Since I know several young people heading to college or university soon, I thought that I'd write a quick guide for things to do to manage things. This is based on my own experiences.

Personal Brand

I hate the phrase "personal brand", and I am only using it ironically here. You are at the point where you will want to start caring about how you present yourself online and what kind of online footprint you have. You are also going to want to start collecting stuff and curating a CV/Resume. So, here are some tips:

  • Buy a professional-enough domain name, a cheap blog or web page, and email hosting under your domain name. This combo costs about $15-20/year for the domain name, and about $12-15 a month.
    • Do not use your professional email address to sign up to websites or games. Use it to communicate with your professors, and potential employers.
  • Align your public social media handles with your domain name, or create new social media accounts that share your "brand name". This helps push all the things you want people to see about you to the top of the pile, and helps bury connections you'd rather people not make.
  • Use your blog to practice your writing and communication and to collect your ideas and experiences. Take your time to make clear blog posts that you can come back to in order to re-learn things.
  • Keep track of every major project that you do while you are in college and university. When it happened, how many people were involved, what did you do on the project, and what did you deliver. All of this can be added to your Resume/CV, so keep your records of this stuff up-to-date.
  • Learn to check-in with people. Get people's contact information and check in on them once or twice a month if you don't see each other. Maintain the relationships you make at college and university and they will serve you well.

Security

This is a pretty important transition. You're an adult now, and as an adult you have things you want to protect.

  1. You need to have a couple email addresses.
    • Your professional one is for emailing professors and doing business-related things. This is primarily because as your main account you want to avoid it being filled up by spam or notifications.
    • You will also need a management address, which you will use for managing your devices and your domain name, web, and mail hosting services. It is a good collection point for reciepts and such.
    • Your final address (one you likely already have) is for everything else. Signing up to games, websites, and the like.
  2. Get a password manager, a security key, and a good two-factor-authentication application. Change all of your current passwords so that none of them are the same or versions of another (your password manager will help with this). This is the biggest thing you can do for personal account security.
    • Last I checked, keepass is still the go-to for free software-based password managers. But there are many good ones available, so do some research and figure out what ones meet your needs. I personally use a paid license for Dashlane as a backup for my hardware-based Mooltipass. My Mooltipass was invaluable for college since I was constantly moving from public computer to public computer, but your mileage may vary.
    • A security key is a hardware-based Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) token that will drastically reduce the likelihood of losing control of your accounts. There are a number of good security keys available. The updated Yubico Security Key is cheap and reliable. I suggest buying two of them, and keeping one in a safe space for backup.
    • Google Authenticator, Authy, and Duo are all solid 2FA applications. I use Authy because it keeps a backup of all my 2FA tokens because I have changed or reflashed my phone multiple times.
  3. Enable 2FA on all accounts possible. Even if someone gets a password for one of your accounts, 2FA will go a long ways to prevent people from getting access.
    • SMS (text message) based 2FA can be compromised relatively easily, or phished fairly easily. If you can enable other forms of 2FA then do so and try to avoid letting SMS be a "backup" 2FA method.
    • If you use an app authenticator (Google Authenticaor, Authy, etc.) you will often recieve a list of back-up codes. Add these to your password manager's entry for those accounts in case you lose access to your authenticator.
  4. If you use Chrome, run the uBlock Origin, Privacy Badger, and HTTPS Everywhere extensions. Or run Brave. There are similar extensions in Firefox. Ads and tracking are a security problem. Just do it and don't feel bad about lost ad revenue, try to support the people who make content you enjoy directly whenever possible.

College/University Life

This is where I am going to give some probably shady advice, but I understand the struggle so listen closely. Most of academia is an awful money-grab and it's all bullshit. Here's some advice that I give as someone who has been through it.

Textbooks

College textbooks are absolute bullshit. They are not expensive because they are difficult to produce or because they cost a lot to put together, they are expensive so that they can get a lot of money out of students. What do you do about it?

  1. Find out what your book list is as soon as possible. Your college/university bookstore will have this information when it is available.
  2. Separate that list into two categories:
    • Plain old textbooks (the more the better)
    • Textbooks with special access codes for online material
  3. Check with the bookstore if they can or do order just the codes for those textbooks that come with online codes. The codes are often cheaper alone than with the book.
  4. Get together with a bunch of your classmates and pool your money for one of each plain text book. Search them out and talk to them if you can. If you can't, don't buy your books until after the first week. You can take the text book to a print shop, have them shear off the binding and scan the entire book into PDF form for a fee. This will save the whole class hundreds of dollars if they are up for using a PDF.
  5. If not enough people want to do it, look for PDFs of your textbooks. Just be a bit wary. Not paranoid, but exercise caution.

