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Top Tips for College Students
If you are an Interior Design student (or any type of student, really), then Welcome! I’m so glad you are here. I started this blog because I always nag my students to keep their blogs current. I believe it is the best way to document your accomplishments as well as create a more personal point of contact for potential employers. It did not occur to me that I should start a blog until one of my students asked to see mine. I decided to learn more about the tech end of it and discovered I really enjoyed the process, so here I am!
As a student, there are so many things that may be new to you. As an instructor, I have seen the frustration, and whenever possible I try to help my students navigate through all the information they have to process. Below are some of my best general tips, as well as tips specifically geared towards interior design students.
- Treat your classes like a job. Give them the time and effort they deserve. This is particularly true for online classes. If your online class is 3 credit hours, then expect to dedicate 5 -6 hours (depending on your major and school) on class preparation and homework. Schedule specific times to dedicate to your online classes to make sure you give your class the appropriate attention.
- Figure out how you learn and plan your studying accordingly. I am a visual learner, and I discovered that when I take notes in different colors, I can remember things more easily. Auditory learners may benefit from recording their professor’s lectures and listening to them again.
- Communicate with your instructors. Make sure you let your instructor know when something doesn’t make sense. Sometimes a teacher may phrase something in such a way that makes perfect sense to him/her, but confuses a student. Often times I don’t realize I have confusing lessons until one of my students points it out to me. Most instructors teach because they want to help you become the best (insert job title here) you can be. I truly do not mind when I get messages from students who need help understanding something. I don’t think most other instructors do either.
- When you have a presentation, PREPARE for it. Make sure you know your material inside and out and anticipate any questions the audience may have. Most students hate public speaking, but the more you do it, the easier it will become.
- Ask for help when you need it. Know the amenities your school offers, and take full advantage of them. At my school, we have a writing center that I encourage students to make use of. Being able to communicate professionally in written and verbal form will be critical to your success.
- Become friends with your fellow classmates, particularly in your major. You will be surprised how much you can help one another just by talking about and studying the same material.
- Fake it til you make it! This is one of my favorites! Have you ever heard that when you feel sad, you should act happy and it will eventually affect your mood? The same thing is true with confidence. When you feel self-doubt, especially in front of others, don’t let it show. I tell my students that they know their subject matter better than 90% of the people they will be presenting to. Stand tall, speak clearly and confidently, and “do your homework” (figuratively and literally). Make sure you do everything you can to be prepared, then do your best. You are in school to learn, and you learn by doing. No one expects you to be perfect just yet!
- Don’t complain, don’t explain- goes hand in hand with fake it ’til you make it. Don’t complain about not being able to access the internet the night before. Don’t complain about teammates who didn’t pull their weight. Don’t explain that you could have done better, but you waited until the last minute. You shouldn’t have waited until the night before to prepare. Your teammate’s lack of preparation will be obvious, trust me. When it is time to present (or meet with clients, or turn in a project), just do it. I can’t tell you how many times a student has given a fantastic presentation or turned in an impressive project only to complain or explain something. I would never have known they were winging it if they had not told me. Don’t make this mistake!
- Get a great internship. Internships are one of the most valuable amenities a college can offer. They often lead to a first job, if not directly, then indirectly.
- Participate in professional organizations as a student member. You will get great membership rates and you will meet people who can help you in your career.
- Work on your professional image. This one is tricky because it requires a certain level of taste. Some students struggle with this because they haven’t been exposed to professionals in their desired field. One way to approach this is to find role models whose personal style and maybe even design style you admire. Use their wardrobe as inspiration for building your own. Clothing doesn’t have to be expensive to present a professional image. Thrift stores are great places to find designer clothing. I personally like to shop off-price stores like TJMaxx and Marshalls, or clearance centers for department stores. Make your best effort with your hair and makeup (if you wear it). You don’t have to go to elaborate lengths. Putting your best foot forward tells others you take pride in yourself.
- Take care of yourself. School should be a time of growth and enlightenment, not burnout. Nurture yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually. If possible, don’t try to spread yourself too thin. Many of my students work, have children and are going to school full-time. Know your limits and set reasonable goals for yourself. I’m not saying don’t push yourself, I am saying don’t set unrealistic expectations for yourself.
- Clarify your goals. Create a plan for where you want to be in the next 5 to 10 years. Make your goals attainable and measurable, and make sure your prioritize activities that will bring you closer to your goals. It’s easy to get caught up in the here and now, and just let things happen. If you want to achieve your goals, you have to create them and be clear about them, then go after them.
- Take pride in your work. Use spell check and Grammarly. Learn how to use PowerPoint to give professional presentations. It’s really not hard (even if you are from an older generation)!
- Read your syllabus, and keep a calendar. It can be on your computer, on your phone, or a paper planner. Write down all important dates such as exams and presentations, and make sure you are prepared when the time comes.
- Take time to decompress. You need to give your brain time to rest between high-stress activities, much like athletes need to give their muscles time to rest between competitions.
- Give yourself time. Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. One very important thing to understand is that your work will not be stellar at this stage in your career. You probably have a very high level of taste, or you wouldn’t be in this field. Don’t be surprised if the work you produce hasn’t caught up to the level of perfection you seek. Getting good at something takes time and practice. Understand this, and give yourself the time and practice you need to become good. It will happen!
- Find a place you like to study. It should be free of distractions, but a place you enjoy spending time. Make the place special by adding beautiful details.
- Don’t wait until the last minute, on anything. Inevitably your internet will go down, you will come down with a cold, or you will need something you had not thought of. I know you aren’t going to listen to this one, but I will say I told you so!
- Develop your own personal style/image/brand. One of the teachers I work with has all the students write down adjectives about their classmates on a large board. Each student has an area with descriptive words, and many students are surprised at what their classmates say about them. Figure out what makes you unique. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Yes, you will probably have to create designs that are not exactly “your thing”, but that will come. Focus on what makes you special, and nurture that in your work.
- Invest in the proper tools, as you are able.
- Take photos of your work, as well as photos of you creating your work. Personal images will make your portfolio more personal.
- Keep in touch with your classmates and instructors. You now share a common history, and knowing other people in your industry (especially those who know how far you’ve come) can make all the difference.
I hope I have given you some helpful tips. I will focus more on specific interior design subjects in later posts, and I will offer links to summaries, “cheat sheets”, and study guides that will hopefully help you organize information. If there is a particular issue you are struggling with, feel free to contact me. If I can help you, maybe together we can help others who are having similar issues!
Until next time,