COLLEGE ADVICE FROM A REFORMED SLACKER

IMG_3648The summer is winding down and many young adults will be going away to college very, very soon. I don’t think there are too many college grads who don’t wish, somewhere along the line, they had made more of the certain aspects of their time in college. Although I wish I had written this earlier so there’d be more time to digest it, there is no time like the present.
So, in light of that, I give you:

COLLEGE ADVICE FROM A REFORMED SLACKER:

A: LEARN YOUR LEARNING STYLE
The most important thing to learn in college is not the content of your classes. That sounds counterintuitive because it seems that is the reason you are going to college.

The most important thing to learn, the most valuable thing to know is how YOU learn: what is your unique learning style? How do YOU process information? How is YOUR mind wired?

It’s hard to be objective when evaluating aspects of ourselves, but you know this better than anyone. Your parents might view you as one style because they like the idea of it, your teachers may have viewed you as another style because they based their observations on what they knew and experienced. Your friends may have another metric. But the only way you will learn your unique learning style is to pay attention to what you do when presented with different mental challenges. Pay attention to the world around you and how you relate and react. At the end of the day, nobody will know this better than you because you are at the center of your nervous system.

If you go to class without some idea about how your mind processes information and retains it, you will be at a disadvantage, and will not get the most of what a class has to offer.

B: BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF ABOUT YOUR SLEEP CYCLE AND HOW YOU PROCESS TIME
You might like the IDEA of being a morning person. You might like the IDEA of having your classes done early so you can study or practice later. But if you have tendency to go to bed late, oversleep, or if you wake up slow and groggy in the morning, do not sign up for 8 AM classes.

It is also likely you will be late to your first class. It goes without saying that is incredibly disrespectful to the professor, the other students in the class, those who are funding your education (be it your parents, or the scholarship or anything else) but also disrespectful to you. You have missed salient information depending on how late you were, you didn’t give yourself time to to mentally prepare for the class, and now you will be starting in the middle: going from zero to sixty. That is not conducive to success. IF you do that, you are screwing yourself over.

Conversely, if you are a morning person, and nod off at a certain time of day, don’t schedule your classes during that time. A nap may be more productive and worth your time. Sleeping through a class is also disrespectful to both your professor and you: It conveys the message you don’t give a damn about the content of the class, and you are missing out on valuable information. Again, you are screwing yourself over.

This is not high school, you have some control over the time of your classes, and as an adult, paying attention to your body will pay off handsomely throughout your life.

C: DO NOT HOLD YOUR TIME HOSTAGE TO THE FROG:
There is a saying in the business world, and that is “Eat the frog first”. That translates out into “get the most onerous, unpleasant task out of the way first”
This holds merit if you don’t put off unpleasant tasks, or let the unpleasant task sap your energy that you could use for simpler tasks. If you love literature, but find physics grueling, it is not a good idea to hold your literature assignment hostage to your physics assignment.

To wit: the “Eating the frog” technique only works if you do it early. If you inflexibly cling to that technique, procrastinate on it, by the time you get to your simpler tasks, you will be discouraged, lacking in energy and more likely to half ass a project you could have done a stellar job on.

This is another aspect of your own style you are going to have to pay close attention to.

D: WHILE WE ARE ON THE “ANIMALS ANALOGIES” DO NOT BE AN OSTRICH.
My dad was a professor at a community college. He noticed a unique phenomenon. When there was an exam, or an assignment was due, he noticed the ratio of empty seats. These were of students who, feeling unprepared for the test/failed to complete the assignment, decided to not show up for class.

My dad called it “the ostrich syndrome”: akin to sticking your head in the sand when there was danger as though the danger would disappear if you did not perceive it.

It doesn’t work that way and you know it. Many an ostrich has been eaten by a tiger with that technique. Many a defendant is a civil court case has found themselves owing a lot of money because they didn’t show up to court when they were being sued, thinking it would go away and instead losing by default. And many a university student has blown off class on an exam day/assignment day and has failed that class/assignment by default.

