College Q&A

I finished my undergrad in 2018 and I’m often asked for college advice. Thus, this Q&A.

See more comments & add your own in this Google Doc.


Q: should I skip university? should I drop out? should I try to finish it as fast as I can?

No. Skipping university is fake news. Graduating early is fake news.

This is the best time in your life (it only gets harder as you get older). Learn as much as you can. Take all kinds of classes. Go to all the parties.

Talk to as many other students as you can. Talk to as many old people as you can (you’ll learn to appreciate them later – it turns out wisdom is real).

Q: But the world is about to end—

Rapture can wait until you graduate.


Q: what to major in?

Major in physics. Take at least 2-3 classes in all of: math, statistics, CS, econ, and chemistry. Also take fun history, arts, english, philosophy and other liberal arts classes.

Q: but I want to major in math/philosophy—

Don’t. Math and philosophy are too fun. Take math up to real analysis and algebra. Be careful around superstimuli that remove you from the real world.

Q: should I double major?

No. Just take more fun classes. Nobody cares about double majors and you’ll only increase the number of boring classes you need to take.

Q: how much should I care about the GPA?

Go for 4.0 just to be safe (people realize they want to go to grad school in junior/senior year of undergrad surprisingly often).

If you don’t get a 4.0 GPA, it’s ok too (grad school is probably not worth it anyway).

Q: which classes to take?

Take the ones where you vibe with the professor, even if – in fact, especially – you think the subject is not super interesting. Skip all other classes.

Q: I’m behind on a class, don’t understand what’s going on even for things that are supposed to be super basic, and by now it’s too embarrassing to be asking all these dumb questions. what should I do?

Go to the office hours. Ask as many dumb questions as you can. The dumber the question the better (this applies everywhere, not just in college).

Q: there’s a really fun class I want to take but I didn’t register for it. what should I do?

Just show up and ask the instructor if it’s ok for you to be present. They will probably say yes. I’ve never had a professor tell me I can’t just sit in on lectures/classes when I asked them in-person.

Jordan Schneider: If they say no, ask to just sit in on one class and then keep showing up. If they really refuse, then they probably suck to begin with.

work & research

Q: should I do research?

Yes. You can probably do it as a freshman/sophomore, no need to wait. Make sure you vibe with the professor before you commit.

Q: should I do projects?

Yes. Doing projects by yourself is great; doing them with other people is often easier, and sometimes makes impossible projects possible.

Q: should I do internships?

Yes. Make sure to take at least one summer to fuck around. Maybe two summers (I did four).


Q: I’m introverted and I don’t like hanging out with people that much. what should I do?

Introversion is fake. Find better friends. Note — it might take years.

Remember to talk to as many people as you can. Go for saying hi to 1 new person per day.

Jeremy Hadfield: Join clubs. Talk to people in your classes. Try to always have a few meals every week with a few new people. Just keep doing stuff you like, and you’ll find your people eventually.

Q: how do I meet people?

You can talk to anyone. The more you think before you start talking the worse it gets.

Just come up to people you find interesting and ask them what their name is, then what their major is, and then talk about fun classes or activities or whatever.

If they don’t ask you questions back, they probably don’t want to talk to you. It’s ok.

If they do ask you questions back, they probably do want to talk to you and you can ask for their contact info. Now you might have one more friend. Congrats.

You can do this online too. Just email people you want to talk to.

Q: there’s a really cool professor/grad student/anyone else who I’d like to talk to/work with. what should I do?

Just come up to them/knock on their door/email/slack them explaining who you are and why you want to talk to them. If they want to talk, great! If they don’t it’s ok.


Q: which university to go to?

If you can’t visit universities, go by rank. If you can, go to the one you like the most (you should really try to visit and feel out the vibe).

Underappreciated benefits of not going to a top university: they teach better at “worse” universities; professors will pay much more attention to you; you won’t get super depressed being surrounded by geniuses all the time. And you’ll find friends on the internet anyway.

Don’t go to a small school.

Subaita Rahman: you can alway transfer during 1st year (although it’s a bit hard sometimes).

Q: Should I take a gap year before or during undergrad? (from Subaita Rahman)

Gap year is dangerous. Can make you mature too soon and realize there’s a lot more besides uni. Still do it if you really want to but I’d recommend taking a gap year after you graduate.

Q: I want to do X, but the admins tell me I can’t. what should I do?

They’re probably lying to you. Ask a professor instead.

Jeremy Hadfield: Ask another admin. Keep emailing. Ask other students. Talk to your dean.

Q: should I get married in undergrad?

