Sunday, June 10, 2012

Off to College

High school graduation was this weekend, and watching my brother and all the other seniors I know go through those final weeks of high school brings back a lot of memories of that excited/terrified/relieved/nervous/sad feeling that high school graduation brings. In honor of that, I'm going to play big sister to Logan, Claire and the others and give a little advice about college and life after graduation:

1) The best advice I ever got about college was to treat it like an 8:00 to 6:00 job. That means between those hours, if you're not in class or working at a real job you should be studying (except for brief breaks).  Trust me, it will greatly improve your social life.
For example: Say you had class from 8 to 10, then work from 11 to 2, then class from 3 to 4. It's really tempting to have an hour break at 10 and say "I'm really tired, I'm just going to find a quiet spot in the library and take a nap," and then during the break at 2 to go get something to eat and just chat with people or people-watch while you eat and then when you get home a little after 4 and aren't meeting people for dinner until 6 to say "I've been busy today and need some time to relax before I can get some studying done" and then spend the next two hours watching several episodes of your favorite sitcom or watching YouTube videos and surfing Facebook.
All together that's four hours you could have used to get all or most of the day's homework done, and now you have at least four hours of studying ahead of you after dinner. In the meantime, your friends and roomates and neighbors who are more productive/don't care are going to be texting you and knocking on your door inviting you to do all sorts of fun stuff, and you're going to be thinking "I totally would rather be playing ultimate frisbee with my best friends right now instead of the hour I spent alone in my room watching funny YouTube videos." At that point you will either miss out on a good time, flunk the test you're supposed to be studying for or start on your four hours of homework at midnight and then sleep through your classes the next morning.

2) The second best advice I got about college was "When you look back on your life you're not going to remember the nights you got plenty of sleep." It's true. The regret I felt for not getting enough sleep the night before usually didn't even last the whole morning, but the regret I felt when I skipped out on a midnight excursion and missed out on an adventure people kept referencing for the rest of the year lasted much, much longer. You want to stay healthy and be smart about what you sacrifice your sleep time for (go to sleep instead of watching TV), but the people who insisted on getting eight hours or more every night in college missed out on a lot of memories. You have the rest of your life to get a good night's sleep, so when everyone is out in the quad playing games or lying under the stars swapping hilarious stories don't be one of those lame people who at 11:00 says "Well goodnight everyone, I have to work at 8:00 tomorrow so I'd better get to bed" and miss out on all of the real bonding time that comes the later it gets.

3) Try new things. Your college will offer all sorts of fun classes and activities that will be a lot harder to try once you're in a small town and locked into the adult routines of an 8-to-5 job. When I was in college I took self defense (best class ever), learned to play the organ, improved my volleyball skills, took ballroom dance and world dance, went to an opera in Italian, tried all sorts of new foods cooked by the international students I knew, went to the first baseball game I had ever been to, watched international films, studied Shakespeare and film psychology and did all sorts of other things I had never done before. Now is the time in your life to be adventurous. Who knows, you might discover that you want to choose a major you never even realized someone could major in or find a life-long hobby.

4) Meet as many new people as possible. Get out there and get to know all sorts of people. If you come to the cafeteria or food court by yourself, ask a group of people you don't know if you can sit with them. Chat with the people around you before class. Get together with your roommates and invite another apartment over to dinner and games. One of the fun things about college is you can become friends with people who are into all of the same things you are but you can also become friends with people who are different than anyone you've ever met before (maybe you've never known any who is Muslim, for example).

5) Don't be intimidated. For most people who go to college, espcially if it's a really good school, they go from being a big fish in a little pond to being a little fish in a big pond. It can be a hard adjustment to make, because suddenly the things that defined you in high school are commonplace. When I was in high school a combination of factors (being Mormon, playing the piano well, having a good-sized role in the school plays, being in choir, having a big family, being valedictorian, doing a lot of community service, being a good writer) made me an invididual, but when I went to college all of the sudden it seemed like half the people I met not only had all of those things but did them better. So you have two choices: You can be bothered that you're not a star and don't get attention anymore and be jealous of everyone else and give up on things people are better at, or you can really enjoy being around such smart, talented people and try to learn from them. Just start practicing humility now because you're going to need it.

6) Learn to cook and clean and do laundry before you go. Don't be like the people I knew who the rest of us looked down on slightly because we had to teach them how to do dishes without a dishwasher or get soap scum off a facet or boil noodles or get stains out of their clothes. You will be better able to concentrate on school work when you're not dealing with the fact that you have to start over on dinner because it caught on fire and your favorite white shirt is now pink and you have to pay a $35 fee because you failed your cleaning check. Also get someone who has been through college already to teach you all the lazy tricks (for example, the more underwear you buy, the longer you can get away without doing laundry).

7) Remember that you can't get away with as much in college. Generally when you're in high school you can convince the teacher to take an assignment late without much of a penalty, or if everyone doesn't meet the deadline for something like senior binders they just move the deadline out, or you can say "I'm going to be at my cousin's wedding on Friday so can I take the test a day early?" In college professors make fun of people (sometimes to their face, sometimes to the rest of us while they're absent) who think they're somehow entitled to turn in a paper a few hours after the class it was due because when they went to print it out on the way to class the printer was broken. I knew people who had to retake an entire class because they got confused about the time of the midterm and missed it or their apartment flooded and they didn't get to class that morning to turn in a big paper. A few professors might make an exception for some things but most of them are totally unyielding when it comes to things like deadlines, so don't leave anything to the last minute because even if you say "My roommate had a heart attack last night and I was at their side at the hospital all night" there are a lot of professors who will say "You were not at the hospital for the whole two weeks you knew about this paper. It's not my fault you left it until the last minute."

College will probably be harder than anything you've ever done but also more fun. If you realize this, you'll do alright.

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