Six Tips for Back to College

School is back in session! There’s nothing more enjoyable than seeing oversized backpacks, first day of school outfits, and weary-eyed parents ushering their kids onto the school bus. Here in Austin, we also have to deal with the influx of 50,000+ college students, as can be evidenced by the obvious amount of traffic that now crowds our freeways. 

I remember when I first entered my freshmen year at The University of Texas. I was young, naive, and wished someone was there to show me the ropes. For that reason, I wanted to share the 6 tips I wish I would have known while I was still in college and prepping for the real world:

Tip 1: If you don’t know what you want to do, know what you don’t want to do

When I first started college, I had no idea my career path, my passions, or what opportunity lay before me. Even after graduating, many of these questions remained.

You spend the majority of your 20’s (and even your 30’s) figuring out what you don’t want to do. If you’re not sure what you like, at least know what you don’t like. It’s going to take time for you to test the waters and learn your passions and gifts. That’s okay.

It was one of our authors, Jon Acuff, who said, “I hope you don’t get your dream job when you graduate. You wouldn’t know how to appreciate it.”

Tip 2: You don’t have to be the best at everything

It took me awhile to realize that employers weren’t looking for someone who could do everything. I started college thinking I had to be great at everything — from financial analysis to graphic design. It wasn’t true.

Now, sitting on the other side of the table, there are two things I look for in a potential hire: a desire to learn and a strong work ethic.

Tip 3: Don’t worry about money, it’ll come.

College students are notorious for being frugal. And I know it feels terrible in the moment, but embrace and enjoy it. It’s funny looking back and realizing how so many of the best stories revolve around having little money and the scrappy nature required to get by.

Not having money builds character. If you’re willing to work hard and learn, I promise your situation won’t stay the same forever.

Tip 4: Time is your most valuable asset

While most college kids are financially cash-strapped, they have what us “old folk” would trade anything for — time.

Time is your most valuable asset at this early stage of life. You don’t have the responsibility of a full-time job, family, kids, things that all require energy and attention. This gives you the freedom to explore, learn, and pursue things that fascinate you. I’m not saying this can’t be done in the future, but it sure becomes much more difficult the older you get.

Once you leave school and the real world sets in, “free time” to pursue fun and new opportunities becomes a rarity.

“There’s a myth that time is money. In fact, time is more precious than money. It’s a nonrenewable resource. Once you’ve spent it, and if you’ve spent it badly, it’s gone forever.” — Neil A. Fiore

Tip #5 Make plenty of mistakes

If you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t learning. Do something everyday that requires you to step outside your comfort zone — ask that cute boy or girl out, see if you can get a discount on your coffee, join that intramural sport you’ve never played.

If anything, college provides you the framework to make mistakes without massive repercussions. You can fail safely. Try new things, fail, learn, and improve.

Tip #6: Success is a journey, not an outcome

Piggybacking off of Tip #5, have a mindset that focuses less on the outcome and more on the process. It’s the process of making mistakes and learning that will set you apart in the long run.

You will never hear a successful person say, “Wow, yesterday made me really successful.” If anything, success is impossible to perceive in the moment. It’s only when you take a step back and examine your track record from a macro perspective do you begin to realize the obstacles and challenges you’ve overcome.

“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue…. success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it” ― Viktor E. FranklMan’s Search for Meaning

In Closing

You’re currently entering some pivotal years in the formulation of your identity, but remember it doesn’t stop there.

Learning is a lifelong journey, and there’s nothing, nothing, that you do in the next couple years that will screw you up for the rest of your life. So don’t let that thought hold you back; try new things, take risks, and grow. Pretty soon you’ll be looking back and realizing how far you’ve come.

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