What I Wish I’d Known in College

Happy Monday, everyone! As you can imagine, I spent this weekend thinking a lot about the New York Times Magazine cover story, “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” I’ve submitted a Letter to the Editor and will post it here if the Times doesn’t publish it. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your comments here or on Twitter.

In the meantime, on to my newest post. Looking forward to your comments!


What I Wish I’d Known in College

As someone who spends my days interacting with college students and thinking about their career prospects, I often think back to my own days on campus. I’ll admit that I experience a mix of nostalgia, relief and regret. I enjoyed college, but I also struggled to find direction during those four years.

While I know I can’t change the past — and my struggles transitioning from college to career led me to the work that I do now — there are definitely some things I would have done differently. For what it’s worth, here are three things I wish I’d known in college that I know now, in my 30s:

1. Great teachers and mentors are rarer than you think. I wish I’d taken classes in college based solely on the amazingness of the professors, regardless of the subject of the classes they taught. If there is a “star” teacher at your school, take his or her class, even if you just audit it from the back row. No matter what that person teaches, his or her passion will inspire you.

2. It’s okay to fail (or get a D). Those who’ve read my book, Getting from College to Career, know my deep, dark, terrible secret: that I got a D on my first test in college. It was a calculus test — a subject I’d hesitated to sign up for in the first place — and I thought my academic life was O-V-E-R.

Sure, I moved on, but I made many future course decisions based on which classes I thought I would do well in. What a stupid thing to do! Imagine all of the interesting classes I never considered because I thought I might not get a good grade. Never let fear hold you back from trying something new or different.

3. College is the beginning of your career. A few years after graduating from college I had an appointment with a career coach because I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do with my life. She asked me to describe some of my “peak” experiences, and one of the experiences I shared was my role as a Freshman Counselor (my university’s equivalent of a Resident Advisor). I absolutely loved the position — advising students, mentoring them and learning about their perspectives.

“Why don’t you make a career of that?” she asked.

I can honestly say that the thought had never occurred to me. For some reason, I thought that job was just “college stuff” and not relevant to the Real World. Of course now I know that being a Freshman Counselor was my first step to starting the business I have today.

As you think about your career, don’t discount all of the things you are doing as a student — your coursework, volunteering, extra curriculars, sports, social activities and more — and think about how these might be the seeds that will grow into a future career.

(Image: Montclair Public Schools)

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