Keeping Notes

In my personal experience, making notes during lectures helps me far less than listening and engaging in class discussion (if that's a thing your professors enjoy). If making notes during class does help you, then go for it. But whatever you do, write all your notes in your own words. Do not copy explanations from wikipedia or from your professors' slides. Writing things in your own words makes them stick better, and makes it easier for reference later on.

Keep an engineering journal, preferably in a nice paper notebook, but an online copy is good too. What you do is whenever you encounter a difficult problem you track the symptoms/circumstances, what your troubleshooting steps are, and how you solved things. Then you record the symptoms and solutions in your engineering journal. Also when you have a large concept that you know is important, do some experiments and exploration of those concepts and explain in your own words that concept in your engineering journal. Write all of these so that if you handed your engineering journal to someone with very little background knowledge can use it to solve a problem or understand a concept because you will forget those important details.

Between your blog and engineering journal you will amass a significant knowledge base that you can tap into. Your goal with both of these is to ensure that you never have to come up with a solution to the same problem twice. Reference your previous solution first, and see if that works.

Taking Tests

I have a good history with tests. I have a bad record with history tests. There's a reason for that. For the most part, taking tests is more about knowing how to take a test than it is about learning the material. Here's my advice on studying for tests and how to work through tests.

Try not to study or cram the night before or just before the test. Study a couple days before the test and get a good restful sleep before the test. This pushes all the stuff you've studied and researched into long-term memory which is less likely to bail on you when you get handed the exam.

I have friends who have some other tricks for tests. They do memory association stuff like eating an apple while they study for a test and then eating an apple right before the test. I am not sure how much it helps, but you might find those tricks work for you.

The test is in front of you. You have limited time and the test is long. Remember what the goal of an exam is: To accumulate as many points as you can in the time you have. There is a process here that you will want to learn and follow on the tests you know you'll struggle on. On all of my college tests, the questions and tests were all marked with how much they were worth.

  1. Look at how much the test is worth, and quickly figure out what a passing grade is. Exam out of 75, a 55% is a passing grade, you need 38 marks to pass. You want to get to 38 marks as fast as possible
  2. Read through the test and look at each category (multiple choice, true/false, short answers, long answer, essay, case study). You are looking for the easiest questions first.
  3. Do your first pass on the test. If you hesitate on a question move on immediately. If you read the question and are immediately certain of an answer then write it down, it's probably correct. You shouldn't be spending any time thinking on your first pass. Make a small note of how many questions you answered/marks you got, we will assume you got them all correct.
  4. Check how many more marks you need in order to pass and how long you have left. You should still have most of your exam period left, and you will see there isn't much left before you pass the test or that you've already passed. If you feel it's still going to struggle, don't worry.
  5. If you have thought of the answer to a question you didn't do on your first pass then go back and do it now. This was the point of taking the moment to assess how much farther you needed to go. It gave you a moment to relax and think.
  6. Add the new marks to your total and see how close you are to passing. You have done all the easy questions or problems at this point. Take another read through the test and assess how much work answering each question you know you can answer is going to be.
  7. Work your way through the easiest/fastest questions first and the harder/slower ones last. If you get stuck, move onto another question. It's better to have half an answer for a question than no answer since you can get partial marks most of the time. Add finished questions to your running total. By the time you have reached this stage, chances are you will have passed the test with lots of time to spare, so you can take your time and relax.

General life advice

I recognize that many people have different circumstances, and some of this advice will be more difficult for some people than others.

  • Get a solid rest each night. Eat three meals a day. Drink lots of water throughout the day. Try to get some exercise in. It's simple shit but it will help you more than anything else will.
  • Budget your time. You will have to make compromises, but you need to balance downtime with getting your work done, and if something has to give never let it be your rest.
  • Associate with good people, not smart people. Often those two groups will overlap, but don't associate with people who are toxic or talk down about their peers. Those people are more trouble than they're worth. College and university get easier when you have good friends.
  • Be a good person. Not helpful, right? What I mean by "be a good person" is that if you see someone struggling, help them out. If you have privilege, use it to help others by telling your fellow privileged people when their behavior is unacceptable. Don't let people speak over voices that don't get heard enough (read: tell white people to be quiet).
    • When someone tells you that you've made a mistake, listen to them. You don't get to decide that you didn't hurt someone. Most minority groups bear the weight of being discriminated against and having to teach others how not to, so don't make them take that. Do your own research on it and learn to be better. It's work, but also worth it.

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Devon Taylor (They/Them) is a Canadian network architect, security consultant, and blogger. They have experience developing secure network and active directory implementations in low-budget and low-personnel environments. Their blog offers a unique and detailed perspective on security and game design, and they tweet about technology, security, games, and social issues. You can support their work via Patreon (USD), or directly via ko-fi.