Getting your head in the game: Why you should treat college like training camp

I read a great blog post the other day by Janell Hazelwood, a blogger and writer for herself and companies including the New York Times and Entitled “Career Training Camp: Are you Prepared for your Next Season?” the post connects the training process of an NFL football player getting ready for the season, to the process each of us should go through as we come out of the summer and get ready to do our best work in our careers.

Janell Hazelwood

She created a list of her recommendations to include:

  • Scrimmages and training drills
  • Meetings with coaches and senior players
  • Evaluation of your peers
  • Elimination of weak links
  • Participation in enrichment

Go on over there and read it. I’ll wait.

As I read this post I found myself nodding my head in agreement, but also thinking about how well this advice translates to incoming and returning college students.

Anecdotally, in the 13 years I’ve been teaching, I’ve observed an interesting behavior of college students. It’s a pattern that continues and is becoming even more pronounced. Please remember that my area of expertise is Digital Marketing and while that includes some consumer behavior, I’m no anthropologist or sociologist. They probably have a much more academic and clear way to describe this process. But over the years I have taught all levels of students, been an advisor, and watched how young people change, mature, and grow as they experience their college years. So, begging forgiveness of my colleagues in those other disciplines, I’ll provide you with a glimpse of what I have observed:

  • First year:  Students go from the “deer in the headlights” or “lost puppy phase” of the first few weeks to that heady realization that they are on their own — many for the first time. I watch every year as many young people go from polite with an aura of scared, to a false sense of freedom, to forgetting completely why they are even here in the first place — to learn!  This first year is the make or break year for many students. Those who keep their eye on the ball and remember what the purpose of these four years are for, rally quickly and start getting involved in things and begin building for their future careers. Unfortunately, I see fewer and fewer students starting their college career this way. More often they are so busy having experiences outside of the classroom that interfere with their academics they fall further and further behind.
  • Second year: Where I teach many students get opportunities to begin their first internships in their field of study as soon as their sophomore year. If a student has been proactive in their first year, they will have made connections on campus with faculty, become part of a strong peer group, let go of those behaviors that are not helpful, and have taken advantage of every opportunity to learn about their chosen field both in and out of the classroom. This may mean they change their major, which at this stage is actually a very good thing, because they are even more clear about what they want and what they do not want. However, a student who is not on their “A” game,  might not have a second year at our college…or if they do, it will be unfocused. They may blame the faculty for their faults, or outside circumstances, and may be focussing far too much on the life experiences outside of the classroom. These are the students who don’t turn in work, who show up late to class, who don’t pay attention, and who disrespect their teachers and their peers. They shut themselves off from learning and in so doing fall even further behind.
  • Third year: As juniors, many of our students get ready to study abroad. Those “A” game students have already decided where they want to go, have references (almost too many to pick from) from an internship and faculty, are on top of the process and know exactly where they are going to go and why; which means their study abroad experience will be more than an “experience”. It will be transformative. It will change their life. Students who have not been as proactive, may find themselves scrambling to line everything up, or will be going abroad for all the wrong reasons — like one student I had who learned a great deal in Australia, but failed every single class he took, so he had to retake everything and ended up having to take an extra semester of classes to graduate. They go to “soak up the culture” if you will, and miss so many opportunities.
  • Fourth year: I call this the “Oh shit!” year. This is when every student I have, regardless of their preparation (or lack thereof) wakes up and sees that in just a short period of time they are done, and have to go out into the big bad world and make a living.  Universally I see students in crisis. They feel a great deal of pressure and are afraid that all their work has been for nothing. This “crisis mode” makes that last semester very difficult for faculty and students — in my case, I push them even harder to make sure they are ready and have the confidence to go out there, and they resist even harder….but an interesting things happens as their final year wraps up. Those who have really worked, and I mean worked hard, every semester, every year, suddenly find themselves on interviews and often getting jobs even before they graduate. Still others find that they have the skills, they graduate with confidence, and even if they go home for a short time as they decide what area of the country they want to live in, they go on interviews and they get jobs. Those who treated college like an extension of high school, or spent their time with their energies focused in other directions have a much more difficult time of it.

Which experience would you like to have? Parents, which experience would you like your child to have?


So I would ask that every student getting ready to go into college, or entering another year of college take the advice of @jphazelwood. Think of each and every semester as training camp for the next semester, always keeping your eye on the prize — a strong start to an amazing and rewarding career once you graduate college.  Every semester do each of these things:

  • Scrimmages and training drills: treat every class as a scrimmage and training drill. Engage in conversation, ask questions, do the reading, do your best work, take feedback in the spirit is intended — to help you improve and be at the top of your game.  Walk into every class with the attitude of “what am I going to learn today that will help me be successful?”
  • Meetings with coaches and senior players: Meet with your professors. Don’t wait for a bad grade, or to complain. Make your first meeting count. Go for advice, stop in to say “Hi!” Learn about them as people and you will find that some will become mentors, others will become friends. Remember, we know people. We help you get internships and jobs.  Meet students who are juniors and seniors. Get involved in clubs, organizations, the student government. Connect with those who are involved and you too, will become involved.
  • Evaluation of your peers: Pay attention to what your peers are doing. Assess their strengths — what are they doing right? Assess their weaknesses — what are they doing wrong?  They are your competition for internships, for scholarships, for awards. Keep it friendly, but stay aware that in business in all of it’s forms we must always understand our competition to benchmark ourselves and to see how we can be better. When you graduate, you will be competing for jobs.
  • Elimination of weak links: Are you in the right peer group? Do you have friends that are “dragging you down”? Are you in a major you dislike? Is your advisor not working for you either with their personality, or their advice? Continuously consider and evaluate weak links to assess how you will modify, change, or even eliminate that weak link. If it is a poor study habit, change it. If it is a peer group that isn’t on the same trajectory as you, slowly disengage in that group. Don’t be afraid to talk to professors about your changing interests and possibly even changing your major. Weed out what is not working and replace it with things that are.
  • Participation in enrichment: Seek out opportunities outside of class. Start a club, become part of a club, participate in community service, volunteer, audit other classes, do more than one internship, attend networking events off campus, in the business community where the college is located. Step up in your peer group. Become an orientation leader, or an admissions tour guide. Try to be a teacher’s assistant if they have them. What about a resident assistant in a dorm? Look for things that fulfill your interests, open your eyes to new possibilities and help you grow. Be a leader. Be a good follower. Make a difference.

As you do all of these things in college, which I see as the ultimate training camp for your career, you will ensure your long term success. Janell Hazelwood’s advice is spot on, for your career and for your preparation for your career, and worth paying attention to.  So treat your college experience like training camp. Follow your passions, network, try new things, all while keeping your eye on the prize — building experiences that will lead to graduation and the start of a successful career.


Thank you Janell for the inspiration for this post!