Many look at college as a four-year path to a rewarding career, while others see it as an opportunity to stretch their wings. There’s no reason it can’t be both! As a matter of fact, taking advantage of the sheer breadth of opportunities available on campus is an important way to make sure you get the most out of your college experience … and your investment. Here are 10 experiences you should consider putting on your college to-do list.
1. Take at least one class that opens your mind to the unknown.
Remember that college is also a time to expand your intellectual horizons. Consider taking a few courses in religion, philosophy, classics, history, art history or architecture. The value of these courses isn’t just in the material you learn; they show you a new way of looking at the world.
2. Give your creative side a chance to come out.
Once you’re on your own, the only chance you might get to make a masterpiece is at one of those painting parties where you drink wine and channel your inner Bob Ross. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be artistically gifted in the traditional sense, take advantage of the many creative outlets college offers. An introductory drawing class could mean you never draw stick figures again; a photography class might lead to a lifetime of memorable photos.
3. Go hear famous people speak.
Whether your college is big or small, chances are it will draw some pretty amazing speakers: authors, actors, business leaders, scientists, and celebrities. Regardless of their area of expertise or point of view, don’t miss them! After college, you won’t get many opportunities like this again.
4. Participate in undergraduate research.
You don’t have to be a Ph.D. to contribute to research. If something sounds interesting, go for it. A Thought Catalog contributor has a brilliant suggestion: “Within your major, ask every single one of your professors if they need help with their research.” Not only do your professors appreciate your interest, but voila: instant, relevant job experience.
5. Keep snagging scholarships.
The hunt for scholarship money doesn’t end after freshman year. Many valuable scholarships are available to college sophomores, juniors, and even seniors. You just have to apply. Here’s how to avoid the most common mistakes when applying for scholarships.
6. Learn self-defense or martial arts.
It’s not a bad idea to take a one-day self-defense course at college, especially if you’re a woman. But a single session of kicks and strikes can’t make you 100 percent confident in your ability to defend yourself. Many colleges and universities offer martial arts classes through the physical education department, so you can learn muay Thai, jiu jitsu, karate, or even krav maga. (And see these tips for staying safe on campus.)
7. Pursue a hobby or skill that’s expensive to learn outside of college.
Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn how to scuba dive. If you wait until you graduate, you could easily pay $800 or more for certification classes and required travel. But if you take it at college, the classes may be included in your tuition costs, and you could earn credit too. The same goes for music lessons, horseback riding, lifeguard training and rock climbing.
8. Start an exercise habit.
“I’m young!” you think. “I’ll start exercising later when I really need to.” Here’s the thing: College may be the only time in your life when you’ll have 24-hour free access to gyms, pools, fitness classes and sports programs. You may also get free or low-cost access to a personal trainer who can help develop a workout routine tailored to your goals. Don’t wait until you’re older to get in shape — build a routine now.
9. Learn a foreign language.
The older you get, the harder it is to learn a foreign language. Children seem to absorb new languages with ease, but older learners “often struggle with some simple grammatical rules,” one researcher found, even though they may pick up new vocabulary with ease.1 “Why are simple and highly frequent rules apparently impossible to master, while words that have been encountered only a few times sink in easily?” No one really knows, but you should take advantage of your still-young brain. Knowing how to speak Spanish, French, Portuguese or Chinese can open doors throughout your entire life.
10. Study abroad.
There’s simply no other time in your life when you’ll have the chance to spend four months living in a foreign country, studying and exploring — with all the details arranged for you. Many students say studying abroad is the best part of their college experience, so do it if you can.
One last piece of advice: Take good care of your college investment. Tuition insurance can reimburse your college costs if you have to withdraw from classes for a covered serious illness or injury or mental health condition, or other covered reason.