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    • jl

      What was your college experience like, and what (if anything) would you change if you were to do it again? Do you have any specific advice for me, as someone who's starting college this week? I've read a lot of general advice about college, but I think it's more meaningful and useful to hear what people think based on their personal experiences.

    • Chris

      Congrats!! I'm so jealous.

      I have two perspectives, the first from being an undergrad: I wish I hadn't thought of my classes as chores, things I had to pass to get a job. I wish I realized it was an amazing opportunity I would never have again, the time to immerse myself in learning about a fascinating world.

      I remember having to take economic history of the U.S. Ugh, I thought. Why did I have to? That wasn't my major. Oh my God...I talk about that class all the time. It gave me so much insight into our history and politics and provided a perspective for events unfolding today. I'm just glad I wanted a good grade so I worked hard, but I didn't know that I would be so happy I took the class later.

      When I got to grad school, I bent down to kiss the ground the first time I walked on campus. I promised myself to savor every moment there more than any student in their history ever had.

      I met people there that changed my life forever. One of my professors said, "We're not trying to develop a short-term skill in you; we want you to look back in 20 years and say that timeless thing I learned really made a difference." It sounded far-fetched at the time, but everyone who works with me knows that's what happened.

    • Pu

      I studied engineering and saw any class outside the core requirements as a waste of time. If I had it to do over again I'd take one class outside my major every semester. History, philosophy, political science, etc. I look back fondly on the few I did take. My son just finished his sophomore year in engineering and took a history class over the summer. He really enjoyed it so I hope it inspires him to take more. The other thing I'd do is take advantage of all the cultural opportunities that exist on most large campuses. Plays, music, cultural events put on by students from other countries, etc. My daughter went to Indiana University which is known for its music program. My wife and I visited for a few events and were blown away by the talent.

      I feel like I missed out on a lot because I was so focused on doing well at my major. I wish I'd have struck a better balance.

    • jl

      Thanks for the insight! I really like that quote from your professor...good to think about college as something that should and will affect me for the rest of my life, and to treat it as such.

      Also, interesting to hear both you and @Punkinhead below saying that while you were there, you didn't want to take classes outside your major, but afterwards, you liked them and wished you'd taken more. I'm definitely in the mindset of "all STEM classes, all the time," but it sounds like I should switch it up a little bit.

      I appreciate the advice!

    • Richard

      I began college as an engineering major but realized quickly that the curriculum left me with too little time to pursue many of my other interests. It was the 60s, so I switched to political science (with a minor in recreational chemistry). Even at that, I felt a need to explore other stuff, like philosophy, art history, mathematics and economics. It was all worthwhile. I also took advantage of the cultural and political activities on campus and easily learned as much from those as from my classes. Critical thinking is the most important skill to develop.

      My one specific suggestion to someone starting today would be to learn another language well. You're already too old to become perfectly bilingual, but with time and effort you could become fluent. Since you plan on focusing on STEM, learning Chinese now will almost certainly be an advantage within your working career. And you'll probably be too old to start if and when it becomes required. If that seems too daunting, any of the Romance languages will do, though Spanish will be more helpful for travel. Regardless of your choice, learning another language will literally open a new world to you. It's well worth the effort.

    • Chris

      I remember taking a history of science class in the philosophy department. Whut. Some old, quiet philosophy professor who looked like an extreme hippy from Berkeley (unfortunately that's what I thought in the day) strolled in and all I could think was WASTE OF TIME. I was a science major. I got to take real science classes, not science taught by a philosopher, and not about dead scientists. What would Pasteur and Maxwell know about modern science?

      I think about that class all the time. "It's the data point that doesn't fit the theory that leads to breakthroughs."

      There is a raging debate in the tech industry about the value of college, especially when it comes to software. Some say let them get a complete dose of college and you get Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, Stewart Butterfield—people who are more adult and grounded when they start their companies than the Zuckerbergs, Gates and Jobs were when they started.

    • Pu

      Ditto on the "learn a language". They're harder to learn as you get older. I've been working on Spanish for years because I work and travel in Central America a lot. It would have been much easier to get a solid foundation when I was younger. I can have conversations but at this point in my life I'll never be fluent.

    • spongey

      College was an eye opening experience for me in many ways.

      Having the experience of being surrounded by likeminded folk who wanted a stellar education, but also who all came from vastly different cultures and backgrounds.

