This post is not titled “Things You Should Do,” because these aren’t (necessarily) things you should do. Many people should not do many of the items on this list, and some of the items are exclusive, contradictory, or downright the reverse of what you should do. If your reaction to something is “I think that’s a bad idea,” then it probably is, and you probably shouldn’t do it.

  • classes & professors
    • attend classes you haven’t signed up for because you find them interesting
    • attend classes even if the waitlist is full
    • ask the professor to waive a prerequisite
    • ask the professor to join a class even if its full
    • drop a class that you don’t like
    • take a class because you really liked the professor, even if you’re not sure about the content of the class
    • cold email professors you don’t know, just asking to chat
    • show up to office hours for classes you aren’t a part of, just to chat with the professor
    • ask the professor questions about the things you’re not sure of
    • skip class(es) for great opportunities elsewhere
    • ask the professor if you can help them with anything in the class (grading, setting up assignments, editing papers, etc). professors have a long list of tasks, are perpetually behind, and encounter fairly correlated problems; if you track what problems your professors have, you can quite quickly become unreasonably useful for them
    • ask professors at the beginning of the semester what things would be most important to memorize, then throw their answers into an Anki deck
    • take non-credit courses or workshops in things like pottery, coding, or creative writing
  • studying
    • at places outside of your university:
      • coffeeshops
      • public libraries
      • coworking spaces
      • random offices, cold email them
    • start a study group for the class
      • ask the professor if you can announce that you’re starting a study group for the class in the class
      • start a group chat to ask questions about the class. this is one that everyone loves to be added to, and sometimes it just… doesn’t happen, because nobody took the initiative to create it
    • use Anki to study the things your professor said would be most important to memorize after you asked them at the beginning of the semester
    • learn the content of a class by using materials that the professor doesn’t point you toward (e.g. online textbooks/videos/tutors/etc)
    • hire a tutor
      • hire multiple tutors
      • hire a tutor purely so that you have to study for some class you hate — you might not need help, but if you're paying someone $x/h for their time, you'd better be studying
    • become a tutor in a subject you want to brush up on
    • use ChatGPT as a tutor
    • cowork
  • clubs
    • join clubs
      • join many clubs
      • join many different types of clubs. shortlist: sports clubs (even intramural), art clubs, research clubs, project-based clubs, religious/cultural clubs, community service clubs, pre-professional clubs, music clubs
    • show up at a club’s meeting that you’re not a part of
    • stop going to a club's meetings
      • completely stop without telling anyone
      • tell the club leaders why you’re stopping, and what changes would make you stay
      • tell the club leaders you’re considering stopping, and what changes would make you leave or stay
    • ask if you can help out at the next club event
      • ask this multiple times in a row
      • ask what’s preventing them from letting you help out yet
    • start your own club. notably, schools will often throw hundreds or even thousands of dollars of funding at you to start a club with a few friends, and you can do a lot of cool things by saying “hey, I run [x] club, could you [ask]?” (h/t Joey)
  • career capital
    • evaluate not just “will this be good for my career” but “is this among the best options given the limited resources (time, money, energy, etc) that i have” — and also “is there something else i can do with these resources that’d give me more career capital” or alternatively “is doing this in line with following rules that i endorse upon reflection?”
    • actually utilize the alumni center — you can find alumni in ~any industry, and most major companies, and many are happy & eager to chat with you
    • find events oriented to the career you want to go into
      • attend them
      • volunteer for them
      • offer to run or help out at the next one
    • organize events for undergrads interested in your career — the bar for “casual meetup for pre-____ students!” is pretty low, and you can probably get some money from the relevant department for food & drink
  • money
    • apply to random grants and fellowship programs (1, 2)
    • get a job
      • get a weekend job
      • get a part time job
      • get a job that means you rub shoulders with the types of people you want to be rubbing shoulders with — e.g. working at a golf course, or at the registration desk of a google office
      • ask the people doing the job that you want to do if you can also do that job right now
    • get a paid internship
  • friends
    • stay in your room 24/7 and make no friends
    • make friends with the first people you meet, even if you don’t like them, and then never find new friends (h/t Joey)
    • call your old friends out of the blue, especially the ones from high school that you haven’t talked to for a while. imagine if they called you out of the blue, you’d love it. you can just… do that to them.
    • have 1-1s with friends
    • join a frat
    • don’t join a frat
    • offer a friend to swap dorms for a weekend
    • offer a friend who goes to a different school to swap dorms for a weekend
    • offer a friend who goes to a different school to have them stay at your dorm for one weekend, then you’ll stay at their dorm for another
  • misc
    • optimize for:
      • your degree
      • making friends
      • finding (a) partner(s)
      • career capital
    • take time off
      • seriously, you can just… take a semester off, or a year off, or more. this is much more common than you realize, since there’s a huge amount of selection bias: you never see the students who take time off, because they’re not going to be campus.
      • drop out entirely
    • decorate your dorm rationally
    • use the gym — there will be ~no other time in your life during which you’ll have free access to a great gym whenever you want
  • intentionally & rapidly try out tons of various life improvements — you have a fairly regimented environment that, by default, controls for a number of confounding variables
  • leave campus (h/t Joey)
  • stay on campus
  • create art — this is one of the few times in your life you have access to kilns, or high-quality paints, or a glass-blowing shop, etc (h/t Joey)
  • write a thesis under an advisor (h/t Joey)
  • get involved with school admin — not just student union, but you can, e.g., do informal, independent research and make recommendations about dining, sustainability, etc. also, there are sometimes grants within schools, like sustainability grants from the administration. (h/t Joey)
  • most universities have pretty great art available for free
  • travel to random places on a weekend, stay with a friend/relative
  • make a personal website
  • start a blog

