A while back I came across a very interesting article stating 11 rules about life as quoted by Bill Gates. It was very insightful, as they were things that students were not taught in schools. Though Mr. Gates is a pretty smart guy, a quick search on Snopes.com tells us that these rules were incorrectly attributed to him. There are actually 14 rules, and they were written by Charles J. Sykes, author of the 1996 book Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can’t Read, Write, Or Add.
I think it’s a very good read, and something that every college student should read before heading off into the real world. Behold, Mr. Sykes’ 14 life lessons you will not learn in school:
Rule No. 1: Life is not fair. Get used to it. The average teenager uses the phrase “It’s not fair” 8.6 times a day. You got it from your parents, who said it so often you decided they must be the most idealistic generation ever. When they started hearing it from their own kids, they realized Rule No. 1.
Rule No. 2: The real world won’t care as much about your self-esteem as much as your school does. It’ll expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself. This may come as a shock. Usually, when inflated self-esteem meets reality, kids complain that it’s not fair. (See Rule No. 1)
Rule No. 3: Sorry, you won’t make $40,000 a year right out of high school. And you won’t be a vice president or have a car phone either. You may even have to wear a uniform that doesn’t have a Gap label.
Rule No. 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait ’til you get a boss. He doesn’t have tenure, so he tends to be a bit edgier. When you screw up, he’s not going to ask you how you feel about it.
Rule No. 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping. They called it opportunity. They weren’t embarrassed making minimum wage either. They would have been embarrassed to sit around talking about Kurt Cobain all weekend.
Rule No. 6: It’s not your parents’ fault. If you screw up, you are responsible. This is the flip side of “It’s my life,” and “You’re not the boss of me,” and other eloquent proclamations of your generation. When you turn 18, it’s on your dime. Don’t whine about it, or you’ll sound like a baby boomer.
Rule No. 7: Before you were born your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way paying your bills, cleaning up your room and listening to you tell them how idealistic you are. And by the way, before you save the rain forest from the blood-sucking parasites of your parents’ generation, try delousing the closet in your bedroom.
Rule No. 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers. Life hasn’t. In some schools, they’ll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. Failing grades have been abolished and class valedictorians scrapped, lest anyone’s feelings be hurt. Effort is as important as results. This, of course, bears not the slightest resemblance to anything in real life. (See Rule No. 1, Rule No. 2 and Rule No. 4.)
Rule No. 9: Life is not divided into semesters, and you don’t get summers off. Not even Easter break. They expect you to show up every day. For eight hours. And you don’t get a new life every 10 weeks. It just goes on and on. While we’re at it, very few jobs are interested in fostering your self-expression or helping you find yourself. Fewer still lead to self-realization. (See Rule No. 1 and Rule No. 2.)
Rule No. 10: Television is not real life. Your life is not a sitcom. Your problems will not all be solved in 30 minutes, minus time for commercials. In real life, people actually have to leave the coffee shop to go to jobs. Your friends will not be as perky or pliable as Jennifer Aniston.
Rule No. 11: Be nice to nerds. You may end up working for them. We all could.
Rule No. 12: Smoking does not make you look cool. It makes you look moronic. Next time you’re out cruising, watch an 11-year-old with a butt in his mouth. That’s what you look like to anyone over 20. Ditto for “expressing yourself” with purple hair and/or pierced body parts.
Rule No. 13: You are not immortal. (See Rule No. 12.) If you are under the impression that living fast, dying young and leaving a beautiful corpse is romantic, you obviously haven’t seen one of your peers at room temperature lately.
Rule No. 14: Enjoy this while you can. Sure parents are a pain, school’s a bother, and life is depressing. But someday you’ll realize how wonderful it was to be a kid. Maybe you should start now. You’re welcome.
Read more about it here.
College is a great environment to be in, full of supporting faculty and staff and offering great opportunities to become a responsible adult. What you don’t know, however, is what goes on behind-the-scenes in colleges. Things they don’t want you, as a student, to know about. It’s not that they’re illegal, or necessarily immoral, but that by knowing them, they’d ruin the positive image universities try to maintain.
