This piece was published in a College newspaper.
On average, if you’re an undergraduate at this university, you’re about 20 years old. You likely don’t have the responsibilities of a full-time job or (hopefully!) of parenting. You may have student debt, but no worries — you won’t be harassed by loan sharks. Unlike when you’re employed, you don’t have to limit yourself to any one particular skill set yet. You can choose to train yourself in any of the roughly 90 majors offered here. Further, you can switch majors, change your class schedule, take a slew of electives and pursue different interests. And of course, there is a seemingly unlimited supply of alcohol, social networks and beautiful people to have sex with, all arguably crucial aspects of the self-discovery process. All in all, life probably isn’t too bad right now.
Given all of this, how much are you really stretching your mind and experience? It’s easy to be a “B” or “C” player, in terms of your work ethic and quality, but are you really squeezing all the juice out of the fruit named college to become that “A” game player?
I’m talking beyond joining clubs, taking elective classes or even excelling within your own major. All that is well and good. What I’m talking about is really doing something concrete and big through the medium of your club; not just for the sake of adding an overblown bullet point on your resume, but to really create value for the campus community. I’m talking about building relationships with professors, having a meal with them and picking their brains. I’m talking about going into Washington and attending seminars hosted by bureaucrats, politicians, lobbyists, scholars and entrepreneurs (all open to college students). I’m talking about traveling within the Mid-Atlantic region and building relationships with college students from other prestigious universities. (There are numerous inter-collegiate networks you can access.) I’m talking about studying abroad, and not just doing so in tourist mode, but really pushing yourself to learn about another culture. I’m talking about going beyond the norm.
Let me illustrate one learning opportunity available to students at this university. Out of the more than 37,000 students here, roughly 27,000 are undergraduates, and the rest are masters and doctoral students.
Think about the possibilities of collaboration with roughly 10,000 experienced, trained and matured minds. Imagine living with a doctoral candidate. This would mean dedicating one semester of your college career to living without your best friends. (If you’re not on friendly terms with your current roommates, all the better.) In the process, you would converse and debate with graduate students on a daily basis, absorbing their sense of discipline and perspective.
These are future college professors, top bureaucrats and scientists — there is little to lose. If changing living situations doesn’t appeal to you, better yet, network with them, share ideas and possibly even start up an enterprise with them. Of course, I will admit it isn’t as easy as that, but I believe it’s worth trying.
This is just one opportunity that college, a place of unadulterated learning, provides. With the space, freedom and opportunity at your disposal, it bears asking: Are you making the most of what you have?