I don’t know if you are like me, but as I look back on my college years I wish someone would have pulled me aside and given me some tips on how best to pursue an education at the university. So I decided to put together a list called 20 things I wish someone told me while I was in college. This list is in no way exhaustive.
This list is in no particular order of importance (even though some are more significant than others):
1) Be a pursuer of truth. Don’t let the opinion of either the majority or a vocal minority easily persuade you. Don’t just blindly follow tradition. If an idea is true then it can withstand rigorous scrutiny.
2) Take at least an intro to philosophy class and a logic class no matter what your major is. Philosophy and Logic classes help you gain the tools needed for pursuing the truth.
3) Ask, “Why think that?” Not as a naysayer, but as someone who is trying to ascertain how someone justifies their position.
4) Education is a job. Treat it like one. Work 8 hours each weekday (and Saturday if necessary). This includes your time both in and out of class.
5) Manage your free time as if it were gold. How you invest it will determine much of your ongoing success or failure. Think about the parable of the wise investor.
6) Learn the tools that enable you to maximize your productivity. Some tools I would recommend are: Mindjet mind-mapping software, Google Calendar, Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
7) Learn how to type well. If you don’t know how to touch type or you type very slowly you will have to dedicate hours working on a project that could been completed in a much shorter period of time.
8) Learn how to read. You cannot be literate without knowing how to read well. You need to master how to read a book. An inability to effectively read will lead to you not being able to properly master that content of a text. I highly recommend Mortimer J. Adler’s How to Read a Book.
9) Read ahead. If you wait until the last minute to read you book you don’t have the time to reflect on the contents of the book. I realize you are busy, but you aren’t really prepared for a class if you don’t read and reflect on the text assigned.
10) Learn the basics of grammar. If Grammar Rock was non-existent in your house and you think Conjunction Junction is a city in Colorado, you probably need to go memorize the basic rules of grammar. If you think that the semi-colon is the key you use when you are winking at a cute member of the opposite sex on Facebook, you probably need to go memorize the basic rules of punctuation. I hated memorizing the multiplication tables until I realized that math problems go very slowly if I have to stop to think, for example, what 7×9 equals. If you don’t, almost instantaneously, know when to use a semicolon or comma then you need to go back and memorize the “grammar and punctuation tables.” Both grammar and punctuation are necessary for you to be able to accurately express yourself on a subject.
11) Proofread everyting. Get some super type-A authoritarian grammarian to proofread your paper for you. It is better if they catch a mistake rather than your professor. A lack of proofreading communicates a lack of care to your professor.
12) Think of your work as that of an intellectual craftsman. Your abilities will be a reflection of the time and care you put into your work. Doing the bare minimum barely educates you.
13) Learn how to take good notes in class. Good notes will save your bacon when you are trying to remember a concept that was talked about in class, but is not in your text.
14) Record all lectures. With today’s digital recording software storage isn’t a problem, and if you can’t decipher an illegible note you can always go back and listen to the lecture.
15) I know on #11 I spelled everything “everyting.” Did you notice?
16) Study as you go. Don’t wait until the last night to study for a test. When your class ends, that doesn’t mean your studying of that subject is over for the day. If possible, continue to study your subject after a class is over, while it is fresh in your mind. If you wait to review information until days after the class it will take much more time and effort to recall what happened in class.
17) Do opposition research. Read the best arguments against your position. It will force you to develop rigorous justifications of your position.
18) Take time to reflect on your ideas. If you are always task oriented you will never have the mental space to think synthetically. Set aside time just to think about what you have been studying.
19) Read recreationally. If you only dedicate your intellectual life to a certain course of study you can have intellectual atrophy.
20) Stop thinking that you go to school to get a good job. You should work towards academic excellence because you were created to serve the most high God–not to get a paycheck. God made us intellectual creatures, and it is for that reason we pursue the life of the mind. If you work with this in mind a vocation will come.
Bonus (via Matt Jenson) Find someone, or a few someones, that you want to think like. One grad school professor tells his students that he doesn’t want them to think for themselves; he wants them to think like him.
Bonus # 2 (again from Matt Jenson) Please, please, please, go to a movie on a Friday night. Or a date. Or, I dunno, do something fun.
This post was originally published August 9th, 2010. It has been republished as part of our ten year anniversary.