Decision-Making Rules For College To Save Time

Decision-Making Rules For College To Save Time


These are my rules for deciding on what to do in college and how to save time. With these rules, I've been able to graduate with a second upper degree, get into a masters by research program, and complete three finance internships throughout it. I've also made good friends along the way. These are some rules that can help assess what is worth doing among all the options for classes, grades, clubs, and activities. I then tell you how to source internships through cold-emailing.

Part I: Rules To Save Time

Rule 1: Spend Less Time On Your Grades

The first rule is to de-emphasise your need for good grades. Focus on merely satisfying your minimum personal requirements, rather than trying to get the best possible grade at all times. The reason is because it causes exponentially more time and effort to get better grades. After a certain point, you're very deep into diminishing returns for your effort. This is even more true if your grades are curved, as mine were. This means you truly are running up against very motivated people for that A+ instead of a A- or B+.

The other side to this is my view that most people don't need such amazing grades. After a second upper threshold, you can do pretty much most things you want - short of academia itself perhaps. In Singapore, unless you're chasing the civil service which tracks your grades to set some pay adjustments - there's very little need for them. In the private sector, most jobs do not really care for your GPA. At most, they would like to see some semblance of you trying well enough.

If you made it into a decent enough school, like a top 50, then you've made it. Employers care mostly just for the brand name and recognition. In which case, you've already won part of the race - as compared to those people who are not in your university.

More importantly for job-searching, is your work experience.

Rule 2: Optimise For Work Experiences

Which leads to the second rule: optimise instead for work experiences. If you're chasing some job in the private sector, then get as close as possible to doing work during your time in college. The rank order goes something like:

Full Internships > Real projects (perhaps from some university-linked project) > Personal projects

With real projects you want there to be real stake-holders. Don't get caught up with focusing on your skills displayed. It is much better to use simple skills on a simple problem but for real stakeholders and with real impact, then some contrived toy example that is very complex but is not even deployed in the real world. This follows from the logic that sets up internships as the best thing to do.

One thing to note is that your major does not matter much for the type of work that you are aiming for. While it might help, most people still have flexibility to enter the corporate sphere with enough work experience. And you can get that work experience from internships - breaking in is something I will show you later in this article. But just know that it is possible.

Don't fall for the trap of credentialism. As far as an undergraduate experience goes, a bachelors degree from a decent school is a signalling tool - and you've already got it so long as you graduate.

Your major also does not necessarily help you with your work experience, because it primarily helps you in academic endeavours. It is after all, an academic institution. I am assuming if you are in a top 50 school, you are not in a technical college. How do you get experience relevant to your target career then? You can learn them from your internship experiences.

Note that extra-curriculars aren't included in this list. I don't think participation in university clubs matter much. They don't show leadership that is worth displaying, and they don't have real stakeholders that allow you to display your skills. At best, it shows some camaraderie and you practice event-planning more than anything.

Remember, your time is very precious. You have limited time to spend on all these opportunities. Even after the first rule, you are probably sinking too much time in. If you value your sleep, then you need to be clear on these goals.

That's not to say you should shun school activities - this leads to my next rule.

Rule 3: Maximise Time With Friends and Good People

Good networking is indistinguishable from making genuine friendships.

University and school life is a great time for networking that sets you up for life. If you are afraid of networking, then you need to learn how to make friends. Making good friends should be the goal - in that view it shouldn't be some arduous experience. If you think networking is some slimy word, then you are probably just uncharismatic, think networking is sleazy, or are afraid of putting in the work.

Remember, good networking is simply making friends with good people. I am not saying you should force yourself to hang out with bad people, be some conniving fake backstabber, or see people as tools to be used.

In that view, you should spend as much as time as you can finding good people and hanging out with them. To that end, club activities are useful to at least meet people. So spend time in clubs to meet people, but don't be so caught up with obligations. As an adult, you can leave anytime. And you should the moment you don't want to be there. This is just like how you don't actually need to show up for (most) lectures and can complete your assignments in your own time.

