It's August, which means across America soon-to-be college students are pondering what to pack and which classes to take. But while wonderng whether to bring that band poster and if you'll get along with your new roommate are essential parts of the freshman experience, experts say students should worry about other more essential choices too.
The numbers are clear: getting your degree is gigantic leg up in life. It's also true, however, that college is what you make of it. Getting that bachelor's is great, but if you want to be truly successful after graduation, it's not enough. From the first day, college students should be thinking strategically about how to get the most out of their time at university.
What does that mean practically? Liz Wessel, founder of WayUp, a job site for recent grads, is super well placed to know, and in a recent TEDx talk she offered college freshman a ton of advice. Here are a few tidbits via the always interesting TED Ideas blog.
1. Send out cold emails even if you're scared.
Is it terrifying to cold email people you admire when you're just a lowly college student? Yes, it is. But you should do it anyway. First, because your puppy-dog-like inexperience can actually help you. "Everyone in the world wants to help college students, so please use that to your advantage," Wessel advises. "In your first sentence in your cold email, you should be saying, 'Hi, my name is ___ and I'm a college student at ___ .'"
Second, success demands the bravery to take risks and face rejection. Best start building those muscles as soon as possible. Finally, getting people to write back is easier than you think. Wessel herself used a cold email to land a job at Google while still at college and has shared her tips for actually getting the super successful to respond and help.
2. Find your five.
You might think that college is a great place to start networking. Wessel disagrees. Forget strategic connection-making and focus on making a handful of true friends instead. "Befriend five people who you would bet on ... If you're truly friends after you graduate, they're gonna help you and you're gonna help them," she recommends. She's not the only expert who insists quality definitely beats quantity when it comes to finding your squad.
"By giving your time to 50 people rather than, say, five, you are making far less of an impact in the world than the sheer volume of your network would have you think," Community Company CEO Scott Gerber has cautioned.
College is an ideal place to start finding your five. "There's never going to be a time again where there are going to be ... thousands of brilliant minds around you, learning alongside you, except when you're in college," Wessel reminds students.
3. Start something.
Studying whatever you're passionate about is a great way to build critical thinking and analytical skills employers increasingly value (Wessel herself majored and minored in the not immediately practical fields of political science, Japanese and math). But you should also focus on building real-world skills that make you employable. Starting something -- anything -- is a great way to do that.
"Once you get into the real world of work, you're going to see that executing projects is pretty much all you do, and it's really hard. It's great to get that experience during college," Wessel says.
Again, your inexperience can work for you. "Corporate sponsors are way more willing to help you when you say you're a student and this is a university project ... versus you're just another recent grad," she points out. Plus, your university is likely to offer a ton of resources to support whatever you're aiming to start. Take advantage of them.
If you like Wessel's advice, check out more tips via TED Ideas, or just take a few minutes to listen to her complete talk below: