College, or University, based on where you live in the world, can be some of the best years of your life. Newfound freedom, self-expression, and personal growth are some of the things you have to look forward to. But most college students commit a slew of common mistakes that prove detrimental to their long term success and wellbeing. Here are ten common college student mistakes to avoid.
1 | Assuming University is Like High School
If you think your high school AP classes prepared you for college, you’re going to have a bad time. To be frank, you skating your way through high school and getting straight A’s isn’t really anything special. A surprising number of students were able to do exactly that, but a surprisingly small number of students are able to maintain those straight A’s in university.
I’ve gone over how to study effectively and and live life more efficiently in previous blog posts. These blog posts are both jam packed with high yield information that I learned over years of optimizing my own systems in college and medical school. If you practice the advice from these two blog posts, you’ll be far ahead of most of your classmates.
College is a different environment from high school, and as a result it requires an entirely different system to handle effectively. Which brings us to mistake number two.
2 | Failing to Question Your Systems
Students often fall into the trap of thinking that because a way of doing something worked for them in the past, it should continue to work for them in the future. While the study strategies and tools I teach on this channel will take you far, a certain element of thinking for yourself must come into play. What works for one person may not work for another, and vice versa.
For example, some students attend class religiously, and others prefer to skip class. Skipping class isn’t always a bad thing, and for some students, it may even facilitate them getting better grades. But you have to be honest with yourself. If you have the discipline to watch podcasts of your lectures without falling behind, the benefits of skipping class may outweigh the drawbacks. On the other hand, if you know it’ll be easier for you to pay attention, take notes, and stay on track in class versus on your own, then prioritize being there in person. There are several other factors to keep in mind – what time is the lecture? Is it possible for you to be alert and pay attention or are you easily distracted in this class? Do you vibe well with the professor, or are you better off learning from the book?
This sort of critical thinking and self experimentation is key not only for your success in college, but even more so in medical school and beyond as a future physician. Don’t blindly follow advice from anyone – myself included. Always question what you’re being told and even question what you yourself are thinking.
3 | The I’ll-Sleep-When-I’m-Dead Mentality
I used to be guilty of this one too. While I may not have grown up much since those days, I’ve at least outgrown this idiotic mindset. For a multitude of reasons, students brag about their sleep deprivation, wearing it like a badge of honor. The reality is that adequate sleep is necessary to perform optimally, and no, you’re not an exception to that rule. The top performers in the world don’t willingly deprive themselves of sleep, so why should you? In fact, if you’re consistently not getting enough sleep, it says less about your dedication or work ethic, and more about your poor time management skills.
You’re busy. I get it. We all are. In residency, I was working 80 hour work weeks in the hospital and operating room, studying for my cases and boards, preparing plastic surgery presentations, and working on two businesses all at the same time, while still getting more sleep than many college students. It wasn’t easy, but by ruthlessly optimizing how I spent my time, I was able to get more done than I ever thought possible.
The first step is prioritizing sleep just as you would prioritize anything else that is important in your life. I have an entire sleep playlist that covers everything you need to know to sleep like a pro.
4 | Not Budgeting
As a college student, this is your first time living on your own. With that added fun and freedom comes added responsibility, and a big part of adulting 101 is getting a handle on your finances. Unfortunately, the education system in the United States does not place enough emphasis on financial literacy and competence. It’s quite simple, but often misunderstood. For example, you should never be carrying a balance on your credit cards, but many people do.
I’m not from a financially privileged background, so along the way I learned some hacks to get by with less. For example, through taking advantage of credit card rewards, I have flown to over 3 dozen cities in the past few years for free. If you want to see me make a video about how to optimize credit card rewards so that you can do the same, let me know with a comment down below.
For now, establish your financial fundamentals. That means budgeting and using an app like YNAB or my personal favorite, Mint. Practice restraint and prioritize your spending. I’m not saying you should never blow money on a trip to Six Flags or Disneyland, but such expenses should be very infrequent and accounted for in your monthly budget.
5 | Not Practicing Restraint on Social Media
Social media is an amazing tool. I love YouTube, Instagram, and other social media platforms. They’ve allowed me to build a business, connect with fans, and meet some really amazing people. But with any tool, there’s a way to use it and a way to misuse it.
The internet doesn’t forget. When you post something on social media, understand that it’s in the public domain. I’m not saying whether or not you should do massive bong rips and keg stands on Friday night after finals, but those photos and videos definitely should not end up on social media. If you insist that they do, at least be diligent about restricting your account access to the public and making your profiles private.
You’d be surprised how many medical school and residency applicants have questionable content on their social media accounts. Programs do their homework on you, and the last thing you want is them questioning your judgment.
