Approaching Student Life

Suzy Somebody is a college student at the Random State University. She was top of her class in high school, and is now taking 6 classes, while being president of an honor society and working a part time job at the Generic Chain Restaurant. She was finishing up the last paper, for her last class, in her last semester of college. When she finished her very well written and concise eighteen page paper, and turned it in, she said, “Now what?”

It’s a valid question, isn’t it? For some, that moment of existential uncertainty becomes the defining moment of their college experience. All the blood, sweat, and tears have been exhausted, and as crazy as this sounds….that was the easy part. She sacrificed an enjoyable life for the better part of a decade (4 years of high school, and 4 years of university), without fully understanding what she was doing to herself. She constantly blew off her friends, instead cleaving to her books for companionship. She refused to believe that she could have it all. It was either an enjoyable life, or an academic life. There was no middle ground.

This sounds like an extreme case, but it’s not so far-fetched, especially not in this economic climate. There is a lot of pressure on college students to finish as quickly as possible, achieve top of the class grades, join organizations that will benefit the student in the future, all while holding down a part time job (if not full time). This had led to a spike in students taking online courses. Is there an alternative to this kind of student life?

According to MIT grad, Cal Newport, “The big idea is to find a way to become less overloaded and less stressed without becoming less impressive.” He laid out three core strategies to use when approaching this student life:

Do Less:

Students who don’t overwork themselves -choosing to sign up for a reasonable schedule- have the ability to dedicate more time to studying, while allowing them to engage in student activities, a social life, and much needed leisure time. By no means am I saying that you should take one class per semester. Take a normal course load (generally 12 credit hours). What I am suggesting is that you refrain from spreading yourself thin by taking on too many things at once.

Do Better:

Now that you have created a more reasonable schedule for yourself, it’s time to be more focused and efficient in the classes you have signed up for. You will be recognized not for the amount of decent work you do in several areas, but for the extraordinary work you do in one area. Study well (not necessarily hard), be efficient and pay close attention in class. While at work, focus on your tasks and learn from those with more experience. Absorb the best practices of others, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. “It’s about more than the aura of stardom that shines from someone with true ability, there’s another deep satisfaction to be found in the craftsmanship of slowly building skill, a thin layer at a time.”

Know Why:

The worst thing you can do is set out on something without fully understanding what the reasoning behind it truly is. Would Frodo have been successful in his journey to mount Doom had he not understood the gravity of this quest? Nobody wants to end up like a headless chicken. If you are going to be successful with the above concepts, it must be understood that a life with both freedom and focus is a life worth living. That is in fact, what it’s all about. In the end, all the money, fame, and success mean nothing without a joyous and satisfactory life. If you begin practices this idea from the very beginning, you will excel not only in college, but beyond.

I’m sure you have heard a myriad of people claim that the high school and college years are supposed to be the best years of your life. You scoff at this notion because how can these awkward, hectic, high pressure years be the best? “Once I graduate, then I’ll enjoy my life. Once I start working in my field and making good money, that’s when life will be good.” The problem with this kind of thinking is that it implies a tomorrow. Sadly, we are not guaranteed tomorrow. Do not sacrifice contentment and joy today for the uncertain tomorrow.