      It was a pretty damn great experience that helped shape me into adulthood. In fact, now that I'm reminiscing back I can definitely take some of my own lessons moving forward in daily life!

      I'd say: Keep a good balance. College isn't just about one thing or another. It's not just school and it's not just a social experiment, it's both and everything else at the same time.

      Make sure you get to your exams and study up. Combine those social experiences with study groups - those can lead to life long friendships and teach you better how to work with people who think very differently from yourself.

      But also, give yourself time to relax. Try a new hobby or join a club or group that seems interesting. Do things you that push you to your limits and past your comfort zone.

      There are so many great opportunities, whatever you choose to do, you'll have a great time.

    • jl

      Interesting, I'm somewhat surprised to hear people say that they think taking a language is a good idea. I think that the only way I could get myself to do that is if I actually went to the place where they spoke the language I was trying to learn...I found language classes in high school to be unbelievably boring. That being said, it would be super cool to be fluent in another language.

      To me, the social part of college feels like at least as big an opportunity as the academic part. Getting a degree feels pretty optional to me, since I've had a number of jobs as a programmer, and think that I could get hired full-time doing that now, but the social part of college is something that really isn't available anywhere else. So with that in mind, I'm hoping I'll be able to find a balance between academics and socializing (as @spongey mentioned).

    • Pu

      My language recommendation comes from the benefit 20/20 hindsight. At your age language classes would have bored me too. But now 27 years after graduating I've done a lot of travel and spend significant time in central America. Having better Spanish skills would really enhance my enjoyment of the places I work and visit frequently. Of course, it's hard to know where life will take you so picking a language at your age is tough. When I was your age the big push was to learn Japanese since they were such an economic powerhouse in the 80's and 90's, but I've only needed to visit there a few times and frankly don't much care for their culture. I work a few weeks a year in eastern Europe, China, and other asian countries and it wouldn't be worth learning those languages for the little time I spend there - you can get by just fine with English anywhere in the world these days. I've just taken a real liking to Latino culture, which isn't something I could have predicted in my early 20's, and being fluent rather than just getting by would make the relationships I've made there that much better.

      I guess in retrospect maybe the recommendation learn a language isn't such a good one unless there's a culture you're particularly interested in. English is the language of business so there's not a big call to learn another based on work alone. Heck, a lot of people probably would recommend chinese right now but who knows what the near future will bring. Labor rates in China are growing and there will soon be moves to lower cost countries.

    • Chris

      When I was in middle school, we took Spanish but we had no Spanish speakers in the school so I think we all took it lightly.

      In high school, my counselor strongly suggested Russian because it was the language of science and I wanted to go into science. We had a great Russian teacher. We loved it because it was like a secret code no one else could understand. If we didn't remember a Russian word, we just used Russian letters to spell English words. Worked fine.

      I took 4 years of Russian and remember none of it. Never had a use, never travelled there, all the Russians I know speak English.

      However, I do have some usable Spanish because so much exposure. I don't know if I would take a language, personally, but if I did it would be Spanish.

    • spongey

      I took many languages in college too: C++, C#, Java, Perl, PHP, Python, Lisp.. oh I could go on and on...

      Sorry, had to troll a little. 👹

      But if you do take up tech / programming, definitely learning a spectrum of languages and techniques is better than just being really really good at one.

    • Richard

      I think that the only way I could get myself to do that is if I actually went
      to the place where they spoke the language I was trying to learn...I
      found language classes in high school to be unbelievably boring. That
      being said, it would be super cool to be fluent in another language.

      It's certainly easier to master a spoken language if you're living abroad, but learning the basics first will let you get more out of the experience. Also, you can work on your reading skills anywhere, which will help you build vocabulary and gain insight into the culture. If you become fluent in a language, you quickly realize that literature loses a great deal even in the best translations. And the Internet gives you access to just about everything in any language, if you're interested including videos to help with the spoken side.

      Some things are just better said in one language rather than another. I live in Madrid. I have spent about half my adult life in Spain and am married to a Spaniard, who is also fluent in English and three other languages. When we're alone, we speak a mixture of Spanish and English with an occasional French or Italian phrase thrown in. Could we say it all in English or Spanish? Sort of, but it would definitely lose character. The best thing about learning another language is that it can also open your eyes to a new way of seeing the world.

    You've been invited!