Monday, August 24, 2015

How To Survive College (And Life)

#1 Don’t Do Stupid Things: It sounds simple. Trust me, it’s not. Don’t stay up until five in the morning when you have to wake up for a 9:40 class. Don’t try to write a twenty page paper in an hour and a half. (Extensions are the Gods’ gift to us; use them.) Don’t yell at your professor for being racist in front of the entire class. (Instead, do it during office hours where professors are usually much nicer.) Don’t stay out drinking the night before a test. Don’t get drunk and decide you’ve always wanted to climb Olin-Rice barefoot. (In fact, it would be much better for your grades, brain cells, sleep cycle, and foot integrity if you didn’t drink at all. I realize this may not be possible, but please don’t drink until you pass out. You’ll get to ride in an ambulance – which is fun – but, trust me, it’s really not worth it.)

#2 Sleep Is Underrated: Whatever amount of sleep you’re getting, it’s not enough. The average college student needs about nine and a half hours of sleep. NINE AND A HALF. Personally, I get about eight and a half. Most of my friends average between seven and six and a half. If you don’t take my word for it, there are any number of studies that show sleep makes you feel and perform better, work harder, and live longer. (,'s_Sleep_Book

#3 Don’t Cram The Night Before A Test: Cramming is the secret to failing tests. Study as much as possible before the night of the test. Or, at the very least, make sure you’re never reading anything for the first time the night of a test. If you end up pushed for time, make sure to prioritize sleep. Once you hit one in the morning, an hour sleeping is more useful than an hour studying. (If you don’t get enough sleep, no amount of studying can help you. Your brain needs time to consolidate and reinforce memories. Time it only gets during sleep.) If you’re awake, you can usually whittle down most multiple choice questions to two or three answers, and you can always speed write essay questions. But, if you’re drowsy, every multiple-choice question will seem impossible, and your essay won’t make sense.  

 #4 Make Friends In Your Size: Clothes are important. They keep your modesty protected; they keep you warm during Minnesota’s sub-zero winters; they can even be used as an improvised basketball in a pinch. Unfortunately, however, there will be at least one article of clothing that you forgot, or you never thought you needed, or you swore you had, but you can’t find when you need it. This is where your friends come in! If you have a friend in your size, you can just hop on over to their room and ask to borrow something. Odds are, they’ll have it, and you can walk away happy. (So, First-years, if you see someone in your size, don’t hesitate. That piece of clothing you don’t know you’ve forgotten is too important. Walk up and introduce yourself. Try to make a joke. Hopefully, they’ll laugh. If they don’t, forge on anyway. You can do it; I have faith in you.)  

#5 Meet With A Professor At Least Once When You Don’t Have To: As it turns out, most professors are usually bored out of their minds during office hours. (Probably not, actually. They always seem to be doing something important on their computers. Probably minesweeper.) Regardless, they love it when kids come in outside of scheduled meeting times. They’re always happy to talk about anything, and almost all of them genuinely care about you and your happiness. I’ve also found that most of them are actually really interesting people too. (Not at all like high school teachers who lived at school and slept under their desks.)

#6 Don’t Be Afraid To Disagree. Honestly, I Mean It: Professors (and adults in general) always seem to tell you to Challenge Ideas! and Follow Your Gut! and Defend Your Ideas! They’ll keep telling you that right up until you disagree with them. Then, they don’t appreciate it. The thing is, though, that offering your opinions and challenging established wisdom is one of the best ways to learn. I say this because 1) You’re likely to be wrong much more often than you’re right. Established wisdom is there for a reason. Then, you’ll be embarrassed for about thirty seconds; then, everyone will forget it, and you will have learned something. Or 2) You’ll actually be right (or at least think you are). That’s when the real fun starts. You’ll start doing all sorts of research to prove The Powers That Be wrong, and learn all sorts of new things in the process. And, at the end of the day, you’ll probably write a decent paper on it. (Note: Do this carefully. Never actually tell a professor “You’re wrong.” They don’t like that. Instead, use the phrase, “It’s possible that…” or “Maybe…” or “I don’t know, but…” A lot of kids do it – not necessarily because they disagree – but because it’s good classroom etiquette. No one wants to be seen as the classroom know-it-all.)   

#7 Use Your Time Effectively: For the first (or second, or third, or fourth) time in your life, you’re going to be confronted with all kinds of different taxes on your time. Clubs and classes will meet. Professors will assign homework. Friends will want to have lunch, or go to a concert, or go biking, or buy hair dye in a blizzard. Anyway, you’ll have to use your time effectively. Whenever I know the next week is going to be difficult, I always write out my schedule for the week and make sure everything is accounted for. Then, I just stick to the schedule. It makes life much simpler. Some of my friends use their phones to schedule stuff. Others used the scheduling books we were given during Orientation. Find whatever works for you, and stick with it. 

#8 Communicate Effectively: I’ve had the good fortune to not lose any friends over what some have called “high-school drama.” (Unfortunately, you haven’t seen the end of it. You probably never will if the Republican Presidential Primary is anything to go by.) I’ve heard stories and sometimes seen situations that could have been avoided if the people involved had simply taken the time to stop and think about what they were saying/doing. Unfortunately, there’s no golden rule to follow when communicating with other people. The one thing I have learned to do over the years is simply to control my anger and try to make sure it doesn’t affect the way I talk and act. Personally, I don’t think anger is useful; it clouds your judgment and causes you to act self-destructively. I also try to smile and laugh a lot. For some reason, it makes people happier.

#9 Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff: You will fail a test in college. (Or, at least, fail it by whatever ridiculously high standards you set for yourself in high school.) Macalester is a tough school, and we all succeeded by just getting here. You will also make a fool of yourself. Probably more than once. Probably more than once on your first day. It happens; don’t let it bother you. You’ll also say something stupid in class; I remember it was even mandatory once. When you do, your class mates will have forgotten it in about fifteen minutes. (Unless they’re your friends; then, they’ll never let it go.) If someone breaks up with you or says they don’t like you; trust me, it wasn’t going to work anyway. There’s nothing you could have done. It takes two willing people to have a healthy relationship, and you simply can’t force or cajole or beg someone into it. And, no matter what happens, don’t let things bother you. The vast majority of stuff in college won’t matter in two months, let alone five years. 

#10 Have Fun: No, I’m not saying YOLO. I’m saying have fun. Enjoy what you’re doing. Enjoy your classes, your friends, your lover. College is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to challenge and mold you into a better human being. (One that will walk into a work place talking about multiculturalism, classism, and how that printer over there is racist because it only prints on white paper.) Sure, you’ll make mistakes. Everyone does. It’s how we learn as human beings. And, Macalester, if nothing else, is a place where we can learn, have fun, and grow up to be relatively decent human beings.    

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