What to do Your First Semester in College

(If you’re on the quarter system, then this still applies to you)

Whether it’s your first semester in the brand new land of college or you’re looking for a fresh start this year, your Fall Semester is a great, tangible startline to achieve your goals.

When I was in college, I made it a goal to do something significant every semester so it felt like I was improving in life.

Most people want to get good grades, or get someone to notice them. This is alright, and you should do these things. But these steps are more for the real world.

Most people fade out after college and it gets worse because after college, you have no tangible metric to improve your life. Sure, there’s performance reviews or annual markers, but other than that, most people fade to obscurity.

Goals are important. Mark Zuckerberg had a goal where he would do a challenging task every year. For one year, he ran every day, another year, he learned Chinese. As you can see, this has been amazing for him.

So what I’ll be saying are sort of unconventional compared to most things you’ve probably read but they will be the most timeless pieces of advice you’ll ever receive.

Make friends with a professor or staff

Freshman have a problem with this, and some seniors do too. Professors are your teachers! Being friends with them is weird!

Though I actually don’t like the idea of going out to lunch with a  professor as a student, I do recommend that if you are truly interested in what a professor does, you should make an effort and talk about their work. Keeping it passionately professional will make them a valuable asset in the future.

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Remember, professors are literally on the cutting edge of their research and they get asked from industry to academia to solve a particular set of problems. If you’re really into what the professor does, you should definitively dig deeper.

Once you realize that your professors are just people like you and me, it’s easier to approach them. Once you realize that professors are people who love what they do so miuch, they devote their life to it and you kind of want to do that too, they become most approachable.

So how do you approach a professor or get some office time to learn more about how you can work with them? First, you should do your research. Most professors have scientific articles, or media articles which are googleable. Professors also talk about their work quite often in class. Send an email and be like:

“Dear Dr. X, I saw an article/I’m interested in [your subject]. I am a [student] who would like to learn more about what you do. Are you free to discuss some time this/next week?”

It’s that easy. What’s even better is that this template is also amazing to use when looking into graduate schools.

Being friends with your professors has helped me so much. I get to see them every time I go to the IFT annual expo I get to work with their graduate students for a summer job, even when a professor moves on from the university, I can get invited to help them out in the future. But even I haven’t taken full advantage of it compared to other students. Some students have established relationships so well, they get to go to Africa to help the unfortunate.

Join a new club or organization

Every semester, I try and go to a new club. You can find these clubs either on billboards all over campus or at random encounters.

Clubs or organizations (which includes college funded, Greek, events based, etc) are ubiquitous and plentiful. If someone says that there is nothing to do at your college, then they have no idea about clubs. There are club times in the morning, lunch time, and all through out the night. There was one point in my life where I went to 2 or 3 club meetings a day for the whole semester and that totally burnt me out.

Point being, is that it makes a lot more sense joining a club at the beginning of the school year because you will be meeting a lot of people who haven’t already established cliques and stuff. Not only that, but old members should be open to bring you into their world.

Now I know this is really hard. It’s uncomfortable meeting new people in different settings but it gets easier the more times you do this. You’ll realize people just want to meet like-minded friends and have a good time.

Whether you stay in the organization or leave because it’s just not for you is your choice. If your schedule is overwhelming, it’s ok to just leave. People will understand or not care. It’s college, your job is to get a degree, right?

So get ready to take that retreat in the woods, or crash that Indian new year event, or take your shoes off at an Asian house party. The best part of college is that as long as you’re not a terrible person, you are welcomed everywhere.

Start something

Warby Parker was a glasses company started by 4 college kids who had no experience with glasses. The Onion was created in the University of Wisconsin and naively sold for $19000 dollars.

I’ve known plenty of successful people in my school who started a fashion blog, or a sustainability platform and are doing so well, that I’m really jealous.

In college, you have so much time and energy and maybe money if you have rich parents. It’s a perfect time to start something and see what works.

Here are ten ideas you can start with minimum effort

  • A blog/vlog/website – “How to survive college in 5 easy steps”
  • A club or organization – We have a kitchen in the food science building. Let’s teach people to cook!
  • An event that can be done on campus – We should have a multicultural event with a lot of food for the whole campus
  • A movement – Now is the perfect time to express your political opinion
  • A project for an entrepreneurial competition- every college has an entrepreneur center
  • A farmer’s market stand – every college has a farmer’s market
  • An ebook – Upload something obscure on kindle. Your fanfiction, or how to survive college
  • A viral video – ALS Ice Bucket Challenge or the one where people put bottles in trashcans
  • A way to get your school to do competitions – Concrete Canoe, Product Development Competitions. Just start one.
  • A photography service – those senior portraits tho

All of these are hard to start and have a steep learning curve. I’ve started a couple of clubs, a big event, competed in an entrepreneurial competition, won some food product development competitions, and stuff of that.

By the way, the second-best time to start all of this? Your first year out of college. Let’s wait until you get there.

Most importantly: write it down

I hate writing things down and I try so hard to do so. Other people love journaling and having a complexly organized schedule.

However, I do write one thing down when I start a semester that I’ve kept with me even to this day.

Write down one overarching goal that you want to accomplish this year and check it once in a while. They’re fun to look back to.

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