The Secret Rules of University - Know Before You Go!

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After graduating with Distinction from the Rotman School of Business at the University of Toronto and earning a Master's in Economics at Oxford University, Tom Smith wrote a letter originally intended as advice only for 3 of his younger cousins just beginning their University careers. His blunt, unique advice evolved into this presentation - information you unlikely to find ANYWHERE else. There are secret rules to a successful university career - know before you go!

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The Secret Rules of University - Know Before You Go!

  1. 1. The Secret Rules of University: Know before you Go! Thomas Smith
  2. 2. YOU ... • are now making university plans. • will invest several years and thousands of dollars. • are setting course for life & career success. • want the best return on time & money spent. • don’t want nasty surprises Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 2
  3. 3. Thomas Smith • Grew up and graduated from a public high school in Toronto • Earned a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Toronto • Went on to do a Masters in Economics at Oxford University • Now works in finance in London, UK Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 3
  4. 4. This presentation After finishing university and leaping from school to a career, Thomas wants to share the advice he wished he had received before starting. Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 4
  5. 5. This presentation ... • is about how to reach academic success and how to move from university into your career. • is not a motivational talk, but practical and strategic advice. • won’t help you choose your field; it will give you things to think about, but not tell you what to do. Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 5
  6. 6. Two Questions About You 1) How high are you aiming? 2) Where are you on your university timeline? ... in high school and applying ... just started ... nearly finished Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 6
  7. 7. How high are you aiming? How you approach university depends on the career you’re aiming for: • “I want to go on and do a PhD.” • “I want a professional career as a lawyer or banker.” • “I just want to pass and get a job.” Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 7
  8. 8. Where are you on your timeline? Stages on your university timeline: • Early years: finishing high school, first year or second year undergrad • Later years: third and fourth (and fifth) year undergrad Some advice applies to ... • the early years. • the later years. • all years. Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 8
  9. 9. Advice for All students No matter how high you’re aiming Early years: • Keep your options open All years: • Careers are long • Beyond mountains, there are mountains • Start planning next summer in September Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 9
  10. 10. Advice if you are Aiming High Early years: • Schools are only good if you must compete hard to get in • A qualification is only valuable if lots of people fail at it Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 10
  11. 11. Advice if you are Aiming High Later years: • Third year – It’s really important. • Reference letters must be planned in advance. • Do assignments strategically. For all years: • Pain is temporary, grades are forever • One strike and you’re out Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 11
  12. 12. Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 12
  13. 13. Keep doors open for yourself • At the start, you never have enough information to make big decisions. • Never make a commitment you do not have to make. • The world will change, and you will change. • You need time and experience before you narrow your focus. Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 13
  14. 14. Careers are long • You will have multiple jobs, and each will last multiple years. • Don’t sacrifice a long-term career goal for one that pays off immediately. • If you only realize in fourth year you want something different, go back and do it. • Get yourself pointed in the right direction; don’t worry about how fast you’re going. Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 14
  15. 15. Beyond mountains, there are mountains • In mythology, heroes conquer the mountain and end in Victory. • In school and work, you never get to “the end” where you enjoy the fruits of your labour. • The reward for hard work is more hard work. • Education continues forever, you’re still at the start. • “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” Nelson Mandela Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 15
  16. 16. Plan next summer in September Relevant work experience: 1. Provides you with practical knowledge you won’t learn in school. 2. Sets you apart from competitors when academics are not enough. 3. Is not just about making money – you want experience in your field. 4. Should be organized early in the year. Don’t wait for spring to start! Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 16
  17. 17. University is more than education • Elementary, high school, and skilled trades training are about acquiring knowledge. Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 17
  18. 18. University is more than education • University is also about separating the smartest people from the rest. • It is a competition which decides some people are smarter than others. • Succeeding is a SIGNAL to employers and other universities that you are smart and committed to your field. Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 18
  19. 19. Signalling Value of Education Fields with codified knowledge (engineering, science) have very clear standards. • Brand of school matters less. Fields with hazier achievement measures (law, business) have more relative standards. • Brand of school matters more. Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 19
  20. 20. Signalling Value of Education • Very bright people who choose easy degrees are not signalling to employers how smart they are. Ask yourself: • Do few people attempt the course? • Do lots of people fail to get into the course? • Do lots of people fail the course? Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 20
  21. 21. Aiming high: where others fail • Chartered Financial Analyst: 80% who start do not finish • Top MBAs: only 10% of applicants get accepted • Pure math degree: few people even attempt Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 21
  22. 22. Grades • • • • Grades are permanent All grades count Grades can always be higher Every point on your grade can get you to a better post-grad or career. Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 22
  23. 23. Pain is temporary, grades are forever • For grad school or a competitive career, grades matter a lot. Employers are concerned with these: 1. The school you attended 2. The degree you earned Grad schools are also concerned with these: 3. Your GPA 4. The professors with whom you studied Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 23
  24. 24. Grades You have two levers to pull your grades higher: 1. How hard you work 2. The courses you select Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 24
  25. 25. How hard you work You have to: • Memorize pointless material • Pull all-nighters • Miss parties and family functions “Good grades” are not enough. Go for every point. Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 25
  26. 26. Courses you select • Don’t make university harder on yourself. – “I thought taking a Quantum Physics elective would be fun.” • Electives should be at the intersection of interesting and easy. – Interesting so you don’t get bored and neglect it. – Easy enough that you can get a good grade. Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 26
  27. 27. One strike and you’re out • Your transcript needs to be a pristine, unblemished record • One bad grade can ruin the whole thing Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 27
  28. 28. One strike and you’re out • • • • If a course threatens to ruin your pristine transcript, don’t be afraid to drop it if: You have done poorly on early tests. The probability of doing well looks very low. Your supposedly fun elective is a lot more difficult than expected. A required course has begun poorly – drop it and take it again. Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 28
  29. 29. 3rd Year: Penultimate Year • The year upon which you are actually judged. • Graduate schools want your application between Sept and Jan of your final year. • Grad schools will decide on you before you ever finish 4th year. • You cannot leave important courses until 4th year. Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 29
  30. 30. 3rd Year: Penultimate Year If you are going straight to work after 4th year: • You will be applying and interviewing during 4th year. • Employers will only be able to judge you on the grades, projects and work experience you have before 4th year. Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 30
  31. 31. Reference Letters • Employers and grad schools need more than a number to judge you on. • You need personal testimonials to support your work ethic and enthusiasm. Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 31
  32. 32. Reference Letters For a good reference letter: • The writer must know you and have good things to say about you. • The writer should come from a department relevant to where you’re applying. • The writer should be well-known in their field. – This is very important for PhD programs; a high quality application requires high quality referees. Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 32
  33. 33. Strategic Research/Papers • In later years, focus your assignments on the niche in which you want to work. • “Bend” assignments away from general work and into your area. – Professors will usually help you with this; if you’re showing a real interest you can deviate from the syllabus. • Now you can use your current course work to prepare for your future. Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 33
  34. 34. Strategic Research/Papers This is especially important for PhD applications. • Grad schools will want to see that you’re interested and experienced in research. • For a PhD application you should do an independent research course during your undergrad. Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 34
  35. 35. Final thoughts: • Work hard. • Good luck! Secret Rules of University - Thomas Smith 35

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