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Navigating College

Juggling a bazillion tasks and getting ready for Life™

Navigating College
Twice graduated. IIT Bombay + Columbia University

It is back-to-school season. We have new students joining universities and existing students coming back for the new session. It is a time of optimism and hope as everyone is looking forward to the new term and how they are going to be awesome™️.

Regardless of what the naysayers might say, college is one of the best times of your life. The diversity of people you meet and the experiences you absorb is something incredibly unique. However, the question remains: how do you make the most out of it? As it becomes increasingly expensive to get a degree, it is imperative that you maximize the return on your investment.

As someone who has graduated twice — with bachelor's and master's degrees in Computer Science, I believe I can give a few pointers to help you make the most out of your stay.

Identify your purpose

What is it that you want out of college? It is okay if you don't know. Your purpose can be to find out your purpose. That is fine. However, always keep this at the top of your mind, as you figure out way and chart your course. What is that one thing for which you will even forget your meals and stay awake at night? What makes you forget to eat and poop?

Keep in mind, however, that whatever awesomesauce field you pick there is going to be helluva work to do as well. Nothing is going to magically become easier because you are passionate about it. You still need to burn the midnight oil. Life is not easy and there is no free lunch.

And for better or for worse, college prepares you for that with its endless stream of homework and exams.

Explore

College is also a time to explore the multitude of avenues the world offers us. Irrespective of whether you found your purpose or not, it is good to have a little diversity. Diversity of thought would help you in your personal and professional life too.

For example, if you are in tech, try dabbling in the humanities, or economics, or the fine arts, or student leadership, or other disciplines of engineering. Broaden your horizons. Someone with a holistic viewpoint is highly sought after in today's competitive and conflict-ridden world.

Pick your battles

Having said that, there is another side to this coin. Don't stretch yourself too thin. Prioritize what you want to do. It is tempting to be involved in a bazillion different societies and do everything. However, it is also important to…

Stop. Take a Moment. Breathe.

Reassess your goals and ambitions. Time is a limited resource. Involve yourself only in those activities which really interest you and are worth your time. Don't miss the forest for the trees.

The previous 2 points might sound conflicting. But they really aren't. It is important to strike the right balance. You might ask me, "But Pratyush! Where is the right balance to be found?" The answer is quite simple. That is for you to figure out.

Discipline yourself

This can't be stressed enough. We live in a distraction-filled hyperactive world. It is extremely critical that you zone out to get shit done. Minimizing distractions — like social media, games, Reddit, TV series/movies is essential. Have time limits and follow them strictly. It is not easy but make an effort. I am learning to this day. 😉

As best captured in the quote above — Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments. It is the difference between someone who wishes to be successful and one who actually is. Remember why you came to college in the first place — make your tradeoffs and optimize for your personal circumstances.

Network

Networking. Networking. Networking.

You certainly hear that a lot. The way I see it — there are two components to every successful person. The cool shit they achieve, and the people they know and meet. Both go hand in hand.

Those "professional networkers" you see at parties just handing out business cards and collecting other people's business cards? Yeah no, they don't make it too far. Remember, if you want someone important to talk to you and connect with you, you need to offer something of value too. Everyone's time is important. Make it worth the other person's time to know you.

Having said that, it should be a balance. Taking a tech analogy, you can't just be a code monkey and expect stuff to fall in line. You need to get out there and be known. Strike that balance, make those tradeoffs, and optimize at every step along the way.

Grades

Let's tackle the elephant in the room.

Grades.

Do they matter? Do they not?

They matter. Up to a degree. How much depends on what you plan to do in the future. If you intend to go for grad school, they matter much more than if you intend to just go for a job. Good grades can never hurt. Definitely, keep it respectable.

Yes, none of us like to study for exams. However, getting good grades gives out an important signal. That you can put down your head and work even if you don't like something. That is an extremely valuable life skill to have.

Stress

Sorry to break it to you. College is stressful. With all the jazz about grades, finding your purpose, networking, and so on, it quickly adds up. College is not like the happy-go-lucky scenes presented on admissions brochures. It is going to break you and then some.

Most people won't tell you this. Many a times, seniors give off the impression that it is all hunky dory. It is going to be hard. It is going to be long. Sometimes, you will feel like giving up (you shouldn't).

However, don't get me wrong. College is definitely enjoyable. You make friendships that would last a lifetime. College develops you in so many aspects, pushes you to achieve in ways that you didn't know you were capable of, and makes you grow up for the real world. It is going to be one of the best years of your life. What it is not is a walk in the park. Prepare to be pushed, broken, molded, and developed. Embrace the challenge.

Strap in and get ready for the ride. It is a wild one.

Wrapping Up

By now, you would have identified a common theme throughout my rant. And that is of balance and making your own tradeoffs. Someone once said life is a series of tradeoffs. Oh, how right (s)he was!

Time is a limited quantity. Your energies are a limited resource. Take a call on what best serves you and be relentless.

Find your purpose. Pick your battles. Stay disciplined. Meet people. Embrace the challenge.

And remember, don’t neglect your GPA too much. You have no idea how much sway that number can hold in the short term.

I have purposely given a very broad-minded spectrum of advice. It is supposed to be a wake-up call and set your expectations. The devil is in the details and they differ for every individual. Nevertheless, I hope that these pointers are useful for you. It is all based off my own personal experiences. I wish some of those points were told to me earlier in life. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or just want to chat.

Until next time. 🎉