What strikes me as unusual is how few personal projects do most of them have. And I'm not talking here about A students that barely have enough time to learn for school and do the teacher's projects. I'm talking about normal students that don't seem to have very high grades, nor work to earn a living and yet they also don't have any personal projects to talk about.
Computer programmers are lucky. Unlike other professions, we can easily afford to buy the top-level tools and have free access to a lot of information to learn about our trade. A physics student can't really buy his own particle accelerator but by all means any student already has everything the best computer programmer in the world has: a PC and access to internet. That's all there is!
And if you care about computers there's also the University resources. For example, if you want to play with a cluster -- the University has one. Or, Amazon's EC2 machines are cheap enough you can experiment a bit if you are really passionate about.
This might be the gist of it: you need to be passionate about it.
I remember an old Eddie Murphy from the 1980s called Coming to America where Eddie is a prince that has everything, including a gorgeous groups of half-naked women as his personal "bathers". His father has a nice line somewhere in the movie:
Son, I know we never talked about this. I always assumed you had sex with your bathers. I know I do.
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