Whether you’re staying up all night for three days in a row, sustaining yourself on questionably edible items you find in the school cafeteria, or pushing the acceptable limits of human hygiene (it’s okay to wear the same clothes for two weeks straight, right?), it often feels like college is a time in your life when you get into a lot of bad habits. And some of them are definitely fun at the time (a dinner consisting solely of marshmallows? Why not?), but many of them simply will not fly outside the college bubble.
Guest writer Kayla Matthews has another idea. What if you used your time in college to build GOOD habits? You know, the kind of things that will make life easier once you graduate? Read on to find out ten habits you can begin to build in college—and how to reap the rewards for years to come.
I still remember my near-graduation days. On the one hand, I was like: “Yay! No more exams, papers, and sleepless nights!” On the other hand, I was like: “Oh no, what am I gonna do after college? Is the real world really as scary as the old folks say it is?”
To be honest, I’m still not 100 percent sure about the answers to those questions. However, after having spent a few years in the corporate world, I’ve realized there were some habits I could have started while I was still in school to set myself up for success in my personal and professional life. Here’s the advice I have for college students who want to build healthy habits now.
1. Be an early bird
Are you the type who believes that sleep is for the weak? I used to believe that, too—until I woke up late on the first day of my first job, and got reamed by my supervisor for it. From then on, I swore to go to sleep and wake up early every day (even though the temptation to surf the web ’til the wee hours of the morning was strong).
In case you think I’m making up some loose connection between success and being a morning person, get this: Studies show that early risers are more optimistic, proactive, and better problem-solvers—traits that are essential for success.
How this helps you in college: Being an early bird in college definitely has its pros. I’ve found that getting to class early allowed me to build better relationships with my professors, because unlike some of my fellow classmates, my professors were usually on time. Stronger relationships with professors can only lead to better grades and future recommendations.
How this helps you in the real world: Being late to work doesn’t fly in the real world like it might have at school. Besides, waking up on time and getting to work early allows you to settle in before the madness ensues. Giving yourself time to prepare and ease into the workday will make your everything go a lot more smoothly.
2. Cook your own healthy meals
Now that graduation day is around the corner, I have to say this: Better learn to cook quick, nutritious, and inexpensive meals while you still can. Otherwise, you’ll be tempted to reach for waist-expanding foods every time you’re stressed out at the office. Considering how you’ll spend at least eight hours at work every day, that’s a lot of time to get stressed.
How this helps you in college: We all know that college cafeterias don’t boast the most nutritious meals, so learning to cook your own food is the best way to stay fit. Even if you’re not concerned about your waistline now, eating properly in college will help you form healthy habits for later in life. Plus, it gives you an opportunity to socialize with people—who would turn down an offer for a home-cooked meal and the chance to skip yet one more trip to the cafeteria?
How this helps you in the real world: No one wants to rely on running to grab fast-food during lunch breaks. Preparing your own meals the night before will not only save you time at work (especially if there aren’t many lunch spots near your office), it will also save you money. Picking up a bag of fruit at the store is way more financially sound than paying $3.50 for a fruit cup at the office café. And of course you can control what you eat a lot more easily when you make your own food.
3. Take time to exercise
When you’re mentally, emotionally, and psychologically drained from work, it’s hard to push your body to get moving afterwards. Trust me: Even a 30-minute walk can work wonders for your body. Hey, I even have the before and after clothes to prove it!
How this helps you in college: In college, it’s almost all about studying, and sometimes, that entails late nights. Exercising during the day gives you the energy to keep up your hard work when it truly matters. A lot of colleges also have gyms that you can access for free (something you will sorely miss once you graduate and have to pay those steep monthly membership fees!).
How this helps you in the real world: Doing the same things day after day can get to be a real drag, and it can start to take a toll on you. With all of the endorphins that exercise gives you, it’s an instant mood booster. Who would say no to that?
4. Work smarter, not harder
Imagine writing a paper, for every single professor, every single day. That, in a nutshell, is what a typical workday looks like. Sounds stressful as hell, doesn’t it?
Not if you work efficiently without sacrificing quality, though. Set goals, prioritize, and allocate a reasonable amount of time for each task. Also, if you always go above and beyond expectations, your colleagues—and the VIPs in your office—are bound to notice. (My superiors certainly did!)
How this helps you in college: In college, some of us are always trying to take the easy way out with tests and assignments. That’s because we want to get each task done as quickly as possible so we can watch TV and party. But the way to do that doesn’t necessarily require working harder; just smarter. By managing your time better and sticking to a schedule, you’re actually able to do better work faster.
How this helps you in the real world: If you thought college was hectic, the real world is chaos. With emails and requests coming at you from every direction, it pays to be smart in your approach to work. When you are able to manage projects and complete goals in an efficient and organized manner, your boss is going to be thanking you.
5. Save up
After experiencing three straight months of unpaid bills, I learned that the best time to save money is N-O-W. Yes, you’ll be earning your own money as a working professional, but you’ll also be worrying about things like taxes, bills, mortgages, and insurance. To learn more about managing your finances as early as now, read this simple, no-nonsense article from The Simple Dollar.
How this helps you in college: When you graduate from college to find nothing but student loans and debt awaiting you, you are going to be asking yourself why you didn’t come up with a spending and saving plan. Saving in college will ensure that you don’t blow all of your money buying random people shots at the bar, and will have money for the things you do need, like food and water.