Inspired by this post and this post. Some other classic posts on college: What I Wish I Knew in College, College advice for people who are exactly like me, 17-20: a Retrospective on Four Years in College, Fury and Freedom: Four Years at Amherst College, Escaping High School (that one’s about high school, but much of it applies to college).

Note: there are a few things you can do in college that I don’t feel comfortable writing about publicly. Namely, drugs (including alcohol) and dating.

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  • show up to office hours for classes you aren’t a part of, just to chat with the professor

this is how I became friends with Po-Shen Loh. I would be the only person to show up to office hours, and we wouldn't even talk about math.

I feel like, "adopt a religious/moral stringency or observance" or stopping the same is also a key item here.

“Thing you should do in college” (and something I wish I’d known earlier): ensure that the (default) career environment in your field of study is aligned with your preferred working experience (and find out your actual preferred working experience).

I studied engineering and found the default “go to the office and work with a bunch of engineers” career environment unpleasant (and probably, largely unavoidable). I’m much happier after pivoting into a core interest and programming, etc., remotely.

I suspect the same applies in other professions—and may come as a shock to the graduate (for whom it is, probably, too late)—where, e.g., your love of the outdoors led you to believe you would be collecting soil samples in a bog everyday and instead you spend 95% of your days inside filing paperwork about bog permits.

At my university library, you can use Bloomberg Terminal, which usually costs $2,000 per month, for free.

that is... wild. thanks for sharing!

I feel like we can generalize this concept (feel free to write a post about it, I'm not going to)
People have a tendency to be passive. Merely taking an active rule in your own life probably puts you in the top 90% of students. But I believe that the next step is realizing that there are no rules or restrictions at all except those you create for yourself.

A new world opens up if one allows themselves to exit NPC mode, with paths which have never been taken before. But this is probably also gated by energy and courage to a large degree. I believe that not making excessive limitations for oneself is a main part of what "genius" is. Polymaths, for instance, realize that diciplines aren't actually different, isolated aspects of reality. Concepts like "biology" and "math" are human categories, not real separations.

That said, given that "write about flowers" is an easier task than "write whatever you want" (the latter often causing people to stare at a blank piece of paper with dread not knowing where to begin) there has to be a cognitive benefit to limitations as well.
For most people, a list of things you're allowed to do is probably the most helpful. But it's interesting to figure out why people don't see these possibilities naturally in the first place, to teach them how to "wake up" from this tunnel vision/purely reactive state, and of course identifying other areas of life where possibilities go undiscovered because of artificial limitations.

I'd summarize the core idea as "wake up", and I think it's similar to ideas like "question everything", critical thinking, openmindedness, curiousity. In short, entering a higher state of consciousness than the default stupor we're prone to. People beyond these ideals tend to be quite pushy, as being around people less conscious (or competent, intelligent, etc.) than oneself is frustrating in the long run.
Finally, some level of mental health is required for spontaneous behaviour and exploration. Those who lack them experienced something unpleasant that they never got over.

I will suggest that a potentially very-high-impact “thing you should do” (in / before college)—based on the selection effects of being on this website and reading this post—is seriously consider the possibility that you are some degree of autistic, likely masked by intelligence and achievement, and that not being aware of that possibility may (strongly, negatively) impact your ability to achieve items on the “can do” list in ways that will look confusing and inexplicable from the in- and outside.

In particular, read / listen about what an autism / high-intelligence combination feels like from the inside, and consider the explanatory power it holds for your experiences, e.g., other people read too much into your “tone” and not your carefully-chosen words and react unexpectedly (and apparently unreasonably); explaining the reasoning behind your decisions only makes things worse, you’re “arguing”, “trying to win”, “won’t let it go”, etc.; and various other misalignments between the information you communicate and how / if it is received.

(You may also wish to make the same considerations regarding ADHD, then, too.)

