5 Myths That Cause College Students Unnecessary StressAugust 13th, 2008 · 24 comments
Student Success Myths
Here on Study Hacks we spend a lot of time trying to separate truth from fiction when it comes to building a successful student career. As you know, it’s one of my great beliefs that much of the stress experienced by students is unnecessary. Indeed, the entire Zen Valedictorian Philosophy is premised on the idea that most people have no idea what makes a student impressive.
In this article I want to cut to the chase. Listed below are five myths that pop up again and again as causes of the type of stress I fight here on this blog.
MYTH #1: Your Major Matters
This myth says that if you don’t choose the right major — or better yet, double major — you won’t find a good job. It drives students to suffer through punishing courses in subjects that don’t even interest them.
The Reality: As described in this article: outside of jobs that require specific technical skills, your major doesn’t matter. Indeed, as described here, if you choose a major for external reasons you’re at much greater risk for a burn out.
What You Should Do: Choose a single major that you enjoy. Double majors are never necessary. (You think that you need one, but you really don’t.) Engage your course work. Do well. Become a standout in your department. This is more important than the specific subject.
MYTH #2: The Difficulty of Your Courses Matters
This myth says that the most talented students are those who have the most punishing course loads. It leads students to take the maximum number of credit hours and to torture themselves with schedules loaded full with notoriously tough subjects.
The Reality: This myth is derived from the fact that college admissions officers care about the difficulty of your schedule. Students extend this thinking to college and beyond, imagining that something similar must hold true for graduate school admissions or job hunting. Here’s the thing: it doesn’t. As explained in this article, no one cares or will even check what courses you took in college. Taking a killer schedule is completely unnecessary masochism.
What You Should Do: Build manageable schedules that spread out the toughest courses required by your major. Balance hard courses with easier electives, don’t try to take the maximum number of credit hours, and if you have extra credits lying around (e.g., from high A.P. scores) occasionally take an unusually light semester. The distinction you gain from being able to do really well in a normal course load far outstrips the advantages of killing yourself with too much.
MYTH #3: Your Extracurricular Activities Matter
This myth says that getting into graduate/professional school or landing a cool job is like getting accepted to college: the difficulty and impressiveness of your extracurriculars play a large role. This leads students to killer schedules stuffed with an insane number of activities.
The Reality: As argued in this article, no one cares about your college extracurriculars. For graduate school and law school: they mean nothing. For medical school: you need to demonstrate exposure to the world of medicine; beyond that, your activities mean nothing. For jobs: doing one or two activities you like helps flesh out your personality and shows you’re not anti-social; doing more than one or two adds no advantage.
What You Should Do: Find a small number of activities that you really enjoy. If you ever feel overwhelmed by extracurricular responsibilities: cut back! They’re not helping your cause.
MYTH #4: Impressiveness is a Function of Hardness
This myth says that the harder you’re working the more impressive you’ll become. For example: If you want to be 2 times more impressive than your roommate, your schedule — in terms of classes and activities — should be two times harder. This leads ambitious students to equate stress with realizing their potential and equate relaxation with guilt.
What You Should Do: If you’re interested in becoming a standout — something that for most students is not necessary to achieve their ideal lifestyle — take a page out of the Zen Valedictorian playbook and focus for a long time on a very small number of things and try to push them into a territory that defies easy explanation.
MYTH #5: You Can Plan Your Future Career
This myth says that it’s possible for an undergraduate to plan his future career. It leads to much anxiety as students struggle to check off the credentials they think are necessary to realize their plan.
The Reality: Fast-forward to ten years after college graduation. The chances that you’re doing the same things you predicted as a student are slim. As argued here, most students have an incredibly limited understanding of the different options in the job world and how careers unfold. Indeed, many simply take a general topic they think they’re interested in — e.g., promoting equal education opportunities — then transform it into a made-up job — e.g., “I want to work at companies that promote equal education opportunities.” Trying to plan a long-term career at the age of 20 is an exercise in futility.
What You Should Do: Become an interesting, respected, academically-engaged student on your campus. Professional success will follow from here. Don’t sweat specific careers choices until it’s actually time to job-hunt. At this point, don’t try to identify “passions” (as argued here: worthless), instead adopt a lifestyle-centric approach: start with a desired lifestyle then work backwards to select the available job opportunity that moves you closest. Expect your employment situation to change frequently over time.
(Photo by gotplaid?)