This is for all those who are going back to school in a few days, this includes two members of my family, my father and my younger brother. Going back to school is a potentially big step in one’s life. I know because the experience transformed my world view and myself, so much so I felt like I was having a small identity crisis after graduation. This post isn’t about that, I thought I would give some tips and pointers for all those who are heading back to (post-secondary) school this fall.
First of all, you should have a general idea of what degree you’re going for. In the first two years, at least in a Bachelor of Arts program, you are not required to declare your major (i.e. specialization). However you should be thinking about it very carefully while you have the time. Some –like myself– leapfrog from one major to another in an undecided fashion, this wishy-washy behavior can lead to many extra classes that are not needed for your degree and which can potentially drag down your grade-point-average.
While you should be judicious on what classes to take for these reasons, it’s not the end of the world if you take a course outside your chosen field. It is usually by serendipity that we find what we are truly interested in; by exposure and chance we find what we love. Standing in contrast to this, are those who will dismiss this advice and go on a very straight and narrow path through academia. I believe that for most of us though we actually don’t know what we want to be “when we grow up” until much later in life, and through being exposed to new ideas & experiences.
This is why you should also not restrict yourself to strictly your coursework. You should, and practically need to get involved with the campus community. This means joining clubs, or volunteering in campus organizations. It’s not just a good way to pad your résumé, but it allows you to make connections, grow your network and expose yourself to new ideas. If I had any regrets from my journey through university life, is that I did not get involved more in the opportunities that were presented to me. Of course you need to be wary of stretching yourself too thin, a careful balance needs to be made.
People all the time speak of “work-life” balance, in school it is no different except it is “school-life” balance. Attending school is a job in itself, and should not be taken lightly. This means mostly taking care of yourself: getting enough sleep, eating right, writing well organized notes and not overstudying. This means developing systems to keep everything in line. I would personally use the Pomodoro Technique1 when studying, but you should adopt whatever works for you. For note taking I would use whatever helps you find information efficiently and helps you retain the information better, Lifehacker has some tips on note-taking you can peruse.
While further education can open doors, you should see it as a stepping stone on your own journey, and not a final step. Getting a degree is an incredible achievement worth celebrating in and of itself, but you should see it as a prerequisite for success in an economy that is becoming more and more competitive. Which –I assume you correctly inferred– means a Bachelor’s degree is a stepping stone to even further specialization, such as a Masters or Ph.D. This doesn’t mean a B.A. (or whichever type of degree you choose) is useless by itself, of course not! Getting a broad, or liberal, education is the best way outside of extensive travel –or volunteer work– to broaden your horizons and develop more as a person. It bestows skills to analyze and ways of interpreting the world you otherwise may have never gained. It is both a privilege for the lucky who can afford it, and an honorable trial-by-fire that can (in my opinion) mold you into a more fully developed human-being … ready to tackle the world.