Essay title stolen from here.

I’ve just graduated college (hopefully). It seemed only logical that I try to pen down some of the things that I wish I knew before starting college in 2017. Some things are my advice to friends and juniors, while others are my inner monologues.

Like all points of view, you should take everything I wrote here with a grain of salt. Everything I say here applies to someone exactly like me. In fact, some exactly opposite things might be good for you. Nonetheless, since you’re here, you might as well read the whole thing.

Table of contents

Plan ahead. When I started studying Electrical Engineering at IIT Kanpur, I had no idea about what the curriculum has or what engineers do. I joined the program like most people because I was told that IITs are the best places to be in India. I think that is true to some extent. Although, it would have been a lot better if I knew what I was doing or what I would do once I graduate.

I’m starting my MBA at IIM Bangalore in a month. You can read about the thoughts that went on in my chaotic mind here. This does not mean that I know what I’m doing or what I want from life. However, I think I got pretty good at figuring out what I don’t like. The way I learned what I disliked was: (1) try and do what everyone else is doing, (2) if you like something, continue doing that; otherwise, get out, (3) repeat.

I know that I hated Electrical Engineering. I did not like the academic projects that I did, but I really think I want to be in academia, so that needs a year or so to explore. I do not have corporate experience yet, and I believe years post my MBA would tell me if I like corporate jobs or not. I’ll let you know when I have that moment of realization.

The point is that you should have a rough idea about what you want to do after college. No, I’m not talking about planning your entire life. But, you should have a rough idea about what you wish to do immediately after graduation. Otherwise, the options are endless, and you would be like me - trying your hand at everything, end up getting most of them and have sleepless nights choosing what to do.

Take care of your health. I wish I took more care of myself. I had to be critically hospitalized twice during my stay at IIT Kanpur, primarily because of my erratic food habits. Since everything happens only once, it is hard to catch up on work once you miss them because of illness. If your body and mind are not well, it is hard to function at your full potential.

In addition to that, when you fall sick away from home, everyone at home feels unnecessary stress. I don’t know how many sleepless nights my parents have had when I fell ill. You tell them not to worry, but because of how human relationships work, they end up worrying a lot more than is desirable. To add to this misery, if you are like me, you will cry your heart out for no reason at all.

The point is that hospitalizations suck, and you should avoid them as much as you can. Everyone is better off when you’re healthy. I might sound as if I’m trying to say whether falling ill or not is up to us, but I have a feeling that a few trips to the hospital and the health center could have been prevented if I ate and slept well.

Ignore bullshit. Throughout your degree, you’ll end up talking to a lot of people about various topics. Some of them concern you directly, while some are more general in nature. Even though they mean no harm, many will end up giving you bullshit advice.

These can range from the usual “academics don’t matter as much” to aggressive bullshit like “you can do whatever you want and not be bothered about academics.” As a fresher, you might think that what seniors say is sensible. But, the fact is that they are as clueless as you are and are probably having a hard time themselves.

Similarly, bullshit courses like PE 1 (Why even?), TA101A (Engineering Drawing), TA201A (Welding, filling sand and whatnot), TA202A (This probably required me to pour white liquid while a hole was dug into a metal piece), how to talk grammatically correctly (I wrote about a chicken in one of the assignments) and so on will be thrown at you. If you enjoy them, well and good, otherwise ignore them. I’m not saying that you neglect them and fail. All I’m saying is that since they are required just do whatever you need to pass them and don’t care much about the end results.

There are a lot of other things that you would end up liking - like Quiz Club, courses on Bioinformatics, and so on. It’s a mixed bag, honestly. Some bullshit courses so that you can enjoy other nice things during your stay on campus.

Academics matter. Continuing from the previous point - academics matter. How much it matters to whom is subjective, and an objective number cannot be arrived at. However, in general, it matters. Decent academic performance would open many options to you. If you’re academically not proficient, many things would be shut to you.

Every extra activity that you enjoy is fantastic. Still, in my opinion, it is crucial to get a handle on your academics while you’re on campus. The thing is, having an excellent academic standing does not hurt at all. But, a poor performance academically could haunt you, at least in the short term.

