Some people tell me that university is the last time for us to be carefree young adults before entering the workforce, but shouldn’t I be studying for my future instead?

A student wrote to me, asking:

What does it mean to have a vibrant university life? Some people tell me that university is the last time for us to be carefree young adults before entering the workforce, but shouldn’t I be studying for my future instead?

You are right that you should be preparing yourself for the future. And that means developing yourself holistically. Grades aren’t everything. And if you make the mistake of only developing yourself academically, you run the risk of not developing every other aspects that matter when you go out to work. There are many graduates with fantastic grades who struggle to succeed in the working world. And many employers often complain that these people are very incompetent. If you only focus on grades, you only know how to read, memorise, analyse, and write.

Work is more than that. You need to convince and persuade others. You need to solve problems. You need to sell yourself and/or your company and its products/services to go far. You need to lead people, make decisions on behalf of the people under your charge. You need to work with people you can’t choose, some of whom you’ll have difficulties dealing with on a personal level because of their work styles or personalities.

University modules will provide you some opportunities to develop these from time to time. But there’s only so much your lecturers can do for you. To fully develop yourself, you’ll need to immerse yourself in the richness of student life. Go organise things, persuade people to join you to do stuff, and then advertise it so that other people will participate in it. The very act of doing these things will give you the experience you need to make it in the working world. And what’s most important of all is that these are opportunities for you to network and form real authentic friendships, many of which will last long after graduation. And you’ll discover that many years after graduation, these real and lasting friendships will prove essential when you need to create new leads or opportunities for your work.

And for that matter, the very act of socialising with a diverse group of people from different backgrounds will give you more insights into the varieties of people that you will have to deal with in the future, whether professionally or personally. And as you try to make new friends or form romantic relationships, every attempt adds to the rich tapestry of experience that will form you to be a more matured person. You will have a vast library of experiences you can tap into whether it’s dealing with people or work. And with these experiences, you are more than prepared to go out into the working world.

If you want to prepare yourself well for the future, my idea of a vibrant university life is to make as many friends as you can. And I mean genuine friends you can hangout and chit chat with, do stuff together and all. I don’t mean superficial hello-byebye friendships where you befriend people for utilitarian purposes. I’ve met people who make friends for that reason, and they come across as very sleazy because it’s very apparent that they’re not really interested in forming genuine friendships.

Some of the most incredible people I know back in my undergraduate days formed large networks of friends, it’s amazing to count the number of people they greet as they walk from the Arts Canteen to the Central Library. It’s like a 5 minute walk, and every few seconds, they bump into different people. It’s fun to enjoy one’s school life like that.

I’m more introverted, so I never really made friends to such an extent. But it’s always nice to bump into at least one person I know when I along that path. It’s nice to know that I’m going through this academic journey with friends.

Now, one thing I do strongly recommend you to do is to challenge yourself to join a society, club or interest group, and try to organise something at least once a semester. The more events you can organise, the better. It can be a CCA that you are already good at or something you are interested to learn. What’s more important is that you have the experience of organising things. It forces you out of your comfort zone to understand the administrative, logistics, operational, and marketing aspects required to get something done.

It’s a pretty accurate representation of what the working world is like. And those who are enriched by these experiences are more empowered when they go out to work as compared to those who didn’t enjoy such experiences.

Author: Jonathan Y. H. Sim

Jonathan Sim is an Instructor with the Department of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore. He is passionate about teaching and he continues to research fun and innovative ways of engaging students to learn effectively. He has been teaching general education modules to a diverse range of undergraduate students and adult learners at the University.

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