Making the most of your UG Experience
posted at May 12, 2022, 5:11 p.m.
by Nikhita Gowra
College can be thought of as adulthood’s apprenticeship. From a protected environment of your family and the stability of a structured school plan, you’re tossed into making your own choices that would set the pace for life. On this cusp of transformation, Gradvine would like to support the undergrads out there with some tips on how to make the most of an undergraduate degree, be it in India or abroad.
Choosing the right major/specialization:
No matter how clear you may think you are, do not major in a very niche subject. You will be closing more doors than you would be opening. While the flexibility of college abroad can be very appealing, majoring in a subject like Amusement park and Rollercoaster Engineering is not a good idea, especially at the undergraduate level. While this may prepare you well to be a technical head at an amusement park, a broader degree will equip you well if you choose to explore other career options within the technical field. Consider all the other subjects that you learn in your foundational year as just as important. Don’t have blinders on. College can be a transformative experience, so test all waters and see where your talent lies and where there is scope for growth and success. Don’t come into college thinking you will be doing one thing alone and turn a blind eye to all the other skills that may be available for you to learn. Focus is good, but it is important to know the difference between focus and a fixed mindset.
Learn how to plan and organize:
You will have a lot of time in college, provided you are mindful of it. For many, it might be the very first time away from the luxury of having well-wishers nag you to get your work done. Now that you are not in a structured environment of a school anymore, it is imperative that you learn how to manage your time and be responsible for yourself. This does not come naturally to most people and schools often skip teaching this crucial skill to students. Doing this may take some time off your week or even every day, but it will save you countless hours in the long run if you make this a habit. This skill would be essential throughout your professional as well as personal life, so start practicing now! Use mobile apps or bullet journals, calendars, timers, and time-blocking for tasks and try out the Pomodoro method and others to study. Plan your next week when the current one is winding down so you’re on top of your game.
College is an experience filled with activities and opportunities. Be it cultural and literary fests or MUNs and sporting events, this is the time to start nurturing the leader within you. Take an active part in such extracurricular activities and aim to head some of the departments. Other than looking great on your resume, this kind of experience will help you learn essential skills such as decision-making, problem-solving, teamwork, and creativity.
Clubs and societies:
Student-led clubs are great teachers in a college environment. This is where you get a chance to network with people that are on a similar career trajectory as you and learn from seniors who have had more experience. Clubs and societies are a great place to find like-minded people to work on projects with. Stay in close contact with the members and you are sure to carry home great learnings. Hobby clubs let you dabble in more than your academics and you will be surprised at how many out-of-the-box clubs are in existence. If you have it in you, you can even start a club of your own! There may even be several college-sponsored travel trips in store for club-related events.
Internships and projects:
Whether your college requires you to do them or not, do NOT skip this. This is arguably the most important aspect of college life because you will be getting to put what you have learned to good use and prepare yourself for the professional world. Ideally, aim for internships where you have a good chance of converting into a full-time job upon completion. Taking up projects with your classmates will show initiative and a penchant for ‘doing’ and not just learning. This will illustrate your interest in the subject matter to your prospective employers or admission committees of graduate schools.
Ask for accommodations
If you identify as a person with disabilities and/or neurodivergence, approach your college for accommodations. Accommodations are not meant for one to get an advantage over other students but to balance out the challenges that differently-abled people face. Colleges abroad are more sensitive to this and we hope that those in our country learn soon. To access accommodations, google the name of your college and disability services. You might be able to find “Student disability services” or “Access office”. This department will give you an application form to fill out, which will ask you what you need the accommodation for, what accommodations you have availed in the past, and what kind of accommodations you think will help you. Depending on the difference or disability, accommodations can include scribes for exams, someone to take your notes, use of a calculator, extra time in exams, use of a spell-checker, etc. You might have to submit documentation of your diagnosis and it is encouraged that you meet your access coordinator. A letter of accommodation will be written by them, which you can email to your professors so they are in the loop.
This might be the first time stepping out of your state or even your city for education. This is when you will be among people from all intersections of society. To really understand diversity and its importance in the real world, seek discomfort. Mingle with those whose culture is new to you. Read about new topics that you encounter. This may even be the beginning of something new for you, where you discover yourself.
Find a mentor:
Keep your professors and guest lecturers from the industry in good stead. Participate in class, request their time, and ask questions. Seek guidance from those professors whose work you admire and think will be able to help you learn and grow. Personal interaction will also come in handy when you are required to submit Letters of Recommendation later, for Grad school or jobs.
Plan your next step:
Have a rough idea of what you wish to do after your undergraduate study. You don’t have to stick to this plan, but this will give you a better standing on how to then present yourself to future admissions committees or employers.
Make a resume and a LinkedIn profile and keep them updated at all times. The sooner you get to this, the more opportunities you can clinch.
Take care of your health - physical and mental:
Checking in with yourself in this massive pool of competition is important. College is a lot of change for anybody. Do not be too afraid to take time off and do what is good for your soul. Many times, students don’t know how to deal with stress or relationships and cope with less desirable mechanisms. Pick up a sport, head to the gym, and don’t skip meals. Try out therapy even if you feel “you are not there yet”. If you don’t want to approach campus counselors, which is completely understandable, there are several mental health practitioners and spaces that have a sliding scale and are pocket-friendly for students. Make sure you ask for a student discount.
This is the first time that you are living in an entirely new place, so go ahead and explore! There will be more time for this if you plan your college work well and this way, you can learn how to manage your finances better. Some of the strongest bonds are made while on trips together with friends, so try to make this happen.