1. It will not be the best four years of your life
Well that cliché lasted long. In all seriousness, I hope that when I’m 90 years old and looking back on my life, somewhere in there I had four consecutive years better than college. Don’t get me wrong, they are a good four years, and it can be as fun or as dull as you’d like, but I hope that you’ll have a better four in your life.
If being so drunk that you black out and forget your entire evening, trumps the first four years of your marriage or first born child; well, then you have a rather unfulfilling life ahead of you.
2. Get involved
I cannot stress enough how important it is to get involved with something. A group, club, even a fraternity. Those interactions are where you’ll make your lifelong friends. No one meets their future wife or husband at a bar at one in the morning after God-knows-how-many drinks.
When I first arrived on campus I was very interested in politics. So I went to the first College Republicans meeting of the year. I knew no one there, I went in, sat down, and listened. In retrospect it was rather abnormal for me to go out on a limb like that. During the meeting, an announcement was made for a new conservative newspaper that one of the members was starting up.
Again, going against my personal grain, I signed up. I went to the first few meetings, became layout editor, and the rest is history. Literally it is history, the newspaper folded after two years. However, the friends spawned from that group are not. I met my girlfriend of two and a half years in that group and my roommate of two years. Branching out and getting involved is where you meet your lifelong buddies.
3. Some classes really are “blow off” classes
College is an interesting place. There are people who have no idea what they are going to do in life, and there are people who know exactly what they want to do. I was the latter. I knew I wanted to do radio or some form of media. That eventually evolved into digital media and social media, but I was always confident what I wanted to do with my life.
If you are like me, I recommend ignoring some of the required courses the university will shove down your throat. Sure, Biological Anthropology might be interesting, but if you have already decided to stay away from science, why bother paying attention?
I will admit, there is a satisfaction when four pointing a class you could not care less about, but truth be told, if you know what you want, focus on it. I knew I wanted to be involved in media, so instead of stressing and working hard at required courses that did not interest me, I spent my free time producing media, volunteering at the radio station, and calling play-by-play for basketball games.
However, if you have no idea what you want in life, pay attention in those courses. So long as you have not ruled out the broad subject matter, listen and engage, you might find a gem that will be your calling.
Sitting in a classroom and taking notes is not learning. Memorizing information and spitting it out on an exam, is not learning. Unfortunately, in many ways this is the sad state of our “higher education.” In my four years I’ve come across plenty of professors that are more concerned about their research than educating the people paying for their research.
The fact is, some professors are just as lazy and disengaged as you are. The best professors I’ve had cared about the subject matter and cared that we learned it. Two of my most memorable professors were in my freshman year. One taught a lecture on Biological Anthropology. It was a required course; he knew most people would not be interested. But his magic was he made us interested. Instead of standing at the front of the room and lecturing, he would take the first ten minutes of each class and walk around with a microphone and ask students about their weekend or about the course material.
It was a fantastic way to take a 200 person lecture, and make it feel small. Furthermore, it broke that “fourth wall” between the professor and the students. All too often professors teach like theater actors putting on a show and reading from a hazily memorized script. Instead this professor was human with us, and in turn we were more attentive and interested in the subject.
My second favorite professor taught a small writing class my freshman year. He never lectured, instead he listened. That was his magic. He would throw out a topic and listen to us talk to one another. He would prod, poke, and play devil’s advocate, but mostly he would listen and make sure the conversation stayed on course. This led to fantastic discussions which resulted in even better papers from the students.
In short, the best professors you’ll have will be ones that listen to you instead of themselves. You might be comfortable only taking notes in a 300 person lecture, but don’t expect it to pay dividends when it comes to actually learning something.
5. Your professor does not speak the word of God
In some respects, professors live in a bubble. They are surrounded by incredibly smart academics studying and teaching very specific topics, and sometimes it is hard to see the forest through the trees.
When everyone around you believes something, it is human nature to assume that the majority feel that way. When you are surrounded by incredibly bright people and they all say the same thing, it is human nature to assume it is true.
Oftentimes it is not.
