The College Manifesto: Becoming a Successful Student
A few months ago, I created a note on my phone where I’d put advice, tips, and general things to keep in mind as I begin college. Some included tips to study, how to get mentors, and books to read.
I thought I would share it so other people like me would benefit. If you’d like to share your strategies with me, please do so and I’ll add them here. Let’s learn together!
How to Read & Use This List
The list does not have any specific order as I would just write things down as I discovered them.
This is my plan for what I will do. Therefore, it’s very context-specific (more on this below).
Review it weekly (more on this below).
After each point, I explain my rationale behind each point.
Class is starting soon, so let’s start walking.
Talk to engineering professors
Stop by and ask questions and be genuinely interested
Ask if they know of any projects or if they have projects
I plan to study engineering, read more about why here. Talking to professors is an easy decision because they are the experts in their fields and are the ones who know about how to approach engineering and how to find the best opportunities.
Reach out to alumni
I don’t like to assume what my future career might be like. I get to cheat and ask my future self what my career could be like.
Answer these questions
- What jobs exist that I would enjoy and have a reasonable shot at getting?
This will clarify my future path and get me focused to achieve that goal. I’m not concerned with this question as I mostly think about the most important problems and what I could do to solve them.
Get good advice
Good advice is context-specific to you
“—what you enjoy, what frustrates you, what your background is like, what kind of goals you’re likely to have—that most formal advisers won’t ever have the time to understand.” Source: Ben Kuhn
READ How To Win at College by Cal Newport
- And add it to your weekly review (more on this below)
This is a great book that will help understand what college is like and how to the best you can be. This book answers the following questions:
How to prepare for exams and papers?
What extracurricular opportunities should you look into?
How to balance a fun social life with an ambitious schedule?
This book contains the answers to these questions and more! Highly recommended!
Be friends with people in your class
Sure? This one seems dumb, but it’s one of the most powerful because of the psychology. Once you have a friend (a good one) in your class, you get motivated to do your best and of course, you can help each other out. Don’t overlook this one.
This is often overlooked but it shouldn’t. College is often too stressful and what’s a better way than to hang out with friends and do something fun. Fun, whatever that means, should be part of your life daily and weekly.
Help professors (and university) monetize ideas and research
Professors and scientists are busy trying to invent and research ideas. That’s really hard and they shouldn’t be the ones trying to find ways to commercialize the ideas and research. Leave that to savvy entrepreneurs like me.
Keep your personal burn rate low and minimize your commitments
“I have seen a lot of people miss great opportunities because they couldn’t afford a reduction in salary or because they couldn’t move or didn’t have the time.”
Source: Sam Altman
I like to get busy, and busy does not always mean productive. Leaving chunks of time aside for the next opportunity or project will be key for me.
Start a Weekly Review
I was inspired by Ben Kunh’s method.
Look at mine
I have been doing a Weekly Planning Sheet for about three years. Lately, I’ve realized that I would make the same mistakes repeatedly because I didn’t reflect and learn from my mistakes. Think about your weekly review to reflect and learn from your mistakes every week.
- Don’t get caught up trying to get a perfect GPA. Grades should not be something you pursue, but something that ensues.
Many college students (including me) have the pressure of getting a GPA to get into certain schools. This is a perfect recipe for failure because you’ll always have the pressure in the back of your mind when you’re studying, walking, talking, etc. Instead, if you’re studying something because you enjoy it and want to push yourself. That’s a better strategy and you’ll end up doing well.
Have a Plan B
- My Plan A is to study engineering, but it’s important to have a Plan B to relieve stress and pressure.
I want to study engineering and getting there is challenging. If I overly focus on the GPA and have no Plan B, the pressure is just too much. But if I have a Plan B that I can always pursue, in case Plan A doesn't work out. Then, I’ll counterintuitively have a better chance of pursuing plan A because I focus more on the process, and not on the outcome.
College and my projects should be related, and I should use college to leverage my projects and endeavors.
- I need to keep asking myself how to create projects related to my classes.
I get so excited about the possibilities that I almost forget about school. This happened in high school when lots of opportunities showed up and I pursued them. Finding projects related to my classes would also be a way to keep me engaged and to go above and beyond in my classes.
Be the most knowledgeable engineering student within 6 months
- Inspired by Bill Gurley’s famous speech
I’m reading many books and talking to current and past engineering students so 1) I can learn from their mistakes, and 2) know the ins and outs of the university and engineering.
Find researchers to work with
How to find scientists to work with?
Avoid being artificial
Take their classes
Make yourself useful to them
Get a job as an assistant or research at somebody's labs
Keep in mind this question
Why would someone be a mentor?
High potential person, and they can help reach that potential
If they can see that their advice pays off 10x in you
It’s easy to go through college and be mindless about the possibilities and opportunities that are available. This is one that I’m the most excited about.
Create GroupMe Chat in your classes
Take the lead and become known to others while helping each other mutually. Everyone is nervous, and no one knows anyone. I want to create communities where we all help each other study and to excel in the class.
- Runners run faster at 85% because they get less tense and have less pressure.
I will study hard and efficiently, but that’s it. I won’t be overly worried and stressed because I know that if I put in the effort and the work, the outcome will happen.
Sit in the front row
People will think I’m weird, but who cares? They probably won’t even remember you. And if they do, they’ll think you’re smart. The real reason I’m doing this is that you become more engaged so you can enjoy the class more. And professors will know you too. If classes are on Zoom, I plan to arrive 10-15 minutes early.
1 hour of class = 2 hours of homework
- This was recommended to me by a Cornell engineering professor.
I don’t plan to follow this closely, but it is a good rule of thumb to keep in mind as I study, especially for harder classes.
Go Over This Test Checklist Before Every Test
- Add to weekly review
I plan to use it both to study and review before every test. One of the most useful and practical resources I’ve found so far. Check it out here.
Don’t end a week without understanding a topic
I plan to email or meet my professor, go to office hours, ask TAs, ask friends, and do anything and everything to understand the basics of what I’m studying. This becomes critical, especially in the first few years when you’re building the foundations.
A big part of life is making mistakes, but a bigger part is learning from other people’s mistakes. College will be a new experience for me, but not for the people who gave me all the advice I wrote above. I’m both excited and ready to excel, but most importantly to enjoy everything college has to offer.
I hope you find this guide as useful and as inspiring as I did! Go crush it!
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