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How to Take Full Advantage of Your College Experience

Updated: Feb 18

This article was originally written and published by Rose Wong in 2020.

College is not unlike summer camp in that there is so much to do and even more people to meet, but instead of being packed into three weeks, it’s four years. You may be so busy on a day-to-day basis that it’s easy to let semesters go by without fully exploring all that the school has to offer. Here are six tips to help you make the most of college:

Take advantage of the career center, academic advisors and other connections.

The career center is available to help you think deeper about career plans, help you write a cover letter or clean up your resume. Moreover, along the way, you may meet other people—professors, major advisors or program directors—who have expertise in the particular field or industry that you are interested in. Make conversation, invite them to coffee, ask questions. Either you find a long-term mentor or have a great lunch where you gain valuable insight about your career path, the adults around you are an incredibly valuable resource.

Get involved.

Join clubs and student groups, which will not only further develop your interests and nurture your growth as an individual, but also help you find your community on campus. College is only fun with a social network with which you feel connected. Find those people by joining different groups—you may find yourself wanting to drop clubs as you narrow in on the ones that you are most interested in, and that’s okay! Personally, I am in the Duke Chronicle, our school’s newspaper. I have been able to grow as a writer and team member, as well as gain a wonderful group of friends.

School newspapers have so much fun together!

Engage in university-sponsored programs

Intellectual enrichment is not limited to the classroom. Many schools offer fun and hands-on learning opportunities that encourage you to explore interests beyond your major curriculum. At Duke, we have DukeEngage, an opportunity to work on a community service project in a domestic or foreign city for eight weeks during the summer, or Spring Breakthrough, which allows students to stay on campus during Spring break and take a course like Puppies!—studying animal psychology while playing with a room full of golden retriever puppies.

Apply for grants and awards

Schools often offer university-wide or departmental grants or awards, providing students with a sizable sum to pursue research projects, internships or other career interests. However, these opportunities may not be heavily advertised, so you will need to make an effort to seek them out on your own or through mentors. I have a friend at Cornell who recently won an annual award that recognizes a senior who has shown considerable dedication and experience in government affairs/public health, a field that does not offer the highest salaries, with $15,000 to help kickstart his career.