What I Learned After Graduating College – My Personal College Advice

I recently published a post called the Top Finance Tips for College Students and had 23 pros share some of the college advice they wish they had known when they were in school.

Out of all the tips that were given, 3 general rules stood out:

  • Avoid crippling debt by choosing a cheaper college.
  • Hustle like hell during school.
  • Don’t make rash purchases/decisions when you land your first job.

These tips, among others, are extremely valuable ones and I am really grateful for the community at RockStar Finance for sharing some of their wisdom.

Since I’ve recently graduated from college myself and have now had time to get used to the world of adulting, I thought I would create a post that broke down some of the things I have learned and experienced after getting my degree as well as some college advice I wish I had known earlier.

This will be a bit of a different and more personal post than the average piece of content I publish to This Online World, but I hope any fellow students (or people who know students) might find something of value in this post!

My #1 Piece of College Advice – Trade Grades for Skills:

top college advice

In my first 2 years of college I focused on getting high grades.

However, after striving to get these grades for the first 2 years I realized 2 things:

  • Grades don’t matter unless you are specifically trying to get into a graduate program that outlines a grade cutoff in their requirements.
  • Employers care vastly more about your resume/accomplishments than your transcript.

So, in my third year of college I started spending more time on various side hustles, learning how to build websites, and generally trying new ways to make money online. By the time I reached my final year of college, I was spending a lot of my free time on starting this blog, running a SEO consulting gig with one of my best friends, and doing freelance advertising work.

My grades steadily dropped from mid 80s-90s to between 60-70% during this time and I didn’t attend a lot of my classes, but my resume continued to improve and employers noticed.

Additionally, while I had been growing increasingly disinterested with my psychology or marketing course content (which teach almost nothing), I was able to learn hard skills by working on projects I was interested in.

Anyway, the moral of the this piece of college advice is this: get the most you can out of your college courses, but take what you learn in class and apply it outside of the classroom.

It doesn’t matter what program you are in…I have friends in graphic design who market and sell their artwork on the side, and I know people in computer science who program apps in their spare time. Similarly, I have friends who are taking extra courses on the side to work towards becoming a financial planner or accountant.

The entire point is to take the material you are learning in school and to apply it to a real-world project so you can gain some hard skills.

Trust me, employers will not care about your grades if your resume can back it up.

Apply to a Program with Internships:

apply for internships

My second piece of college advice is to try your best to apply to a program with Co-op/internship possibility, or to try your best to secure something similar in semesters you aren’t in school or have a lighter course load.

Canadian students are lucky in that the majority of our internships (we call them Co-op terms) are paid positions, so working 4-8 months as an intern at a company doesn’t come with the same financial restrictions as a unpaid position.

However, I think it is incredibly important that college students get experience in the workforce before graduation, and this is for 2 reasons.

Firstly, gaining work experience helps out with my first piece of college advice…you can actually develop some hard skills by working in a relevant industry to your degree, expand your network, and learn material that is actually useful.

Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, working throughout school will teach you what jobs you will hate or enjoy.

Every job description sounds great when you’ve never worked anywhere. Next thing you know, you’re 6 months into a new job, endlessly filing paperwork, learning absolutely nothing, and dreading every waking moment of your life.

Working in a few different industries or businesses throughout your college years will ideally expose you to different sized businesses, corporate cultures, and jobs. With this knowledge, you will be better prepared to actually find something you like post graduation.

Even if you manage to secure a part-time position somewhere in a sort of informal internship position, this will be enough to improve your resume and indicate the sort of jobs you may or may not enjoy.

Cover All The Bases:

1 out of every 4 college students suffer from some form of mental illness, and I have even witnessed a shift in my own campus policies surrounding issues of mental health and anxiety concerns after a rapid series of Ontario University suicides.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my experiences in college, and I’ve also spent time trying to figure out why so many students are increasingly unhappy, depressed, or even suicidal.

Personally, I have had 1 period in my life where I was deeply unhappy for months at a time, and this was during my third year of college. At the time I was working a job I absolutely hated, I was finishing up a program that was not the least bit rewarding, and I was generally left with a feeling of ‘what’s the point?’

I didn’t understand why I was in school, if I would ever find a job that was fulfilling, and in the end I spent a good 4 months in a very unhealthy place where day-to-day functioning was difficult.

