other than yourself.
You'll gain perspective on your capabilities and what's important to you.
You're also sure to gather some interesting stories to impress your friends and classmates.
If you don't want to or cannot take off that year, that is just as valid.
If you're off to work, I expect many of the following ideas still apply.
As you enter the early days of your future education or employment...
2. Don't worry about your "major."
If you are lucky enough to continue your education,
find something you can really get excited about and do that. Philosophy? Great. Phys Ed? Terrific.
Your major is not as crucial as you might think, unless you want to follow a hard-wired track like pre-med or pre-law.
You may well change your major once or twice during your schooling years, anyway,
and more and more people switch careers several, even many times over the years.
(I've had...well...five, I think.)
What matters is that you...
3. Do good work and go beyond your own expectations.
Once you choose what you want to study, apply yourself to it. Do work you'll be proud of later.*
Remember: Even if Mom and Dad or someone else is paying your tuition, they are not the only ones
investing something in you.
This is also your investment of four-plus years of your life and a great deal of emotion and energy.
And very likely, your money.
Don't be afraid to work hard.
As part of this effort...
4. Forge your own path.
Find ways to make your area of study your own, even if it's the most popular major on campus.
Explore. Experiment. Use all the tools at your disposal.
Studying television production? Find innovative ways to use the chyron.
Studying the Finnish language? Work with a music student to write an opera in that language,
then get the TV student who runs the chyron to provide subtitles for the production.
In class, sit in the first or second row. Ask good questions. Show you care about the subject.
Start a study group and invite an expert to answer questions.
Make sure your instructor learns your name.
Get together with him or her in an informal setting and talk about why they chose their subject
and about ideas for further study.
Science? Write your chemistry thesis as a graphic novel.
Philosophy? Float your own theory of existence, based on the spectrum of visible light.
Phys Ed? Combine two sports, create a new form of exercise and market it to fellow students on videotape.
Push the envelope and get as much out of your investment as you can.
And let yourself fail as often as necessary, because that means you are trying as hard as possible
and, eventually, you'll succeed.
And make decisions. Make them quickly and on the move. Seize opportunities.
Remember that having a plan, any plan,
or making a decision, any decision,
can be more important than whether it is the best possible plan or the best possible decision
because, in any case, you kept moving forward.
Along the way...
5. Create something tangible.
Make sure you leave college with something you can show the world,
be it a film, a thesis paper, a portfolio, a newspaper article, a case study,
or something else you can dress up in pretty colors and show to potential mentors or employers.
(Or, at least, your extended family -- and your kids, if and when you have some.)
OK, as you create masterpieces, don't forget to...
6. Have fun.
Go to parties. Stay up all night. Host parties.
Get drunk, if you drink. Get laid, if you lay.
Not that there is anything wrong with moderation: Do what feels right.
But don't make decisions based on what others might think about you.
And don't let the many clueless, careless, and downright destructive people that attend your school
ruin your enjoyment of the experience.
If you don't know how to have a good time, make friends with someone who does -- and buy the first round.
Get your heart broken. Learn to dance.
Skip a class to go skiing. Skip a class to finish a really good book. OK, that's enough skipping classes.
You will be discouraged from doing some of these things, of course.
Break a few rules, but not the law.
Don't hurt anyone or their stuff.
Use good manners always.
And try not to do anything to excess,
although some would say this doesn't apply to sex, dancing and skiing.
Whilst living this life of mild abandon...
7. Have great conversations.
Never pass up an opportunity to stay up until dawn talking about
the philosophy of Chumbawumba lyrics
or the difference between "love" and "codependancy"
or why families that sing together are less dysfunctional
or whether capitalism is a failed experiment
or what your high school English teacher really meant by "Truth is Beauty."
Talk with everyone, not just those with whom you share interests or classes.
I'm talking about face-to-face sharing of idea-filled oxygen, not 7 wrds on Fb.
Never let a screen get between you and real experiences filled with human contact.
Be a good listener. Ask others about themselves. Make them feel good about their accomplishments.
You never know when a good conversation will prove to be one of the most rewarding
and memorable events of your young life.
