Last week, I provided a list of tips to help high school students make the most out of their years in school so now I’ve come up with a similar list for people in college. College is an interesting period for most people. Some go overboard with all the freedom they have and end up having a lot of issues. Others view it as a reboot of their lives from high school – they’re in a new place with new people and a clean slate. While others see it simply as the next step in the progression of programs that make up their lives and miss out on some of the opportunities.

To me, college was the best years of my life. Although I didn’t do everything I would have liked to, I created friendships that have lasted well over a decade and have many cherished memories. So here are some of the things you can do to get the most out of your years in college:

1: Sign up for social networking web sites:

The most important thing you can do in college is create a network. This means friends, professors, administrators, alumni and anyone that can help you find a job or start a business. Once you’ve created your network, you need to maintain it and that means keeping the contact information of the people in your network current.

When I was in college, I created a database to keep track of my friends’ contact info. We didn’t have cell phones back then (actually, I did, but I was the only one) so everyone had two phone numbers: one for when they were at school and one for when they were at home. Also, services like gmail either didn’t exist (although some people had AOL or hotmail) or weren’t widely used. And to make matters worse, many schools didn’t offer alumni permanent email addresses. So once you left campus after graduation, it was tough to keep up with people as they moved both physically and from job to job.

These days, we have social networks and free email services so people are much easier to find. But do yourself a favor, start adding people now as you get to know them. Even in college, a few semesters can seem like a long time. I can think of people that I hung out with as a freshman, didn’t see for two years and then when we were seniors acted like we were meeting for the first time. So adding these people and sending a note out to them every couple months helps you avoid that and stay in contact.

2. Attend an alumni networking event.

The requirement here is at least one, but try to attend more if you’re able to. Some schools have “rules” about current students attending alumni events, but by asking the right people, you should be able to get yourself in. This alone is an excellent exercise and this skill can help you with sales prospecting later on in life.

Now why would you want to rub elbows with alumni? Many of these people are employed or own businesses so they are the people you’ll be seeking after graduation (especially if you find yourself out of work). These people can share stories, give you career advice, provide jobs, share their networks and help you connect with others that can help you. I often attend alumni events for my college and I always complement the current students (usually graduate students) that attend them. One important tip, bring business cards (you can either print them yourself or order them online) and resumes.

3. Learn how to follow up:

I’ve gone back to my college a number of times where I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with current undergraduate students. A number of my friends and associates have also had these opportunities yet we all have noticed an interesting trend – very few of the students we meet take the initiative to follow up.

At a typical event that I attend, I’ll often come in contact with 50-100 students. I include my contact info in my presentations as I’m always willing to help those that I can, yet I typically only get one or two people that make that effort. I usually present with one or two other people, and they typically get the same result.

Thinking back to when I was in college, I have to admit that I often wanted to contact many of the alumni that presented but was often too intimidated to do so. It wasn’t that the person was being intimidating so much as that I was shy. It wasn’t until I was in graduate school that I learned to stop being shy and started connecting with these folks.

4. Go on an informational interview

Before you’re at the stage where you’re looking for a full-time job or even an internship, it’s helpful to go on one or more informational interviews to find out what life is really like in your desired field after college. This is especially helpful if you’re goal is to start a business as you can gain some real world knowledge about your industry.

An informational interview differs from a job interview in many ways. First of all you’re there to learn, not to go through the hiring process so it’s less formal. Second, you ask most of the questions. You can set up an informational interview with anyone in your desired field that’s willing to meet with you. You can meet with them in person (which I recommend as you get the full effect), by phone or even through an online chat.

The more people you meet with, the more perspectives you’ll get. Keep in mind that each company has its own unique culture and that cultures can be different even within the same organization. But getting out there and meeting people will help you get a better understanding for what you’re in for as well as establish some contacts for jobs and advice when it’s time to begin your job search.

5. Travel

College is the ideal time to see the world around you. Life is a whirlwind for most people after graduation because before you know it, you’re immersed in a job with two weeks of vacation (or a business where you have even less leisure time) and then finding yourself getting married, starting a family and preparing to send someone else to college.

Spring break is perhaps one of the most missed opportunities to get out and see the world. In the United States, college students flock to the beaches in Florida or Cancun for a week of things that make their parents cringe. I wasted my spring breaks working a part-time job but did get to experience it firsthand a couple years after I graduated when my brother and I took trip to Florida that coincided with spring break. We ran into a lot of folks that were having fun — although I suspect few of them will actually remember anything that happens.

A better alternative is to visit a major city that you’ve always wanted to. Get a group of friends together, plan a trip and go. Most major cities have a decent nightlife so you can get some partying in, but instead of wasting your week in a drunken stupor, you’ll expand your horizons and possibly find a place that you’ll either want to visit again or even relocate to. Los Angeles, Orlando, Nashville, D.C. and Las Vegas are all exciting cities with decent weather during spring break. New York, Boston, Seattle and Chicago make lack the good climate, but make up for it in culture and night life.

Outside of spring break, take some time during your winter break to go skiing or visit somewhere tropical. Also, give yourself a few weeks either at the beginning or end of your summer vacation for a trip — this is an excellent time to visit some of the cities in cooler climates.

If you aren’t able to travel while in college, give yourself a month after graduation to see the world (or at least the country). You’d be surprised what you can cram in, even if you’re on a budget.

In part two of this article, we’ll cover some other ideas that can help you enjoy your college years, create memories, and prepare you for the road ahead.

Success: Ten Tips For College Students – Part 1
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