I hardly feel qualified to give advice, since I am often the one taking it, and am only a decade older than my freshmen students. Nonetheless, lacking mentors until graduate school, I learned many lessons through trial and error, stumbling in the dark towards an unknown destination while frequently tripping over wayward branches. The following tips are intended to ensure that my students do not suffer similar injuries.
The usual disclaimer applies: this is my guidance, and does not guarantee results, yada yada yada.
1. Stay physically fit and healthy. I cannot stress this enough. A number of studies (1, 2, 3) find a positive correlation between health and GPA. If I had received good advice early on, I would have started a weight training program in university, and eaten less junk food. Youth bestows the gift of physical vitality, and it is a shame to see young people squander that.
2. Establish a routine. This does not come easily to most students, but it is essential. I still have to work at it. Ensure that each hour of your day is scheduled, and be sure to pencil in time for recreation. Successful people do this naturally.
3. Treat your studies as a full-time job. This may sound like whipping a person who already has the financial burden of tuition, but it is a privilege to be a university student, when most young adults work full-time due to financial or family constraints. Your profession is student, so be serious about it.
4. Say these words more often: “I do not know.” It is tempting, while in discussion with someone, to feign knowledge in order to exude an air of intelligence. I have often been guilty of this, but admitting your ignorance requires true confidence, and will save you trouble in the future, especially in your intellectual pursuits.
5. Reduce your social media usage. I do not have Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. This is not because I inherently dislike these apps, but because I do not trust myself to use them wisely. I also find that they foster nihilism or narcissism among young people. If you do use social media, do not waste time on it.
6. Practice basic manners. Respond to emails and text messages within 24 hours of receiving them. Know when to put your cellphone away. Wipe down your equipment at the gym. Share cleaning responsibilities with your roommates.
7. Do something besides schoolwork. Have a part-time job, play in a band, run track and field, do woodworking – just do something. Sure, you can just do schoolwork all the time, but then you’ll become a boring snob.
8. Cultivate beneficial relationships; drop bad ones. Friends are important, but some friendships are poisonous or sterile. Drop such friendships immediately, and focus on forming relationships with those who will make you into a better person. Ditto for romantic liaisons.
9. Find a mentor. Every young person should have one. Some mentorships form organically (eg. a football coach), but most students have to actively seek a mentor.
10. Live for each day, not the past or future. Live each day in 24-hour blocks, considering whether you’ve accomplished required tasks for that day alone. Of course, you should have a long-term plan, but worrying about the future is futile if you do not act now to secure your goals. Fretting about the past is, of course, completely useless and foolish.