Grow up, man up (or woman up), go to class. If you do not have the assignment or are unprepared for the test, apologize to the professor for investing their valuable time on you, but most of all apologize to yourself for screwing yourself over.
Learn from it, do better next time, manage your time better, be more organized.

But don’t be an ostrich. Hiding from your classes or profs is unproductive and cowardly.

D: YOUR MOTHER DOES NOT MAKE YOUR LUNCH ANYMORE.
There is a tremendous amount of truth to the “Freshman 15”. That is the fifteen pounds a lot of students gain within their first semester of college. It has less to do with deliberate gluttony or reckless beer swilling as it does with lack of understanding how your body processes nutrition.

Your mother or father had a vested interest in your diet. They wanted their little boy or girl to be healthy and strong. Now you’re on your own, bud.
You will have access to lots of bad quality and overly caloric foods. You will be controlling the portions. And unless you pay close attention to the nutritional value of the food you put in your body, you run the risk of getting fat and unhealthy.

This is not how you want to be in college. You need to be on your game, in good health so you can be in good mind. There is no getting around this.
Read nutrition labels. Eat your vegetables. Be honest about about your portion size. Take the time to research the food you eat and how it benefits or adversely affects your body. The more you learn about it and adhere to as healthy a diet as you can, the better you will feel and the better you will do.
The longer you wait to do this, the harder it will be. You owe yourself this much.

Mommy and daddy don’t control your diet, so it is on you, now.
PS: This is from someone who entered college at 165 pounds and graduated at 240. It wasn’t easy to lose 75 pounds as a 26 year old adult with adult responsibilities.

E: EVEN IF YOU HAVE NEVER EXERCISED BEFORE, START NOW:
Even if you feel you are in a time crunch, stick to the exercise regimen you have established. Some cardio of your choice, some strength a few times a week, monitor it and find time to do it.
It will pay off in focus for your classes, better overall feeling, and early establishment of healthy habits.

Many colleges have great fitness and athletic facilities, and as a student you should take full advantage (a gym membership in the outside world can cost $150 a month). Even if you don’t have access to those facilities, you can still run, jump rope, ride your bike or anything like that. While it is nice to have a workout facility, a friend once said, “In a pinch, the only exercise equipment you need is the ground and your feet.”

F: PAY ATTENTION TO HOW YOU PRESENT YOURSELF.
That’s a hard sell in the days of “I will express myself how I damn well please”, self centered memes and social media posts, Tshirts with obnoxious, antisocial an inappropriate slogans, and a president who tweets everything that pops into his mind.

But how you present not only establishes someone’s impression of you, it also contributes to the tone of an environment. This is why corporate places have dress codes.
This runs the gamut to walking around in a confederate flag TShirt to showing up to class looking like you rolled out of bed.

I’m not saying you have to wear a shirt and tie to class, but perhaps you should avoid graphic Tshirts or looking poorly groomed. Wear clean clothes, show up to class bathed, shaved or your beard/moustache neatly trimmed. Wear clothes that respect the decorum of academia.

Stand up straight. Don’t slouch. Don’t mumble. Avoid regional slang. Shake hands properly, avoiding fist bumps and high fives except in the most casual of settings. Don’t scowl, don’t sneer. Walk in straight lines and answer questions in complete sentences. Say please and thank you. Hold doors, regardless of gender. Offer assistance if you can.

This not only shows respect for yourself, but also your classmates, your professors, your education and what hopefully will be your alma mater, which is a tremendous part of your legacy.

In the days of practically indelible records, thanks to social media, this is especially important.

G: IN LINE WITH F, RESPECT YOUR PROFESSORS and TAs.
Unless requested otherwise, “Dr. {name}, or “Professor {name}” is the only appropriate form of address towards a professor.
Nicknames, “Doc”, other monikers are inappropriate unless specifically requested or preferred by that professor.

