12 Rules for School — What I learned in College so you don’t have to

Julius Ritter
6 min readAug 25, 2023

Here are 12 rules for school that I have learned the easy or the hard way in the past three years: I studied at three universities during my undergraduate degree. I was a teaching assistant at a fourth. I worked for non-profits, start-ups and big corporates. In person, from home, I had it all. And, I started three clubs and communities.
I’ll generalize and summarize, but my hope is that you will find at least one or two of these rules insightful and the rest not too obsolete or obvious.

In contrast to Jordan Peterson, I won’t need 350 pages. I’m roughly focusing on three aspects: Choice of School, Mentorship and Networking, and Class Schedule. Let’s get straight to the point:

Choice of School

Rule 1: Don’t go by the city, go by the campus.

I experienced student life at Humboldt Berlin first (no campus), NYU second (no campus), and UC Berkeley (beautiful campus) third. I would pick a campus university every day of the year. Why?

  1. Gathering people to meet in the evening is easy as everyone is close
  2. You don’t lose about 1–2 hours a day commuting
  3. There is oftentimes more space, more sports facilities, and a more tight-knit community.

In Europe, there are far fewer campus universities, but here I would argue that small student town > large city (apart from France, because everything happens in Paris).

Rule 2: Make the study abroad options a high-priority topic in the choice of your university

For most of you this is to late — you have made a decision of where you want to study. My 17 year-old self did likely not consider international partnerships either. I just got lucky. Without the international network of Humboldt University Berlin to the US, I would not be in the Bay Area; that’s for sure. Check the study abroad programs and especially the application deadlines.

Networking and Mentorship

Rule 3: Get at least one mentor

In an ideal world, you have two mentors: One, who is just a couple of years older than you but a role model, and a second, who has been working in your field of interest for decades.

A great person to start of with could be a professor you admire. For extroverts: Spend some time after class with them. For introverts: Start contributing in the forum discussions or asking your professor on feedback on an article you wrote.

Rule 4: Get a mentee

Once you are in your third semester, you have kind of figured out how the wind blows at college. You know which teaching assistants to avoid, which libraries have the best WiFi and which professors use the same exam each year. Offering these insights to younger students will be mutually enriching to you, since they are usually great at asking painfully important questions (”Ok, and what exactly do you want to do after you graduate soon?”). They help you to reflect on your past life choices: “Would I really do that again?”, I often wondered.

The curious mentees will usually find you — may it be in group chats, via LinkedIn, contacts from friends and family or from your former high-school. I always showed genuine interest from the get go, which encouraged my mentees to reach out regularly.

Also: A mentee-mentor relationship usually is usually not explicitly defined as such in the beginning; it evolves naturally. By engaging with Freshmen you will get there naturally.

Rule 5: Go to office hours

I never went to office hours; ever; until the fourth semester of my studies. That was a big mistake, as I missed out on building a personal relationship with the GSIs and Professors. There is no reason to be intimated; most Professors are extremely appreciative and approachable and are also willing to offer life or academic advice.

  1. I started by asking relevant questions towards the class material. Ideally, I had some more advanced questions that exceeded the syllabus’ expectations.
  2. Later in the semester, I would sprinkle in more questions regarding my career. These can revolve around future class choices in that space, working as an assistant or applying for the right internships. Ideally, you would know about some of your Professor’s LinkedIn connections or co-authors; people that you might ask your Professor to introduce you to.

Recommendation: Check out their LinkedIn Connection or co-authors to find people you might want to connect to.

Rule 6: Don’t listen to your parents, listen to your mentor

I do go actively go and seek my parents for advice, but mostly in the areas where they have 1. years of experience and are 2. still up-to-date. Times change. The best strategies with regards to grad school, gap year and choice of majors are subject to constant change and are more and more individual, too.

I will write a more extensive article on networking in the future.

Studying and Class Schedule

Rule 7: Your study group shouldn’t be your friends group

For most students I know, however, the interpersonal relation turned out to be distracting. A joy that’s shared is a joy made double, but the same goes for procrastination, too.

I’m a bad example. My childhood friend, Jakob and I, managed to thoroughly understand the system at our university and optimized our studying behaviours. Both in person and during Covid, we pushed each other whilst maintaining a close friendship.

Rule 8: Choose your classes depending on the Professor

Any Professor can make the best class horrible and vice versa. ratemyprofessors.com and connections to older students are great ways to find out which professors actually care; not only about their students, but also about updating their slides periodically.

Rule 9: Found a club.

University gives you the chance to audit classes; join, lead or found clubs, try new sports and learn demanding skills. Establishing your own club is an excellent opportunity (im)prove your leadership skills and spend time with like-minded individuals. I started Calisthenics Berkeley (calisthenicsberkeley.org), AI Entrepreneurs at Berkeley (www.aientrepreneurs.org) and the German Student Association at Berkeley.

Rule 10: Don’t take too many hard classes — only take one.

As a rule of thumb, I usually take one to two really hard classes to satisfy my curiosity. College gives you the chance to audit classes; join, lead or found clubs; try new sports and network. Don’t spend those years in front of your laptop.

I was asked for hobby suggestions:

  1. Journalism: Join the student newspaper or start your own blog
  2. Philosophy and debating clubs are great for practising logical thinking and articulate speaking
  3. Web-Development and coding clubs and bootcamps
  4. NPOs, education initiatives and volunteering (e. g. mental support emergency phone, soup kitchen, religious institutions of your choice)

Rule 11: Take one entrepreneurship class

At a a conference in Oakland, I got asked for a controversial opinion on Entrepreneurship. “Entrepreneurship can and needs to be taught in the classroom”, I responded. Of course, it’s much better to just something yourself, but in my opinion, these classes help with mindset development more than anything else. For many friends who had not considered starting a company before taking an entrepreneurship class, it changed their mind. For others it didn’t; but they said they were able to think more like “intrapreneurs” and foster innovation from within a big company.

If your school doesn’t offer these classes, there are other ways to educate yourself on entrepreneurship. Here are some I have looked at: “Y Combinator Start-up School” and books like “The Lean Start-up”.

Rule 12: Stop caring about your GPA

The road of an aspiring grad school student and PhD is paved with the painful pursuit of a flawless GPA to convince an almighty admission committee. If you identify as such, ignore this rule!

Everyone else low-key knows that many employers value side-projects and internships much more. A friend of mine is 22, does not list his GPA on his CV, but emphasizes his 11 (!) years of work experience and got his dream job offers as PM and Investor at a VC. Especially for my readers from Europe: It is time to act on that knowledge and focus more on extracurriculars.

Oh, and Rule 13: Learn how to code

The “Coders will be replaced by AI / ChatGPT”-Argument is flawed. Learning Coding, or let me say “Computer Science” teaches you a new way of thinking, rewires your brain and teaches you the tools and discpline to solve annoying problems.

It really does not matter if you are a sociology or astrophysics major: Being able to code is a core skill. I’m neither talking about using the SUM-function in Excel, nor about straight up mobile App development. Go the middle route: Start with Python and R for Data Science and Machine Learning. or learn how to use React for Website front-end creation.

Last recommendation: Get a whiteboard. The best tool to solve strategic issues and let your creativity flow.

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Julius Ritter

Passionate about Entrepreneurship, Education, AI and our careers!