Hey Ayesha! These 11 Simple Rules Will Help You Make The Most of Post-Secondary
Today’s the first day of a new semester. It’s also the first day of a critical new chapter in your life. You’ve made the successful journey from high school to post-secondary. Congratulations! Now consider that what got you here isn’t necessarily everything that will get you to where you’re going. Over the next few months, you’ll need to begin investing heavily in generating the maximum leverage, optionality, and adaptability required to land your dream job (or whatever’s waiting for you once you step off the convocation stage). It’s not going to be easy. But then again, nothing worth doing ever is. Take it from me, someone who experienced almost every touchpoint of the student journey (from disengaged student to student leader, then from student affairs professional to post-secondary instructor)—if you want to finish strong, you’ve got to start strong.
Here are 11 simple rules to help you get off on the right foot:
1. Remind yourself that everyone else is feeling just as __________.
Seated in your first class, look to the student to your left. Then look to the student to your right. I promise you that both of them are equally terrified, nervous, anxious, worried, stressed, etc. as you are. It’s perfectly okay to feel the way you’re feeling. Never forget that you’re not alone and that people all around you are eager to help you succeed.
2. Make (at least) one good friend.
Whether you need a study buddy or a shoulder to cry on, having someone to traverse this challenging journey with will significantly improve your overall student experience. In fact, research shows that NOT developing such connections could very well result in you dropping out. Be the person you’d want to be friends with—curious, helpful, funny, etc. Then introduce yourself to the person beside you. There’s a good chance that they’re mustering up the courage to do the very same thing.
3. Participate in your communities (and explore new ones).
Find your place as a first year student by attending student organization fairs and hopping from table to table. Check your student affairs and student union websites for a list of organizations, and complete your search by browsing through social media. The goal here is to join communities of like-minded people with shared interests. Better yet, explore clubs that will gently nudge you outside of your comfort zone.
4. Get to know your instructors.
The person standing at the front of your lecture hall is a person just like you. From personal experience, I can say that there’s a good chance your instructors are just as intimidated by you as you are of them. Do both of yourselves a favour and break the ice. Let your instructor know who you are and why you’re pumped for their class. You’ll be glad they know you by name when once you need an extension, revaluation, or reference.
5. Create a productivity system that works for you.
At the very least, you need three tools: one to know what to do, one to know when (and where) to do it, and one to collect and process your thoughts. My trinity of productivity tools includes my to-do list (Asana), my calendar (Google Calendar), and my notebooks (Moleskine/Evernote). Find tools & apps that work for you. I know that some bullet-journals are all-in-one solutions.
6. Develop a non-negotiable routine.
If you don’t proactively manage your priorities, your priorities will, in turn, manage you. That’s not only counterproductive, but it’s also a surefire path to burnout. So develop an iron-clad routine. Wake up at the same time every morning, go sleep at roughly the same time every night, and allocate consistent and sufficient study (and rest) time. Then go ahead and actually book these events into your calendar.
7. Reverse-engineer your coursework.
Talk to your instructors about your various assignments over the next semester. Make it clear that you want to do well in the course, and ask for their recommendations on how much time to allocate each week for optimal learning. Then go ahead and carve out the necessary blocks of time into your calendar. Make these non-negotiable as well. As the old saying goes, “If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.”
8. Do the required reading (and then some).
It’s called required reading for a reason. Unless you’re okay with a compromised learning experience and the resulting lower grades, your required readings shouldn’t be optional. As soon as possible, accept that books are life’s cheat codes and that the time spent reading them is an investment with great compounding returns. NOTE: Book summaries don’t count as reading.
9. Get involved outside of the classroom.
What happens inside of the classroom is only a fraction of the complete post-secondary experience. I’d go as far as saying that if you don’t acquire co-curricular experiences, you’re going to be at a steep disadvantage in the modern economy. Therefore throw yourself at every opportunity until you no longer can. Volunteer at an event, run for student government, join a club, try out for intramurals, receive mentorship from upper-year students. Fashion a curriculum outside of the classroom that will help you build skills, networks, and confidence.
10. Build your personal brand.
Don’t wait until your final year to create a personal website, flesh out your LinkedIn profile, and articulate your value proposition. Not only will you be scrambling to do what virtually every employer expects, but you’ve also likely forfeited numerous serendipitous (and potentially game-changing) opportunities during your undergrad. Don’t let procrastination get in the way of that choice internship, that startup collaboration, that conference invitation, and more.
11. Appreciate how far you’ve come.
Make gratitude and reflection part of your day-to-day. My days are bookended with journalling. I start my mornings with 5 minutes of gratitude and end my nights with 5 minutes of reflection. Quick. Easy. Journalling is a great way to organize your thoughts, make meaning of your experiences, and overcome adversity. You’ve made it this far, and that achievement is worth celebrating. Don’t stop recognizing your progress. Be kind to yourself, work hard, strive for consistency, and prepare to go the distance.
You got this.
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