Most students go to university to learn more about what they’re interested in, and many actually take on subjects that offer them opportunities in terms of careers or monetary rewards. Sure, universities teach us valuable skills and give us a stepping stone into the working world. However, what most working adults don’t let on is that what you don’t learn in school matter more in terms of shaping your future career and self.
So how do you make the most of your uni days apart from attending every class and submitting your projects in on time? Here are some other suggestions:
Try different careers
Some people may stick to one career for most of their lives, but these days it’s not a guarantee that you’ll be in the same job (or industry) for very long. Some of us take a few tries before settling down on a career that suits us – and it may not be the subject we studied at uni. It could be because of changing interest (perhaps we’re jaded by the industry) or it could be because of situations beyond our control (like companies downsizing/closing down, or advancements in technology that render a role useless).
Apart from taking part in the government’s “Adapt and Grow” programme, it certainly is advantageous to try out different career paths while you’re still in uni. Try early and try often – test out career options during your holidays as an intern in as different industries as possible.
So if you’re a Business student, try out a stint at an art gallery, or as a research assistant. It could open your eyes to how you see your future career shaping out, and it may pique your interest in something totally new. The earlier you figure out your interests, the less time you waste at uni trying to change courses.
Confused? Choose the path that keeps the most doors open
You may have a hard time choosing the subjects you want to study – and you probably have less of an idea of what you want to do once you graduate. And it’s not like you can take a break for a couple of years to figure it out (unless you’re in NS).
If you’re in this situation, it’s better not to narrow your options. Plenty of courses in the sciences, economics, maths, or computer science are ones with plenty of job opportunities. But if you’re not into these areas, you can look at humanities like history or liberal arts. Many of these subjects are the building blocks of many careers – some, like liberal arts, teaches you many things instead of focusing on one subject, giving you the freedom to choose what you want to do upon graduation.
Develop skills that are hard to get outside the university
Many of us tend to fill our class schedules with unique or interesting subjects – some of us take psychology, or gender studies. However, don’t forget that universities are way more equipped than the real world when it comes to honing technical skills.
These may not be subjects that interest you, but they’ll be very handy for your future career. We’re talking skills like programming/coding, statistics/data, math, or accounting, which are the foundation for many industries these days.
Whether you’re studying Mass Comm or Geography, these skills can come in handy since you’ll have a leg up on most of your peers. Even if not applied to your career, it’ll definitely help you understand a lot more about how the world works – for instance, you can understand more journals, use data to create that next viral blog, or you navigate talking with people from a variety of backgrounds.
Focus on the teacher, not the subject
While you may be tempted to pick the subjects you like, it’s just as important to pick a teacher. Even if it’s not in a subject you’re interested in, a good teacher will inspire you and engage you. On the contrary, if you pick a subject taught by a boring professor, you’ll learn nothing.
The best professors will engage students in debate and teach them how to think, rather than droning on from a textbook. You can easily see which professors have the passion for teaching – students are more engaged, which is the key to learning.
Get recommendations from professors
Needless to say, having a good relationship with your professors will go a long way, even if you take a few small classes with a new professor. It helps if you need a recommendation letter from them whether you’re applying to graduate school or getting a job.
Practise writing well
Even if you’re studying Engineering, Fine Arts, or Computer Science, you should always take writing seriously because you’ll use it no matter which stage of life you’re at.
We’ve all cringed at reading bad English in the Straits Times’ FB comment section, so you don’t want to be one of those, right? While it’s especially more important to write well if you’re a lawyer or a blogger, you’ll need to be able to think and write clearly – and fast – to get your point across no matter what industry you’re in.
You’ll have proposals, pitches, letters, and even social media posts you’ll have to write in life – some of it for work, some of it to look for work. How many of us rely on spellcheck to help us (but despite that we don’t really spell well)? The ability to write well reflects on who we are, so if we disregard proper grammar, what does that say about how we treat our jobs?
The best way to improve your writing is to practice – whether it’s via blogs, or posting comments on socials, there are plenty of avenues. Pay attention to what you think you’re weak at – check English grammar sites to improve yourself, or simply read more books. You could even go a step further and take a course on writing, be it journalism or creative writing.
Take some foreign language classes
We live in a country where most of our peers are at least bilingual, and if you speak another language, it’ll look really good on your CV when you look for a job. Plus, when you speak another language, it forces you to think differently, since each language has a different structure.
You can choose to learn a new language while you’re at uni, and many students do. If you’re already interested in Korean or Japanese culture, you’re probably already taking lessons outside of school. If you’ve studied Japanese, for example, you can take your language classes one step further by going on an exchange programme in Japan for a full immersion.
These language skills will not only help you understand your Kdramas or anime, you’ll also have options to work in companies that deal with Korean/Japanese clients.
Travel to places you’re not familiar with
Make the most of your exchange programmes, and instead of choosing English-speaking countries, venture beyond your comfort zone. It can be somewhere in East Europe, or Africa, or even Asian countries like China, Japan, and Korea.
Travelling to these countries forces you to learn and adapt to new cultures, but above all, it teaches you not to be afraid of the unknown world, or speaking a language you’re not familiar with.
It’s during this time in your life that you can travel abroad for cheap while learning about the world – if you don’t take this chance, you likely won’t be able to do it when you’re a working adult.
At the end of each year of uni, take the time to reflect on what you did and learned – you should find some things that blew your mind. If not, you probably didn’t try hard enough to explore what your uni can offer you.
Keeping yourself curious is a good rule of thumb – by cultivating curiosity at uni, you’ll be able to capitalise on your school’s resources. Even once you’ve graduated, you shouldn’t stop being curious – there’s so much to learn out there, and it would be a pity to stop learning once you start working. It’ll not only help you appreciate what’s around you, it’ll also help you open new doors that would have otherwise been shut.