How this helps you in the real world: Now that you’re an adult, there are bills to pay (rent, insurance, cell phone, internet, electricity, etc.). But there are also unforeseen costs. When you only have enough money to make this month’s rent and something else like car trouble comes up, you are going to wish you had some savings to dip into.
6. Avoid unhealthy habits
Luckily, I never took it up myself, but I had a teacher whose harrowing experience with liver disease made me realize that binge drinking is harmful to your body. If you want to be strong enough to work hard and achieve your dreams before you’re old and gray, any type of substance abuse is best avoided, or stopped ASAP.
How this helps you in college: Let’s face it—you don’t need any more distractions in college than there already are. Deciding to take up smoking at a party is definitely a bad choice because you risk becoming addicted to something you can’t stop. Next thing you know, you are taking study breaks to go outside and smoke. Bad habits are just a giant waste of time.
How this helps you in the real world: Coworkers definitely take notice of whether or not you are taking care of yourself. If your bad habits start to show, you might miss out on certain opportunities with others. They might find your habits annoying and not want to associate as closely with you.
7. Learn how to get along with different types of people
In the corporate world, we have this thing called networking. A lot of people misinterpret it as sidling up to people like a sleazy used car salesman, but that’s not quite true. Actually, networking is a lot like making new friends: You meet someone, hit it off, and develop a relationship based on mutual respect, trust, and a good balance of give-and-take.
Of course, your dynamic with coworkers or professional connections will be slightly different from your dynamic with friends, but the basic principles are the same. I wasn’t “close” to everyone in my network, but I (mostly) managed to stay on good terms with them—and that’s what matters at the end of the day.
How this helps you in college: There is such a diverse group of people at college that it’s not hard to find the type of people you identify with, but learning to get along with the people you might not be instantly drawn to is also important.
You never know down the line who might be able to help you with a homework problem or even someone who could let you know about a job opening. Having positive relationships with everyone can only help you at college.
How this helps you in the real world: In the real world, we are definitely forced to work with people we don’t necessarily like, but knowing how to do so makes everyone’s job a lot easier. You certainly don’t want to have to talk about the conflict you’re having amongst the team with your supervisor.
8. Take care of your mental health, too
When I first started out as a working professional-slash-young adult, I was swamped with more responsibilities than I was used to. As a result, I felt overwhelmed, exhausted, and lonely. But, after those increasingly rare heart-to-heart conversations with my friends, I realized it’s pretty normal. Contrary to what your parents may tell you, it’s hard to figure out where exactly you want to go when you’re at this volatile time in your life. Understand that feeling some confusion and frustration is completely normal, and remember to seek support when you need it.
How this helps you in college: College can be really overwhelming socially. There are so many pressures and you’re learning to balance an independent life on your own. This is why taking care of your mental health is vital to staying balanced. Consider attending a yoga class at the fitness center, trying meditation, or regularly including stress-relieving activities into your schedule.
How this helps you in the real world: If there’s one thing people forget as adults, it’s to worry about themselves. There’s always someone else to take care of, but remembering that you matter, too, could prevent a possible breakdown in the future. Don’t neglect yourself. Spend at least some of your free time on happiness-boosting activities, like spending time with friends, playing sports, or learning new skills.
9. Don’t stop learning
Thanks to the internet, you can now set up your classroom in the comforts of your own home. Whether you want to study the basic principles of quantum physics or the basic grammatical rules of French, at least one of these 10 free online resources is bound to meet your needs. Also, you’ll always have something interesting to talk about whenever you meet up with friends!
How this helps you in college: By the third general education class, you might start thinking you don’t need this. The temptation to skip class or snooze through it begins to grow, but you must resist it. Allowing yourself to continue to learn will absolutely lead to better grades and better participation points. What good is taking a class if you were incoherent for most of it? And you never know what you’ll end up doing and what will end up helping you in the future.
How this helps you in the real world: At work, you might be given options to attend lectures or conferences. By attending and participating in these, you are keeping yourself motivated and engaged in your career. Motivation definitely leads to better work and more success. It’s good to keep your mind moving.
10. Have fun
I had a friend who was the epitome of the “straight-A student.” He was always one of the highest scorers—if not the highest scorer—in classes, and people always flocked to him for study tips, test tips, etc. But when he suddenly collapsed in the middle of an important exam, and had to take a week off from school to rest, he told me: “You know, maybe partying once in a while isn’t such a bad idea.”
Believe it or not, successful people aren’t always plotting out world domination schemes. Sometimes—actually, a lot of the time—they plot out how to dominate their vacations in the Caribbean, so they’ll be able to relax, recharge, and get ready to plunge back into the action. Like Wiz Khalifa says, “Work hard, play hard, work hard, play hard …”
How this helps you in college: There’s always a party at college, and attending one every once in a while definitely lets you blow off steam. If you’re always at the library, you’re bound to get frustrated and more resentful towards your work. It’s all about balance.
How this helps you in the real world: You work hard every single day, and you deserve to reward yourself. Creating a positive relationship with working hard by letting yourself live a little will definitely inspire you to keep doing what you’re doing.
Homework time! Treat your last days in college the way you’d treat your first days in the real world. That way, you won’t be too shocked with the transition from the former to the latter. Make the most of every moment you have, and good luck!