Hey there, fellow students! Congratulations on starting a new life. You’re leaving your childhood behind and pressing on into adulthood (or semi-adulthood, anyway). You will soon be experiencing new freedoms and experiences, such as your time is now your own and your choices are now your own. Responsibility will never look as good and freeing as it does right now. But, while your friends are partying it up and living in the moment of now, let me encourage you to step back and take a different approach to your college years. Use the opportunity you have to begin preparing for the future. When one day you graduate and your friends suffer the effects of college-life withdrawal following graduation, you’ll be a step ahead by having incorporated some real life into your college life. And that involves learning social skills, time management, and knowing how to dress to project the person you are. I’m sharing from a personal experience, because I have had to practice this as a working student. And I hope that what I’ve learned along the way can encourage you to be bold as you begin to really and truly discover yourself during your college years.
This probably won’t surprise you, but I was never a show-up-in-my-ratty-tshirt-and-jeans-to-class-college student. In fact, I enjoyed planning out what I would wear. I loved it when my professors would compliment me. And I have a secret opinion that dressing well and showing your professors lots of respect goes just as much towards getting that A as studying your heart out will. Maybe this is because what we are outwardly often projects, to some extent, who we are inwardly. If you are eager to learn, aren’t afraid to work hard, and have enough respect for other people to dress and speak politely, then you will succeed in what you set out to do.
The way you present yourself is the way that people will see you. If you want to be perceived as a perpetual student who shows up late for classes and doesn’t know any outfit combo other than a t-shirt and shorts, then go for it. But if you want to be perceived as the person you wish to be, then you have to project it outwardly. Perceptions are powerful and go a long way into telling other people about yourself. Whether it’s right or wrong, it’s a human trait, and as much as we may deplore the fact, it happens. You’ll discover it when you dress up for your job interviews and worry about if it was the way you looked that did or did not get you the job. You’ll realize it when you get preferential treatment as a customer because you’re dressed nicely and act politely. So take the opportunity you have now, while you have the option to be flexible in your schedule and your clothing choices, to practice projecting and being the person you want to be. For example, as tempting as it might be to roll out of bed at 7:50 a.m. and hurry across campus for an 8:00 class (in your pj’s, natch, because you didn’t have time to get dressed), let me encourage you to think and plan differently. Here’s why:
1. It sets you apart. As colleges continue to expand their student populations, it will take more work to stand out in the crowded classrooms. Be the one student who arrives promptly, treats the professor with respect, and has a good attitude towards classmates. This is one of the best ways to prepare yourself for a career. Additionally, take this opportunity to develop your clothing style. Being in college is the best time to experiment, as there aren’t any uniforms required and you can mix and match clothing pieces to your heart’s content. Develop a style that is you. Don’t conform to everyone else on campus. Be unique. Be yourself and be confident in that.
2. It prepares you for real life. I know it’s hard to forsake casual clothing, and I’m not saying that you should dress up in formals or even business casual. But, dressing your best will help you to prepare for what it will be like after college, when you will have to manage your time so as to be up, dressed, and at work by 9 (if you’re lucky – some people are at their jobs even earlier, you know!). Start getting into the habit now by practicing on those 8 am class days. Manage your time smartly and be up and dressed with your hair done and your clothes ironed and presentable and in the classroom promptly at start time.
3. It will help grab the attention of your professors. Don’t underestimate the power your teachers have to help you and set you onto the track of success. And while they love good grades, it’s my belief that they also love seeing a student who cares enough about their teacher and class to show up on time and dressed well. It conveys respect for the instructor and fellow classmates when you’re not the one causing distraction by arriving late. Also, the way you dress also goes far into making you stand out. I haven’t been in a class yet where the professor didn’t respond positively to a neatly dressed student (note that I said neatly – this does not mean that you need to wear Jimmy Choos and carry a Louis Vuitton. It simply means that your clothes can go from a classroom to a nice restaurant). And, in some cases, it may even help you to bond with a professor. True story: I struggled last year to make it through a difficult biology class. I was the lone humanities major in a class of pre-med students. It was strenuous, difficult, and the teacher just happened to be one of the department heads who had very high expectations for her students. I never worked and studied so hard and felt so defeated after every test. My professor was never very warm towards me, and I do believe that she just couldn’t understand how I could struggle so much in her class. After all, she was used to turning out high-achievers. But one night in lab, as she was helping me with a project, she looked down at my shoes and noted wryly that I had an Anthropologie addiction. I jumped at the opportunity and joked that it took someone familiar with the store to know their products. From then on, though we struggled in every other way, we at least had a shared bond over a store. And that bond helped to make the worst class ever suddenly bearable. And even passable.
4. Dressing well may even help you to earn better grades. One of my professors used to tell us that dressing confidently will help you to feel confident in what you do. She would encourage us to dress our best for presentations or even tests, as she believed firmly that feeling confident can make you confident enough to perform well.
So there’s that. I hope it encourages you to break free from the typical student mold and start practicing for the future, rather than just being consumed with the present. Have fun, enjoy it, feel free to wear ratty clothes – but also learn to enjoy the ability and freedom to be an original in a world of imitation, and by doing so, prepare for the real world while you’re at it.
Until next time…