Note #1: I was originally supposed to publish this a month ago at the beginning of Latino History Month, but life happens. It’s never too late to apply these tips, so here they are anyway. I tried to keep it short where I could but expanded where needed. If you think you can benefit from these tips, you don’t have to read them all at once. Bookmark it, and come back later.
Having been the first in my immediate family to graduate from a 4-year University (5-year in my case, let’s just say I took a 1-year victory lap), I realized there are a lot of unwritten rules & tips to succeed that you will not know unless you have family, friends, or mentors who have already completed their college careers. So, in the spirit of Latino Heritage Month and my little brother starting his freshmen year, I have decided to write up some of my learnings to help other 1st Generation Latines.
Note #2: These are tips, not laws. Some may apply, and some might not. Most of these tips are arguably useful to folks regardless of their background. At the same time, some of these may be more applicable to folks interested in the Tech space. As with any other advice you are given in the future, take what you need and leave the rest behind.
Misc. Class Tips
If You Coasted In High School
You have a higher chance of struggling in college. The fact is, if you never struggled with classes before, you probably never learned any actual study strategies. The best thing you can do is look some up to prepare a consistent study schedule instead of struggling.
For starters, I’d recommend YouTubers like Ali Abdaal who formed a niche around studying and productivity while in med school. Once you get closer to exams, it’s also a great strategy to practice using your course’s old midterms and finals. You can typically find them, if they’re accessible online, by doing an internet search along the lines of “University X Class Y Midterm 1 pdf”. Sometimes they come alongside an answer key, but if they don’t, these would make great questions to come with to your Professor or TA’s Office Hours.
This may not affect everyone, but the reason I started college I could not wake up in time for an 8am class no matter the number of alarms I set, at the cost of my roommates’ sanities. But, I have heard this piece of advice from enough other people that I thought it should at least be mentioned.
When choosing your class schedule, if you have the luxury, choose classes that fit the schedule for the type of person you are, not the person you want to be. I would’ve loved to squish all my classes from 8am-12pm and have the rest of the afternoon and evening open to everything else in my life, but that was just not the type of person I was.
When I accepted the fact and schedule all my classes and meetings starting at 10am, I felt generally happier. I was fine taking classes that would have me leaving classes at 8pm. On the other side, if you thrive in the mornings, try to avoid classes that would require you to be on campus late in the evenings.
I also found that I thrived having schedules where 1-2 days of the week were light or had no classes. This allowed me to have more uninterrupted time for studying, participating in clubs, and easily scheduling shifts for work.
Leverage the Cloud
If you are not already, you should be using some sort of system that automatically backs up your work to the cloud. The last thing you want is to lose hours or days of work right before a deadline. Most colleges will already provide the entire Google Suite (often with extra storage) for free, or Office 365. If yours does not. Sign yourself up for any of the solutions below.
P.S. Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, iCloud, and similar solutions can also be used to back up any other types of files if you also have to back up video/graphic editing projects, or anything else with a file associated.
For Programming Projects
This one is simple, either use Apple Calendar, Google Calendar, or Outlook Calendar. Add everything there:
- Attach building + Room number
- Professor Name + Contact Info
- Section Type (e.g. Lecture, Discussion, Lab)
- Exam Dates + Large Project Deadlines
- Club Meetings
- Block out time to study
- Plans to hang out with friends
If you have to add everything to your calendar and live by it, you will never accidentally flake or miss out on important deadlines. The moment you commit to something, add it to your calendar so that you do not have to maintain headspace to remember.
If you want a more tailored approach, there are apps specifically made to help students (at varying prices from free to not free):
- Notion (free), not specifically made for students, but has templates for students. I personally loved it.
- Shovel ($20 right now), specifically made for students.
- ClickUp (free), not specifically made for students, but has templates for students.
- MyHomework (free or $5/year). I used this through all of high school and my first 2 years of college. The $5/year plan was great to sync assignments to my Google Calendar.
Education for the Sake of Education
Unfortunately, few of us have the luxury of attending college for the sake of education. Most of us go into it with the intention of landing better-paying jobs. Despite this, you should not cater all your classes to your degree or intended career.
