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The UnCollege Blog

Hacking your First Year of College

Many of us look at college as a time to play. I did. The grand plan was to meet people, take some classes, party, and make some friends. Maybe there would be a few romantic connections along the way. If all went well, I would get a degree while doing as little work as possible. I figured once I graduated, I would get hooked up (perhaps with one of the friends I made) and start working in the “real world” in some fantastic job that recognizes my potential and puts me on the fast track to wealth and happiness while also doing some good for the world.

I was shocked when it didn’t work out.

I am writing this in my 30’s, as someone who is leading a good life. My path to here has meandered, and I’ve sometimes doubled back to where I started. I wish that someone had told me a few things when I was going to college, but the truth is I probably wouldn’t have listened anyway. However, what I’m about to share would have helped me and therefore I offer them to you, just in case you decide to listen.

Each time I read the statistics around college, I shake my head. Student loan stats are staggering: over a trillion dollars owed, the average being around $30,000. The unemployment statistics are depressing: just over half of recent college graduates are underemployed or unemployed.

The bright spot is that this time in our lives there are more and more alternative forms of education and programs designed to sidestep this flaw in our system. Do a quick search on some of the programs - I dare you - the future is out there.

Yet, the dream of a college education still remains the avenue most of us are taking. So if you’re not planning on going all Robert Frost on us then you’d better take advantage of your time in university.

Here are the essential six tips to successfully Hack your First Year of College.

1. Be proactive. 
Insert your favorite cliche here about seizing opportunity. Colleges have so many resources designed to help their students and yet a small fraction of students use them. Go to things! Stop by your career center or counseling center or student life center. Whatever, go some place and poke around. Show up to events. You’d be surprised how many things there are that you may be interested in. Utilize the resources they have.

2. Don’t be stupid about being stupid. 
Some could argue that doing stupid things is one of the best things about college. Hear me out. I’m all for stupidity, but in moderation. Sleep and exercise have been proven to be two of the biggest factors in learning. Throw in healthy eating and you’ve got the tripod of setting yourself up for success. Sleep is when we incorporate our short term memory, aka learning. So staying up till 4 every night is probably a bad choice. Same with eating. Late night burritos are amazing, and please enjoy them, just don’t be stupid all the time. Your college will have a workout facility. Probably. Use it. Exercise helps to improve our brain cognition, lowers stress, increases endorphins, in short it is a good thing. And it can help make up for your lack of sleep and all the burritos. Freshman 15 is a real thing. Believe it.

3.Talk to your professors. 
Go to office hours. Speak up in class. Get to know them. They are here to help teach you. Plus, when it comes to internships, opportunities, recommendations or anything else cool that they know about or you will need them for it helps if they know your name. Plus if there is a subject that you are interested in and want to know more about...they are literally experts in the field. Nothing bad comes from developing a relationship with your professors.

4. Have original & creative thoughts.
Much of our education system growing up is you repeating what you have heard. While this has it’s uses in the workplace it’s far more important and fun to offer new ideas. Be aware of this as you are going through your experience. Don’t choose classes because your friends are taking them. Or you can get the notes. Don’t sit silently in your classes. Being able to articulate and then defend an idea is one of the greatest life skills there is. Don’t just listen to your professors and accept what they say. Question everything. Yourself. Those around you. Everything. Find out what you really think.

5. “Stay on target.” - Porkins, Star Wars
Once you have an idea of what you like and want to do then start doing it. Move towards that goal. Stay focused. Work towards creating experience in the field. What classes or knowledge from other disciplines would be helpful? What can I do to make this more efficient? Are there meetup groups? Online courses? In short...what can you do to get ahead while still having fun and enjoying yourself.

6. Take Breaks
Enjoy your time. Enjoy the people that you are meeting. Have less all night study sessions and more all night conversations. You actually learn more taking a break in the middle of a couple 25 min sessions then going straight through for an hour. Work hard. Work smart. Chill. Hang out. Repeat.

We support all forms of learning, and if you’re going to take the time and spend the money to go to college, please make the most of your experience. You’re young, and despite the feeling that you have too many choices to make, I implore you to start learning. You’ll make mistakes, and that’s part of the journey.

By Jon Gordon