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How to Get The Most Out of College

High school is in your rear view mirror and there is no changing what happened there.  As I discussed in the first post of this three part series (Post 1), high school is great to lay the foundation, but the popularity contests involved and success factors of normal school systems don’t have much weight past getting scholarships and acceptance into college.  Now on to college where you have the opportunity to Be Who You Want To Be! 


The National Center for Education Statistics published a report that states only 59% of students graduate with a bachelor’s degree in six years!  That stat would be greatly improved if only more people had the benefit of receiving the advice below and took action on it!  College isn’t exactly easy, but it is definitely easy enough to graduate in four years with a degree that you can and want to use.  A lot of students don’t realize that they now have 100% control over their future and setting their curriculum (both in and out of class) will direct how quickly they find post-graduation success.  These nine tips will help students graduate in four years, have fun, and be better prepared for a happy life and career.

  • College Finances:  Three things you need to know about finances in college.
    • Watch Your Budget: Even though the dollar figures may be low at first, starting to budget and actively monitor finances is a habit that will pay dividends forever and prevent you from making mistakes that literally cost you.  Would you take $25 in cash and throw it out the window for no reason when you can only afford to eat Ramen Noodles?  NO!  Then manage your checking account and don’t overdraft.  You are living on basically nothing while in college and a stupid $25 fee can put you into a financial tailspin.
      • Secret: If you do receive an overdraft fee, call the bank and ask them to waive it.  Most will do it without asking any questions!  Need scripts on how to do this?  Pick up a copy of I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi. His book is real world (not get rich quick) and he gives you great guides and scripts to get the most from your banks and credit cards.
    • You Are Creating Lifelong Habits: The habits you form now will just be enhanced when you graduate.  A lot of people say that when you graduate you are then in the real world.  This is untrue.  You are in the real world now and what you learn, do, and create habits of will follow you for the rest of your life.  Managing money, saving, donating, etc. are all habits you need to be starting in some form or fashion now.
    • Student Loans: Let’s go into the vault and pull out the truth from a commonly misunderstood piece of advice.  College is ridiculously expensive and many people say that you must get student loans in order to go to college.  Further more, people say that you need to enjoy your college years, so a normal loan for tuition turns into tuition, room and board, beer cash, new clothes, a new laptop, 4 spring breaks, and countless 2am Taco Bell runs (those will happen).

I am going to be very bold with this statement that is 100% true:

Student Loans Are BadStudent loans are bad!  The average student loan in 2013 was apx. $28,000 according to a recent US News Study. That equates to approximately $322 a month for 10 YEARS!  By graduating college, you are already expecting a certain lifestyle and this payment will force you to do things that you don’t want to and put you further away from your long term goals by adding to the debt. Having debt hanging over your head once you graduate will force you to take a job that you don’t want just because you need the money.  That first job is very important to your overall happiness and making the right first move is the key to, but more on that later.  Do everything you can to resist getting a student loan including getting a part time job, living in a cheap apartment or student housing, going to a community college first, start a side business, and plan your curriculum to get through quickly.

  • Planning it all out:
    • Find Like Minded People: Being at college means that you are put into a situation where everyone is unfamiliar at the start and it is easy to make friends.  But be careful who you choose to hang out with.  This can feel like being in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and you find someone else from your home state.  It may seem like a genuine bond at the start only to reveal that you are not similar in any way, you are just sharing a similar experience.  Go out of your way and comfort zone to join clubs for things that interest you and be active.  You will learn from these people and they will serve as a great motivator for you to continue to develop.
    • Plan Your Curriculum: You are an adult and it is up to you to plan your future.  If you sit back and wait, you will end up in classes you don’t care for only to struggle to get a degree you don’t need.  Take an honest look at your interests and skill set and build your college experience around that.  Taking the safe route of a predictable major and preset curriculum may result in a better job at first, but can be detrimental to your long term happiness if you are not 100% excited about it.  Instead, focus on classes that you are truly interested in and then sprinkle as many business, marketing, and entrepreneur classes as possible.  No matter what you want to do for a living, it is part of business.  Push yourself towards a skill you enjoy, but make sure you have the ability to make a business or career with it.
      • For great information on the process of planning your curriculum to graduate in 4 years, check out this awesome video on College Info Geek: Video
    • Create Internships: This is where you can really shine!  Guidance counselors mean well; but are limited to doing what’s best for all students, not just you.  Take the initiative to build your skills by creating internships doing things you are interested in rather than pull one off the job board.  During college I was able to secure 4 internships all around automotive and marketing.  Out of the 4 internships, 3 of those came from me walking into a business and convincing the owner he/she needed me or by starting my own business to gain experience!  If you bring value to the table and present yourself as a sponge that’s willing to work hard to help their business and learn, it is a win/win for almost anyone.  Internships mean more than classes on a resume.INTERNSHIPS MEAN MORE THAN CLASSES
    • Start a Business:  Your lifestyle will never be as modest as what it is now.  That means that you can take a chance on starting a business or two.  You will be eating Ramen Noodles and 16 bean soup (I ate it 7 days straight once…. not good), so may as well take the opportunity to work a little harder to build something that could be great.  Start out with something small that doesn’t require much startup capital and aim to grow it.  Given that your expenses are low, you won’t have the pressure of making a ton of money at the start.  At the very least, you will gain real experience that you can use on your resume and interviews.
    • Have Fun: Yes, everyone was right when they said college is fun!  I speak from experience when I tell you that you can work hard and play hard.  When you get to college, make sure you enjoy it by going to parties, games, and being a part of the overall experience.  You won’t have the chance often to have limited responsibility and endless opportunity.  Take advantage of both.
      • Be careful on what you allow to be posted online from those FUN nights!  Employers will search social media when you submit a resume and may be turned off by any beer pong celebration photos!  To prove my point, the first photo of me ever put on social media in 2005 still exists online even though it wasn’t posted by me. See below.

        Lacrosse Mark McClung

        First photo of me ever on Facebook from 2005 still exists and can be found. Luckily this one isn’t embarrassing, but it shows you that employers can find things that are 10 years old!

    • Think of the Future: This may sound counter from “Have Fun”, but thinking of the future does not come at the cost of having fun.  When you are planning your degree, internships, joining clubs, etc, just think of how it is going to effect you in the future.  Ask yourself these 4 important questions:
      1. Will I learn a new skill that will help me get a job I want?
      2. Will this set me back financially and make it harder for me once I graduate?
      3. Am I doing this because it easy for me now at the cost of making it harder for me in the future?
      4. Would I reference this on a resume?

Why is it that no one ever tells college students the truth? A college degree is important, but that just brings you up to being average at best.  In order to be considered for a job that you actually want, you must have meaningful experience or at least be able to show you have gone above and beyond to develop the skills necessary to be successful in the position.  If you don’t take anything else away from this post, please at least acknowledge that.

Take Action Today

Search LinkedIn for people that have the job you want and see what their skill set and career path are.  Then work with an adviser or mentor to create a curriculum and internships to help you get those skills.

 * Link to “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” is an Amazon affiliate link.  I have read this book personally which changed how I structure my personal finances and suggest you read it as well.

  • Ritesh on March 14, 2015

    It’s actually a important and useful piece of information. I’m satisfied that you just shared this helpful information with us.

    • Mark on March 14, 2015

      Hello Ritesh! Thanks for the comment and I am glad you found it useful!

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