Usually, you do college once. So ‘chance of a lifetime’ may seem to be a grandiose, superlative tag but having just completed my four years, I believe it fits quite well. There’s a plethora of articles that talk about how to prepare for college, so I’ll try to be different and talk about what the opportunity of college truly means. Sure, it’s the chance of a lifetime, but what does that mean in real terms?
I’d like to start off with stating that college isn’t going to define your life - unless you want it to. Should college not turn out be the fantasy you dreamed of, it doesn’t have to drag you back for the remainder of your life. On the flip side, it can be the biggest boost imaginable (short of marriage, but I digress).
This is the chance of a lifetime in that it will not come again. It is the only time you will get four years to try new things and learn as much as possible. It is four years of thrilling, exhilarating experiences where you will make bonds with both friends and your college that will last a lifetime.
So, what should you do with such a chance? One can only answer such a lofty question with a simple answer: everything.
The key to optimising college is to let it shock you, surprise you, and of course, teach you. To redefine the cliché, let it ‘broaden your horizons’. In the academic sphere, this is the opportunity to try as many different classes as possible. We all know the Steve Jobs anecdote of how studying calligraphy in college helped him design Apple products. I too tried everything from Russian literature to Samba drumming to Persian poetry (though when I will design the next iPhone is still up in the air). The experience is enriching, and as I found in later job interviews, rewarding in ways you cannot imagine. Employers look favorably upon those with a wide array of experiences. Interact with professors outside of the classroom, many of who will later write your recommendation letters or even hire you.
Participate in extracurricular activities such as clubs and performance groups. This is not just a way of getting experience for your resume for job applications, but one of the most important ways of getting real-world experience on a college campus. By being a part of the founding team of TEDxPenn, the local TED conference, I gained invaluable experience in fundraising, people management and organisation that I have successfully leveraged in my post-college life.
Most of all, have fun. Make as many friends as possible, go to as many events as possible, experience as much as possible. The true ‘chance of a lifetime’ is only experienced through the entire collegiate experience, and it would be incomplete without the memories you make with your friends. You’ll meet new and different people, and learn an incredible amount outside of the classroom. In fact, the experiences and learning done outside the classroom are equally, if not more, important.
The reason I started with a disclaimer is because the most important thing to approach college with is fearlessness. Approach everything with an open mind, and don’t be afraid to try new things. This article may seem to be a call-to-arms to be a proactive college student, but that is the only way to truly get anything out of this ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience.
(Tahem Veer Varma graduated from Emirates International School and attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics. He is currently based in Mumbai, helping to internationalise Indian private universities.)