In a culture of almost contrived casualness it may feel odd. You may feel a little awkward. You may worry you may be perceived as brown nosing. It isn’t.
Brown nosing is insincere flattery to get an undeserved result or favor.
A respectful form of address is to show you respect your professors commitment to academia and their educational credentials. It also shows that you take your education seriously and are committed to it.

To that end, you should also avoid overly casual greeting “Hey!”, “YO”, “What’s up.”
Your TAs often work harder than anyone at the university. Not only do they have a graduate courseload, they are also tasked with teaching aspects of certain classes. Be respectful of their time and show them the respect you would show a professor.

H: IT IS EXTREMELY BAD FORM TO ATTEMPT TO NEGOTIATE A GRADE AFTER IT HAS BEEN EARNED.
Don’t do it. If you haven’t presented your best work, and your grade will reflect that, do not try to bargain to improve your grade.
You are not buying a used car and it is hugely disrespectful to attempt to reduce a professor to haggling over a grade.

You read the course syllabus, you knew what the expectations were. You, as an adult, are responsible for your education, and the outcome of what you put into it. By the time you are in phase where that is being graded, the die has been cast.

Additionally, while an empathetic professor is a good professor, s/he is not your therapist. S/he has many students to teach, and lessons to plan and research to do. Do not unload your personal problems on him/her. Worse, do not use your personal problems as an excuse for poor performance in a class or as a bargaining chip to negotiate a grade improvement. That is incredibly manipulative, and it makes you look pathetic.

It should also go without saying, but under no circumstances should your parents try to do this on your behalf. You are an adult. Act like it.

I: DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP:
An easy trap to fall into is feeling that if you ask for help, especially in a competitive and demanding program, you will give the impression you are not up to the game or that you “don’t belong in the program”.  Do not be afraid to ask questions.  Those in class who huff, puff, sigh and roll their eyes if you ask a question they view as “stupid” are immature assholes.  Don’t let the actions of an immature asshole dictate your perception of your potential or fitness to be there.

If you find you are having difficulty in a course, do not be in denial about it. Denial is a huge voice in the human psyche, and don’t succumb to it.
Recognize the difficulty and need for help early on. If you feel uncomfortable asking your professor, check the tutoring services. Get a tutor. It’s usually a free service. Ask a more experienced classmate, if they can or wish to hep you.

If the tutor’s style is out of whack with how you process information, then get a new tutor. You need to grow a set.
Don’t be passive and let the difficulties of the class throw you into the weeds. The further into the class you get, the harder it will be to catch up. The learning by osmosis ship has sailed.

And if, at the end of the course, despite all your efforts, you didn’t do as well as you had hoped, you will look a hell of a lot better than someone who hid from class and ended up writing it off as a lost cause.
Sloth and arrogance (you didn’t study/you didn’t listen) are very easy things to blame a lack of success on, but if you gave no other impression, what choice does anyone have?

J: KNOW WHEN TO HOLD THEM AND WHEN TO FOLD THEM:
Story TIme: One of the few classes outside the music school I had to take was a history class. I chose Modern American History because it was something I was interested in. The class was taught by a professor with a thick Chinese accent.

During the lectures I found that by the time I had deciphered what he had said, I had forgotten it. Therefore, there were huge holes in my notes.
The deadline came to drop the class. I thought it would get better, so I missed the deadline.

Then the deadline came to withdraw from the class. I thought I could salvage my grade. I was dead wrong. (perhaps denial being the loud voice it is)
I ultimately failed the class. Spectacularly.

Had I “folded them” at the right time, I could have saved my transcript from a failing grade, and I would have had the time I spent sitting in class and failing it to focus on the other classes I had.
So let me be the cautionary tale in this item.

