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Wall St. CEO: 100 things I wish someone had told me before college

The Handler family (Instagram: @Handlerrich)

It’s that time of the year when high school seniors anxiously check the mail for college acceptance letters. Come August and September, they’ll begin some of the most exciting and formative years of their lives when they step on campus.

Longtime investment bank CEO, Richard Handler, who runs Jefferies and its parent company Leucadia National (LUK), has some advice for these 18-year-olds. The 55-year-old father of four recently dug up a letter he wrote to each of his kids — Max, Shane, Hunter, and Skylar — before they went off to college. The letter lists 100 things he wishes someone had told him before college.

In the note, Handler shares some reminders like wear clean clothes, keep your dorm room tidy, eat well, and work out. He also encourages the kids to sit in the front of the classroom and get to know their professors, deans, advisors, and school president. He encourages them to take their headphones off when walking around campus, and to expand their friendship network beyond just their roommate. He also warns against drug use, unwanted pregnancies, and getting labeled a “partier.”

On Wall Street, Handler has a reputation for sending memos and letters to his employees and clients, offering words of wisdom. He sent his children a modified and personalized version of the letter posted below:

Dear Max, Shane, Hunter, and Skylar,

100 things in no particular order that I wish someone told me before I went to college.  I’m sure you already know each of them and more.  But just in case you ever need a reminder, I’ve written them down for you:

1.  Get to know the President of the University,  the Trustees, the senior staff, and your advisor(s).  Those relationships can enhance your experience and who knows, maybe they will become friends, mentors, or sources of letters of recommendation.  They run the place, and they want to help students.  They are just people–and they were in your spot once.

2.  Get to know your professors personally.  Now is the time to be assertive, open, and friendly….and establish real relationships.

3.  Sit in the front of the room.  It may not be cool, but it is time for that mentality.

4.  Get off to a great start academically.  The way the math works, it is really hard to come back from bad grades early on…sometimes impossible.

5    Join clubs and get involved.  Do it right from the start.  This is a clean slate and an opportunity to really step it up.  It doesn’t matter if you haven’t done this to your full ability thus far.  It is the perfect time to begin.

6. It’s never too early to start working on summer jobs.  Now is the time to build your resume and get experience.  Real summer jobs, while you are in college, create a huge advantage in getting a job you want upon graduation.

7.  When you wear your headphones and listen to music all the time, you are purposely shutting out people who you would otherwise be meeting.  Understand that you are making a conscious decision not to meet people and it will be your loss.  There is always time in your dorm to listen to music when you are truly alone.

8.  Work out consistently. This is a no brainer.  No excuse not to.

9.  Never use cocaine, pills or narcotics whatsoever.  Not even once.  If you fall down that slope, there may be little chance of return.  Sometimes it only takes once.  

10.  You are about to be 18 and will be tried out of state as an adult for any illegal behavior.  There is nothing anyone can do to help you.  This is all on you now.

11.  It is a great time to start taking classes that you are excited about.  It doesn’t matter so much what you take, as long as you do your very best.  Be adventurous.

12.  It is very cool to be smart and do well.  Find friends that agree with this.  It is perfectly great to work hard and play hard, as long as you are smart and in control.

13.  Treat all women with respect.  How would you want someone to treat your sister?  Act that way.

14.  Do not get anyone pregnant or take a stupid chance and wind up with a lifelong disease.

15.  You really need an overall 3.5 and above grade point average to maximize your opportunities once you graduate.  It should be higher in whatever you major in.  That is an A- average and it is hard to achieve.  Life will not end if you don’t attain it.  If you don’t go for it, you will never know what could have been.

16.  It is not too early to get to know people at the Business School or other Graduate Schools.  Go see them.  Talk with the Deans.  Get to know the people.  Tell them you may be attending one day (you never know) and enlist their advice on how to get yourself to where they are.    

17.  This is your chance to start fresh.  It could mean anything you may want to change and improve.  You rarely get this clean slate in life so take maximum advantage.  Don’t fall back into bad habits.  Start the change now.

18.  Get into a regular routine as quickly as possible.  Study, workout, friends, and fun activities.  There is time for all, if you are organized. You cannot have a room that is a pig pen.  You need to be organized right from the start and stay that way.

19.  You will not be able to cram at the last second like you did in high school and do well.  If you keep up regularly, it will be easy to get good grades given how smart you really are.  You are not smart enough to coast in college and do well–few are.

20.  See the professors immediately if you are having any issues.  If you don’t take advantage of office hours, you are making a huge mistake.  Do NOT wait until it is too late.

21.  Come home as often as you want.  We will always pay for it.

22.  Learn how to manage your money.  We will give you parameters on what you have, but it will be up to you to live within those parameters.

23.  Plan your vacations with your friends ahead.  You will get cheap flights and if you plan it, you will actually do something as opposed to having it all fall apart at the last minute.  You are always welcome to come with us on every vacation.  You need to give us enough notice that you want to come so we can plan accordingly.  If you say you are coming with us, you can’t bag us at the last minute.

24.  There is no excuse not to reply to text messages from your parents (or other relatives) promptly.  We are going to miss you an awful lot and want to be included in what is going on.

25.  Call us often.  When you are alone walking in between classes is usually a good time.  There is never a bad time.

26.  Don’t spend all of your time with your roommate or any one person.  Circulate and meet lots of people.

27.  Be as outgoing as you can stand.

28.  I said it before; it is COOL to be smart.

29.  Be careful, aware and respectful of the locals when you are out.  Almost all of them are fine people, but campus is a protected world and the real world is not.

30.  Participate in class.

31.  Stay organized.

32.  Eat well and balanced.

33.  Never get yourself in a party situation where something is getting out of control.  Stop the problem or leave if you can’t.  Always be that person who calls for help when it is needed.  You know better.   Who needs it?

