June 09, 2004
Graduation Present

In just a few short weeks our very own Nina, sister-in-law extraordinaire, will graduate High School. While my first memory of her is a three-and-half-foot-tall ten-year-old punk rushing down the stairs, shouting as she went by, "you're the one dating my sister?!?" [fingers in an L shape slapped to her forehead] "LOSER!!!", I must say that, first impressions notwithstanding, she's turned out pretty decent after all.

However, she, like thousands of other 17 and 18-year-olds, is now staring over the precipice of adolescence and into the chasm of adulthood. If my experience is any indication, lots and lots of people are now emphasizing to all these kids how important it is to move on to college and graduate, but not a one is providing them with any real practical advice as to how to go about it. Which is where we come in...

AMCGLTD's Guide to Getting out of College with a Degree

  • First and foremost, understand one thing: this is the way you're going to live the rest of your life. Once you walk out that door, you will not be coming back. If this doesn't make you feel a little queasy (hell it's nearly 20 years later and it still makes me queasy), you're not paying attention. Get used to it now while you still can.
  • Choose a major, any major, and stick with it. As Joseph Campbell once said, "follow your bliss", parents and peers bedamned. College teaches you how to learn, not get a job. Learn about something that interests you now, and the tools you gain in the doing will help you get whatever job you want.
  • Go to class. No, really, just go. This sounds stupid and easy... after all, that's what you do now, right? Wrong. Nobody makes you go to class in college, and dragging your ass out of bed for classes you don't understand and professors you hate will be the hardest thing you've ever done. But there are real advantages.

    Showing up every damned day will get your face noticed by the professor, who might actually start to care a little (see below) and bail your butt out of a jam if you need it. Showing up every damned day will mean you can get by without some of the massive amounts of homework college buries you under. Showing up every damned day for four years in a row, and paying at least a little bit of attention, doing a little bit of homework, taking just a few notes, will almost guarantee your graduation.

  • Stay the hell away from credit cards. This will start out being easy, but will end up being the second hardest thing you do (aside from graduating itself). Entering college will mean most all of you will have jumped from luxurious independence to indentured servitude in a matter of months. It's happened so fast that none of you will even notice it for at least another year. You'll be dealing with it for probably the next fifteen.

    "Independence?!?" I can hear you all cry out, "this is not independence! Independence is what I'm going to, not coming from."

    Wrong-o. You're confusing social independence with economic independence. This will be the very first time in your life where the economic decisions you make will be the difference between having what you want and getting what you need. There really will come a time when it's down to getting Manson's (or Korn's, or BEP's, or Jay-Z's, or whoever it is you damned kids listen to nowadays) new CD or getting groceries. When (not if) this happens, the siren song of easy credit will be deafening. Most of your friends will succumb, which will make your ragged sweatshirt, torn jeans, and Ramen noodles even harder to bear.

    As someone who only just now, after more than a decade of trying, got himself out from under the debt hole he'd dug himself in his college years, I won't preach to you how credit cards are wrong or evil, or that you should throw them all away. I'll just say they're stupid, and they'll make you do stupid things if you're not damned careful with them. Become a mean cheap bastard, and if you ever catch yourself seeing credit cards as an opportunity, cut them up now.

  • If you go to orientation or some big introduction assembly, look to your left, then look to your right. Those people aren't going to graduate. College is that brutal. Now sigh and feel sorry for them, because you're the one getting out with the prize.
  • Never take a class before 9:00 am or after 2:00 pm if you can possibly avoid it. The people around you saying, "how hard can it be? High school classes start at 7:30!" are idiots, and will not graduate. 9:00-ish classes don't condone laziness, they give you invaluable cram time to bone up on exams and finish papers. If a class you must take is only available at 7:30, take an elective now and take the required class next semester. I'm serious, it's really that important.

    Late classes are different, in that they cut into your study/leisure/work time, and make job scheduling more complex than it has to be. Avoid them when possible.

