By Joe Badalamenti
It’s finally over. At time of writing, I am less than four weeks from graduation, the culmination of four years of college life. Now that I’ve reached this stage, I can finally write my obligatory graduation advice article. Not to brag but most advice found in advice articles tends to be either painfully obvious (not that the advice presented here isn’t obvious) or revolve around the meaning of a vague at best, harmful at worst platitude such as the all too common “jUsT Be yOuRsELf”. If that’s what you’re looking for, then go read Pipe Dream’s annual senior columns. This article will take the form of a general and practical guide to not wasting the remaining years of your education. Some of the major criticisms of college consist of the idea that “You’re wasting four years learning nothing while going into debt.” I disagree, but I do believe that there is a right and wrong way to go through college, hence why I am writing this article.
“But why take my advice?” you may ask. While I would love to discuss all of my credentials and accomplishments from my five page CV, let’s just leave it at the fact that I’m graduating and you’re (likely) not. For the 25% of you are graduating, you can simply take notes on what you should’ve done these past four years.
Let’s start with the reason you came here in the first place: education. For the majority of your time in college, you will either be in class, studying, or working on something related to your education in some way, so you should have the right attitude for your academics. First, you should create two to three relevant academic goals which correlate with your major. If you don’t have a major or are unsure, then you should focus on settling that as soon as you can. If you’re studying Engineering, Business, Accounting, or some practical field of study, then your goals should relate to gaining experience in your field. If you’re not lucky enough to get an internship, then professional clubs, research, and personal projects should provide a similar experience. This should help you stand out among the hundreds of thousands of other students with the same degree. If you’re in a theoretical field or plan on pursuing an advanced degree, then you should focus on learning the core concepts and principles in your field of interest. This would involve not only reading your coursework texts in-depth but also reading books, research articles, and other supplemental media that allow you to get a good grip on these concepts. Once you have a solid understanding of these concepts, you can put this knowledge to good use through teaching/tutoring, writing academic papers, or some other means. If you’re in a broad field such as Biology or History, then it may also be beneficial to find and specialize in a sub-area of expertise. Taking History as an example, there is Classical History, Medieval History, American History, Archeology, and many more subfields within the broad category of History. Again, this should be done to both stand out among other students and to make your education more enjoyable as you study the subjects that most interest you. While these goals may not be mandatory for graduation, you still ought to pursue them. If you take responsibility for your education, then you’ll wind up with a solid understanding of your field despite any obstacles or inconsistencies with your college education.
While academics and professional activities may play a large role, you are likely going to want a social life during your several years at college. Binghamton, being a large university, offers a large number of communities or clubs for you to join. It is within these that I have had much of my significant social experiences in university. However, you can’t (or shouldn’t) join every club and not all clubs are created equal, so you’ll ideally want to join 2-4 of the best clubs available. Moreover, with the exception of UFest, some clubs may do little advertising in person, so you may have to seek out these clubs online. Which clubs to join is up to you (except for Binghamton Review, baby), however, these clubs should encourage your development as well as build skills and virtues rather than degrade these qualities. While you can just leave a community mid-way to save time to join another, it’s much easier to find a few good communities and stick with them. Binghamton Review for example will enhance the quality of your writing as well as teach you the importance of communication, analysis, and planning among other skills. You’ll have to spend some time in each club to determine if they are worth your time. One reliable method to do this is to determine the character of the members of the executive board (E-board) as not only are they the most well respected but are the ones literally in charge of the club. If you want a balanced spread of communities, you can join: a physical/athletic club to build fortitude, a professional club to enhance your career development, an extracurricular club to build skills indirectly related to your career and for leisure of course, and a religious club for spiritual guidance and support. Again what clubs or communities you join are up to you, but if you join the right communities, you will end up well rounded as a result.
