Get More Out of College by Prioritizing Learning

When priorities conflict in college, you can find yourself choosing between multiple good choices. At this stage of life, choose learning.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #389

If you’re a college student like absurdly over-achieving intern M.G. (whom I do not resent in any way whatsoever), you have so much opportunity that you can easily make the wrong choices. M.G. is back to class after the winter break. When he’s not learning five languages, getting a black belt in Israeli Krav Maga, and comparing Moby Dick to classical literature—for fun—he actually does attend classes. And last week, he was offered yet another new opportunity: working as a paralegal for a prestigious law firm, making all-important copies for the partners. His semester is already jam-packed with classes, but it’s tempting. Very tempting. After all, the gig sounds great for his resume.

In college, you need to choose between activities where you learn a lot, activities that make your resume look good, or both. But not all resume-building activities are created equal. You want the ones that will give you the most bang for your buck. 

So how do you make sure you’re signing up for the opportunities that will serve you best? Prioritize learning when making choices about how to spend your time.

Run, Don’t Walk, from Activities That Block Learning

First, don’t take the classes you think you won’t learn from. If you’re picking a class to look good on a resume, don’t. Recruiters won’t look at specific classes. Do you really think they want to know how your freshman Advanced Ambition for Upwardly Mobile Teenagers class went? Not likely. They’re far more interested in how you think, problem solve, and deal with people. When you take classes whose only redeeming value is the title, the only thing you’re going to get out of it is a title line on your resume. But even worse, your one-liner is using up a precious class slot that you could use to learn something that changes your life! 

If life gives you a time waster that you can’t just drop, make time-waster-ade.

It’s the same with internships. Jobs that sound like they’d “look good on your resume” are a dime a dozen. Don’t do those either. Find out what’s really involved in that internship. Ask around. If it’s really just carrying coffee around and running a laser printer, don’t do it. A lame-o internship is just wasting your time.

Get Out If You Can (Make the Best of It If You Can't)

If something’s a time-waster, get out! Some commitments, once started, can’t be stopped halfway through. So before saying ‘Yes,” think about whether you can gracefully switch paths if an opportunity turns out to be less than expected. Use your add/drop period to research, and drop a class if you’re not learning. Quit any student groups that are a useless burden. And if you’re carrying coffee at that internship, ask your sponsor to move you to projects where you can make a real difference. 

If life gives you a time waster that you can’t just drop, make time-waster-ade. If your internship is teaching you zilch and you couldn’t drop it early on, look for nontraditional ways to complete it. Seek out special projects. Network with cool people in the office. If you’re spending over a thousand dollars a week for class, or 20 hours a week on an internship, get your money’s worth!


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.