“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”
That’s a good quote to dwell on. Your university experience will not be valued on how many days are in it, but how many experiences are in those days – some student’s get more out of one year then others get out of four years. You need to decide when you get to undergraduate school – are you here to get a degree, or are you here to get an education? The answer to that question should order your footsteps for the following years.
I Thought A University Experience Was Universal
I thought originally that most people get a relatively similar university/college experience – they attend classes, meet some new people, maybe get involved with a few activities – but for the most part, they only had a slight variance.
It’s very easy to assume – university presents itself in a very structured format. You arrive after high school, attend for four years (roughly), and take a predetermined amount of credits per term. The courses you can choose from are usually regulated – partially for your own benefit – and the content is predetermined. It seems natural to assume every university experience is therefore highly similar; every student is being brought into this system, put through the system, and coming out the other side, with a degree in hand.
However, what you will soon discover is that within that well defined system, there are niches of massive flexibility. If you look at the areas of your university experience categorically, you soon see how:
- Academic – perhaps one of the most rigid parts of a university experience is the academics; most disciplines have several required courses (if you get any freedom at all). However, you can still do a lot with your time. You can sit in on classes that interest you, especially if there is a good professor! How relieving would that be? You can actually enjoy the class without having to worry about scribbling down notes or preparing for exams. Also, you can try to take courses outside your sphere of influence – I took several history courses in my first year – not because I had to, but because I was interested. I also took a web design course in second year, and what I learned ended up being useful in several different situations (for instance, I can now vet and interview applicants who are applying for web design jobs – I know the area).
- Extra-curricular – the biggest problem here is that you will never have to get involved, and for that reason, most people won’t. Additionally, students who are involved tend to get more involved (see yesterdays post on compounding) which means that they end up getting the more interesting jobs – further decreasing your appetite to take a less interesting role and get involved. However, by getting involved you will get the opportunity to learn the skills and have the experiences you would never be exposed to in the classroom – the value of which are immeasurable. Additionally, you will get something to put on your resume – something of actual value (vs. your interest in hand puppets or whatever else you might need to use as filler – heaven forbid, an ‘objective’) which can be a key differentiator in the early years of applications.
- Travel – this might take the form of summer travel. If you have the opportunity, get your internship shortened to 10 weeks and spend the remainder of your summer break backpacking around Europe – you’ll never get another chance. Most employers are open to this kind of deal – remember, everyone was young at some point in time! Warning: when faced with the option of travel or internship, always place the priority on an internship – this might sound like the dreary thing to say, but it’s true, because you can always find more time to travel (unless it’s your last summer – that decision is up to you), but it gets much harder to find another internship. If, by chance, you find yourself wrapped up all summer (in that amazing internship you scored), don’t worry – take advantage of an exchange. Exchanges must be one of the GREATEST experiences you can have at university. You get the chance to go to another country, study at a different school, and travel all around the area – for four months! This is a must do, but more on that later
- Social – whether people are planning a trip to a game, a fundraiser, or event – get involved! Just go, you never know who you will meet or what you will get exposed to. These experiences will build the mosaic of your University experience – you can’t replace them with a couple extra hours spent at the library.
One final area that doesn’t really fit into a specific field, is one thing to think about when assessing all experiences: will it help me grow? University can be one of the fastest personal growth moments of your life – or it can be one of stagnation. Seek out and explore experiences that will make you challenge yourself, your skills and your potential – it’s the only way you find out what you can really do.
I Learned Your University Experience is Largely Up To You
What I learned is that university experiences are largely up to the individual. The school sets a floor on what your experiences will be – what courses you will take, what marks you have to get, when you have to attend – but that’s largely it. That floor is very low, and if that’s all you shoot for, you’re in for disappointment. Getting more out of your experience is up to you, and with the right planning and execution, you can get SO much out of that experience.
This means getting out there – experiences are a contact game – you’re very unlikely to have a personal revelation playing Super Smash Bros in the basement of your student house. Great artist’s had to travel to get inspired – they needed to see the sun set, watch the stars brighten the night sky, and gaze at fields of lavender gently swaying in the breeze – and much like them, you also need the inspiration of experience, which is what university can be if you want it to.
Caveat: This process doesn’t stop when you graduate. Just as experiences are important to your personal growth when you are in university, they are equally important to your personal growth after university. In fact, finding new experiences most likely gets harder if you are not diligent after school – there is no more campus, no clubs organization – you have to go out and FIND something to get involved with. The important thing is to develop the habits of getting every experience while you are in university, so the transition to your post university life is seamless. Also, remember: it’s never easy. The easy thing to do is to sit home and do nothing. The challenging thing to do is get out there and see what the world has to offer – that’s also why it’s the most rewarding. Do the challenging thing, it’s often less crowded.
If I Could Go Back I Would Of Experience More
My greatest plea: GO ON EXCHANGE – if there is one regret that I hear the most, it is “I wish I had gone on exchange.” It truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and you will never get that caliber of freedom and flexibility again (at least not likely), so don’t think about it and DO IT.
The rest doesn’t require a long explanation – if I could go back, I would have had more experiences. I let first year mostly get away from me, but I would have gotten more actively involved if I could do it again. This means signing up for the clubs, trying a few interesting courses, and going out to more events. When all is said and done, you won’t remember a lot of specific about your experiences – I don’t remember all the movies I watched, all the games I played, and all the drinks I had (okay, that one makes sense) – what I do remember are the trips I went on, the unique experiences I shared, and the people I had the pleasure of doing something important with – and at the end of the day, those are the experiences that really matter.