Now, while one shouldn't taint personal interactions with self-interest, there's nothing wrong with being aware
that those around you may be a part of your shining future, so...
8. Remember every person is potentially a member of your professional, as well as social, network.
You never know when a conversation will prove to be the spark that starts your professional career,
or otherwise leads to further life-enriching experiences.
Of course, you want to have personal, authentic relationships and even interactions with people you meet.
but the point is, you never know who will be able to help you reach your dreams.
One of those folks may end up telling you about an amazing job opening
or referring you to an opportunity just looking
for someone like you.
That doesn't mean you should schmooze only to get ahead,
or kiss the ass of that guy you think might help you (it may not be the most obvious person, anyway),
but you should make an effort to remember people—
keep track of names and contact information—
and, again, be a good listener, because knowing something real about a person
(their passion for forensic accounting, or the fact they once yearned to run in the Olympics, that they die for sushi)
can allow you to rekindle that personal relationship later on.
Finding and maintaining connections with excellent peers and mentors can lead to amazing opportunities
and help make you "lucky" (also see #11).
Meanwhile, though you may think your natural charm paired with creative aptitude will carry you through...
9. Learn about your business.
Make sure your school remembers to teach you about the marketplace for your career.
Find ways to meet with people already experienced in the field,
and learn what and who the smart ones recommend you know.
Complete a good internship, and remember that interning for a very small organization
can lead to a more rounded and rewarding experience -- also look beyond the "big names."
Do the numbers: Take a few courses in economics or other business subjects,
even if you find the topics distasteful.
You may need to make money some day, and you never know when your entrepreneurial knowledge
will lead you to new and brilliant applications of your craft.
Then, to compliment all of the above...
10. Become fluent in another language.
Hopefully, you have already started on this goal.
It'll help you in your travels (and great conversations), but more importantly,
it'll give you an important edge in the work world.
You can be smart about it, and choose something that relates to your expected field of employment
-- if you know what that will be --
or choose something a little off the beaten track.
A notary public or accountant or dock worker or tractor technician or music therapist
who knows Arabic or Chinese or Swedish or even Tagalog
will find particular career opportunities that only they can fill.
And all while you focus on bettering yourself...
11. Prepare to become lucky.
There are certain things to get good at that can lead to more serendipity in your life.
Consider developing some of these skills during the next stage of existence:
Public speaking • Psychology • Business Writing • Accounting
Design (the basics) • Conversation • Overcoming Shyness • Proper grammar
Persuasion • Technology (hobby level) • Proper voice technique
And since there may be times when you just need a skill that can earn you a buck,
think about developing a skill like
cutting hair • fixing bikes • mixing drinks • baking bread • doing taxes
OK, while you prepare to make the most of what comes along...
12. Don't forget to look outside yourself.
The world will keep giving you reasons to look out for yourself first
(and college is by nature self-oriented),
but you want to be a rounded person, a compassionate person,
a person engaged with the world, and part of the solution to the problems it faces.
Whatever else you are doing,
Spend several hours a week working towards a worthy cause outside yourself.
A few hours a week will bring you great satisfaction and is truly more and more necessary.
Continue to learn about sustainability and scarcity of resources
and try to apply this knowledge to the way you live, as well as to your field of study.
These considerations are going to have to become a fundamental part of everyone's life and work
in the very near future.
And, finally, what some might say is the most important objective...
13. Prepare for future world travel.
Make friends with people from around the world.
Learn about them and their cultures.
Grab every opportunity to have friends in as many other countries as possible,
not to mention in other regions near your own country.
Besides just being connected to the world,
you will gain excellent guides if you should travel, and avoid expensive hotel bills.
Trust me: You'll feel very, very smart for having done so.
* If you have a yen to make your career count and have a positive impact on the world, you might check out the guidance provided by 80,000 Hours.
Other good lists of advice are to be found around the web. Just be careful: Some are there to make a profit out of convincing you to use a certain service. Here's a few I have seen:
I was inspired about two ideas from this resource, about seizing opportunities and about talking effectively with others.
Some really nice advice, including some that they probably read here first!
And there's a blog called My College Advice that might be worth checking out.
For extra credit, you can consider which of the above items of advice I actually took, and which I wish I had taken!