5 Ways to Maximize Your Investment in College
When it comes to maximizing your investment in your college experience, the first thing that likely comes to mind are ways to save money on tuition. While making wise financial decisions is important when it comes to planning for college, it’s even more important to carefully consider how you are actually managing your investment (whatever the size) in the college experience.
Like any other experience, you get out what you put into college. If you spend your time during college binge-watching Youtube and submitting mediocre work that meets deadlines and professor expectations, you’ve just wasted thousands of dollars on the college experience.
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To maximize your investment in college you’ve got to engage in the experience. This means building relationships, truly learning, experiencing new things, and taking full advantage of the opportunities your campus offers.
And, if you’re totally lost and don’t know what you want to do after graduation, being engaged and having experiences will help you determine your path. Likewise, if you already know (or think you know), getting engaged and having experiences will confirm your ideas or save you time, money, and effort by showing you that your idea is not what you want.
The idea here isn’t to try to mindlessly tick off boxes. The idea is to strategically and intentionally engage with the college experience in a way that will nurture your personal and professional development.
Following are five ways to maximize your investment in college:
1. Build Relationships with Your Professors
Professors are one of the most valuable resources on any college campus. Yes, they can be intimidating. Yes, they evaluate your performance. Yes, 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.
Building relationships is one of the simplest ways to cultivate respect from professors while also boosting your grades and enhancing your overall performance.
2. Connect with 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 a professor, 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 the effort and the slight awkwardness you may feel at first. 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.
3. Engage with Academic Projects
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.
4. Get Relevant Work Experience
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 skillset 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.
5. Get Involved on Your Campus
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 maximizing your investment in college is to intentionally engage with the experience. The more you are able to knit together a portfolio of learning and experiences that cultivate transferable skills and expertise in something that fascinates and aligns with who you are, the more value you will gain from your college experience.
About the author:
Katy Oliveira is the founder of Collegehood, LLC, where she helps college students and young adults find their purpose then use their college experience to make it happen. She is also the host of the Collegehood Advice podcast, where she shares expert advice, strategies, and insights to help you thrive during college and beyond. Visit www.collegehoodadvice.com to connect with Katy.