34.  Never drink and drive or get in the car with someone else who has. Students are wonderful targets for law enforcement, and you will deserve what you get.  You could also really hurt someone or yourself.

35.  Remember, in college there is an honor code  One slip up, and you are gone.  They don’t give second chances.

36.  Volunteer helping someone.

37.  Don’t fall behind with credits.  Don’t take too many or two few.  If in doubt, coordinate with your advisor so there are no “surprises.”  

38.  Try to start figuring out what you want to major in day one.  You don’t have to decide for quite a while, but just start thinking about it.  Apply yourself in each class like it may be your major…it might be.

39.  Always think before you act.

40.  Study groups are really good….if done well.

41.  Don’t get labeled as a partier or a cool kid.  Those are not compliments, and it won’t help you.

42.  Dress reasonably.  It matters.  Groom yourself.  You know what that means without me spelling it out.

43.  Get enough sleep.

44.  Read the papers (online is fine) every day and keep up with what is happening in the real world.  Don’t live in a bubble.

45.  Attend the presentations of speakers who come to campus as often as you can.  You will always learn something, and it might be your future career speaking to you. Go up after they speak.  Make contacts.  Follow up.

46.  It’s OK to miss us.

47.  Stay in contact with your siblings–stay attached.  

48.  Stay in touch with Grammy and Pappy.  They are the only grandparents you have, and they worship and love you.  We will all miss them one day, and it will be too late.  College is not an excuse to lose touch.

49.  Don’t just wait for Grammy and Pappy to contact you.  You initiate (email is easy and often—a phone call will mean more on occasion).

50.  Never lie.

51.  Always be polite.

52.  Be proud.  You are at a great school, and you deserve to be there.

53.  Understand that college is really tough for some people.  Be empathetic and help those in need.

54.  Wear clean clothes.

55.  Get your room organized and fully set up immediately.

56.  Don’t lose your books and if you do, get a new one immediately.  

57.  Get your work done so you can watch every Giants football game guilt free.

58.  Always do your best.

59.  First impressions count.

60.  You will only get out of college what you put into it.

61.  Doing OK is not OK unless that is truly your very best.

62.  You can always call your parents for advice at any time on anything.

63.  You can always call your parents and tell them what you are thinking of doing and not ask for any advice.

64.  When you come home, you still have to respect us and abide by our rules of the house.

65.  Every grade you get will ultimately affect your chances of a top graduate school or job.  Don’t forget this.  It doesn’t mean you need to get all A’s.  It just means you need to respect each professor and class.  

66.  Even when professors suck, it isn’t an excuse to do cruddy in the class.

67.  Take some small classes.  There will be a lot of reading and work, but you will get a lot out of it.  

68.  Make sure you take at least one religion, psychology, sociology, and philosophy class.  They will change you as a human being if you apply yourself.

69.  Take at least a few economics classes. Can’t hurt.

70.  Don’t drink too much.  It is a slippery slope.  

71.  Don’t blow off orientation events because you were there already.  You will meet new people.  Don’t be “too cool for school.”  

72.  Choose your friends really carefully and be a great friend to them.

73.  Don’t be intimidated by anyone.

74.  Don’t be arrogant or overconfident.

75.  Integrity, honesty, and directness.  Those qualities win every time.

76.  Don’t blame bad grades on anyone but yourself.

77.  Extra effort does make a difference, and people notice.

78.  Come home for Thanksgiving and other holidays.  We want to be with you.  It will be a nice break.

79.  This will be a fantastic period in your life.  Don’t take it for granted and enjoy every moment.

80.  When you are sick, go directly to the health services center and get better right away.

81.  Stay in touch with your old high school friends but don’t be too shocked when you realize you are growing apart.  If they are really good friends, you will eventually reconnect–even if you drift away for a while.

82.  Ask questions.

83.  Don’t be shy.

84.  Be politely assertive.

85.  Be yourself.

86.  Enjoy your social media but remember that every future employer and graduate school will also enjoy it.

87.  Never forget who you are or where you came from.

88.  Be kind always.  Should be easy for you.

89.  Stand up for the underdog always.

90.  Never allow anyone to be bullied.

91.  Realize how smart, fast, charismatic, and sensitive you are.  You are a natural leader. It is awesome, but there is a responsibility that comes with being the leader we all know you can be.

92.  Realize the power of your words and always choose them wisely.

93.  Go out of your way to make friends with people who are really different than you.  You will be amazed at what you will learn about them and about yourself.

94.  Plan ahead always.

95.  Live for the moment as well.

96.  Smile every day knowing that you are at a great school with an amazing campus and you are going to have a ton of fun.

97.  Appreciate that you are there for academics first.

98.  Stay connected with the rest of your family here…aunts, uncles, cousins, etc….at the end of the day, all we have is family.  Mom is going to miss you more than anyone on the planet.  Keep her included in your life…..but not too much!

99. Realize that you are a man now and understand everything that comes with it.

100.  Know that I could not love you more.  I will miss you dearly.  I could not be prouder of you.  I feel like we really spent a lot of good time together this past year and it is going to torture me not to have you at the Giant’s tailgates or playing Call Of Duty or shooting hoops.  You are going to have an amazing experience and you deserve it.  All I ask is that you take these scribbles out at least once each semester and remind yourself of what I am saying.  You will make mistakes and nothing is ever perfect, but a good roadmap never hurt anyone who had an important destination to get to.  You have an important destination, and while I’m no longer with you on the daily journey, my love, spirit and whatever wisdom I can offer will always be here for you. Congratulations and enjoy!

Love Always,

Dad

Handler is also on Twitter and Instagram.


Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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