Working Smarter, Week 3: Find Your Posse in College

I met my friend Gerry on the Greyhound bus heading to freshman orientation. I got on at the first stop, and he at the second. Four hours later, by the time we arrived in Boston, we were fast friends. I had briefed him about all the people I had met during the previous summer while attending a bridge program on campus, and I learned a lot about his family.

Gerry and I were connected at the hip for the first two years of college before our academic paths diverged, Gerry in mechanical engineering, and me in materials science and engineering. We lived in the same dorm, took many of the same classes, partied together, and even liked the same girls (though Gerry mostly won them over).

In college, you need friends with whom you can joke and goof off, but who also aren’t ashamed to talk about their grades and schoolwork. With some students, and certainly from my experience in high school until I found my posse, talking about schoolwork was off-limits. That’s wrong!

If that’s the way your college posse rolls, then you need to find a new set of friends. Here are three ways to form your posse in college.

Discover Your Posse

Find a posse that is mutually supportive in reaching your individual and collective goals. It won’t all happen at once. Friendships and social bonds take time through natural evolution. Your peer connections will and should continue to evolve throughout your college years.

Establish a Pact

Without knowing it, Gerry and I had an unwritten pact, a commitment to see each other through at least through the first two years when we were close.

As a freshman seminar leader, I had my incoming freshmen create an “Achievement Contract”, a pact that would encapsulate their goals and inspire and guide them over the next four years of college. After they came up with the terms of their agreement, I typed them up and had each student sign them. They would place the signed contract in the front of the seminar binder so each week they would be reminded of their commitments to each other.

Here’s an example of an Achievement Contract for one of my advising groups:

1. Maintain a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 4.5 (on a 5.0 scale) or better.
2. Graduate with a bachelor’s degree in four years or less.
3. Attend all classes, recitations, seminars, and appointments on time, unless physically unable.
4. Do all readings before class meetings and to complete/submit no late work.
5. Pursue graduate studies (Master’s or Doctoral) within one year of graduating with the bachelor’s degree.
6. Commit to and perform at least one sustainable community service project/activity per academic year.
7. Establish a relationship with at least four professors who could potentially serve as recommenders.

It worked. Though there were times when I had to remind them of their contract, these occasions were rare. Because they were their terms (not mine), they internalized and owned them.

Avoid the Crabs in the Barrel

While every group of friends shouldn’t have “a specific purpose”, you should be careful not to allow any connection to distract you from your academic, personal, and career goals. Many of us regrettably form friendships because of the social currency they bring us. In other words, you’re popular because you run with the popular crowd. However, when those connections draw you away from being proud of your academic accomplishments, then you need to change your network. Here’s the test: If your peers make you uncomfortable about celebrating an “A” on an exam, then you’re running with the wrong posse. Period!

Everyone needs a Gerry!

For more tips, check out “Working Smarter, Not Just Harder: Three Sensible Strategies for Succeeding in College…and Life” available on