If you’re heading to university or college to get an education, you’re aiming too low. At the end of your time studying, you should come out with a life experience. Academic institutions can provide much more than lectures, course packs, and textbook recommendations. Done right, your university years will help you build a solid bridge between childhood and adulthood, giving you advantages years after graduation. So, what should you be getting from your university years, besides your degree or diploma?
1) Practical experience
The theoretical knowledge your course outline prescribes is a tiny part of what you can learn. There are also plenty of opportunities to apply this knowledge practically, in a safe and controlled environment.
For example, internships let you get hands-on, seeing how the workplace is actually run. Moot competitions encourage you to put together well-researched, well-presented arguments. These skills will stand you in good stead regardless of which profession you go into. Group projects give you practice for the soft skills of leadership, communication, compromise, task delegation, and organisation that you’ll need to succeed later.
In addition to studying, you should be looking for opportunities to practice what you’ve learnt. The real working world will feel much less scary as a result. You can also make mistakes now instead of when the stakes are much higher later. In fact, you’re expected to make mistakes now – it’s the best way to learn.
2) Life experience
For some of you, this will be the first time living away from home. You’ll suddenly have to feed yourself, do your laundry, tidy your room, and hundreds of other things you may have taken for granted. These not-so-fun things are an inescapable part of adult life, and if you get a head start on handling them now, it’ll make the rest of your adult life so much easier.
Some of you may also be in a different city or country. Learning about another culture, perhaps learning another language, and at the very least, learning a new public transport system is an education on its own. Travelling is one of the best ways of learning about the world, and about yourself, so since you’re in a foreign land, you should see as much of it as possible.
Even for those of you staying at home, you’ll be moving into a different life stage with new responsibilities and freedoms. You may be expected to help out with the household finances. You may be getting your first taste of debt thanks to student loans. To balance those out, you might be finally free of curfew. Or be legally allowed to drink, or drive (though never at the same time).
The concept of adolescence is fairly new in human history, as is the concept of young adulthood. But where previous generations had hardly hit puberty before they were expected to hold down a job and raise families of their own, your university years give you time to explore the world, and find out more about yourself, before taking on these responsibilities.
3) Opportunity to grow into yourself
High school can be a difficult time. Many people find that outside of the confines of those school halls, they suddenly blossom – physically, psychologically, and spiritually.
University is a great time to explore new talents and hobbies. You’re heading towards your physical peak, and you’ll legally be an adult. This means you won’t need your guardian’s permission to try new experiences like skydiving, cocktail making and flaring, rock climbing, windsurfing, or even camping overnight. And your university just so happens to have clubs and societies for all those things and more.
You’ll come into contact with people from a diverse range of backgrounds, and because of this you might also be exposed to social, political, and religious views you weren’t familiar with before. You may not agree with all of these new perspectives, so take the opportunity to ask questions, do research, examine your own views, and formulate persuasive arguments in support of them.
4) Enduring friendships
Your university years will be one of the last times in your life when making friends won’t require effort. Just by sitting next to someone new in each class, you could make a new friend. Striking up a conversation in the cafeteria with a vaguely familiar face won’t be weird. Joining a new club or society every term is actively encouraged. Basically, you won’t have to go out of your way to meet people, because you’ll be surrounded by people all the time. You also don’t have to go out of your way to meet up with people, because you’ll be seeing each other all the time too. People of your own age, with different backgrounds and interests – people who are just as open to making new friends as you are.
Once you get out into the world, making friends won’t be as easy. You’ll be spending most of your time with colleagues, and even though you should have good relationships with them, those relationships won’t be as innocent and uncluttered as your college buds. Because you’ll be working together, things like ego, career competition, and even money may come into play. Your other source of new friendships is clubs and societies. Things like book clubs, cooking clubs, or running clubs are great for meeting people. However, as adults balancing family and work, you may struggle to find the time to invest in new relationships.
Of course, having a networking app like Kalido will help you overcome some of the barriers of making friends outside of school (and in school, if you’re more introverted). By checking out someone’s profile, you’ll have an idea of their skills and interests, and whether you’ll be compatible. The Nearby feature also alerts you when someone interesting is nearby, so you can meet up spontaneously. Networks keep you in the loop if a group is making plans. And free chat and calls mean your friends are within easy reach.
5) Professional contacts
Despite the hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of people wandering around your campus, you won’t be able to befriend all of them. Some, you’ll not know well enough. Others you’ll just not like well enough (a concept we explored in our post on why you’re friends with some people, but not others). But they could all be very helpful professional contacts someday. In our post on why it makes sense to work with alumni, we discuss why graduating from the same alma mater leads to better work relationships.
Although you may not be inviting the whole campus to your next birthday, it’s worthwhile to keep in touch with a wider circle of people. For example, by joining the Kalido network for your institution or graduating class, you’ll have all these potentially useful contacts in one place. It won’t feel awkward to contact them out of the blue, as you’ll be connected already. You’ll also be able to check out their profile for their current skills and interests, so you’ll have topics of conversation to break the ice. Asking common contacts who are closer to that person for an introduction also helps you to establish rapport.
For whatever reason, you may not have become friends with someone in university, but you may find that you work supremely well with them later in life.
6) Concern for the larger world
Erikson’s psychosocial theory of adult development posits that the older one gets, the more outward looking one becomes. As teenagers, we focus most of our attention on ourselves (‘Do people like me? What am I doing with my life?’). As young adults, we tend to focus on our immediate family (‘Are my children alright? Are my parents alright?’). As we get to middle age, we tend to want to give back to the world (‘What concerns me about the world? Which charity should I support this year?’).
You could get a head start on your altruism and philanthropy while in university. In fact, students from all over the world have a proud history of taking stands on important social and political issues. From China to South Africa to the United States, young people can make a huge impact on government decisions and social reactions to important matters.
On a smaller scale, you could consider tutoring someone. You could earn some extra credit or money, while helping someone on their own learning journey. Tutoring is also a great way to test whether you actually know the material, a point we discuss in more detail here.
Once you leave university, you can swap your role of tutor for being a mentor. You can also consider donating to your alma mater, as a way of paying it forward. Your education does not need to only benefit yourself and your immediate family. Your knowledge, combined with a concern for the world and all the people and living things in it, could motivate you to truly make a difference.
If you want to know whether you’ve gotten the most from your university years, ask yourself this: Did you come out more educated or did you grow as a person? Because the well-rounded adult who emerges from your graduation ceremony should not be the same child who entered its doors as a first year many years ago.