College Advice from the Man with 30 Degrees

Expert tips for navigating college life.

By Kathryn Knight Randolph

October 07, 2016

College Advice from the Man with 30 Degrees

Michael Nicholson is 75 years old. He has been in college for 55 years. And he holds 30 degrees in total – one Bachelor’s, two Associate’s, 23 Masters, three specialist and one Ph.D. With all of that experience, he probably knows a thing or two about what it takes to be a successful college student.

Vice interviewed Nicholson and asked him about this thoughts on today’s college students as well as what advice he would impart. And as college experts ourselves, we’ve weighed in on his points.

1. Develop a routine.

Every day, Nicholson wakes up at 4 a.m. and walks two miles. While he acknowledges that this may not be for everyone, it’s more about establishing a routine. And we agree. Try to wake up at a reasonable hour each morning so that you’re not rushing to class. Keep mornings calm and relaxed so that you start your long days on campus off on the right foot.

2. Dress to impress.

Nicholson doesn’t love the way college students dress these days, to put it nicely. Though we think it’s a little far-fetched to expect men to wear suits and ties and women to wear dresses and have their hair perfectly curled; the sentiment is understandable. College is kind of like the dress rehearsal before the real world.

You don’t need to walk around in business attire with your resume on hand, but you should put some effort into what you wear and how often you shower. You never know who could be guest lecturing in class or who you might run into on campus or at an event. You may have a better chance of making a positive impression in a more polished outfit than you do in sweatpants and a fun bun.

3. Get along with your roommate, and meet other people.

Of his first college roommate, Nicholson says they were total opposites. His roommate was vocal and emotional while he preferred quiet, but that didn’t keep him from engaging with his roommate. At the end of their year living together, he had learned so much from living with someone so different than him.

He also highlights the importance of being a good listener so that people feel open and comfortable talking with you. Ask them questions in return. The more people you meet; the more you’ll learn about the world. That’s not just great advice for college; that’s great advice for life.

4. Work while you’re in school.

Unlike the average college student today, Nicholson has managed to complete all of his degrees debt-free. He acknowledges the difficulty of doing so these days, though. It was always easy for him to find a job delivering newspapers or working in a factory. Students today struggle a little more with finding opportunities. Plus, the demands of today’s jobs may require longer hours, which means less time for studying and taking courses.

Students should look for on-campus opportunities to work and use the paychecks to pay for tuition. Work study and campus jobs are generally more accommodating to the demands of student schedules. 5. Figure out what you love, and stay in school.

For Nicholson, finding what he loved to study wasn’t a problem – he loved everything! But his love for a variety of subjects is what drew him to continue pursuing degree programs. His advice for college students is to find that one thing that you really love and do it because you’re more likely to stay in college and complete your degree.

We love this parting piece of advice from Nicholson. College isn’t just about getting a degree so you can get a job. It’s about discovering new people and ideas, shaping your world view and pursuing whatever it is that inspires the most passion in you.

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