6 | Poor Stress Management
Stress is a natural part of life. Unfortunately, pre-meds seem to be particularly prone to high levels of it, in most part due to their own neuroticism. I was one of those premeds that put unrealistic pressure on myself and had exceedingly high expectations. My mom actually bought me this stress reduction workbook while I was a college student, soon after getting Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune digestive condition that is exacerbated by stress.
The fear of facing significant and immediate health consequences was an incredibly powerful motivator to help me get my act together and better manage my stress. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the power of mindfulness meditation, stretching, and exercise.
Stress ultimately comes from unhelpful self talk and negatively framed perceptions of your world. I’ve gone over how to reframe these challenges in my recent Stoicism for Students blog post. But being able to reframe this self talk first requires a greater awareness of the voice that is constantly chattering away in your head. You may be thinking “what voice in my head!?” That’s the one. Mindfulness meditation frees you from the suffering that is inevitable from these automatic thoughts controlling your life. I’ve gone over the scientific evidence behind mindfulness and how to practice it in a previous blog post.
In addition to meditation, stretching, weights, and cycling have helped me, but experiment for yourself to see how you can best dissipate stress. These activities are helpful tools, but at a foundational level, adopting habits and mindsets to reframe your challenges will likely prove most beneficial.
7 | Not Picking Your Friends Wisely
As they say, you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. There’s nothing magical about the number five – the rule is that the more time you spend with someone, the more that person, and their lifestyle and habits, will influence you as well. Think of yourself as being a weighted average of all the people you associate with.
I always strive to spend time with people that I feel are better than me in at least one or more ways. I want to always be learning and improving myself. In college, I suggest you befriend those who are doing well in class, who also have healthy social lives, and are able to take care of their health – both with exercise and nutrition. Getting these foundations dialed in is the first step. From this solid foundation, you can optimize your performance in school, set yourself up for a successful career after college, and push your own limits both personally and professionally.
8 | Not Studying Like a Medical Student
If I could go back in time, I wish I could teach myself day one in college how to study better. I used to take notes in the PowerPoint comments section, passively read my notes multiple times sequentially, and never made use of condensed notes or flashcards. Medical students are known for having to learn an immense quantity of information in an insanely short period of time. For that reason, we can look to the habits and strategies that successful medical students use to improve our own performance in college.
Some of the fundamentals include active learning (rather than passive learning) strategies, the Pomodoro technique, and Anki and other spaced repetition software, to name a few. Learning how to learn is one of the ultimate meta skills, as it will make everything you do moving forward easier. That means organic chemistry and anatomy become easier, and studying for things like the MCAT and USMLE Step 1 feel less like pulling teeth, and more like rewarding opportunities. You may even enjoy it.
I’ve gone over the study strategies I personally used to achieve a 99.9th percentile score on the MCAT and stellar results at a top medical school in a previous blog post.
9 | Succumbing to Procrastination
If you’re human, chances are you’ve at some point in your life had issues with procrastinating. Procrastination is a common occurrence. But you don’t need me to tell you why this is an unhealthy habit that will limit your potential as a student.
The first step is overcoming the mindset that you’re doomed to procrastinate all your life or thinking that it’s just inherent to your personality. I used to procrastinate myself, but now it’s not really an issue. I’m now almost religious in how I use my calendar and to-do list manager. But it wasn’t always like that. It took several steps and other techniques to get to this point.
If you want to learn how to overcome your own procrastination once and for all, I have two blog posts for you. The first is how to study when you don’t feel like it, and the second is 7 steps to cure procrastination.
10 | Poor Long Term Planning
The last and final mistake is that college students too commonly fail to plan for the long term. As a pre-med, focusing on doing well in classes is essential, but that’s only the first step. You need to be crushing your classes while concurrently planning a timeline to incorporate research, extracurriculars, leadership activities, and other things to make you a well rounded applicant. That being said, don’t fall into the trap of a checklist mentality. A narrative-based application will take you much farther come medical school application season.
I’m the first physician in my family, and I understand how hard it can be to know where to start and how to plan appropriately. There are simply so many things to be worrying about at any one time. For that reason, my team and I have created the Pre-med Roadmap to Medical School Acceptance Course. This is the roadmap we wish we had when we were pre-med students, as it would have saved us from making several mistakes. The course includes templates, videos, and access to our private Facebook Mastermind group. As if that weren’t enough, we’re constantly soliciting feedback and improving the course. A complete overhaul and revamp is scheduled for later this month. The first 25 customers to sign up will receive 25% off their purchase with coupon code ROADMAPREVAMP.