By the time we get to college, we've spent 18-plus years being told what to do in order to become successful. We've had the steps laid out for us, and we've been given advice from friends, family members, teachers, just about everyone.
It can feel a little overwhelming to figure out what's actually useful. So I've sorted through all the B.S. to lay out the five things that actually will benefit you, just to help make the future seem a little less scary.
1. Taking the hardest classes you can vs. taking classes that actually interest you.
I'm not sure where people got the idea that taking the hardest classes you possibly can is somehow beneficial, but it's just not true. Employers, for the most part, do not care at all if you took the hardest level available in every course or if you took a full 18 credit hours every semester.
They really just care that you have a course selection that lines up with the position they're hiring for, and that you have a GPA that doesn't make them wonder what you spent the last four years doing. All that filling your schedule up with 300-400 level courses is going to do is ruin your mental health and your ability to enjoy college to its fullest.
Yes classes are important, yes challenging yourself is beneficial, and yes you are here to learn. But you're also here to get the most out of your education. If you're a finance major but love music, take a music theory class. Hell, I'm a fashion major and I've now taken two hip-hop history/theory classes. Do they really do anything directly for my degree?
No. But I absolutely love taking them; and I genuinely think the things I learned could be useful to me someday.
2. Joining as many clubs and activities as you can vs. participating in things that actually benefit you.
I'm sure most of us have either experienced this ourselves or witnessed it firsthand with one of our friends. There is absolutely nothing more stressful than overwhelming yourself with one too many commitments. We've tricked ourselves into thinking that the longer the list, the more impressive the resume. Not always true.
Your future success doesn't rely on how many clubs and teams and committees you joined in college. It matters what the things you joined or did were. If you're a fashion major, being the president of your school's retail club would be really impressive. If you want to go into PR, joining the PR committee for your school's philanthropy event or club would be extremely useful. It's not how much you do, but what you do.
3. Worrying about maintaining a perfect 4.0 vs. interning early.
If maintaining a 4.0 GPA is not too much extra work for you, than you, my friend are a seriously blessed individual. For most of us, a 4.0 is maybe shooting a little too high. I'm not going to tell you that your GPA doesn't matter, because that's a lie and something I absolutely do not want to put into your head.
All I'm saying is that if your GPA is a little lower than you'd like (*cough* mine *cough*), there are a lot of other things that can balance that out.
Interning is probably the No. 1 thing that can balance out a less-than-perfect GPA. The earlier you can start, the better off you are. I'm talking as early as freshman year. A lot of people wait until junior or even senior year to start thinking about it and that can really screw you over.
Plenty of people intern the summer after their junior year, that's routine. What really sets you apart is being able to graduate and go into the real world with three or more internships on your resume. If you live somewhere that allows you to intern during the school year that number could be as high as six.
Sure, you can learn a lot in a classroom, but nothing will ever top how much you can learn by working and gaining experience directly in your field.
4. Collecting as many connections as you can vs. building a few really solid connections.
Congrats, you have 300 connections on LinkedIn. Very impressive, but how many of those people would you actually feel comfortable reaching out to?
Throughout our professional careers we meet a lot of people and get a lot of business cards. "Let me know if you ever need anything'" starts to go in one ear and out the other; and I hate to break it to you, most of the people who say it are assuming you'll never even reach out.
So rather than seeing how many people you can meet in your industry, try to make a few super solid connections that you can actually rely on. I'd say I can count on one hand the amount of really reliable and helpful connections I have and they've done more for me than I could ever imagine. You don't need to know a million people to find success. You just need to know the right ones.
5. Only taking classes focused on your field vs. exploring classes outside your area of study.
Your degree already has the classes you need built into it. Taking a few extra classes absolutely never hurt anyone, but focusing solely on one topic can be boring, no matter how interested you are in the topic.
Take classes that spark your interest. I've said it 1,000 times, but having a wide range of knowledge on interesting topics is an extremely beneficial and attractive trait. Also try to take classes that have real world applications, like a personal finance class or a fitness class.
Try to better yourself through your education and make the most of the time you've got in school.