21 May Make the Most of University (Even if it’s Online)
University is an investment – both time-wise and financially – and each year the cost to attend university continues to increase.
Every year a number of students graduate from a three or four-year undergraduate program with a significant amount of debt which inevitably leaves a sour taste in their mouths as they prepare to make the real jump into adulthood.
While everyone’s degree and individual circumstances pre-, during, and post-university vary greatly, making the most of one’s university experience (the “during”) falls in large part on the individual rather than on external factors.
Having engaged in many conversations with different people on the subject, coupled with my own university experience, I wanted to shed light on three factors to look at when it comes to making the most of your university experience: the first is academics, the second is campus life, and the third is cultural exposure.
They’re quite broad topics, however each could be refined to a few specific ideas – and they’re just as applicable to the virtual environment.
I mean, the true end goal of university is to obtain a degree in the academic field of your choice, no?
If that is your true end goal, I would suggest revising it.
The academics of university are not necessarily about the particular field of study that you choose or even the actual content that you learn but rather the particular skills that you gain from the field. These include: writing skills, communication skills, critical-thinking skills, public speaking skills, organization/time management skills, etc.
We all learn a lot of things throughout each level of schooling that we can’t or don’t remember, but again, university is not about what you learn (in terms of content) but rather how you learn, not how much you can remember and then spit out on a page but the way in which you develop your thinking, the thought process, and how you then explain your ideas.
These are the skills that most employers look for when you graduate and are looking for a job. When people say that your degree is not limited to your field of study, this is what they’re implying. Soft skills are just as important (sometimes more) than the hard skills that you possess.
There are always opportunities in which you can involve yourself, like student life initiatives or internship opportunities with professors: again, the actual number of opportunities does not really matter that much, what matters is your willingness to take part in the existing campus life.
Nothing that peaks your interest? You could start some initiative that is dear to you. You would definitely not be the first person to try and every university has guidelines for those wishing to do so. The opportunities are endless.
Maybe you had the freedom to choose the exact university you wished to attend, or maybe you were limited based on external circumstances. Either way, if you’re looking to make the most of your university experience, it’s important to have a true vested interest in your university and the university community.
The experience aspect of your university career, getting involved, contributing to and fostering a sense of community and identity on campus falls on you. Even given the circumstances of this past year, technology has made it more than possible to still connect with people and gain meaningful experiences.
One of the best things about campus life is that each university is home to students that come from all walks of life, which provides you with an opportunity (possibly for the first time in your life, I know that this was the case for me) to meet diverse groups of people with personal histories that are entirely different from your own, some of which will go on to become life-long friends.
The world in which we live today has become increasing global and interconnected and will inevitably continue to do so, and as a result, a university campus – physically or virtually – is a great place for cultural exposure, as all of these students, while looking to learn from the particular university culture itself, at the same time wish to share their own ideas, stories and cultural elements with others.
Take advantage of such an opportunity. Not only will this enhance your cross-cultural competencies, but it’ll also teach you a lot about yourself and your own culture/ideals – possibly even challenge them. It’ll allow you to unwind prejudice, debunk stereotypes and develop a more holistic worldview based on real experiences and not what you hear from others.
Gaining further cultural exposure at your own campus is just one side of the argument. The other side is exploiting the various international opportunities offered by or through your university or specific program, whether that’s by studying abroad, an international research program or international internship opportunity. If you are someone who has the ability to take part in an international opportunity through your university or through another academic organization, DO IT.
Aside from the benefits that such an experience will provide you in your post-graduation career path, there’s no better time period in your life to pick up and get an authentic individual living experience for a prolonged period of time somewhere else in the world, or take advantage of the technology at your disposal to see the world, than while you’re a university student.
Don’t live to regret passing off such a wonderful and life-changing opportunity that will have opened so many doors for you.
I make it all sound so easy, right? It’s not. It’s not easy at all. It wasn’t easy for me or for other people that I know, and it won’t be easy for you. Life throws tons of curveballs (professors do too sometimes).
Things change and nudge you off track. But you can only blame the external for so much, and for so long.
The focal point always remains the same: your experience is your own. It’s what you make of it. University is a unique experience of personal growth in which you’re surrounded by some of the most brilliant minds of any given generation. If you choose to attend university (and for however long you do), then make the most of your time there.
Get involved. Meet new people. Expand your cultural horizons. Make the most of university (even if it’s online).
Author: Matteo Talotta