It's pretty crazy to me that I've already been out of school for over a year. Although that isn't a lengthy amount of time, I feel like I have already grown as a designer. When I get together with my old classmates we always end up talking about the late nights we spent in the design lab and all the things we would have done differently. It's true that there are some things that you can only learn through real world experience and not in a classroom, but looking back, I know there are things I could have done differently to save me less stress. Sadly, I can't travel back in time to fix my bad habits and poor design choices, but I can offer some advice to current students in the hopes that they won't make the same mistakes I did.
1. Backup EVERYTHING!
I get anxious just thinking about this... but there was a time when I stored all my school projects on a single flash drive. I didn't have copies of my files backed up in multiple places. In fact, I didn't have my files backed up anywhere. Due to my laziness, I ended up losing my flash drive with one of my favorite projects on it. I'm sure you can imagine just how much I was freaking out. I was running around trying to retrace my steps and recruiting my friends and anybody around to help me search for it. With external hard drives, dropbox, and google drive, there's really no excuse not to backup your projects. Not only will it save you from losing your only copy of a file, but it's an essential practice for when you create work for clients.
2. Revisit projects after critiques
This is something that I've always found strange. Whenever we would have a class critique and present our project, it seemed as though nobody would ever revisit the project afterward. My professor would often say, "Projects don't die at critique". I remember hearing it, but not really understanding what it meant. The whole purpose of getting feedback from your professor and classmates is to learn what's working and not working about your design. Instead of brushing off your classmates feedback, I would encourage you to revise your project while their feedback is fresh in your mind. In the real world, when you present a project to a client, it isn't going to be the last time you touch it. There will always be revisions and edits that need to be made.
3. Don't take it personally
I wish I could go back and shake myself and say "YOU ARE NOT YOUR WORK!". It's so easy to take criticism to heart and let it affect you on a personal level. I definitely was guilty of this, and I'm still learning to brush off negative comments about my work. My junior year I went to a portfolio review and had my work reviewed by a professional designer. my heart sank as I sat there watching him flip through the pages of my portfolio and rip apart project after project. I remember being so upset by his opinion of my work that I didn't even care about the positive things he or the other reviewers had to say about my work. I let it hurt my confidence and for a long time I felt like an idiot. The reality is that not everyone is going to like your work, and that's okay. Try to realize that a bad response to your design doesn't mean you're a bad designer. Take it as an opportunity to improve and learn.
4. Focus less on style and more on technique
I remember in school everyone was always talking about what kind of designer they were and what their "style" was. I think there's a misconception in school that you need a distinct "style" to do well as a designer, but I don't necessarily agree. Yes, It's great to have a personal style as a designer and be known for something, in particular, BUT professionally, you'll have to adapt to what the client needs. The style is something that shows naturally through your work, so don't get caught up or worried in figuring it out. I wish I had spent more time improving my design process and learning the software.
5. Design outside of the classroom
This is probably one of the most important habits to get into. I'm not talking about working on your class projects outside of class because you should already be doing that. I'm talking about working on a personal project or client work in your free time. Trust me, I know that between 15-18 credit hours, working a part-time job, studying for exams, and trying to keep a social life, it's hard to make time to work on anything else. I wish I had taken the initiative to create work on my own so I had a variety of work for my portfolio. When it comes time to put together your portfolio, you'll be thankful that you did that side project or designed that logo for your dads' friend because you'll have more work to select from and be able to tailor your portfolio for whichever job you're applying to.
Of course, there's probably 20 more topics I could name off of the top of my head but I hope that these top 5 pieces of advice help you thrive in your design classes and as a young designer.