  • "Gappy" schedules can work to your advantage, as long as the gap isn't too long. You'll get an hour or two of free time to study, work on projects, or read without the discipline pressure you'll face back at the dorm or the apartment.
  • Don't be afraid to drop a class, especially if the problems you're having are caused by the instructor. Nobody pays attention to "incomplete" marks on your transcript, but everyone pays attention to your GPA. Only a moron tries to "tough it out" with an instructor who can't teach them.
  • Understand that college instructors do not care about you. You'll be dealing either with grad students who have problems of their own or tenured professors who could screw the Dean's daughter in the main square and not get fired for it. Mommy and daddy have no leverage with these people, and neither will you. Students who go to class thinking the instructors will catch them if they fall are going to end up as colorful splats on the pavement below.
  • You are not the smartest person in this school. You will not be able to bullshit your way out of an answer you don't know, or to an A you don't deserve. Try it at your peril.
  • Don't envy athletes, pity them. In sane colleges they're working their butts off pleasing two masters, the coach and the teacher. In an NCAA division 1 school, they're probably recruited, on a scholarship, have no idea what they're doing, and are essentially doomed from the start. They'll live high on the hog for awhile, but ten years from now they'll be asking, "you want fries with that?"
  • Learn how to use a washer and dryer. Nothing screams "stupid freshman" like a pretty well-scrubbed face staring cow-eyed at a washing machine. Except maybe for the ones who go to class with pink socks.
  • Cherish your weekends. You can completely cut loose between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning with essentially no consequences (well, as long as you stay out of jail). Under no circumstances hang out with people who want to party on any other day (or night). They will not graduate.
  • Always keep in mind the weekend ends on Sunday morning, not Monday morning. Be wary of attempts to squeeze one more night of partying out of the weekend, and don't hang out with people who make a habit of it. They will not graduate.
  • Travel. This is the only time in your life when you're supposed to be able to stuff everything important to you in the back of a car. Learn how to read a map, and take "we've never been there before!" as a challenge instead of a roadblock. If you have a reliable car, make sure you use it at least once a month to go somewhere (parent's houses don't count!)
  • Give your roommate a chance, but don't stick with a psycho. They're not worth it, because they're not going to graduate. If you try to stay with them, they'll make sure you don't either. Get out quickly.
  • Expect drama, ridiculous drama. The vast majority of college students will be living away from home for the first time, and far too many will be making some of the dumbest decisions of their lives. Don't let the personal politics of your new peers take your eyes off the prize.
  • Expect romance, grownup romance. The kind that can and often does lead to marriage. This is not high school, where you were surrounded by layers of safety nets keeping your hormones from ruining your life. Don't get me wrong... casual is now very casual; you can boink everyone within reach if you like without garnering a "reputation". But keep in mind serious is also now very serious. Romantic entanglements will be the last, greatest risk to your chances at graduation. Tread carefully.
  • Don't feel like you must pledge a fraternity or sorority for the "complete" college experience. Especially in the South, Greek life is all too often merely a continuation of the petty peer pressures of high school, only with alcohol and party dresses. Try it out on your own for awhile first.
  • College is the first place you will be valued for what you know, not who you know. Cherish this, and find a group of people who share every weird or bizarre interest you may have. You'll find them if you're patient. It may be the last time.
  • College is the first place you can ignore the pretty people and get away with it. Pity them too, because now they just don't matter. Some of them never get over it.
  • Never walk home at night without a can of pepper spray in your hand. Girls and guys.
  • Always keep a small box of condoms in your nightstand. Guys and girls.

If nothing else, your roommate will thank you for it.

Posted by scott at June 09, 2004 03:52 PM

eMail this entry!

always good advice up there. I managed to have one quarter where I scheduled an hour between every class. THIS WAS THE BEST THING I EVER DID AT COLLEGE. Well, not quite, but it was a very good thing. That gave me an hour to either do whatever my prof had just assigned, study for the next test, or if neither of those were relevant (which I think happened once), get some rest.

Also, the travel thing is definitely true. At no other point in your life will you be able to pull off backpacking across Europe without everyone looking at you like you own a Mac or something. Europe can be done very cheaply. Try it.

Last thing - unless you are going to score a 4-point GPA, get a job. It'll put some structure into your life - which classes really won't. It'll also give you money for some of the few luxuries you can find (in our off-campus housing, my roomie and I decided we'd have steak once a week. It was cheap steak, but at least we ate one good meal...).

Okay - I'm off my soapbox.

Posted by: Ron on June 9, 2004 05:14 PM

uh... I LIIKED college and got a 3.95 in the end. In Veterinary Technology and got accepted to Cornell, but decided to marry the butt at the other end of this site :)

I had 3 jobs in college and managed to go to classes all over the place even in the evening.

Romance? NO TIME for me. Well, maybe right at the end. Or rather I was a 'tease' to 2 of my friends who I was comfortable with.

And I was a Greek.

Posted by: Ellen on June 9, 2004 07:30 PM

Oh hell didn't mean to imply I didn't like college. I loved college. Loved it. No peer pressure, intelligent people with inteligible opinions, f--- they'll even feed you decent food and you don't have to do the dishes! What's not to love?

If it weren't for the exams and the monster tuition, I'd probably go back tomorrow. Probably wouldn't be a Greek though. Too many hussies. ;)

Posted by: Scott on June 9, 2004 08:27 PM

One more tip: save your mandatory boring classes that you're really not interested in for Summer sessions. They're typically only 4 to 6 weeks, and you get them over with quickly. In a few cases, they're actually easier than the regular semester sessions.

Posted by: Rob on June 10, 2004 09:55 AM
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