If someone is telling you that academics don’t matter, they are either on a sinking boat themselves, or they’ve achieved heights of greatness unimaginable in other fields.

Screwing up is okay. As privileged as it might sound, one of the perks of being at an IIT is that it gives you some cushion to screw up. I’m not saying that you should screw up deliberately. But, when things go wrong, don’t worry as much because they won’t matter as much by the time your college life is over.

Take some risks while building a cushion for yourself. For example, if you’re not well off academically, try getting a hold of your acads before venturing in on other adventures. If you’re thinking of applying to a selective college, try securing a job offer so that you have peace of mind and have a place to look forward to if you don’t get in.

If you’ve failed a course, don’t freak out. You can retake it soon and pass the course. Don’t worry about the one or two classes that you’ve failed, and instead try to do your best on the current semester’s course. Sure, you have some making up to do, but things will be okay.

Avoid getting attached to the wrong people. When you interact with people and spend time with them, you might develop toxic relationships. Don’t get me wrong, most people are decent people, and they mean well. But, humans are also imperfect beings, and so unhealthy relationships tend to develop at times.

One foolproof way to avoid that is, of course, to stop reaching out to everyone altogether. But this is too naive and not practical. So, I think it’s okay to let things be as they are. However, you should have the willpower to move over toxic relationships when you come to know about them.

I don’t know how to figure out who the wrong set of people are. I guess you only figure it out via interactions. But, if you interact, you might get into toxic relations. That sounds like a dilemma, right? Let me know if you have any resolution to this.

You probably won’t get married to people you fell for in college. So, chill!

Graduate early. If possible, graduate early. Personally, it would have saved me a lot of fees and time if I had graduated by the $7^{th}$ semester. I realize this is not the case for everyone. If I wanted, I could have graduated a semester early. But, I listened to a piece of bullshit advice at the time and decided to drop three courses.

It would have saved me a lot of time and reduced uncertainty. But, it is hard to predict the future so whatever happened is okay. Had I graduated early, I would have had the chance of working for about 7 months before I start my MBA. Apart from the obvious benefit of knowing corporate grind, it would have given me some financial cushion.

As of now, I’m going into business school without any work experience. While that is not the end of the world, I would have had some ideas about what happens at work. More importantly, I could have decided if I actually wanted to attend business school.

Interact more with people. Even though I met some fantastic people during my college days, I would have loved interacting with a more diverse set of people and understanding their points-of-view on important topics.

While like-minded people and people who work at the same org tend to develop bonds more quickly, I think reaching out to people helps in general.

I don’t have many regrets about what had happened. Although, I would wish to get better at this in business school.

Get better at making critical decisions. I seriously need to get better at making critical decisions. The sad truth is that even if I have several options, I can only do so many of them in one lifetime. So, the optimal way would be to get better at deciding what to do and sticking to them for a substantial period.

I don’t know about you, but my mind is pretty chaotic when taking critical calls. I should have learned to take a step back when deciding on things. The way things are right now, I usually end up having sleepless nights. With some exceptions, I’ll usually settle on something in an instant and then think about them later on. You know, the standard “we’ll see” attitude.

While those decisions are not bad per se, they do end up causing me anxiety more often than not2. I think taking some time off what you’re doing can help to some extent. The truth is that I had not taken a serious gap since I started school when I was about 6. I’m about to be 22 now. That’s a lot of time without a serious break. A break to work on something else would be life-changing, in my opinion. But I don’t see that happening for the next two years at least.

Anyway, thanks for reading until this point. You should leave comments or send me an email if you found this essay useful or you have something to suggest. Like always, if you find it useful I won’t mind it if you buy me a coffee.

Notes

  1. I stayed up three nights or four just so that I can go to the PE ground in the morning and give attendance to pass the course. Bullshit! 

  2. I was so clueless at one point, I purchased an IAS course while at the same time dreaming about an MS and an MBA. Then argued with the company for a refund of fees. Yes, I won that argument, but it was unnecessary.