It is healthy to explore other fields, and if done right, it should not add to your course load. Most degrees have a lot of general education requirements from a wide breadth of fields, most of which may have nothing to do with your major. At most colleges, there will be many departments that satisfy the same requirements. Despite mostly taking courses in Computer Science & Data Science, while majoring in Cognitive Science, my favorite courses were from the Business department and the Chicano Studies department.
A 4-year college degree is not enough anymore. It sucks, but it is the truth. I’ve quickly summed up the strategies and tools that helped me most throughout college to set myself apart.
LinkedIn & Networking
- Make a LinkedIn Account
- Add your friends and classmates
- If/When you begin working at internships, add your colleagues
The first way you’ll be able to set yourself apart on your resume will be with a personal projects section. This will apply no matter what your intended field of work is.
Are you an aspiring Software Engineer? Easy make a small, simple app.
Are you an aspiring Marketer? Mock up a marketing campaign for an existing company and write up a blog post detailing your work, your strategy, and why you believe it would work.
With either of these two examples, want to step it up a bit? Reach out to local, small businesses or nonprofits and volunteer to do some work for them related to your intended field. Make sure you go into the conversation with some ideas already. Do not just say “I am a Communications Major and I’d like to help you.” Bring a document or short slideshow ready.
Clubs will help you:
- Get project work to put on your resume
- Make friends
- Network with current members & alumni (who may be able to provide job referrals in the future)
To be clear, in this case, I am not referring to social clubs. Most colleges should have an array of clubs for media production, marketing, consulting, software engineering + machine learning, and really any other thing you can think of.
If a club does not exist already, grab some friends and make it. Most colleges will already have detailed steps for creating and registering new clubs. Plus, this will show you have leadership skills.
Prior to graduation, this should be your biggest goal. In the past, depending on the field, an internship was a greater luxury because of the sheer amount of unpaid internships. Luckily, those have been on the decline. They still exist, so avoid them at all costs.
An internship will be the greatest tool to set yourself apart when it comes to searching for full-time roles upon graduation. In the case of Software Engineering and the tech field in general, it almost feels like a pre-requirement rather than a bonus on your application.
Searching for Internships:
- Handshake (has become popular in colleges)
- College Career Fairs (come with a resume ready)
If searching on LinkedIn or Handshake, look for “[Your Career Goal] Internship”
- Marketing Analyst Internship
- Software Engineering Internship
Hundreds of videos, guides, and talks have already been published about resumes, and there will be hundreds more. I cannot provide all the relevant information here, so I’ll give you three tips and a link to a resource on this.
- Keep it visually simple: 1 column, 1 page
- Get rid of everything related to high school, obviously if you are a freshmen (and probably sophomore) in college, you don’t have much, so you’re the exception. But as soon as you have enough experience and projects, get rid of everything relating to your high school days.
- All bullet points should follow some sort of cause-effect (or effect-cause) with metric style. Ex: Increased club membership count by 20% by increasing club presence on social media.
Email newsletters are a great source of information and an opportunity to continue learning outside the classroom. You can find them on any topic by doing a quick internet search (e.g.”Marketing Newsletter”).
Also, create an email filter, so that newsletters go into a specified folder, and don’t flood your general emails.
My favorite newsletters:
- (Data Science) Bnomial
- (Data Science) Machine Learnings
- (Data Science) Data Science Weekly
- (Data Science) Data Machina
- (Data Science) Data Elixir
- (Data Engineering) Analytics Engineering Roundup
- (Tech & Business) The Pragmatic Engineer
- (Tech, Diversity, and Jobs) DiversifyTech
- (Startups & Business) Failory
Diversify Your Skills
The job market is constantly changing. The jobs we are striving for today may not have existed 20 years ago, yet folks already have those jobs. Why? Because folks are constantly learning and adding tools to their belt.
There are no clear action items for this section, just to keep yourself open to opportunities to learn new skills. Interested in programming?
Great, but how about you add some business or product management skills under your belt too while you’re at it?
Want to be a marketer? Awesome, but why don’t you follow some tutorials on using Excel, SQL, or a bit of Python for data analysis? That way, you set yourself apart from other candidates and amplify the skills you already have.
