Last Updated: Aug 19, 2013
Success is not something handed to you on a silver platter. Just talk to any self-made CEO, and you'll see that the main reason they got there wasn't due to their connections (although connections can certainly catalyze your climb to the top), but because of hard work and strategic thinking.
The same goes for college students looking to get ahead: hard work and strategic thinking will get you to the top. That being said, college is so full of personal, professional, academic, and even social development opportunities, there's hardly enough time in the day to do everything you want to do. But getting on board with these four trends might help accelerate your climb to the top in any and all of those categories.
1. Fitness, diet, and the quantified self
Part of being an adult and graduating college means growing older. You may not feel it today, but later in life, having a well-tuned body will be like having a well-tuned car: you'll run smoothly and be more powerful than you'd ever expect. You'll be able to do more both with your family and for your career. After all, the more energy, the better.
Here are some easy action items you can do today:
- Start tracking your workouts. Whether it's using something like a Fitbit or just logging your gym routine in a spreadsheet, tracking your workouts will help you get more out of your exercise. Not only will this enable you to easily monitor yourself, but it means that if you ever want professional advice on how to improve your workouts, you can bring quantitative data to a professional, and they'll be able to tell you exactly what you need to do more of.
- Start tracking your food intake. What many people don't realize is that food is more than just calories; you need to consider the nutrients, fats, proteins, and more. For example, a low-calorie but carb-heavy diet may not be as good for you as a diet with higher calories but more balanced nutrition. There are plenty of fitness apps you can download right now. You can also call a nutritionist and make an appointment today (and your college or university might even have one on staff).
2. Starting your internships early in life
It used to be internships were a summer activity reserved only for juniors and seniors as a direct path to working in that company. Nowadays, people of all ages are doing internships, including high school students. And internships are no longer just an “in” to a particular company; they’re an invaluable learning opportunity, practically regardless of where you go, what you do, and where you hope to go in the future. To get a head start on tomorrow’s internship search, today you should:
- Make a LinkedIn account. LinkedIn is the primary professional social network. Recruiters and business people from all over screen applicants by their LinkedIn. Just start adding your experience and education and take advantage of the nicely formatted online résumé and job finding service.
- Learn a skill companies want. Let’s be honest: a lot of the skills you learn in college may not be directly applicable to what you'll be doing for a job. Sure, you’ll learn important foundational skills that will help you in the long run, like critical thinking and analysis, but you’ll bolster your résumé by taking the time to learn a skill that employers want to see. Whether it's SEO (search engine optimization) or computer programming or event management, application will be better than theory in this case.
3. Work smarter, not harder
When you become a working professional, you may find the tasks you have to do take more time than your normal working hours. (Browsing Facebook periodically while working doesn’t help either.) This leaves you with two options: work longer or work smarter.
Assuming you actually want to have free time to do fun things (i.e., go to the movies, etc.), working smarter is the best option. Here are some actionable tasks that you can start today:
- Start a to-do list/task manager system. One problem with working hard is trying to manage all the things you have to do. If you're like most people, relying on just your memory won’t cut it. Use a task management system to keep all the important things you need to do in the front of your mind. Try Wunderlist (for the everyday student), Todo.txt's Command Line Interface (for the tech-savvy power user), and good old pen and paper for those of us who don't like using apps.
- Set up text expansion. In case you haven't heard of it, text expansion is a feature that all computers should have but most don't. It's the ability to type some shortcut text, like "ty," and then have it automatically expand to a longer word or phrase, like "Thank You." It can save hours of typing, especially if you type a lot of the same things over and over. You can even use it for auto creating outlines or writing code!
4. Be a smart spender
College can be a financial nightmare for many students. Not only are you paying for your fun expenditures, but by the time you are out of college, chances are you are up to your ears in student loans and debt. One of the best things you can do for self is fix your financial situation early so it doesn't hurt you later.
Saving money on your education should be your top priority, but being smart with your everyday finances (living expenses, discretionary spending, emergency savings, etc.) is a whole issue unto itself. You can start saving and spending smarter today:
- Track your spending. Many students get into trouble in college because of the offers from credit card companies. In addition to avoiding their slimy business like the plague, students should look into financial services like Mint to track and manage money. Take this time to monitor what you spend and pay back everything in a timely manner. It builds good habits and an even better credit history.
- Choose expenses that build your network. While many people may advise against getting that Starbucks coffee in the morning because of how much it costs compared to the coffee in the dining hall (that you already paid for), buying coffee for people can actually have a much higher ROI than you'd expect. My tip is if you choose to spend money on the little things, make sure you’re paying it forward, laying a foundation of goodwill (and maybe even networking connections). Buy small gifts for friends on their birthdays, or take someone in a major or job that interests you out for coffee to expand your network. After all, having a good network will increase your net worth.