By Rachel Bartee
Our college years are often the finest years of our lives, and it’s certainly true that people often look back at them with a fondness that they don’t feel when they think about high school. And there’s a reason for that. College is the stepping stone towards adulthood, and it’s during college that we start to make the decisions which will shape the rest of our lives.
But these decisions aren’t to be made lightly, because the habits you establish at college are likely to follow you into your later life. If you’re the kind of person who likes to get assignments finished ahead of schedule, that habit is likely to continue when it comes to deadlines in the workplace. The same also holds true when it comes to lifestyle factors such as your diet and how much exercise you take.
Luckily, it’s a process you can have some control over, which brings me on to what we’re going to talk about today – your individual development plan.
Why you need an individual development plan
It’s simple, really. Your college years are all about learning and self-improvement, and creating an individual development plan will help you to become the best ‘you’ you can be. Some people would argue that you don’t need a plan to make an effort to improve yourself, but the truth is that without something that you’ve mapped out and which you hold yourself responsible for following, you’re not going to be that much successful.
If life is like a road trip then your individual development plan is like your GPS. Sure, you might want to go and explore from time to time, but you also need to be able to check where you are in relation to where you’re going.
With that in mind, here are just a few of our top tips for creating an individual development plan.
1. Explore opportunities
Take the first couple of weeks at college to get an idea of what’s out there. It’s likely that there will be all sorts of different clubs and associations, which means that no matter what your interests are, you’ll be able to find someone else who shares them. But on top of that, there’ll be opportunities to find a part-time job or to help out in the local area. Make sure you’re well aware of the opportunities that are out there before you commit yourself. Then settle on something that aligns itself with your overall life goals.
2. Develop extra skills
Sure, you’re at college to study a specific skill with the hope of it leading to a full-time job and an eventual career. But that doesn’t mean you can only learn stuff that’s on the curriculum. Your college years are also the perfect time to develop other life skills, whether you’re learning to drive or whether you’re learning to cook. They don’t have to be your main qualification skills, either – so if you’ve always wanted to learn to dance or to make pottery, now’s your chance.
3. Get to know yourself
For most people, their time at college is their first opportunity to really be alone and apart from their family. While this can be intimidating, especially if you’re from a rural background and you find yourself alone in the city, it can also be immensely freeing. That also makes it the perfect time to reconnect with yourself and to figure out exactly what you want from life. For example, do you really want to be a lawyer – or is that just what your parents are expecting of you? We’re not saying you should just drop out and do whatever you want, but you should take the time to get to know yourself and to understand what you want to achieve in life.
4. Find mentors
No man is an island, and if you want to be the best you can be, it’s important to find some mentors then. These are people whose footsteps you want to follow in, and so you’ll want to reach out to them and to develop a relationship. Their advice can be both invaluable and inspirational, and by learning from their mistakes, you can reduce the likelihood of you repeating them.
5. Make a reading list
Game of Thrones creator George R. R. Martin famously said, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only once.” This isn’t just true for epic fantasy, though. By reading non-fiction books that are related to what you want to achieve, you pick up all sorts of extra knowledge that might otherwise have passed you by. Spend an afternoon searching online and create a list of at least thirty books that you want to read. Then start reading them.
6. Take other courses
While your college course should always be your main focus, that doesn’t mean that you can’t take other courses at the same time to augment your portfolio. Many such courses are available for free online, while others will offer discounts to college students. You can also look for evening classes at local schools and arts centres. You might be surprised by how much is out there.
Volunteering for a local charity is great for your resume, but it’s also good for the soul. When you’re volunteering for a charitable cause that ties in with what you’re passionate about, you can make a positive difference in the world while furthering your interests and learning new things. Better still, if you keep up this habit in later life, it’ll help you to stay humble. Even super-busy superstar celebrities give their time to charities – so why should you be any different?
By now, you should have a good idea of why it’s important to create an individual development plan and stick to it. The truth is that while it isn’t absolutely essential, it’s very difficult to improve without putting something in place to make it happen.
Luckily, you now have the know-how you need to get started – so what are you waiting for?