Katie Ledecky’s Top 5 Lessons for College Students

15-Time World Champion, Olympic Gold Medalist and recent college graduate Team Visa’s Katie Ledecky shares her methods for success

It’s often tough to plan in times of great uncertainty, and that’s especially true for college students. Being a college student means you’re already in a period of transition, and with no clear idea of what the next five years will look like (let alone the next five months) amidst an ever-evolving pandemic, it’s especially difficult to connect with mentors who can help you reach your goals.

If there’s anyone who knows about solving challenges and reaching goals, it’s legendary Olympian and recent Stanford University graduate Katie Ledecky. She’s broken 14 world records and 37 American records for swimming while competing in competitions all the way up to the Olympics. That’s why, thanks to Visa, Capital One chatted with the Team Visa athlete to tap into her wisdom in support of the college student community.

Finding Mentors: Stay Ever Curious

Mentors come in many forms, and finding the right mentor or mentors (yes, you can and should have more than one!) may seem daunting at first. It’s all about finding people that help us define and express who we wish to be. For Ledecky, she’s found success finding mentorship by keeping a mindset that embraces curiosity. “I found mentorship by asking questions, being open to advice and guidance, and exploring many different subject areas in school,” she says. 

In fact, it was one of her professors who went above and beyond the call of duty who’s made one of the biggest impressions on Ledecky. Rather than just stamping a letter grade with a mild critique on her assignments, Ledecky says the professor wrote responses and evaluations that were even longer than the original paper itself. 

“It showed me how much she cared about expanding her students’ learning,” she says. “This same professor from my first quarter has continued to check-in with me from time to time, and writes messages of support ahead of my big swim meets.”

Define: What Does Success Mean to You?

We all like to picture that moment when we cross the finish line. There is no better feeling than meeting a goal – it’s the summation of progress and patience after a long period of sacrifice. But in order to have that moment – in school, professionally, or personally – you actually have to know where the finish line is. In other words, you have to set a goal. 

It’s also important to think about the different types of goals you can set. For example, you can set daily goals in service of a larger goal. For Ledecky, that means practicing every day so that she’s at the top of her game by the time she’s at the Olympics. Each time she sets foot in the pool, it’s a small success in a long series leading to a much bigger success. 

“I’ve always been very goal-oriented, whether in the pool or in life, and it’s served me well on my way to becoming an Olympic athlete and graduating from Stanford,” says Ledecky. 

It’s also important to think about your personal goals too, since these will give you the freedom to reach your professional goals. For example, if you want to be financially independent by the time you graduate, setting a goal to establish good credit and build savings can help you get there.


Benchmark Yourself: Expand Your Progress

Once you know where you’re heading, it’s also important to track your progress and expand your success to other facets of your life, says Ledecky. She keeps a daily journal for her swimming practice, but also supplements it with her progress towards other goals and experiences. 

“Along the way, I have begun to apply my goal-orientated mindset to establish certain financial goals to align my spending and saving habits to short-, medium- and long-term aspirations.”

Your financial tools can also help you track your progress towards your goals. When used responsibly, the Visa Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One can help students start a foundation of credit history to build on in the future. 

When thinking about expanding your success, consider how credit is key to establishing financial independence and helping you reach your personal goals like applying for an apartment or financing a car. 

Build a Dream Team of Mentors

Ledecky has reached some amazing goals, but she couldn’t have done it alone. Over the years she’s worked with an army of coaches, teammates, professors, and classmates, all of whom have rallied behind her in different ways. 

It’s rare that one person can give you all the things you need to grow and accomplish varied goals, so it’s important to stay aware and open to all of the mentorship opportunities that come your way. Mentors and accountability partners can take a wide variety of forms such as individual relationships with people you look up to in your life or formal mentoring programs.

Don’t Be Afraid to Explore

Ledecky has reached the height of her game, but she’s committed to staying curious. She has one last message for college students following in her footsteps: “don’t be afraid to explore a variety of fields or interests in college. You may find advisors or mentors in areas you may not expect.”

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