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

Do Your Research to Find Learning

Of course, we have interwebs! Before committing, you can do research and separate the wheat from the time-wasting non-wheat, like … potatoes … or carrots. 

When picking classes, look on ratemyprofessor.com to find out how much other folks learned in the class and see if the reviews make you more or less interested. Look at the course description carefully, and check out a past syllabus. 

Talk with people who have taken the class or internship you’re considering. Don’t just ask, “Did you like it?” Ask questions to tease out whether or not they learned anything. Ask, “How did this change your world views? What did you learn? How have you applied that learning?” If an experience hasn’t made a difference in someone’s life, that’s a strong hint that it isn’t worth your time and attention.

Seek Out High-Learning Activities

Once you’ve tossed out the time wasters that block learning, decide what kinds of learning you want out of an experience. Do you want to learn to work as part of a team with other students or coworkers? Do you want a boss or professor who can become your mentor? Do you want to learn to fold sweaters really, really well? (I’ve considered working at The Gap for a summer just to learn to fold clothes.)

List what will make a class or internship worthwhile to you. Then rate your different options on those criteria and choose the one that will give you the biggest leg up. Taking minutes for your boss’s meetings might be a low-value internship measured in learning, but if your boss is the White House Chief of Staff, then it might be great for networking. Plus, you can add an action item “prepare for Zombie apocalypse” at the bottom of the minutes and watch the fun when he gets back to the Oval Office.

Let’s recap: when you have competing commitments in college, choose the opportunities that give you the most learning. Beware of empty resume-building classes and internships. Get out of time wasters as soon as you can, and do your research beforehand to make sure you can expect an activity to be good for learning. You can be even more rigorous by creating an explicit learning score-card and using it to evaluate opportunities.

Now that he realizes that learning should be how he makes his decisions, Intern MG knows just what to do. “I’ve identified my high-learning goals as getting deep exposure to journalism practices, understanding entrepreneurship, and learning to manage projects. Operating a photocopy machine, even for a prestigious firm like Dewey, Cheatum, and Howe, will not help me reach those goals.” So MG is going to keep working shifts at a major national newspaper as he co-founds a business and teaches himself MIT’s computers science curriculum … in his spare time. I’m hoping to make sure he goes up for a surprise black belt test his first day on the job—purely as a way of supporting his desire to learn, of course. I’m very generous that way.

I'm Stever Robbins. I run webinars and other programs to help people be Extraordinarily Productive, and build extraordinary careers. If you want to know more, visit SteverRobbins.com/subscribe

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About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins 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.