Take no skills for granted and never assume you are done learning.
- Start looking early. Spring semester ends in May, start looking for leases that start in February.
- Have upperclassmen friends who are moving or friends who are graduating? Ask if you can take over their lease. Property management is often happy to let good tenants refer friends if it means they don’t have to go out to look for new tenants.
Roommate Agreements sound super corny, but if done right, they can prevent altercations and tense living arrangements. There is a reason why many colleges require freshmen roommates to do this. Go as specific as possible, because every agreement is an argument avoided (if the agreement is followed).
Unless you’re living with your siblings, you have never lived with those individuals and should not assume you were brought up the same way. Thus, will not live in the same space, in the same way.
- If/when friends from out of town can visit
- If/when romantic partners can visit
- How will chores be split up
- Who will be responsible of actually turning in the rent check (if living in a non-university apartment)
- If/when parties can be hosted
- What groceries can be shared, and how will that be split
It’s better to over-prepare with the roommate agreement than underprepared.
If you are part of a minority group, you may feel isolated when attending college, depending on its demographic makeup. If you come from a different city where you were already part of the minority, you may be used to it. Otherwise, you may have a culture shock.
Personally, as a Chicano coming from a town where over 60% of folks are Latino, mostly Mexican, attending a school where less than 17% of folks are Latino. I had a culture shock for a week or two.
I quickly moved past that, accepting that the Tech industry that I wanted to enter would be even worse, so I had to get used to it. However, I also took simple steps, so that I did not always feel isolated:
- Attend heritage clubs (Hermanos Unidos, Hermanas Unidas, Society of Hispanic Engineers, etc).
- I used to go to Mexican restaurants & cafes. I had great food to remind me of home and ended up befriending the staff.
- Go back home as needed. The United States has a hyper-individualistic society, and I have found that it makes some people believe that to be independent truly, they have to be on their own, but that is not true. We need and rely on our community, so return to yours as needed to recharge and refocus.
Be proactive, not reactive. It is critical that you occasionally do a sort of “self check-in”, where you are alone and can think about how you feel. Sometimes folks try to ignore and push away those negative feelings, but if left untreated, they catch up sooner or later.
It is important to confront these issues early on before they snowball into something worse. We must treat our mental health as we treat our physical health. Otherwise, your mental health may end up affecting your academic performance. Studies have shown that depression may cause short-term memory loss. I can share from experience that short-term memory loss caused by depression makes it infinitely harder to focus, listen, or study, and grades are impacted as a result.
Most colleges offer 1:1 therapy as well as group therapy on campus. Although group therapy sounds scary for first-timers, a mixture of 1:1 therapy and group therapy can be extremely beneficial. You would not only learn you are not alone in your struggles, but also learn healing strategies from fellow patients.
Be Safe at Parties
Parties are fun, but exercise precaution. It’s unfortunate these tips even have to be given, but some folks are predatory and want to take advantage of others when they are vulnerable.
- Plan ahead to go with friends and leave with the same friends.
- Don’t leave your drinks unattended.
- Our country has moved from the opioid crisis to the fentanyl crisis. To make matters worse, fentanyl is being mixed into every other drug on the street and taking lives. It is extremely easy to overdose on fentanyl, and many victims are not even aware they were ingesting it. Avoid street drugs. Won’t avoid? Purchase low-cost fentanyl test strips on Amazon or elsewhere. If you find someone having adverse reactions to drugs or alcohol, do not hesitate to call 911. Sometimes folks are afraid of contacting first responders out of fear of consequences, but it is always better to make sure someone does not die. Here is a resource on risks of drugs, signs of overdose, and actions to take provided by UC Berkeley.
Leverage Student Discounts
College students are broke. As a result, many companies offer discounts. Take advantage.
Here are some of my favorites:
- GitHub Students
- Apple Education Discount
- Spotify Music & Hulu with Showtime Student Discount
- Apple Music
- Adobe Suite, sometimes already provided by school
- Amazon Prime Student
- For everything else, search “[Product] Student Discount”
Call your parents at least once a week. They miss you.