5 min read

Things You’re Allowed to Do: University Edition

This post is not titled “Things You Should Do,” because these aren’t (necessarily) things you should do. Many people should not do many of the items on this list, and some of the items are exclusive, contradictory, or downright the reverse of what you should do. If your reaction to something is “I think that’s a bad idea,” then it probably is, and you probably shouldn’t do it.

  • classes & professors
    • attend classes you haven’t signed up for because you find them interesting
    • attend classes even if the waitlist is full
    • ask the professor to waive a prerequisite
    • ask the professor to join a class even if its full
    • drop a class that you don’t like
    • take a class because you really liked the professor, even if you’re not sure about the content of the class
    • cold email professors you don’t know, just asking to chat
    • show up to office hours for classes you aren’t a part of, just to chat with the professor
    • ask the professor questions about the things you’re not sure of
    • skip class(es) for great opportunities elsewhere
    • ask the professor if you can help them with anything in the class (grading, setting up assignments, editing papers, etc). professors have a long list of tasks, are perpetually behind, and encounter fairly correlated problems; if you track what problems your professors have, you can quite quickly become unreasonably useful for them
    • ask professors at the beginning of the semester what things would be most important to memorize, then throw their answers into an Anki deck
    • take non-credit courses or workshops in things like pottery, coding, or creative writing
  • studying
    • at places outside of your university:
      • coffeeshops
      • public libraries
      • coworking spaces
      • random offices, cold email them
    • start a study group for the class
      • ask the professor if you can announce that you’re starting a study group for the class in the class
      • start a group chat to ask questions about the class. this is one that everyone loves to be added to, and sometimes it just… doesn’t happen, because nobody took the initiative to create it
    • use Anki to study the things your professor said would be most important to memorize after you asked them at the beginning of the semester
    • learn the content of a class by using materials that the professor doesn’t point you toward (e.g. online textbooks/videos/tutors/etc)
    • hire a tutor
      • hire multiple tutors
      • hire a tutor purely so that you have to study for some class you hate — you might not need help, but if you're paying someone $x/h for their time, you'd better be studying
    • become a tutor in a subject you want to brush up on
    • use ChatGPT as a tutor
    • cowork
  • clubs
    • join clubs
      • join many clubs
      • join many different types of clubs. shortlist: sports clubs (even intramural), art clubs, research clubs, project-based clubs, religious/cultural clubs, community service clubs, pre-professional clubs, music clubs
    • show up at a club’s meeting that you’re not a part of
    • stop going to a club's meetings
      • completely stop without telling anyone
      • tell the club leaders why you’re stopping, and what changes would make you stay
      • tell the club leaders you’re considering stopping, and what changes would make you leave or stay
    • ask if you can help out at the next club event
      • ask this multiple times in a row
      • ask what’s preventing them from letting you help out yet
    • start your own club. notably, schools will often throw hundreds or even thousands of dollars of funding at you to start a club with a few friends, and you can do a lot of cool things by saying “hey, I run [x] club, could you [ask]?” (h/t Joey)
  • career capital
    • evaluate not just “will this be good for my career” but “is this among the best options given the limited resources (time, money, energy, etc) that i have” — and also “is there something else i can do with these resources that’d give me more career capital” or alternatively “is doing this in line with following rules that i endorse upon reflection?”
    • actually utilize the alumni center — you can find alumni in ~any industry, and most major companies, and many are happy & eager to chat with you
    • find events oriented to the career you want to go into
      • attend them
      • volunteer for them
      • offer to run or help out at the next one
    • organize events for undergrads interested in your career — the bar for “casual meetup for pre-____ students!” is pretty low, and you can probably get some money from the relevant department for food & drink
  • money
    • apply to random grants and fellowship programs (1, 2)
    • get a job
      • get a weekend job
      • get a part time job
      • get a job that means you rub shoulders with the types of people you want to be rubbing shoulders with — e.g. working at a golf course, or at the registration desk of a google office
      • ask the people doing the job that you want to do if you can also do that job right now
    • get a paid internship
  • friends
    • stay in your room 24/7 and make no friends
    • make friends with the first people you meet, even if you don’t like them, and then never find new friends (h/t Joey)
    • call your old friends out of the blue, especially the ones from high school that you haven’t talked to for a while. imagine if they called you out of the blue, you’d love it. you can just… do that to them.
    • have 1-1s with friends
    • join a frat
    • don’t join a frat
    • offer a friend to swap dorms for a weekend
    • offer a friend who goes to a different school to swap dorms for a weekend
    • offer a friend who goes to a different school to have them stay at your dorm for one weekend, then you’ll stay at their dorm for another
  • misc
    • optimize for:
      • your degree
      • making friends
      • finding (a) partner(s)
      • career capital
    • take time off
      • seriously, you can just… take a semester off, or a year off, or more. this is much more common than you realize, since there’s a huge amount of selection bias: you never see the students who take time off, because they’re not going to be campus.
      • drop out entirely
    • decorate your dorm rationally
    • use the gym — there will be ~no other time in your life during which you’ll have free access to a great gym whenever you want
    • intentionally & rapidly try out tons of various life improvements — you have a fairly regimented environment that, by default, controls for a number of confounding variables
    • leave campus (h/t Joey)
    • stay on campus
    • create art — this is one of the few times in your life you have access to kilns, or high-quality paints, or a glass-blowing shop, etc (h/t Joey)
    • write a thesis under an advisor (h/t Joey)
    • get involved with school admin — not just student union, but you can, e.g., do informal, independent research and make recommendations about dining, sustainability, etc. also, there are sometimes grants within schools, like sustainability grants from the administration. (h/t Joey)
    • most universities have pretty great art available for free
    • travel to random places on a weekend, stay with a friend/relative
    • make a personal website
    • start a blog

Inspired by this post and this post. Some other classic posts on college: What I Wish I Knew in College, College advice for people who are exactly like me, 17-20: a Retrospective on Four Years in College, Fury and Freedom: Four Years at Amherst College, Escaping High School (that one’s about high school, but much of it applies to college).

Note: there are a few things you can do in college that I don’t feel comfortable writing about publicly. Namely, drugs (including alcohol) and dating.