Probably not. But dating is incredibly fun/terrible, you learn a lot, and it turns out that even if they turn you down/it ends horribly it’s ok.

excellent comments

  1. Subaita Rahman re: dating id emphasize dating more, you get so much better at everything else - networking in work contexts, job interviews, confidence, and building better overall social skills by going on dates. best part is if it goes bad you can never see them again if you don’t want to. dating is so easy in college when ur around people w already similar interests and just gets a little harder after graduating, so taking advantage of that is the best.
  2. Subaita Rahman re: research vs work i think research and working should be both seriously explored, some people find out in year 3 of grad school they don’t enjoy being overworked and underpaid, never know unless you try both and college is the best time to dip toes into both industry/research
  3. Richard Fuisz re: GPA many colleges offer pass/fail grading which is excellent for taking weird classes outside your area w/o a GPA hit (which does reduce optionality)
  4. Subaita Rahman re: taking a gap year i wish i took a gap year before college so i’d be able to figure out which classes i actually want to take and can be useful for me rather than taking a gap year in the middle; but there will never be a time where it is easier to make friends and learn as much as you possibly want about anything and everything ever again
  5. Dmitry Novikov re: math & physics You want to learn math by learning physics. Best practical math I learned was always in connection to (theoretical) physics – you get the minimal rigor that works and learn to discard overly-mathy BS that only obscures things
  6. Richard Fuisz re: fun fun is a waste of time; take weird classes in the law school, med school, business school instead. it doesn’t matter what the policy is. the professors won’t stop you, as long as you aren’t too much of an idiot.
  7. Lev Chizov re: physics & programming Physics major + your own project to learn programming (also works really well for robotics/electronics) are a great combo.
  8. Yasmeen Hmaidan re: admins Be persistent and proactive, – email every admin in the department and try the most senior one first. Even if they initially say no to X, follow-up with them for weeks if necessary with a pitch, your core competency, and strong “why” (tie it into real world impact outside of university). Build your case and keep adding more people to support it to show the demand is more than your fleeting interest. In other words, make it very hard for them to say no to you. Especially when the only thing stopping you is a random rule in an outdated student/admin governance handbook. Challenge it (but be ready).
  9. James Giammona re: projects & clubs I’d also add something about projects and clubs based on making some real artifact. I think you learn way more, get more useful applicable skills, and meet other really driven interesting people through clubs, and classes with projects are also a ton of extra time, but you learn way more auxiliary skills. Again, I think engineering classes do a better job at this than physics classes.
  10. Lauren B re: gap years I know friends who did it and got to benefit from hands-on experience before undergrad while also getting a mental break from the schedule of school. Another did it due to Olympic trials competition. Varies by person but it can be useful. On the other hand, might be useful to get started depending on if you have your interests solidified and the innovation market is moving fast. One thing is for sure, life will guide you where you need to be. It’ll be fine!
  11. Yasmeen Hmaidan re: picking the university Find the problem area you’re interested in and go to the university with the strongest department and people in that field. If you get to work with them as a university student, you’ll almost immediately be at the cutting edge. Strategically, find the people first, work with them in high school if you can and let them know you want to join them in university as you do your college applications. Make your own master-apprentice model and use university resources/field exposure to facilitate that. Socialize yourself early into those spaces and you’ll start to see which university can best serve you. Remember, you’re the one paying for it.
  12. Ishaan Koratkar re: admins I found this was true in high school, some rules are actually hard-set on computer systems (i.e. some scheduling software). but then there are ways to hack or bypass the softer rules, ends up coming down to playing the first cards right and not messing up after that. Also see Milan Cvitkovic’s Things you’re allowed to do.
  13. Boris Power re: asking questions If something is unclear to you during the lecture and you paid attention, it’s definitely unclear to the majority of the class, but everyone is scared to ask. Make sure to ask the question before you stop paying attention.


Thanks to Lydia Nottingham and to Griffin Li for asking me way too many questions about college. Thanks to everyone who read the draft google doc and contributed!!!

appendix: further reading

How to College: Advice, Mistakes, and Thoughts (Juan David Campolargo):

But let me tell you something: we don’t even know if college is worth it anymore. Perhaps, the only value out of college is meeting and talking with people from all over the world. Or as a friend told me once, “College is cultural education.”

101 things I would tell my self from 10 years ago (Leila Clark):

New York is an extremely hedonistic place, especially for a young professional. You’ll eat, drink and party too much. It will be fun, and you will be correct in feeling that there is more to life than this.

At some point, you will face a choice between work and the love of your life. Pick the boy.

At some point, the love of your life will face a choice between work and you. If he doesn’t pick you, dump him.

Bluebooking for happiness (Zhengdong Wang):

I’m serious. Don’t read the course descriptions. Cover up the titles in the catalog if they distract you. Only research professors. A bad professor will make you dread going to a class on a subject you love. A good professor will inspire enthusiasm in a topic you previously didn’t care about. I’m willing to bet that you agree with me if you’ve had either experience.

What It’s Like Being a Crazy Motivated High School Kid? (Juan David Campolargo)

Things You’re Allowed to Do: University Edition (Saul Munn)

17-20: a Retrospective on Four Years in College (Alexey Guzey):

One specific instance of university having a large positive impact on my productivity was the discovery that productivity depends largely on the context. I discovered that going home meant I will be playing videogames all day long, while staying at the university and going to the library magically allowed me to be productive and decreased the craving for videogames by many times. I didn’t discover this earlier because my high school was 3 minutes away from home and I never even thought about staying there, instead of going home immediately after classes.

Q&A with my high school self: helping 14-16 year old Alexey to deal with his emotions, to ask for help, to talk to people (and his dad), to learn, to get things done. (Alexey Guzey)

On Friendship and on Finding Your People (Alexey Guzey)

My journal: years of depression and self-loathing; learning to accept myself and others; overcoming video game addiction (Alexey Guzey)

Advice from Tyler Cowen (Alexey Guzey)

(unauthorized) advice from guest 04 (Alexey Guzey)

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