Gameplan for a mediocre college

Basic principles for navigating college

Congratulations, you made it!

… to the second staircase.


If you heard that once you get into college, your life is set — I’m afraid that’s mistaken. It’s a motivation tactic to get you to work super hard right before getting into college.

Are you shaking your head in disappointment? I was too.

This is unsustainable and might do more harm than good. The game doesn’t end when college starts. It ends when you die. You can pause playing whenever you want, but the game continues. Just like online multiplayer games.

Here are things I wish someone told me when I started. It’s for my cousin brother, who’ll start university this year, and finally gave me the push needed to write this down. And for my cousin sister, who will follow soon after. And for you.

Some disclaimers first.

This works for an inappropriate major. In most places, you can substitute college with major.

This works for great colleges. The difference is, they don’t need to go out of their way and do this to be noticed.

This isn’t easy.

Before we begin, let’s get a general life lesson out of the way.

A Mediocre college doesn’t imply you are mediocre.

This is a bucketing error. Imagine you have a few buckets to categorize everything in life. Buckets are limited, so you combine things that don’t belong together in the same bucket. It’s like a child who believes he spelt oshean correctly, for a wrong spelling means he can’t become a writer.

Read about The Bucketing Error — it’s explained well here, and has a few antidotes.

Now, onto the things to remember.

Learn to solve

I thought I’d learn skills in college that will help me get a job. That is the path, right?

.. Well, no. Now that I’m in the workplace, things change so quickly that fact based learning is useless. You learned that you can’t rely on Python dictionary ordering in 2.7? That’s all changed in 3.7. You’re welcome.

Further, just knowing this doesn’t make you hireable. You may have a lot of knowledge, but if you can’t leverage it to solve problems, you’re not hireable.

Solving algorithmic problems is not the same as building a product that solves a problem for someone. One is much more complex than the other. Can you figure out which one?

So, what college ought to do is teach you how to solve problems.

And if you aren’t learning that, if classes are a drag, if you’re cramming just to pass an exam — you need to design your own curriculum. One that’s interesting to you, one that works for you.

How do you learn to solve? Practice. Here’s a 4 part recipe.

Leverage your GPA

Your GPA is like clothes. People respect you when you’re wearing nice clothes because it shows off your status. So does your GPA.

If you’re above the status seeking game though, it doesn’t matter. Like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs wearing the same thing everyday.

For the middle manager? The nice suit is necessary every week. Possibly most of us fall in here.

For the low level employees? No one cares. Lots of doors close for you when you have a low GPA.

I got lucky. I figured this out when starting university. Political positions, the exchange program, and jobs hinged on me having a decent GPA. Worked pretty hard the first two years — I didn’t know what I wanted to do then — but it was enough to open all the doors I needed. And this created enough of a buffer for me to almost flunk classes later on, when I had figured out what I wanted, and could follow my curriculum to achieve that.

Also, cramming doesn’t work. Want to learn and get a high GPA? Spaced Repetition is your friend. Do the Learning How to learn course online..

Although, If you’ve decided that there’s nothing to learn in college, and you’re confident you can cram your way to a high GPA — go ahead, this makes sense.

Build confidence

What’s the difference between someone who can and someone who can’t?

Among a host of other things, confidence.

Here’s a recipe for building confidence:

Do something hard and Succeed => Confidence

If it ain’t hard, success will come easy.

If it’s too hard, there will be no success.

Neither help build confidence. The first one’s neutral. Did brushing improve your confidence today?. The second one may be harmful. What stopped you from getting to your dream college?

I think confidence is worth nurturing. The more confident and competent you get, the harder the things you can do.

The harder the things you can do, the better society will reward you.

This is the main advantage someone going to a dream college has, compared to someone who doesn’t. They’ve done at least one hard thing in life and reap the confidence it brings.

One path to confidence is body-building. I don’t know how much of the body building confidence transfers into problem solving. I suspect it’s more than zero — and transfers to other areas as well. I feel much better about everything in life when I’m strong.

The highest leverage path to confidence is to create something.

Create something

The final piece of the puzzle is visibility.

Despite a high GPA, high confidence, and insane problem solving skills — if they don’t know you, they won’t recognize you or your skills.

Who are they? Anyone you want to impress: Investors, Employers, and Partners.

If they’ve filtered out your college, you can’t impress them by telling them what you did inside your college curriculum.

What you need to show is how you went beyond.

In practice, that translates into creating something tangible. An app, a website, a portfolio, a start up, or a game.

To put it all together, there are four things you need to do to guarantee escape from mediocrity.

  1. Learn to solve problems
  2. Be smart with your GPA
  3. Build confidence
  4. Create something

It’s going to be hard, specially with no one around.

Albert Einstein had Niels Bohr.

Pablo Picasso had Max Jacobson.

Find a friend who has a drive similar to yours. Show them this gameplan. Discuss. Look for alternate gameplans. When you find one you can get behind, double down on it.

One of the major reasons for this blog? To find someone on a pursuit similar to mine. Yes, I’d go that far!

Good luck.

Originally published at on May 25, 2019.

Written by

I write about Code and Life philosophies. Sometimes both. | | Engineer @Bloomberg | Write (Code). Create. Recurse.

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