I spent my four years as a minority on campus; I was a conservative. Even more frightening for the academic crowd, I was an educated conservative. The horror!
I came across plenty of professors that tried to teach their opinions as if they were verified and peer edited facts. And when they did, I called them out on it. But it does not have to be about politics and it does not have to be that vocal.
Professors are human, they will make mistakes, and sometimes they will either accidentally or purposefully try to teach you something that does not quite pass the sniff test. If you notice this, say something. Again, engagement is the best way to learn, and fact checking your professors is oftentimes the best form of engagement.
6. Do not let alcohol define your experience
Part of the allure of going to college is the independence you receive. And part of the independence is the ability to drink, smoke, or ingest basically anything you want. Many college bound kids abuse this independence in their first two years. Most realize there’s more to this whole college experience than drinking, and they begin to implement my seventh piece of advice. However, the dumb ones continue all four years.
I was talking to a friend from work about our upcoming payday and she mentioned that she had to pick up her check in person. “Why,” I asked. After all there’s this great little invention known as direct deposit. “Because if I get it direct deposited I’ll spend all my money at the bar this weekend,” she responded.
I was shocked. She literally got a physical check so she could wait until Monday to cash it, otherwise it’d be wasted on overpriced alcoholic concoctions over the weekend. There is so much more to life than a sticky and dirty bar. I’ll let you have the first two years to figure that out. But if by your senior year you are still spending the majority of your weekends waiting in line to pay a $10 cover charge to get into a dimly lit groping machine, you are probably a lost cause.
7. Do what you love and do lots of it
No, this section does not pertain to sex with someone you love, read that again, it says do “what you love” not who you love. That’s an entirely different topic, one which I will not breach in this column.
At one point during my college life, I was juggling six jobs at once. Yeah, six. Granted not all of them were 15 or even 10 hours a week, but I legally had six different employers. On top of that I had a full time class schedule and, ya know, a life.
During a recent job interview I was asked how I managed to handle so much during my college career. My answer was twofold. One, I found the best way to stay on task was to have so much to do, you have no other choice. If I mismanaged even one hour of my time, I could seriously get behind. And two, everything I did I loved doing.
I was lucky enough to find jobs that fit into my major and my interests. I wasn’t washing dishes at a dorm cafeteria, I was designing websites, working on social media, and prepping to call play-by-play for basketball games. I sought out jobs that I would want to work at and that would further my education. There’s no reason you can’t do the same.
If you need a college job, check with your school first. See if there are any paid internships or people on campus hiring. If you are attending a big school I guarantee there are opportunities in the field you are interested in. Procrastination sets in when you dread doing work. However, you can avoid the nagging urge to shirk responsibilities by surrounding yourself with work and tasks that you enjoy. Life is too short, and your college career is too short, to waste time on stuff you are not passionate about.
8. Be passionate about something
It is hard to surround yourself with tasks you are passionate about if you have no passion. College is an opportunity to find that passion. Whether it be animals, helping inner city children, or curling (yes the Olympic sport) I’m sure you can find other likeminded passionate people on campus to interact with.
And I know it is a cliché but, find your passion and make it a career. If you really love animals, why be a financial planner? College is your opportunity to do what you love. It is also an opportunity to explore and find what you love. You have a 22-year window to be a one dimensional passionless human, find your passion in college and ride it for the rest of your life.
9. Savor it
I only graduated from college a week ago, but my biggest regret so far was that I moved too fast. I can honestly say college was the quickest four years of my life. It was like the sole traffic light in a small country town, blink and it is gone. For all the pain, stress, and headaches you will endure, you will also experience joy, happiness, and amazing people. There’s no need to rush through that.
Walk slowly. Eat slowly. Enjoy slowly. Do not rush to get to class, leave five minutes early and enjoy the walk. Don’t waste a beautiful Saturday evening at the bar, go find a lake and stare at it. College is the last four years of your life that are bound to education. The last four years subsidized by your parents. The last four years that you can skip class and enjoy the unseasonably warm weather. Don’t forget to savor that.