So, I’m a senior now and feeling pretty sentimental. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my time at Duke, and it somehow feels simultaneously like a blur and a lifetime. When I think about the past three, almost four years, I find it difficult to delineate each step, each decision, that made my Duke experience what it is now.
During my time at Duke, I rarely thought deeply about how my actions in the present would affect my perspective in the future. Duke is so overwhelming that it’s hard enough to think ahead to the next month, much less to years down the road. While I do believe in the whole “every choice I made got me to where I am now” mantra, I also think that there are a few simple things I could’ve done to aid myself in making more educated decisions about my future. So that being said, here are some steps that I wish I had taken earlier in my Duke career that I truly believe would have benefitted me more in the long run:
1. Talked more to people before declaring my major.
I declared my major earlier than I needed to because, at the time, it felt like a somewhat arbitrary decision that wouldn’t impact my immediate life at Duke. I’d taken some political science classes and liked them, so decided that that would be my major--easy enough. I now know that public policy probably would have been the better choice for me for a lot of different reasons; some of those reasons I couldn’t have known in the fall of my sophomore year, but others I probably could have. Either way, if I had just made an effort to talk to older students in each of those disciplines or to faculty in each department, I probably could have made a more educated choice.
2. Maintained relationships with professors.
I know this is a pretty common piece of college advice, but I don’t think it can be emphasized enough. When I say this, though, I mean it less from a n.etworking, recommendation letter angle, and more as an organic, these-are-really-cool-people approach. Our professors are our professors for a reason: they are extremely accomplished individuals who have done cool stuff. Sitting down with a professor, without any goal in mind besides simply hearing about their life path, can be a really valuable experience (and probably will help with those recommendation letters later on).
3. Taken better advantage of alumni during summers.
In your four years as a Duke student, you’re most likely going to spend the majority of that time physically on Duke’s campus. Summers are therefore the perfect opportunity to talk to interesting people who live elsewhere, and luckily, the Duke Alumni Network is filled with interesting people! Given, this is easier in bigger cities where there's lots of Duke alum, but truly there are people everywhere. For example, when I was studying abroad, I was invited to multiple Duke alum events in Paris. I attended only one and left when I realized there wasn’t any free food. Similar to professors, alumni in the midst of their careers can give great insight into different careers, cities, and life after Duke. You can find alumni in the Alumni Directory or LinkedIn: Duke Alumni Networking Group.
4. Gone to the Career Center throughout my four years.
I swear, I’m not just writing this because I work here. Instead, it is only since I started working here that I understand the vastness of the resources the Career Center has to offer. During my sophomore spring, I frantically cold-applied to internships, googling what I was interested in and cranking out cover letters left and right. I now know that the Career Center could have made this process infinitely easier and less stressful. They could’ve connected me immediately with people in the fields I was interested, edited my cover letters, and pointed me to CareerConnections to narrow my search online.
I don’t share these points because I think anyone can go through Duke and do everything “right”. It’s okay to make a decision and regret it later on. In fact, there’s immense value that can come from that. These are simply ways to save yourself time and energy in the decision-making process and to hopefully leave it, and Duke, feeling more confident and thoughtful.