Getting the most out of next year

Here are a few ways to take advantage of your remaining college years.

by Eric Best

This week marks the end of yet another year of classes. College is a short time in our lives, and we should try to make the most out of our experience while we have it. Here are some ways to try to take advantage of your college experience.

As college students who already have proven that they have the knowledge to get high ACT scores and good grades in order to get in to college, we must realize that despite our copious knowledge, we still need wisdom, higher understanding that allows us to know our place and duty amongst a multitude of different groups, areas and fields. We need to think critically while we learn so that we can draw comparisons to real problems, understand our professor’s knowledge as a work in progress and not necessarily set in stone and to act appropriately within all groups and populations.

Often, students hear their parents refer to college as the “good old days” — we should seize the relatively short amount of time we have here. But we should also build upon our time here later in our lives by developing ourselves and continuing our learning. College is only one step of one’s education, which should last a lifetime. Understand that you have much left to learn and experience, as well as a lot of time to do it. As Mark Twain once said, “Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.”

One thing college students should understand is the value of networking and building relationships within professional and scholastic environments. Though some may find the value of diversifying their résumé with multiple organizations and businesses, there is evidence to show that working your way up in a single organization has its advantages. Employers may see the value of your passion and loyalty to one company, especially if you are able to work your way up several positions. In this way, the references on your résumé are going to be solidified, and you will have the opportunity to potentially network for other jobs or experiences. Finding people who share your interests and passions will not only benefit you on a personal level, but these people may act as mentors for you throughout your college career.

Students should also use the other resources around them, such as health services, educators, advisers and other students. As we progress in our college careers, courses may become more challenging, which can get overwhelming for many students. Depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses exist in incredibly high rates in the college population. Students need not think that these problems aren’t “real” health problems that do not require a medical response. There are resources available to help students deal with these issues.

If you’re not sure about a particular major, try taking a course in that department — it’s worth your time to develop your interests or find new ones as an undergraduate student, and it’s possibly your last chance to take courses in another department. Some people may think that switching a major is a sign of indecision or unwillingness to work hard — but if you feel that your major isn’t something you want to pursue, then it may be worth finding something you do.

Students should also take advantage of discussion sections. I notice that many of my discussion sections are oddly silent, and interactions between students are rare. Not only are you paying for the class, but the discussion section is often your only time to talk through problems or notes with other students or professors. Learning is a social practice: We learn much more by doing so collectively with other students in a social environment, not one where students feel isolated and separated like a large lecture hall. The students sitting next to you probably share an interest in the course, and you will probably see them again during your time spent in your major.

Also, take advantage of your advisers. They might not be perfect, but the University’s academic advisers have a diverse knowledge of courses, educators and majors. Good advising leads to fewer semesters taken beyond four years, which means less money out of our pockets. They can recommend good study abroad programs, which can completely change the nature of your education and they way you apply your knowledge.

Finally, though it may be the plot of a Jim Carrey movie, try not saying “no” as much. As college students, we are still relatively young and inexperienced. Whether this means going to a party, going on a date, taking a course or joining a group — these can often lead to eye-opening experiences that can teach us more about ourselves than we ever thought. Experience leads to wisdom, and by taking advantage of the things around us, we can have the most diverse and developed college experience possible.

As summer approaches, students will find time to work and enjoy themselves, a chance to take a new, critical look at their college career. Beyond the diploma at the end, the real advantage of a university is it gives you leverage with opportunities unique to higher education. The combination of like-minded people, university resources and community support means that you can take on opportunities that would be hard to recreate outside of school. In order to get the most out of the next year at the University of Minnesota, students need to learn the value of life experience and the wisdom it can create, which undoubtedly betters lives.