College is both a fantastic and a fantastically short experience. Whether you're a freshman or senior, your college days will some to an end sooner than you think. And while this may be tough to grasp now, your lifestyle will soon change drastically.
The implications are twofold. First, carpe diem. (Or, as translated in the cinematic masterpiece "Out Cold", "seize the carp".) Enjoy the time that you have left. Take full advantage of every opportunity within walking distance. Chat with as many professors as you can. Soak up the local culture in your college's town. Go to a random campus event.
Second, prepare for life after school. By this I don't simply mean pick a good major, study hard, and participate in resume-enhancing extracurricular activities. These are all crucial to landing a good job, but won't necessarily lead you to be successful once placed. Rather, ready yourself for the inevitable changes to your day-to-day. This can be done gradually and without making huge sacrifices, and you'll be far better for it. Here are three suggestions:
Get organized: College allows you to examine a small number of subject areas in great detail. Once in a classroom, you're laser-focused on the single topic being discussed from a single textbook and are free of distractions or other priorities. It's a great system, but it is entirely unlike working life for the vast majority of professionals. Office life is full of conflicting priorities and urgent requests. Information is scattered between various spreadsheets, databases, and people. Successful marketers have perfected an organizational framework that let's them spend less time looking for the information they need and more time thinking about how to use it. You can get some practice in office organization in college in a number of ways. Transfer your paper syllabus into your computer's calendar with accompanying reminders of when assignments are due. Catalogue your lecture notes in Excel or Word to easily pull out relevant bits when working on a paper or studying for a test . Spend five minutes recording your thoughts on assigned readings into a Word doc.
Establish a routine: Part of the fun of college is the spontaneity. Even with class and an on-campus job or activity, you generally aren't required to be in a certain place in a certain time all that often, especially compared to working life. This makes it tempting to go about your week without much of a schedule. There's certainly nothing wrong with the occasional lazy afternoon or post-class nap, but any structure you can incorporate into your week will be beneficial. One of the most successful classmates of mine, Christa, forced herself to set aside the same three hours for homework and the same hour for exercise every day…no exceptions. These habits have carried over into her working life, where, despite working long hours in a demanding job, she has thrived.
Read the news: With the exception of a very small minority, the bulk of college students are oblivious to current affairs. And why wouldn't you be? The next years of your life are essentially predetermined, and most of what happens in your state capitol or Washington DC doesn't really affect you. This will change the moment you graduate. The taxes you pay, the benefits you receive, the value of your home or other assets, and much more will hinge on who is in office and what they do. There are industry specific policies that could affect how you plan on making a living and whether or not your company stays profitable. (As a future marketer, for example, you'd be remiss not to keep an eye on FCC rulings on net neutrality and consumer privacy.)
Finally, following the news will help you make conversation with coworkers and acquaintances. I know not many 19-22 year olds spend time at parties discussing the merits of renewing the Export-Import bank, but adults often do. Rather than emerging from college with a terrific education but no idea of what's actually occurred in the real world for the past half-decade, take 20 minutes a day to read your favorite news outlet.
The above steps are neither difficult nor time consuming, and will make the transition to professional life much easier. Seize the carp, for sure…just know how to handle it after.
About the Author
Brian Ruddock is a New York based Account Manager for LinkedIn's North America Marketing Solutions business. He provides strategic recommendations and daily support for a number of enterprise technology and telecommunications accounts, including IBM and Verizon. Prior to LinkedIn, Brian worked for an agency-focused Search Engine Marketing (SEM) team at Yahoo!. Brian graduated from the University of Richmond in 2008 with a BA in Political Science.