Seven Things I Wish I Knew as An Undergraduate Student

by Iyad Uakoub, Stanford Career Education at Stanford University.

I had a very interesting undergraduate life. It shaped who I am today, and I definitely don’t regret my then decisions. That said, I can’t remember how many times I told myself: If I can go back in time and be an undergraduate student again, I would …. and then a train of thoughts bombards my mind. The fact that I chose career education as a career for myself was largely shaped because of the decisions I made during my undergrad. Here are seven tips I would like to share with you from reflecting on my own experience, from asking other students, professionals, and educators, and from researching tons of resources on how to make your undergraduate experience memorable and meaningful:

1. Mentors Before Majors

Your undergrad major will not define what you do for the rest of your life. Only 20% the people, 10 years out of college, work in jobs directly related to their majors. Also, Gallup surveyed thousands of students and found that only 22 percent had mentors during their undergraduate life who encouraged their goals and dreams. They also found that those who had mentors are more likely to thrive and be more engaged during and after college. Mentors who genuinely care about you and your development are rare, but they are a priceless treasure. I like the saying: Surround yourself with those who are already where you want to be; Iron sharpens iron!

2. Express, Don’t Impress

We live in communities, and the opinions of others about us matter. Sometimes others’ voices overshadow ours. Original people are the ones who nurture their inner voices and filter the outside noise. They are the ones with ideas worth spreading and move the world forward. To be original, know who you are, be consistent with your values, be brave, speak up, and learn how to freely but respectfully express your emotions, ideas, and concerns. You are unique, and there is a good reason why you are in a certain place in a certain time.

3. It Is Quality, Not Quantity That Matters

You might have heard before that future employers value leadership and co-curricular activities as much as they value your GPA, or even more. That might be true. However, it is not about how many clubs or student organizations you join; it is about the impact you did with these groups and how much you learned. The same applies to classes. During my master’s, I took too many classes (75 credits). I learned a lot, but I would have learned more if I took fewer classes and focused on making every class count as a transformational and memorable experience.

4. To be Interesting, be Interested

By becoming more interested in others, you will generate way more interest in yourself than by being an interesting person. Dale Carnegie, the author of one of the most selling books in history said: “You can make more friends in two months by being interested in them, than in two years by making them interested in you." The only way to make quality, lasting friendships is to learn to be genuinely interested in them and their interests. Frequently asking people what they think of you is a false sign of an interest in them; I see it as form of narcissism.

5. Disconnect to Connect

The true meaning of connecting with others is not about following them on social media, and how much we “Like” or “Share” their posts or pictures. Start connecting with your friends, classmates, and professors by turning off distractions such as laptops and phones, and paying more attention when it is time to listen. Being present and mindful is the only way to build meaningful connections, and meaningful connections are the cornerstone to having a memorable college experience and crucial toward finding meaningful work.

6. Be Proactive in Your Career, Not Reactive

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) surveyed +600 representatives from organizations that hire through a university relations and recruiting effort, and they came up with a list of career readiness competencies* for every college student. They recommended experiential education such as internships and co-ops as ideal channels to develop these competencies. They also found that students with established career goals and a defined sense of their destination after graduation have a clear advantage over their peers. The golden combination of direction and those competencies is crucial for student’s college-to-career transition and life-long success.

7. Expect, Accept, and Respect

College life is so different from high school in so many ways. One the most important things you should expect about college is that you will interact people from different cultures, abilities, races, nationalities, aspirations, and socio-economic backgrounds. It is OK to bring in all your stereotypes about others to college (we all do), but it is harmful to you and others if you don’t start to recognize them early and embark on a life-long journey of accepting, respecting, and appreciating differences. Be aware of the unconscious biases such as the common “similar-to-me” bias, especially when you join clubs or select projects/classmates. What makes college a transformative experience is the depth and breadth of your exposure to other cultures and perspectives inside and outside the classroom.
How you go to college­ matters more to your life during and after graduation than where you go to college. In my experience, the best way to start building your memorable and meaningful college experience is by internalizing the idea that it is never too late to start taking action. And as Mark Twain said: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

* Career readiness is the attainment and demonstration of requisite competencies that broadly prepare college graduates for a successful transition into the workplace.

Iyad Uakoub is the Manager of Branding & Digital Communities/User Experience for BEAM in the Stanford Career Education at Stanford University.