One of the best pieces of advice that freshmen receive is: Do not try to plan out your four-year academic career. This piece of advice will be tucked away in that guidebook that freshmen get, in a section addressing course selection and academics.
The guidebook will then continue in a reassuring tone: Just make sure you’re taking the classes you need to take in order to set yourself up properly for your classes next year.
As I’m looking forward to my junior, senior years and my career plans, I’m realizing just how wise that advice is.
There’s no need to stress yourself out by planning each detail of your life.
1) Figure out your long-term goals — sort of.
In other words, you — more or less — need to decide NOW on a few career/life-style paths. Most notably, you need to decide now if you want to be a doctor/researcher/academic/journalist/etc. in the future.
Most notably, these career paths require a lot of investment during your college years, and if you miss out now, it will probably be tremendously harder for you to get back into the swing of things after you graduate.
You don’t need to decide right now if you WILL be a doctor in the future. But you do need to decide, if you want to keep open the OPTION of being one. Recognizing which of the two categories you fall into should also help guide whatever explorations you should be conducting right now.
On the other hand, some career paths, most noticeably business/law/etc., don’t require you to make as firm of a decision now. Yes, it always helps to know ahead of time. But you’re not significantly behind if you decide you want to go to law school after being pre-med.
For instance, since my long term goal is: to be powerful, independently wealthy, living in a warm place with a nice beach, with the free time to work on projects that I’m personally interested in — I don’t really need as concrete of a game plan as Joe who wants to become a world-class surgeon.
2) Determine what you NEED to do, NOW
If your goal is to become a doctor, you obviously NEED to take a certain number of physics/math/bio etc. classes. If you’re goal is to eventually become CEO of a Fortune 500 company, then you probably might want to consider taking the GMAT’s so you can get your MBA later.
Do your research. Know what you NEED to do.
For instance, I knew that I needed a job out of college, which means that I most likely need a solid experience in my junior year. As a sophomore, in order to set myself up for my junior year internship hunt, I looked for a solid sophomore internship experience. And somewhere between my freshmen and sophomore year, I caught the clue that to get that sophomore internship experience, I needed to do some cool stuff on campus.
This is pretty standard, and necessary to keep yourself on track to achieving your goals. You, being a Harvard-inclined reader, probably have this squared away.
3) Determine what DOESN’T MATTER now
One of the first things we had to do when my team began our internship project was to determine what was “out of scope.” Similarly, you need to realize what is “out of scope” when it comes to getting you from point A to point Z.
You don’t want to waste your time and stress out about something that ultimately doesn’t matter.
In scope: Finding a significant junior summer experience.
Out of scope: Deciding exactly what that significant junior summer experience should be in your sophomore year.
In scope: Realizing you want to be big wig of a Fortune 500 company 20 years from now.
Out of scope: Deciding whether to go into consulting/ibanking/ industry/corporate for a first job, beyond personal preferences.
In scope: Deciding you want to be a computer science concentrator.
Out of scope: Figuring out your electives for your concentration when you’ve only had two computer science classes.
4) Perspective: Time intervals are shorter when you’re younger
When you’re in high school or college, you probably jumped to President of an organization after 2-3 years. In the real world, expect 20-30.
In college, each semester is a whole new set of classes, each new year, a whole new set of experiences. In the real world, you might be in a given job or position for 2-5 years.
In college, you change dorm rooms each year. In the real world, you’ll probably stay in your first house for a solid 5 years.
Time sort of gets stretched out. Landmark events get more spread out. While it’s pretty easy to gauge what your junior experience will be like as a freshman in college, try figuring out what your third job will be like when you’re still in your entry-level position, especially when that third job could be 6 years down the road.
5) Forecasting the weather 2 weeks from now is useless
Let’s learn a lesson from our meteorologists. They’re decent-ish for a given week’s weather, but rather awful on longer time spans.
That said, they do know the climate of a given region. So, don’t start betting snow in July in Florida.
Similarly, figure out what you need to do in the present, to set yourself up for your short-term goals, and just double check that you’re in line with your long-term goals.