"College degrees don't matter!"
"Way to waste $20,000 on a worthless piece of paper!"
These are pretty common expressions among the crowds I hang out with. Though I don't completely disagree, I also don't totally agree. Sure, college is an investment, and it does include a lot of binge drinking and co-rec intramural sports, but it's also one of the most powerful tools to catapult your career.
It's important for me to note that catapulting your career is not synonymous with achieving happiness, but it will help you support all of the facets towards happiness. You'll ideally be working in an area you're passionate about (happy), in a city you love (also happy), and making money to support the family you love (oh snap, that got sappy).
College is not the only tool to achieve a successful career—unless you're in an ultra-specialized industry like the medical field—and it's certainly not one size fits all. With all that said, college was incredible for me because I learned a few tips along the way. Here are a few of the things I learned, in an open letter to my younger self.
Get to know your advisor.
The only "social life" tips I'm going to get into revolve around professional social life. This letter is not going to be about the ups and downs of my time in a fraternity or how involved I was in college. I have a whole other set of tips and mistakes not to make; something about drinking limits and which first dates to put a little less effort into. I digress.
Luckily, I learned something really valuable within my first year of college. On my second major change of four, I learned that requesting the same advisor—even in a big program—and getting close with them will almost always help you in the long run. There are strings they can pull, but often times don't because most college students are assholes.
I had a handful of advisors between my four major changes but got close with two of my advisors. Don't get me wrong, I worked my ass off, but who changes majors four times and graduates in four years? Advisors will help you if you get to know them.
Impress the right people.
Your first two years of college are pretty much filled with gen-eds. Math is basically the antithesis to everything I stand for, so naturally, I hated gen-eds. My hate for numbers is comparable to a twenty-something's aversion to gluten because they're "allergic to it." I wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole unless there's a calculator nearby.
Math wasn't my trajectory, so I didn't do any extra work to impress my math professors because I was hoping to work in an advertising agency. I didn't find it overly valuable to stress about my GPA, but rather finding the people who could help me get to the next level. Prioritize the classes where you can A) make the right connections, B) perfect your marketable skills and the grade will come naturally.
I got a lot of flack for this when it came to 101 or 201 classes about copywriting or graphic design. These classes, unlike most capstone classes in college, are usually taught by working professionals. I.E., people, I needed to impress, not professional professors. I spent hours on my projects for these "meaningless and easy" classes, while everyone else with a lick of graphic design experience knew they could basically "do their business" on the page and still get an A.
I had a working professional at my fingertips who was getting paid to give me critiques in one of the hardest industries to break into. My passions have changed a bit since college, but I still have a pocket full of connections to agencies if I pivot back because I sniffed out the right people to impress and crushed it in their class. An important caveat is that I was never disrespectful to the tenured professionals, but I think there was a mutual understanding that I had nothing to gain from them short of a grade and a middle-man to people who could actually leverage my career.
Harsh? Maybe. The real world works that way.
Find your purpose, pursue your passion.
I spent a lot of time having the time of my life in college. Yes, I gained a bit of weight—though I do think I carried it well—and I think I've recouped just fine since. One thing I didn't do that I should have done was spend more time finding out, not what I wanted to major in, but what I liked doing and what I could make a career out of.
I have a recurring issue of being pretty decent at a lot of things, but I'm not really all that great at any one thing. It's a shame because I think college is a time to do all of those things you're good at, perfect one to three of them—back to those marketable skills—and make a career out of it. It's not just about what you're good at, but what you feel your purpose is driven by.
I'm reading a book called The One Thing that focuses on finding what your one thing is. Imagine that, right? It's a challenge both for personal and professional development, and they feed into each other beautifully. Finding your purpose will ultimately help you pursue your passion. If you're pursing the passion that's informed by your purpose in life, how can you fail?
What happens all too often is people stick with just what they're good at and go with it, even if they're not crazy about what they're doing. I have a few friends in sales and various financial roles in big companies that wish they would have done something they were passionate about, not just good at. It leads to sprinting your way into the weekend, all while hating your 9-5 Monday to Friday. As I said before, I'm no math magician, but that's gotta take up like most of your life, at least right?