This also means hanging out and viewing social engagements as real valid things to do. Dinner, activities, or whatever it is that happens. Your university life is not forever. The ability to be social will soon be gone as you enter the working world. It is also a good way to actually find out who you like to be around with, who is worth knowing as a good person, and actually develops your relationship with them.

If I am sounding very detached in describing this it is only because that's what happens when you take some meta-analyses like now. It's not like I actually think people are just meant to be used.

What This Means In Practice

So in practice, this means you should choose classes with professors you like and subjects you are interested in. In most cases, you should just choose classes with good professors that are passionate and you think can teach well. This trumps the subject of the class most of the time.

If they are good teachers, you will enjoy it. You can find yourself interested in the subject anyway since that's what good teachers do. And you will have a better experience and probably learn something.

Technical skills can be learnt in your own time. Just like how you can self source your own work experiences, you do not need to wait for a class to give you permission on what you can learn. If you want to learn something, just spend a weekend reading a textbook or speed-running through an online course.

You should also preciously take your time to hang out with people and meet people. This matters more than most realise. Do not spend time holed up by yourself. Do not spend time in self-pity. Work on your obligations, assess the state of affairs, then execute. You really have very little time left.

Part II: Internship Sourcing Guide

How do you get into an internship of choice? So long as you do not need much technical skills, like being a software engineer intern, you can get it.

First, source them and list your options out in a long list. Find an industry sheet and identify as many firms as you can in some excel sheet. Sometimes there is a government page that hosts the registered firms relevant to the industry.

Do not just find job listings, they are ranked low.

When you find firms, go to their website and find their contact email. Find the email of someone who is a team lead or working. The least useful email is some generic contact email, or the email of HR. HR is useless.

Who do you think you need to convince? The team-lead or director who can just tell HR they want to hire you if you impress them enough? Or the random HR functionary who has no real understanding of the job functions? Focus on contacting the actual people doing the work.

Second, craft your cold-email and personal story. You want to ask them for an opportunity to intern with them and to learn. Yes, this is sometimes depressing that we are so focused on working, but the capitalistic order we live in is a discussion for another time.

You want to have a personal story for why you want to intern. And it should all be true too. Think something like who you are, what you are interested in, how you found the firm, and why you want to work there. You want to work there to learn skills and because you think they are a good place. You are willing to work and learn - as most interns present themselves. Remember, this is an internship, not a job. You will parlay this into a better second, and penultimate internship later on.

Your cold-email tells the same but in 4-6 sentences, tops. Be clear, precise, and make it easy for them to say yes (or at least follow up with you). Attach your CV/resume, but you don't need to mention it. This is to make it easy for them to see who you are if they are curious. You don't want to make people ask for your resume, that just makes it more difficult for them to say yes (in other words, raising the barrier).

Your resume should be one page at most, and will be crap anyway. Do not talk yourself up. At best, your resume (if you have no internships yet) are a platform to show that you care enough to try. So one page, neatly formatted, black and white. Focus on project work, have details, and be earnest enough.

Do not fluff up your resume to trash. The more bloat you put, the more useless you seem. Do not think your school clubs or projects are worth much. They really aren't. Put them in if you have to, but just know that it isn't worth much. Hence, the focus on really getting the first internship in the first place.

Do this 20-30 times a day and you will get enough replies by the end of two weeks. You can probably take it from there and decide what to do. Of course, this works on the assumptions you live in the city, your city is cosmopolitan enough, and your university is decent enough.

Once you have some internship experiences, you can keep leveraging them for better and more targeted experiences. That will help you internalise that you major is not very relevant (necessarily).

Do these things and I think you can have a decent sleep-schedule too. All the best. Remember to focus on what matters. After all, the grind is just something imposed on us by our circumstances. The only reason we want a good job too is to have a better life, so remember that is the point and don't lose the forest for the trees by over-optimising.

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