K: RESPECT WHO IS FUNDING YOUR EDUCATION:
If your parents are funding your education, you are very lucky. If you go to a state university, the taxpayers of that state are, at least in part, funding your education. If you have a scholarship, whether it is based on need or merit: whoever funded that scholarship is funding your education. If your university waived tuition for you, they made an investment in you, and they funded your education. If you, yourself paid for your your own education, you know what it is worth and you owe it to yourself to respect that.

There is no such thing as a free education. Somebody paid for it, be it your parents, the taxpayers, the benefactors of the scholarship, your university or you.

Every time you blow off class, fail to study or practice, fail to pay attention or fail to take opportunities to improve onesself while at college, it is the ultimate disrespect to whatever entity funded it. It is a slap in the face. It is akin to taking money out of their pocket and pissing it away.

People all over the world would kill and die for the educational opportunity you have, and you owe it to yourself and them to make it a good investment.

L: DON’T DRINK ON DAYS PRECEDING CLASS OR IMPORTANT OBLIGATIONS.
If you are going into univerity as a traditional student, the law on the books says you shouldn’t be drinking at all. However I am realistic and I know there will be a lot of opportunities to drink alcohol. Back when I went to college, you could get drunk on $5 and still can get drunk on $5. I also know that if you are a traditional student (18-20), this will likely be the first time you have had this much access to alcohol.

You’ll come across pressure to drink among your peers, and it is likely you will. That being said, restrict it to Friday or Saturday nights, and only when there is not an obligation the next day.

You cannot be at your peak when you are hung over. That is a fact. You want to spend your Saturday or Sunday morning hung over, that’s on you. If you have classes on a Wednesday, and get soused on Tuesday night, you are letting alcohol mess up your “not free” education and that’s not cool.

And while we’re on the subject, you might find yourself encouraged to drink recklessly or dangerously, or do reckless or dangerous things if you have been drinking. Do not ever feel obligated to do that, no good friendship should hinge on that.

You are doing nobody any good at the morgue from alcohol poisoning.

You are responsible for your actions and you do no one any favors, least of all yourself from sitting in jail because you did something illegal while under the influence.

An important thing you will likely learn while in college is how your body processes alcohol. However, if you choose not to drink, that choice is commendable and yours alone to make, and nobody has the right to challenge it.

M: DON’T HAVE SEX IF YOU HAVE BEEN DRINKING. DON’T HAVE SEX WITH SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN DRINKING.
I cannot stress how important this is, especially if you are male.

If you have sex with a woman who is drunk, EVEN IF YOU ARE DRUNK YOURSELF, you are guilty of a felony, one that merits seriously hard prison time.
You will have messed up your education and your future. You will disgrace your family. You will disgrace your alma mater. You will go to prison. For a very long time.

But most importantly:

You will have messed up somebody elses life. You will have caused a woman irreparable harm. You will have destroyed someone else’s college education. That’s unforgivable.

You will have gone from a university student worthy of respect and admiration to a sexual predator worthy of society’s contempt and scorn.

You are well aware of the need for consent before you enter into a sexual relationship. Alcohol invalidates that consent.

If YOU have been drinking, you may find it hard to gauge another person’s sobriety. That is not an excuse. So it is better to avoid that problem entirely and only do it when you are sober. Good rule of thumb: If would not be comfortable with her driving you home, then you shouldn’t have sex. It’s that simple.

As you learn how your body processes alcohol, you will learn your limits and your perceptions. You must understand you are responsible for your actions, always, even if you have been drinking.

And again, if you choose not to drink at all, that is a good and healthy decision.

N: GET A JOB
Even if you are the rare breed of college student who is not financially strapped, a job will be good for you. Generating a few bucks yourself will keep you in touch with the fact there is a world outside of academia.

Even if it is just a few hours a week shelving books in the library or working in the dining hall, it is still going to be good for you. You will learn your work style, you will learn to be proud of your work ethic. You will be able to demonstrate your work ethic.

It will keep you humble and down to earth. It will allow you to work with people who are not necessarily in academia. Even if it is just a small amount of work you do and a small amount of pay, it will give you satisfaction every time you get paid.

