A cursory search of college memes will yield lots of angst and anguish over preparing for exams, labs, and papers. Studying for tests is tough, no doubt, especially when the information is highly technical. Moreover, college can impose a myopia that narrows your focus to studying to pass a test instead of the real purpose of college, studying to be prepared for the professional world. It’s easy to get consumed with the immediate urgency of learning for a test, but I’d argue that it’s more important yet to ensure that the work you’re doing sticks with you long after the grades have come in. Below are some ways to make sure you’re studying for life, not just for the upcoming tests.
Learn a specialized skill: Many professionals have written that most of what you actually need to know for a job is taught on the job — college is just a sounding board. To get ahead of the game once your college career is over, make sure that you spend time dedicated to learning any specialized skills or programs that will make you stand apart. For example, if you’re in a statistics class that uses SPSS or Stata, go above and beyond to learn the program well enough that you could feasibly use it for more than just your school assignments.
Identify what you’ve learned in stuff you read: As you browse news websites and think pieces on linkedin, try to pick out information, processes, and themes that you’ve studied in your courses and how they manifest in the professional world. You can start to gauge how your coursework applies to real-life problems, companies, and strategies, which will give your classwork and studying some broader context.
Focus more on concepts and less on content: It will be incredibly rare that you won’t have access to Google after college, and to that end, traditional tests are somewhat contrived. While it’s important to pass those, it’s even more crucial that you understand the concepts and underlying premises that make the rote knowledge true. Don’t rely on plug and chug — rather, focus on the mechanisms that drive the more specific questions. As long as you understand the larger theories, framework, and higher-level ideas, the minutiae can be easily googled. Learn what you need to for the test, but don’t kill yourself.
Figure out how to get unstuck: Perhaps the largest leg up millennials have over the generation before ours is that we’re good at trouble shooting. If we can’t figure out a keyboard shortcut or are trying to fix something, we know how to find help on a forum or a youtube tutorial. Leverage this ability and specialize it to your major or field. Where do people go when they need managing advice? How do you determine the legality of a certain behavior? If you can learn how to learn and discover the places professionals in your field to go learn, you’ll be far ahead of the game and better prepared for real-world troubleshooting.
Start networking with professionals in your field: Ask them for advice on how much of their college coursework applied to their present job and how much was just to get through college. You may learn that a certain elective could be the edge you need to land a job, or that certain aspects of coursework that seem important in college don’t really provide you any information that you won’t have to learn again at your first position. Once more, this will give you a better perspective and help you prioritize your school work so you’re best prepared for life after college.