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28 October 2014

If I could redo college

I've spent a lot of time recently reflecting on my college experience and how it's affected my life in the couple of years since I've graduated. I went to NYU, so from the beginning it was always going to be a less conventional path. The lack of a campus contributes to the lack of school spirit and fuzzy feelings of connectedness. At a school like that, you really have to make an effort to make friends because everyone is pretty scattered and off doing their own cool New York-y things.

Deciding to attend NYU, to my high school senior self, was basically deciding to focus my entire college career on professional development. I think I figured since I wasn't going to have the typical college experience anyway, I might as well put my all into getting internships so I could get a jumpstart on my career and land a perfect job in the film industry after graduation. So that's what I did. I prioritized getting as many different internships as possible, switching to a new company nearly every semester. I also took a full course load and had a work study job for 8-10 hours/week. As you can imagine, I was left with very little free time. And for all the emphasis I placed on internships, I didn't really know how to network (which at the time I equated with 'small talk' - I am horrible at that). So while I learned a bit about how to do 'intern work', I never really took advantage of the most valuable aspect of interning, which is connecting with professionals who are already working in the field. Now that I'm out of school and have some perspective from the workforce, I realize how much your network matters. I always figured that I could work hard and get recognized for it, which did happen sometimes, but I didn't realize that you then have to follow up with those people and create a further connection.

When I look back on what my life was like in college, it was basically a lot of running around between engagements, busting my butt doing unpaid internships, and finishing papers at all hours of the day and night. Those times were a world away from my favorite parts of college, which were study abroad and ballroom - i.e. when I was actually interacting with peers. So if I could redo college, here are the things I would consider:

1. I would seriously think about attending a different school. 
And that's not to say I blame NYU (though it has its share of issues), I just mean that putting myself in a more traditional college environment might have given me some of the things I now wish I had.

2. I would take my liberal arts education more seriously, 
either by majoring, double-majoring, or minoring in something like history or East Asian studies, etc. My media/communications major was more engaging and academic than I thought it would be, but ultimately a strong liberal arts education is the foundation for being an educated, thoughtful citizen of the world. I wish I understood more about politics and economics, things like that. (Though it's never too late to learn!)

3. I would get involved with more kinds of campus activities. 
I focused a lot of my 'extracurricular' time on professional interests, but I wish I had started competing with the ballroom team earlier, or joined a more tight-knit cultural club. College is such an amazing and important opportunity to make friends...it's pretty hard to meet people in the same way after college.

4. I would do fewer internships, and focus on longer stays at smaller companies.
This goes back to the networking thing. For an introvert like me who was hoping to forge my way forward with a good work ethic, the best environment I could have done that in would be a small company where each person has more responsibility and more visibility. Having one or two big/well-known companies on your resume is important, too, but I think getting to know colleagues and supervisors at smaller organizations would have been more helpful to my career.

Those are pretty much the big things that have been on my mind. For better or worse though, things have shaken out as they have shaken out..now it's up to me to forge onward with the lessons I've learned.
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