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Originally published on Medium
Advice from someone who just graduated from IIT
(Photo by Vlad Shapochnikov)
Last week, I visited my mentor one last time before I leave India to begin my first-ever full time job at Bloomberg in London. He’s in the education industry, teaching kids like me to have an extremely happy life first, how to crack IITJEE, one of the toughest engineering exams in the world, second. To a large portion of students in India, he is known simply as “Bade Bhaiya”, the founder of VMC. We converse a lot about problems plaguing freshmen, and the insane amount of doubts they carry. This post arose out of that conversation. It’s my turn to pay it forward. Help, guide and encourage freshmen, like others did for me when I started.
I think the first year of college can make or break your entire trajectory, if you plan on taking the conventional routes, either as first preference or as a backup.
People in the 1st or 2nd year currently would probably disagree, but ask them the same question in their final year (I did), and an overwhelming majority would agree. How?
I think the benefit is two-fold. Psychological and practical. Getting good grades gives you a psychological boost. A backup if you will, to fall back on if your grades do decide to take a dip later on. Further, it opens up a lot more avenues for you. For example, want to get a Position of Responsibility? You’ve got to have at least a 7 CGPA. Want to go on the exchange? You need an 8. Want to get a great job? Majority of companies have a CGPA cut-off. You may not feel the need yet, for it is way into the future, but I think it makes sense to take a few pains now to make things easier on your future-self. They will have a lot of other stuff to worry about too. Still not clear? The next section might help.
What are you here for?
This is for you to decide. I‘ll go over some generic ideas and suggestions down below for you to adapt to your life.
Side note before we begin, for the kids who are here just because someone forced them to do this. Now, you can spend the next 4 years crying about how you never wanted to do this or you can make the best out of it. What’s “best” would of course vary from person to person. That’s for you to think hard about. It could be starting what you actually wanted to do, with the shelter of a guaranteed room and food for 4 years. It could be you exploring a different course and finding out you love it. It could be you exploring something entirely different altogether.
Now with that mindset, here’s what you could be doing in your first year. Again, take what you like, discard what you don’t, but think for yourself.I can’t emphasize this enough.
1. Explore everything that has no direct harmful impact
The sheer effortlessness with which you can explore numerous activities in college is unparalleled. It’s a unique place, where in some 100 acres, you have an intense concentration of all kinds of sports and activities. You attended the cultural orientation right? I wouldn’t want to list all those possibilities again.
Try whatever activity or event catches your eye, whichever activity has that cute guy/gal you’d like to talk to, whichever activity your friends force you to take part in. Find something you’d love to do. But at the same time, don’t get lost in this world. There’s more to do.
2. Grades are important, but only till you figure out what you really want to do
Don’t get complacent with academics in your first year. It closes more doors than you can imagine. How? If at a later stage, you do decide that grades are important, you would have to spend most of your time making up not studying earlier. You’d miss out on other important things that come around in your later years. I’ll save what exactly for another post.
On the other hand, if you do decide to take a path where grades don’t matter ( like I did) you wouldn’t have lost anything. In fact, you’d get to focus completely on doing what matters, as the grade-cushion you’ve built up allows you to.
3. Interact with seniors
Some people always have had an authority figure over their heads telling them what to do. It could be anyone — teachers, parents or an older sibling. In college, you’re on your own. What this creates is a vacuum in this place for an authority figure. More often than not, this is filled by your seniors. Here, I implore you to take a cautious approach.
Listen to your seniors, definitely. They’ve been here longer and could have great tips and ideas for you. ( If I said no, it would get pretty ironic with me writing this post, don’t you think? ). However, there’s a second part to it. Think for yourself if what this person says makes sense to you. Think for yourself if it is something you want to do. Take second opinions, look for conflicting opinions between seniors, and figure out your path.
4. Make lifelong connections
While you go explore new activities, manage the burden of studies and what you really want to do ( if you’ve figured that out), don’t forget to make friends along the way. You’re not alone here and making epic friendships is one great way to blossom through your stay here. Put yourself out there, out of your comfort zone and I bet magical things will happen. They sure did for me.
Probably the most important thing to do is to learn. Not to memorise anything but to learn. Learn a new sport. Learn what interests you. Learn what your course teaches you. Learn to code. Learn to learn. Learn something. When you enter college, your biggest achievement ever has been cracking this exam. When you leave, your list of achievements ought to be so big that this doesn’t even feature in that list.
Cultivate a lifelong learning habit. Wherever you go, whatever profession you choose after this, in order to grow you’d have to keep learning. You’d have to keep evolving.
Finally, I’d like to leave you with one important principle that guided me throughout this quest for making the most out of my time at IIT, in terms of friendships, self-improvement and my career:
Do what/who makes you happy and fulfilled
If you’re not happy with how you’re spending your time, change what you do in your free time.
If you’re not fulfilled, change what you do in your regular-class time. This could mean learning meaningful stuff apart from college work, or doubling down on coursework. That is for you to think for yourself and decide.
If you’re curious about how I learnt the lessons that lead to the development of the above principles, let me know below! I was not sure if you’d be interested in my specific journey, or just the principles, as written above.
To know more about how epic the exchange program is, head over to www.indianwithabackpack.com