Today we’re going to talk about how-to get a better education that your university is giving you – for free!
I’m a journalism major, halfway through my junior year at the University of Colorado at Boulder. But I’m interested in small businesses and tech startups. Whoops. Too late to turn back now. After college I have no intention of going into journalism. I’m either starting another business of my own or working for a startup somewhere.
In all of this mess though, I have an advantage: I’m still doing what I’m passionate about, regardless of my degree.
Getting your undergraduate degree is a synch. It’s not about learning, what you know or what you’ll take in. It’s about playing each teacher’s game, giving them back the information they want and then dumping it out of your brain as soon as you’re done with it. Your undergraduate degree has more to do with your organizational skills than it does your retention skills. Besides, you won’t use much of what you learned in school in the real world.
So while you’re paying to go to school, go get an education.
You may be like me, passionate about an area outside of your degree. Or you may be perfectly happy and excited about the area that your studies pertain to. Either is fine, neither will hinder you from getting what I’ll call in this post a “better” education.
Professors are overrated. Find professionals.
Let’s say you’re interested in marketing. What’s going to get you farther: textbook terms that you spit back on a test or sitting down and picking the brain of someone who’s actually doing marketing?
Experiential learning, asking good questions and taking notes for yourself will get you infinitely farther than copying down some slides as your professor lectures.
Not only will you remember what you learned in the meeting with your professional of choice, you’ll also have the opportunity to ask him or her questions about specific areas that you’re interested in that may be outside the scope of your classes.
Get out in the community
Join a professional group or attend meetups pertaining to the passion that you want to turn into a profession. Meetup.com hosts thousands of meetups all over the world. They’re are a great way to find people doing what you want to be doing.
Build that network early. Let them know that, regardless of what you’re studying, you’re passionate as hell and you’re going to make exactly what you want come to life.
Use the student advantage
You may not be able to flaunt a job title or a company you work for while you interact with professionals who are older and more experienced than you, but you can leverage the fact that you’re still in school.
People will be impressed that you’re trying to get involved even before you’re out of school. Most college kids wait for the email from career services with job offers. Most wait for a lucky break.
Leverage the fact that you’re a student learning early and open doors for yourself. It’ll earn you much respect and you’ll be way ahead of the game.
Get an internship
Again, there’s no better way to learn and retain than by doing. Make mistakes. Get your hands dirty. Start that résumé.
Use your network and your passion to work you way into the industry and learn from the people who are going to actually teach you. There’s much less knowledge dumping when you’re applying everything you learn.
Find mentors and learn from them every chance you can. Degrees are overrated. Passion is underrated. Don’t wait for life to come to you and start it all even before you think of buying the cap and gown.
Zack Shapiro is The Startup Student, a student entrepreneur in Boulder, Colorado. He is the founder of 59thirty, an iPhone development company.