If you do well, you will almost certainly earn a character reference, and may even earn a work reference, and in this day and age, that is a valuable commodity.

O: LEARN HOW TO DEBATE AND LEARN HOW TO DISAGREE GRACEFULLY.
Going to university, you will find many ideas different than the ideas around your dinner table at home, or in your hometown. They may challenge your comfort level, even rattle your identity.

You have two choices: You can remove yourself from any chance of hearing any idea you don’t agree wholeheartedly with, view a disagreement as a personal attack, lock yourself in your room, cover your ears and chant “La la la, I can’t hear you!”.

Or you can listen and present your case as well. I understand certain issues are emotionally charged, especially if they are held dear or close to home.

Learn how to step up your game in debate. The minute it devolves into a screaming match it stops being a debate and becomes an argument. Stop engaging at that point

Pay attention to your logic, your philosophy and be kind and empathetic. Put a human face on it. The ad-hominem attack is one of the cheapest techniques you can use in debate, so avoid it.

All that being said, there are those whose case is not a case, rather an excuse for unkindness and hateful behavior. For instance, were the KKK to show up in white sheets on the campus of Howard University, this is not a debate that needs to happen; they need to be shown the door without the benefit of their soapbox because they had no interest in debate, only intimidation.

Anyone who doing unkind and hateful behavior, encouraging it, enabling it, condoning it, or failing to stop it is not worthy of debate, and you should feel under no obligation to hash through it with them, because they are not in the true spirit of understanding and resolution.

P: INSIST THAT OTHERS RESPECT YOUR BOUNDARIES, AND RESPECT THOSE OF OTHERS.
In a college situation, you might find yourself with a roommate, living a building with people who you just met. When you lived at home, your parents owned that house, and you, as an occupant of that house had certain privileges associated with it.

In college, the space you share belongs to the person you are sharing it with as much as it belongs to you.
You might find that in that situation, you might have to be less high maintenance. But you might also find you have to be more assertive to ensure you are not taken advantage of.

You have to feel around what is reasonable and what is not. It is reasonable to expect your roommate not make a racket at 1 AM on a Tuesday. It is not reasonable to expect reverential silence every day after 3PM.

If you let your roommate use your hair dryer, you have a legitimate gripe if you find her using your toothbrush.

If your roommate gives you a ride, you shouldn’t ask to drive their car around.

Jokes you may find funny, and given in the spirit of friendly amusement may come across as hurtful to others.

You may find an off-the cuff remark made by someone very hurtful.

IT’s a new and delicate social landscape to navigate and you should approach it thoughtfully. Be considerate, but that does not mean you should tolerate the inconsideration of others.

Don’t be a high maintenance brat, but don’t be a doormat either.

And you’ll learn all that with practice.

Q: MISTAKES AND SETBACKS ARE NOT THE END OF THE WORLD:
Everybody fucks up sometimes, and in all likelihood, you will fuck up in college at some point.

You’ll blow a relationship, you’ll alienate your roommate, you’ll not do well in a class, you’ll piss off a professor. You’ll do something stupid when you’re drunk. You might lose somebody you love. You might get sick. You might need to take a semester off. You might find yourself short on money. You might get fired from your job. You might even get kicked out of your program or school.

All is not lost, unless you are willing to write it off as a lost cause.

You reflect on it. If it is your fault, you make amends and reparations. Then you build a strategy to move forward based on what you have learned. You resolve to do better, you resolve to give yourself the tools to make that happen.

If it is not your fault, e.g. illness, death in the family, you take care of yourself, and the best way to do that is to preserve your ability to excel.

It’s difficult, it can be overwhelming, but you’ll be able to do it because you are smart. You wouldn’t be going to college if you weren’t smart.

The trajectory of the future is, in part, dependent on the trajectory of you.
You owe this much to the future and yourself.

Thats all I have, for now.

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