Looking back, I now realize that at that point of an all-time low there was one main thing missing from my life: something I was passionate about.

Consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for just a moment (ironically I am now referencing something I learned while obtaining my Psych degree):

maslows hierarchy of needs

Maslow is a famous psychologist, and this diagram of his argues that as humans, we have a set of hierarchical needs that we must obtain in order to survive and thrive.

The developed world has the luxury of having (for the most part) our first 2 bases covered. And, if you are fortunate, your friends and family probably cover base 3 as well.

As a college student bobbing around in a shitty internship job with a useless degree, I still had all the fundamentals in place. This is something I wasn’t grateful enough for at the time, but I digress.

However, at the time I wasn’t really involved in much else besides work and school, and I lacked a side project or challenge to really sink my teeth into. Boredom turned to a lack of fulfillment, which in turn lead me to feel worse and worse about my existence and future and to generally give up on things.

Considering how unfulfilling school can be for many people and the monotonous grind people endure for 4-5 years, I bet a lot of students feel the same way without realizing it. After all, as a student it is quite normal (from my experiences and observations) to have existential crises, doubts, fears, and to worry about the future.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons we have seen increases in mental health issues and student depression.

But here’s the thing: opportunities don’t happen by mistake.

No one is going to wake up and hand you a challenge, or a side project, or the chance to do something that will make you happy.

However, no one is going to stop you from pursuing those things (and happiness) either.

I’ve discussed why college students should consider starting projects outside of school, and my post The Simple Math Behind Starting a Side Hustle is one of my most popular posts of all time, and it was even featured recently on RockStar Finance!

All this time, these posts have focused on the the benefits of side hustles in relation to 2 things: making more money and acquiring useful skills.

However, I have now come to realize that our passion projects and drive to accomplish new feats also help make us happier and healthier.

Additionally, having these sources of fulfillment and joy in life also help stabilize you during periods of uncertainty.

I recently got out of a 3 year relationship with the person I love because sometimes, things just don’t work out. I am incredibly sad and lonely most days, I have trouble sleeping, and getting used to life after college is definitely a scary, new feeling.

However, I am not the same person I was in my third year of school, and alongside having my first 3 bases covered I’m now at a job I love and I have this blog (and you wonderful people) to provide me with fulfilling work that makes me happy. I also have amazing family and friends and have learned to recognize the fact that I am incredibly blessed and lucky more often.

Shit will happen in life. However, if you establish a solid foundation and insulate yourself from negative events with positive people, projects, and dreams, you can at get through most things.

So, if you are currently in college, school, or your first job and are feeling lost, don’t wait for the feeling to subside because it won’t.

Instead, look to spend more time doing the things you are passionate about.

Note, this doesn’t have to be a side hustle or way to make money; volunteer, exercise, learn a new skill…do whatever it is that brings you fulfillment.

You will end up a lot happier, trust me.

My Last Piece of College Advice – Remember The Importance of Balance:

There’s plenty of BuzzFeed-esque articles out there on college advice that implore college students to do shit like ‘discover themselves’ or whatever.

Existential fluff aside, these articles still drive home a fair point: college is a time where you’ll learn a lot about yourself and this is an important process that takes time.

Thankfully, if you listen to my first handy piece of college advice, you’ll have some disposable time because hey, you don’t need a 4.0 GPA (unless a grad program says you do, and then, sorry, your life is over).

Take your spare time and apply yourself to new projects, learning new skills, and growing as a person…but also remember the importance of balance.

I will never regret working too hard in college, because, well, I didn’t. However, I definitely regret some of the missed nights with friends or family or the times I stressed too much about work/side hustles and ignored the things that really matter.

So, take time to work on personal development, to figure out how to be alone, to learn who you are and whatnot. Just forget the importance of balance.

Maintain a good diet and exercise, but go grab drunken burritos at 3 in the morning after a night of Jager bombs and poor decisions…ying and yang sort of stuff.

Anyway, I know this was a much different post than my usual sort, but I guess February is the month of college advice and students tips here on This Online World!

If you’re a college student (or anyone, really) who is struggling, just remember that things do get better.

Catch you guys in the next post,

Tom

Greasy Gordon
Greatest housemates/friends of all time sitting atop a pile of garbage pulled from their Trap House – 2018, Colorized. My fondest college memory.

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