Disclaimer: I do not know that I would have listened if I read this five, or even two, years ago. But it is something that present-me wishes past-me had had. And for n=1, I believe that the risk and distress of continuing without this knowledge far outweighs the risk of changing one’s behavior due to a false positive.

(It is also possible that this comment already exists as implicit knowledge in the LessWrong community and I merely missed it in passing. But in a year-or-so-plus spent lurking, I did not find or absorb it.)

(Edit: I’ll write up a post about this.)


In my (limited) experience, in college, social relationships become more complex, which will likely put more strain on the social cognition capacity of an autistic person. Not to mention that ASD shares a lot of symptoms with ADHD, including executive function issues, which can make studying somewhat more difficult. But I’m not sure to what extent it’s something that people here already do, or what one would need to do about it.

On the other hand, I suspect it’s quite possible to be too keenly aware of your mental health issues: if you’re on social media and autistic, chances are you’ve learnt to define yourself as an autistic person, and maybe that makes you prone to saying things like "I won’t try that, I’m autistic so it’s likely that I won’t be very good at it", or "yes, I have trouble focusing on my work, I feel miserable, but I can make sense of it, it’s because of ASD somehow (=>nonono, go see a therapist you fool!)". So I’m not so sure whether your suggestion really is a good one. A better one would be "consider the possibility that you’re autistic and if it rings true go have it diagnosed (or not!) by someone reputable who can help you deal with it"

Once you have this information, what should you do with it if you think it's a positive?


Use it to identify and direct strategies / interventions / training / accommodation you may be able to make use of; and if you get a diagnosis, as ammunition in advocating for accommodations. Gain awareness of your strengths and limitations so that you can tailor your course load to reasonable expectations, and ask the appropriate staff for any accommodations you think would be helpful and reasonable: some examples include stepping out of class for short breaks, having some object like a computer or book that is helpful, assistance with the 'group' part of group projects, additional written rules for classroom etiquette and logistics, allowance to record or record/transcribe lectures for personal use and review, extra time if you need it for physically written tests, a typing device to replace physical writing in some circumstances, or whatever you personally could use.

Some of the communication skills that help and you may find are missing, relative to the general population, can be trained, but the people they come naturally to don't necessarily know they exist, so you might not have identified "what was missing" earlier. Likewise, knowing what of your communication skills don't automatically "translate" outside the people who get you. Networking specifically with people who "get you" may let you work the double empathy problem more to your benefit also; some fields do have a high concentration of ASD. (Computer science, engineering both come to mind, but certainly not just those.) But you'll still likely want to learn to work with companies with non-expert protective membranes when you are actually looking for a job in the field.

If you have sensory issues, understanding them can help with adjusting your environment to ease up on your stress levels. If mind/body connection is making you clumsy, taking up occupational therapy, sports, martial arts or similar physical coordination practice might help and help in other areas. 

Try to avoid treating the wrong thing. This is a bit trial and error, but for example, I had basically no useful response to prescribed antidepressants, and neither some of my peers. Treating tension from being at heightened alertness, and therefore stress, to the world is much more effective.

If your communication difficulties include something like selective mutism, learning to utilize augmented and alternative communication effectively can help keep you conversing even when your literal voice is not available. You may not recognize this difficulty immediately if you can usually talk with effort. I did not recognize it fully myself until working 8-hour cashier shifts and finding my voice simply did not do anything eventually, but in hindsight, often feeling like you're wading through increasingly thick molasses to converse and not being able to say something in stressful situations ...

Losing language entirely is a bit more extreme than that, and not something I am too familiar with, though obviously I wouldn't be writing much if I'm shut down or in a more panicked meltdown. That's more a matter of priorities, though, and needing to decompress before doing literally anything. If you happen to have this issue check for advice from someone who is sometimes nonverbal (as in, losing language, not losing voice like the mutism I mentioned earlier) if there's something helpful to do about it.

... I have no idea what would have stopped me from something like self-sabotaging by underreporting the work I contributed on a group project; but having allied advocates who could speak up for me when I stopped being able to say anything directly was very helpful there. Making use of the services of a counselor can also help with getting past those kind of mental blocks, and the university will often make those services available, though of course not all mental health service providers have equal skill and familiarity with whatever you're working on. It can help just to push in the direction of solving problems; if you don't get good results that's an update at least.

"In particular, read / listen about what an autism / high-intelligence combination feels like from the inside"

Could you please provide a list of all the resources you know of that fit this category?

Regrettably, I happened upon much of what I’ve read haphazardly, and I am not (personally) aware of specific resources in the rationalist tradition.

I will link you to two sites that I can quickly recall—but I would recommend reading them in order to build your own intuitive framework about autism—not with the rigor I would expect of more rationalism-adjacent blogs (i.e., they are aimed at the general internet audience).

“Monotropism,” a trait that may characterize autism

“The Double Empathy Problem”