At this point, you should know your career and secondary goals as well as what to do to achieve them. You might realize that you may not have the time to keep up with classwork, extracurriculars, and any other activities, leisure or not, that you may have. This isn’t a bad thing, being able to take up so many responsibilities is a sign of progress. When you do reach this point, you should try to maintain consistent progress on academic goals while also making sure not to neglect your social life. This leaves you with two choices: do nothing and struggle to get things done while maintaining a healthy schedule, or make adjustments to balance your schedule. One of the best techniques to learn is to plan out each week. As your schedule gets busier, good planning becomes more and more valuable as you make much more use of your time each day. Planning should consist of at minimum keeping track of important events, deadlines, and other tasks along with the date and time at which they occur. You could also have a more regimented schedule in which you detail everything to be done at specific times, However, this comes at the expense of flexibility which is valuable for dealing with events that pop up out of nowhere. Speaking of trade-offs, an important lesson to learn is the concept of the opportunity cost: the reality that time that can be spent doing one thing is lost at the expense of the thing you are currently doing. For example, while writing this article, I face the opportunity cost of either relaxing or doing something more relevant to my studies depending on when I am writing this article. The key takeaway is to be aware of your opportunity costs, while also being confident in your schedule to meet your needs and your goals without experiencing any symptoms of FOMO. With this lesson in mind, along with efficient planning, your time management worries will begin to fade away.
While not directly related to the college experience, if you do not have a full-ride scholarship, then one can assume that you aren’t going here for free. Depending on your circumstances, as well as your goals, this could be a small issue or a large concern in your academic journey. Being an in-state student only pursuing a bachelor’s degree, debt has only been a small concern for me. Though, recognizing the severity of the issue, especially given soaring college tuition costs, I would like to give some advice to students who do face this issue. Much like academics, you will need to set a goal relevant to your financial situation and take steps to reach this goal. In this case, you may have to seek out financial aid, or even take up a part-time job. Whatever the case, It will take up time in your busy schedule. On the bright side, overcoming this obstacle should guarantee you financial independence and all the benefits that come with it.
If you made it this far, you’ll have probably noticed the recurring themes of growth and development throughout this article. This is not a mistake; the primary benefit of attending a university is not your degree, your new friends, or even the new knowledge you obtain, but changing for the better. Most students will attend college in their late teens. At this time an adolescent will have reached the point at which they can perform most tasks independently, though they are still years away from the maturity that separates children from adults. To quote the description found in all issues under the editorial:
“A true liberal arts education expands a student’s horizons and opens one’s mind to a vast array of divergent perspectives. The mark of true maturity is being able to engage with these perspectives rationally while maintaining one’s convictions.”
This quote is brilliantly written as it describes both what growth is and how Binghamton Review facilitates it. It is also important to learn how to grow. While you have undoubtedly grown since childhood, you might not have thought much about it. The process is simple: you go through a series of tasks or obstacles to achieve a goal resulting in either success or failure. At the end of this journey, you find yourself changed by the accumulation of new experiences. Failure to achieve goals can often be an even greater experience than success, so don’t be afraid to fail or pursue goals that will likely fail (unless you end up grievously injured or accused of a crime, then maybe do some risk-assessments). As sublime as it is, growth is a slow process, meaning in the short term you’ll only notice incremental improvements, though in the long term, it will compound such that you’ll become a completely different person.
As I stated at the beginning of the article, there is a right and wrong way to go through college. The core of this is that growth and change are not guaranteed. It may be the case that one will become more decadent and out of touch with reality. This is increasingly the case today with the decay of civil society. To resist these temptations, you should obtain a solid moral framework and principles. Surrounding yourself with mature and virtuous individuals is another way to ensure that you’re heading in the right direction. In a Binghamton Review article from before my time, the author, discussing the success of various Review writers (they had been elected to executive positions in the SA), had written that this success was not inevitable, but a result of the drive and ambition of the writers and editors of Binghamton Review. Looking back at the accomplishments of former editors, it’s clear that they had qualities that made them successful. To imitate these qualities is to not only embody them but to respect those who came before you.
The last piece of advice I have is to live in the moment. This is one that even I have been guilty of not doing but one of high importance. While the past and the future may seem better than today, the past is the past, it will always be there, and the future is the future, it is unwritten and uncertain. You only live in the present so better make the most out of what you have. Follow this advice and you’ll likely be in the top 1% of students. Well, that’s all for now, this is Joe Badalamenti signing out (jk I’ll be back next year in article form probably).