5 Ways to Get Your Money’s Worth from Your College Experience
By Katy Oliveira
College Scoops connected with Katy Oliveira, founder of Collegehood, who shared her insights on how to get the most out of your time at school.
I was never very good at taking college advice when I was young. If only I could go back and listen, just listen. College is really expensive and everyone is looking to get the most out of their experience, but sometimes we lose sight of things. We are always striving for the next move, the next job, the internship but as a result, we never really engage in the “here and now”. We are not where our feet are planted but where we hope they will be planted in the summer or after graduation. As a result, we miss out on many aspects of college life or our current job as a result of our inability to engage in the moment.
Your college degree is WAY more than your major or your diploma. It is life lessons, exciting experiences, adversity, relationships, and experimentation all there to help you understand yourself, develop your skills, and prepare for making your impact on the world around you.
If you leave college with only memories of parties and a diploma you have not gotten your money’s worth from the experience. Rather than just passively floating through your college experience your goal is to move through the college experience intentionally selecting projects, experiences, and relationships that will support and nurture you.
The idea here isn’t to try to pack your time in college to the brim with every single valuable experience I mention, but instead to intentionally select those things that resonate most with you and engage with them deeply.
5 Ways to Get Your Money’s Worth from College:
Build Relationship with Your Professors
Professors are one of the most valuable resources on any college campus. Yeah, they are intimidating. Yeah, they evaluate your performance. Yeah, they have high expectations. But they know exactly what it takes to be successful in their classrooms and how to access opportunities in their field.
Building a relationship with your professors is about more than visiting them during office hours, although that is a really good place to start. It’s also about showing up to class, on time. About asking questions and participating in conversations. About submitting your best work. About communicating your needs and challenges. Engaging in the course material.
Each one of these very simple acts culminates into you showing your professors that you care. That you are willing to work. And that you can learn. These skills let professors know that you are ready to engage in other opportunities. It will allow professors to guide you to other content, connect you to opportunities, and nominate you for awards.
It is one of the most simple ways to cultivate respect from professors while also boosting your grades and enhancing your overall performance.
Find a Mentor
A mentor is a person who is slightly ahead of you along your path. They provide guidance, encouragement, and support for you along your journey.
This person can be your professors, but it doesn’t have to be. It can also be an advisor, a residence director, a supervisor, or an older student. Really it can be any nurturing person who has forged a path you are interested in walking.
Finding a high-quality mentor requires you to put forth a little effort. It means you must talk to people you admire and who may even intimidate you. It means you have to be willing to accept that you are a beginner and have lots to learn from the wiser more experienced people around you.
A good mentor is invaluable and totally worth feeling slightly awkward for a short time. Any mentor worth their salt should ask you good questions, give unbiased insights, reflect back what they see, and support your decisions.
This relationship sometimes just happens organically, but you can also just ask someone you admire if they would be interested in being your mentor. You can nurture and strengthen this relationship by setting up regular appointments to get to know one another and to chat about how things are going for you. Many schools even have mentorship programs to help match you with someone on your campus.
Take School Projects Seriously
Use your big academic projects to build a professional portfolio. Even school projects can demonstrate your abilities to employers. Plus, if you are engaged and do your best work you are more likely to learn and develop important skills that will come in handy later.
Taking projects seriously means taking the time to select topics that interest you. It also means allowing enough time to produce high-quality work. Viewing your course assignments like opportunities, rather than just one more thing to get done at the last minute can increase motivation and help you showcase expertise and transferable skills.
Projects, like papers, art, research, studies, civic engagement, service, and presentations each directly prepare you for experiences you’ll encounter again in the working world. The content might be different, but the mechanics will be the same. Take this blog for example. It’s not any different than writing a paper. The only difference is that I get to determine the subject.
Work at a Relevant Job or Internship
Find work or internships that serve a bigger purpose than just earning you a paycheck. Try to find work that will either help you build up your skill set or that will give you exposure to the industry or field that you are interested in or plan to pursue.
This means that you must really be intentional about the summer internship or part-time job you select. Don’t just take an internship at your dad’s firm over the summer if it’s not related to work you actually want to do in the future just to list an internship on your resume. Instead, you want to work with your professors and career services office to find work that relates to your intended field. If you don’t know what you want to do yet select any field you are curious about.
This is a great way to gain relevant experience to put on your resume, develop a network of folks who can give you references and connect you to opportunities, and actually help you refine what you really want to do with your life through low stakes experiences.
Get Deeply Involved in Extracurricular Activities
Getting involved on your campus is fun. It’s an excellent way to make real lasting friendships, and it’s a fantastic way to develop skills and experiences that will help you refine what you want to do with your life.
Involvement also helps you prepare for the world of work by developing those key skills employers are looking for like collaboration, communication, problem-solving, creativity, and flexibility.
Getting intentionally involved in extracurricular activities means selecting a few organizations or activities that you can become deeply involved with. This means becoming a leader, consistently participating, and working on significant projects. Being involved in organizations that matter to you with depth will help you build your network and explore things you love.
Unlike high school, where you might have felt pressure to get involved to look good for college admissions. I want you to get involved in college in a way that is sustainable, authentic, and truly nurtures you.
The key to getting your money’s worth from your college experience is to intentionally curate experiences that will nurture your development and enrich your life. Then consistently and deeply engage with them. The more you are able to knit together a portfolio of learning and experiences that cultivate transferable skills and expertise in something that fascinates you the more value you will gain from your college experience.
Katy Oliveira is the founder of Collegehood, LLC, a college success coaching practice, and the host of the Collegehood Advice podcast, where she shares expert advice, strategies, and insights to help you figure out what to do with your life and maximize your college experience. Visit www.collegehoodadvice.com to connect and access your copy of her free guide to Figuring Out Your Life.