Monday, November 17, 2014

College Degree Boot Camp:

If you're looking to enroll in a college degree program, then you've taken the first step down a productive, career-oriented path. But it won't be easy, and making the most of that education requires some tough rules with some serious lifestyle changes. I learned these rules as I went, and now I'm going to pass them along so future students can enter school smartly. While this is framed around my honest experience working my way through a Toronto degree program at Centennial College, this is really universal advice for anyone heading down the post-secondary path.

1) You need to be in a program that you're actually good at.
If you're not sure of your skills and talents by the time you enter college, that's alright. But you have to be sure to discover them while you're there. It can be a hard lesson to realize that you're not as talented of a writer or computer scientist or mathematician as you initially thought, but if you accept it, you'll be a lot stronger for it, and you'll discover what you actually are good at. To that end, don't be afraid to take electives that don't align with your chosen career, and don't grumble if your program requirements mean you have to. If you're having trouble discovering your talent, those electives can be a valuable tool.

Here's the other, more difficult part of this tip: If you discover you're not in the ideal program, or your career path isn't for you, switch out. Allowing momentum and passivity to guide you will only cost you time and money in the long run. Better to change plans and find your passion than to sleepwalk through a program with no career prospects at the end.

2) You need to schedule your time wisely.
Flying by the seat of your pants won't work anymore, and you'll need to approach each week, and even each day, with a solid plan of what you're going to get done and when.More than in high school, managing your time will become increasingly important. If you're pulling an all-nighter, you're doing it wrong. Instead, arrange things so you have enough time to catch a few hours of sleep. Get a calendar, be it digital or physical, write down when all your assignments are due, and put a red “x” through every day as it goes by. You'll need it to keep track of those due dates. And if you think you're in the clear because you don't have to worry about an assignment for a month, just remember that life will throw you curveballs. It's better to get your work done early, and be ready for whatever life throws at you, than to suddenly find you're busy every day of that same week. Be prepared, be scheduled and anticipate problems.

3) You need to mark time to make friends.
Don't let that sense of time management turn you into a hermit. You're going to need friends to succeed in life. When you're in trouble, when you need to study, when you need to work on a group assignment, they'll be who you turn to. And when school's over, they'll mark the start of a professional network of industry contacts. So be sure to block some time out of that schedule to have lunch, or dinner or a game of pool with your classmates. Treat is as mandatory, because on some level, it's an investment in success.

4) Don't quit your job, or if you don't have one, get one.
If anyone's advising you to quit your current job, ignore it. It will take a chunk of your time, but the benefits are numerous. First of all, finding a place for that job in your schedule can do a lot for your finances. College isn't cheap, and having some spending money can be a boon for the days you forgot your lunch, or need a new USB drive, or need a mid-afternoon caffeine boost. Finally, even the most talented graduate could see a gap between graduation and employment, and having a cash flow during that time can keep you floating while you job hunt. So don't cash out of the working world. Even if you're only taking a single weekend shift, it's always a plus.

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