10 Common Mistakes College Students Make



10 Common College Student Mistakes

Based on where you live in the world, college can be some of the best years of your life. Newfound freedom, self-expression, and personal growth are just a few 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 will prepare you for college, you’re going to have a bad time. To be frank, skating your way through high school and getting straight A’s isn’t really anything special. A surprising number of students are 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 live life more efficiently in previous blog posts. These articles are both jam packed with high-yield information I learned over years of optimizing my own systems in college and medical school. If you practice the advice from those two guides, you’ll be far ahead of most of your classmates.

College is a different environment than high school, and as a result, it requires an entirely different system to succeed. 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. What works for one person may not work for another, and vice versa.

For example, some students attend class religiously while others prefer to skip class. Skipping class isn’t always a bad thing, and for some students, it may even help them get 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 that includes what you tell yourself.


3 | Not Budgeting

stack of money 100 dollar bills - how much do med school applications cost

As a college student, this is likely 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. Although it’s often misunderstood, it’s actually quite simple. For example, you should never carry 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 dozens of cities for free.

Here is my no-nonsense guide to maximizing credit card rewards for free flights, hotel stays, and travel. Learn Why I Have 30+ Credit Cards [Churning 101 Fundamentals].

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 a dinner out with friends, but such expenses should be very infrequent and accounted for in your monthly budget.


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 short-sighted and destructive mindset.

For a multitude of reasons, students brag about their sleep deprivation, wearing it like a badge of honor. The reality is 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. Yet I still got 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 eating, hydrating, exercising, or a favorite hobby. I have an entire sleep playlist that covers everything you need to know to sleep like a pro.

Learn more about How to Handle (and Prevent) Sleep Deprivation.


5 | Not Practicing Restraint on Social Media

Premed Reddit on phone screen

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 viewers, and meet some really amazing people. But as 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 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 are admissions committees questioning your judgment.


6 | Poor Stress Management

Stress is a natural part of life. Unfortunately, premeds seem to be particularly prone to high levels of it, in most part due to their own neuroticism. I was one of those premeds who 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 being diagnosed with 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 go over how to reframe these challenges in this article: Stoicism for Students.

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 inevitable suffering that comes from these automatic thoughts controlling your life.

Learn more: The Ultimate Student Life-Hack—Meditation and Mindfulness.

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 the more time you spend with someone, the more that person, including their lifestyle and habits, will influence you. Think of yourself as being a weighted average of all the people you associate with.

I always strive to spend time with people 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, 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 to my first day of college, I would teach myself how to study more effectively. I used to take notes in the PowerPoint comments section, passively read my notes multiple times sequentially, and I 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, Anki, and other spaced repetition software. Learning how to learn is one of the ultimate meta skills, as it will make everything you do moving forward easier. Studying for things like the MCAT and USMLE Step 1 will feel like rewarding opportunities as opposed to pulling teeth. You may even enjoy it!

Here are the study strategies I used to achieve a 99.9th percentile score on the MCAT: Essential Premed Study Strategies — What I Wish I Knew in College.


9 | Succumbing to Procrastination

Students procrastinating and watching tv.

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, 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.

Overcome your own procrastination once and for all. Check out: How to Study When You Don’t Feel Like It and 7 Steps to Cure Procrastination.


10 | Poor Long-Term Planning

The last and final mistake is college students too commonly fail to plan for the long-term. As a premed, focusing on doing well in your 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.

Applying to medical school? Stay on top of deadlines with our Medical School Application Timeline and Monthly Schedule.

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 Premed Roadmap to Medical School Acceptance Course. This is the roadmap we wish we had when we were premeds, as it would have saved us from making several mistakes.


This Post Has One Comment

  1. Flavia-Andrea

    Thank you so much, Doctor Jubbal!
    I’m a soon-to-be student in a Medical School in Belgium. Thank you for all your good advises on your blog, they are quite helpful.
    That being said, I wish you the best for the new year. :)))

    (I’m sorry if there are mistakes, English is not my mother-tongue.)

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