A message from an uncle to his nieces as they start college


I remember the days you were both born and less than three months apart. You brought great joy to my brothers, sisters-in-law and our extended families. Now you are both entering college and I wanted to give you some advice. Having no children of my own, and hoping to one day have children, I thought it best to record some of my feelings.

I’ve had the joy of being a doting chacha (uncle). For many years I could watch you grow, attend birthday parties, participate in activities and then pass you back to your parents.  Uncles enjoy the best parts of parenting without the responsibilities. You have both grown up to become wonderful young adults.

Still in your teenage years and ready to take on the world. Having spent my own childhood obsessed with college admissions and watching your journeys I offer you the following advice:

  1. The college experience is a privilege not a right. With online resources, college-level courses, podcasts and blogs, you could achieve a world-class education for free online. Appreciate that a university community enhances the learning experience.
  2. Learn as much as you can in the next four years. Both from your professors and classmates.  You will be surrounded by mentors.  
  3. Universities have vast resources available to you. Take advantage of them. Libraries are places to study and explore. The book you find in the stacks will have resources adjoining ready to be discovered. Google Books & Wikipedia are nice starts but originality comes from researching primary sources. 
  4. Remember that borrowed & purchased books should not simply collect dust. Books are meant to be opened, read, and enjoyed. You may not read every book in the curriculum and you will be fascinated that your classmates “read that book in high school.” Learn at your own pace and seek help when you don’t understand concepts.
  5. More than 25 years after graduating college, one of my biggest regrets is that I did not go to professor office hours often enough. You’ll be surrounded by world-class faculty and graduate students who have the skills to teach you outside the lecture hall.  Honor and respect them. Seek out your teachers for help. They are not there to complete your coursework. Rather, come prepared with questions and ask them to guide you in the journey of learning.
  6. Learn gratitude.  Write to teachers, counselors and mentors to thank them for helping you along your journey.  A text message doesn’t count.  Put pen to paper.
  7. Be careful not to judge yourself against your peers. You are now surrounded by many more classmates who have natural abilities which you do not have.
  8. Remember that success depends on those who have grit.  Success and failure are both part of success. You cannot be successful in life unless you fail on occasion. The mark of success is being able to give your best effort, be knocked down, and still stand up and fight again. (Read Teddy Roosevelt’s In The Arena and watch my high school classmate Angela Lee Duckworth’s TED Talk before the first day of class.)
  9. Surround yourself with classmates that inspire you. Find ways to avoid those who do not inspire you or take away from your learning & growth experiences.
  10. Limit social media.  Every post you make will be reviewed by graduate school admissions officers and human resource departments.  Turn your phone into airplane mode, set an alarm for 30-60 minutes and then study uninterrupted. (I learned this from Shane Parrish’s wonderful Farnam Street blog & The Knowledge Project podcast.)

In four years I hope to be at your graduation. I hope that you will look upon these next few years as a learning experience. I hope that you will utilize the unlimited resources that are available to you.

If you need help, assistance, or an ear to listen to, I’m here for you. Your parents, siblings and extended families are here for you. You are surrounded by those who want you to succeed in life. Do not waste these next four years on stress, the loss of learning opportunities, nor regret.


Ravi Chacha


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