As graduation nears and high school comes to a close, first and foremost, take time to soak it all in and enjoy yourself! Graduation signifies exciting new beginnings, but also change. Many of the people you are used to seeing every day at your high school are people you might not see often (or again in some cases), so make the most of spending time with them, and your family, this summer.
While you are relaxing with the people you care about most, don’t forget to say thanks where thanks is due. It can be easy to forget the many individuals who were there every step of the way during your application journey, supporting and guiding you towards college. Take some time to thank the people who helped you along the way by writing them a thank you note or giving a heartfelt thanks in person.
People to thank: parents, guidance counselor, teachers, letter of recommendation writers, anyone else who read your essays/app, college admissions officers you met with, and tutors just to name a few!
Also, make the most of this summer!!! Consider an internship or job. You’ll need money in college; a job is where the money comes from. Beyond having some much-needed cash, one Stanford researcher even found that having a summer job can boost academic performance, and more: “adolescent employment can foster noncognitive skills like time management, perseverance, and self-confidence.” Moreover, once you are in college you’ll need to be 100% independent, just as you will need to be at work. Prep now and be ready for those more significant pre-professional experiences as an undergrad.
But what type of job should I get? I suggest something fun like scooping ice cream, or better yet, waiting tables. As Rob Asghar notes, waiting tables “can be the high-pressure arena in which many talented people learn how to take control of their lives and prosper over the long haul.”
“I think everyone should spend some time waiting tables or working in retail,” Elisa Schreiber, a marketing executive in Silicon Valley, tells me.
“I learned so much by waiting tables,” says Schreiber, a longtime colleague who happens to be one of the savviest strategists and leaders I’ve ever worked alongside. “I learned empathy and understanding and compassion. I learned how to get people in and out while still feeling good about their experience. It made me exponentially better when I started my salaried, professional career—from leading people to handling pressure to effectively managing my time.”
It is not glamorous (I know, I did it for the better part of a decade in high school, college, and grad school), but it is a learning experience, to say the least. I also suggest getting on LinkedIn. See this post for tips on getting started.
There’s a 2015 Time article I love by Ted Spiker about the extras—the mindset and strategies that will help students explore, engage, and excel—in college. Drawing from his more than 20 years in higher education, as well as collected wisdom from peers and students, here are the most effective tactics that incoming college freshmen can use to succeed:
1. Your brain is not your day planner. The life skill you’ll need to master in college is prioritization. That skill develops when you can see what’s coming next month, next week, tomorrow, in 10 minutes, #ohwaitthatpaperisduetoday. With so many moving parts in college, you simply can’t afford to stay unorganized. Students get in academic trouble when they panic. They panic when they don’t prepare. I don’t care what method you use to keep your calendar (app or paper), as long as it’s not a Sharpie mark on your palm.
2. To get plugged in, unplug. Maximize your connections through all of your social media platforms and digital tools. But for meaningful contacts that will help you develop, put down the phone. Look up. Raise your hand. Speak. Ask. Listen.
3. Your most valuable currency: ideas. We’re in a world where lots of your peers have the same skills you do. The X factor: Who has the better idea? The front end of a project (time spent developing an original idea) is as crucial as the back end (time spent executing it).
4. Syllabus = law. Not all profs will handcuff you when you deviate, but it’s best to assume that they will. Read the contract.
6. Relationships > GPAs.* Unless you’re planning on going to graduate school, grades should feel secondary to the process of working with your peers and professors. I would rather you came into my office and to ask me about the artifact on my desk than to fight about .08 points that will mean zippo to your career success. When you show you care about performance more than points, it’s the signal to me—and thus to the future employers I talk to about you—that you’re the kind of person they want on their team.
*Do not use this to excuse your absence from class.
7. Think of college as seven years. Your networking opportunities don’t stop with professors, internship supervisors, and alums. As a freshman, you should network with the people in your class and the three years ahead of you. As a senior, you should build relationships with the people three years behind you. That’s seven years of people who could be potentials bosses and connections.
8. It’s OK to say “no.” High-achievers want to do it all. Don’t. Despite many examples otherwise, the world wants you to do 15 things well rather than 50 things sloppily.
9. Learn a foreign language. In high school, you likely took a foreign language such as Spanish or Chinese or German. Now, expand what it means to speak and work in a new world. Word people could learn computer programming. Money majors could learn the art of effective writing. You stand out when you’re fluent in an area where your peers aren’t.
10. Create a digital hub. Put all of your best work and your social accounts in one place. Employers want to see your personal brand in a sort of digital elevator pitch.
11. Find a workout pal. Part of stress management is time management. Part of it is having enough energy to do quality work. While it’s inevitable that you will sometimes eat at the $2.99 buffet and pull all-nighters, you need good food, regular exercise, and lots of sleep. This non-academic priority will improve your academic ones.
12. Success = style + substance. No matter your field, college is about developing your skills and talents. That’s substance. Now, how unique is your voice, your personality, your creativity when it comes to your skill set? That’s style. In a world when a lot of people have a lot of talent, it’s the difference between being hired and having your resume tossed.
13. Your goal: one deep dive. If I’m talking to an intro course of hundreds of people, I’ll ask them two questions. One, when you graduate, will you have the skills that everybody else in the room does? They’ll need to be able to answer “yes.” And two, will you be able to do something that nobody else in the room can do? If that answer is also “yes,” you’ve just discovered the secret to excelling: Find an area of specialty where you can develop depth; that’s what makes you uniquely positioned to help an employer. Be nimble enough to do a lot of things, but deep enough to do one thing better than anyone else.
14. Play. Do it when you’re not working. Do it when you are working.
15. Make your secret sauce. The greatest compliment you can receive from a professor, pro, or peer isn’t “great work!” or “that’s perfect!” It’s this: “How in the world did you do that?” Wow us with your creativity, wow us with your ideas, wow us with your execution in ways we can’t imagine. We may not know what goes into your secret sauce, but we do know that we want more of it.
*Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*