When I left my home in New England for college, I had no idea what was in store for me. To this day, people ask me all the time: “Wake Forest? How’d you end up there?”
It’s a great question, really. In reality, paying $170k to go there was the best mistake I’ve ever made.
The fact of the matter is I no longer wanted to attend Syracuse’s Newhouse School of Communications, which I had been accepted to. I had fallen in love with economics and wanted a better liberal arts program.
In seeking out this challenge, I was thrust into a world I had never seen before.
Wake Forest is a southern school with an affluent student body. I remember hearing a statistic from a professor in class that something like 75% of the students’ parents earn a combined income of $250k per year or more.
Let’s just say I didn’t fall into that 75%.
Wake Forest was a whole new ballgame for me (they don’t call it Work Forest for nothing), and with hindsight being 20/20, I want to reflect on my experience and hopefully help prepare some students for their own journey.
The harsh realities I faced at college:
College is a fun and cut-throat competition
You and all your classmates are competing for the same jobs, and you’re competing for jobs with people at other schools too.
Graduate schools and companies seeking college graduates generally want the students with the best experience and highest GPAs. I know we want everyone to succeed, but there are only so many open jobs out there.
Naturally, some schools will be more competitive than others, but staying aware of that dynamic as you progress towards graduation is important. If you find yourself giving out far more help than you’re getting from your classmates, evaluate whether that’s in your best interest or not (hint: it’s probably not).
It’s tough to balance building good habits with having the time of your life. Find a happy medium that allows you to enjoy a healthy body, mind, and wallet in the future.
Some students are much more prepared
From the first day I set foot on the quad, it took me all of five minutes to realize I was the only one not wearing boat shoes and croakies. It took me longer to realize that my classmates seemed much more prepared for college than I was.
Throughout my teenage years, my mind always played tricks on me; it constantly led me to believe that my peers were doing better than they really were.
But this felt different.
My classmates at Wake Forest knew how to invest, the importance of internships, how to appear professionally, and how to network properly. These were things I didn’t get much exposure to, and I had to work hard to close the gap.
Unfortunately for me, I was probably a junior by the time I caught up. At that point, many of my classmates had used their freshman and sophomore years to set the stage for internships that summer, and I wasn’t able to land anything of significance.
In college, the earlier you’re prepared, the more career opportunities you’ll have.
The common path isn’t always the best
Lots of people get through college and start their career by looking for handouts based on their past accomplishments. At that point, it doesn’t matter what your GPA was, how hard you studied and how many social activities you sacrificed.
If that means networking and building relationships instead of studying, do it. If that means skipping class for an event where you can learn about real-estate or something, do it. If you can maintain success in your schoolwork and do the extra things to set yourself apart, the risk might very well be worth the reward.
Don’t expect the world to succumb to your willpower by always following the book.
In summary, it’s easy to get swept up in the momentum of college while losing sight of the end goal: enhancing your career.
To help you navigate successfully, keep in mind that:
- College is a competition
- Other students might be more prepared than you are
- It’s not all about grades – look for other ways to improve
What will you do to stand above your peers?
All opinions expressed on this blog are solely those of Home at 30 and are in no way affiliated with any other organization or institution. The purpose of this blog is to give general education and information about investing, wealth, careers, and college; It is not intended to be professional advice.
Author: Josh Ramos
After earning an undergraduate degree in Economics and a Master of Arts in Management at Wake Forest University, Josh has paid off over $130k in student loan debt in 4 years. By founding Home at 30, Josh wants to help you make the most of college, build a successful career, and achieve financial independence.