1. College entrance requirements aren’t as strict as they appear
I once talked to an admissions counselor when I was searching for colleges. She was very friendly, but the pamphlet she gave me was pretty intimidating. “I have to have THAT high of an SAT score?” I thought to myself as I kissed my dreams of being a whatever-it-was-at-the-time goodbye. Reading further, I saw that I had to be involved in a certain number of organizations, had to have this high of a GPA, and had to have so many volunteer hours, among letters of recommendations, full transcripts, and job experience.
The admission counselor smiled, surely relishing in my worried facial expressions caused by my ignorant innocence, and told me not to worry about too much about the requirements. “There’s always exceptions,” she said confidently. She then went on to tell me that as long as I could write an essay explaining why I wasn’t involved in organizations, or getting an adequate score on the SAT or ACT, the university would consider my application.
I’ve learned that this is true of many colleges, save for the Ivy Leagues and the sort. Colleges like to put down rigorous entrance requirements so they can tout that they have the smartest and the brightest, but if you read the fine print, there are many ways to get around the published requirements. See, if universities truly stuck with what they advertised as their requirements, enrollment would be horrible! The funding systems for universities are based on enrollments, so universities strive to get as many students as they can. For this reason, they implement certain “loopholes” to their own policies to be able to admit students who do not meet their requirements.
Go to any university website that you are interested in and take a look at its admission criteria. You’ll see that it is worded in such a way that allows for flexibility in admissions standards. For example, take Oklahoma State University’s admissions page.
First of all, they preface the requirements by mentioning that all students are encouraged to apply, as they take many factors into consideration and individually review each application. Likewise, if you meet one of their listed criteria, you are assured admission. That’s where the wording is tricky. Colleges often make is sound like all their students meet those requirements as a minimum, and they are partially correct. Sure, those are minimums, but only for guaranteed admission. You can still be considered even if you don’t meet their listed requirements. And even then, of the several “minimums” they state, they usually publish the strictest one to make them seem more selective (as was the case at my undergraduate university).
Florida State University’s admissions page is another great example. In this one, they don’t even give you a minimum requirements list. The list they show you is the academic profile of the middle 50% of freshmen they accepted in 2013. So really, all it does is give you an idea of their overall average of the students they admit, which doesn’t really tell you how well your chances are, since the bottom 50% could fall anywhere below that average. Plus, they make sure to include careful wording to say that “applicants who bring other important attributes to the University community may also receive additional consideration.” These may include, but are not limited to skilled artists, musicians, and athletes.
Why do colleges do this? For publicity reasons, mostly. This way, they can state in their advertisements, pamphlets, and national publications that they accept students with these amazing criteria in an effort to attract other students with these criteria. And if you have 5 colleges in one area that accept students with a 24 ACT as a minimum, you don’t want to be the college that publishes your minimum as 18 ACT. It’s just not good for business.
So what does this all mean to you as a prospective student? This means that you should not be discouraged to apply to a college if the requirements seem to strict. If you weren’t involved in extra-curricular activities in high school because you worked full time in the evenings to support your family, that’s fine! Be sure to include an essay with your application that states that. Admission departments in colleges don’t just go down a checklist and pull your application if you don’t meet them all. They look at your application to see how you are as a whole person. The more information you provide with your application, the easier it will be for them to paint a better picture of you as a student.
If they see that you worked to provide for your family in high school, they may see that as responsibility and maturity and would take that in place of your extracurriculars. If you didn’t have very good grades, as long as you can provide a good reason for it and assure them that you will do much better in college, they may give you consideration they may not have otherwise. Now, I’m not saying that you can BS your way through an application and get into college. It doesn’t work that way.
What I’m saying is that you have nothing to lose by applying to the college that you want, even though you may not fit the “ideal” criteria.
Let me tell you that when I started college, all I had going for me was my GPA. Being a first generation student, I had no idea how important extra-curricular activities, volunteer hours, and letters of recommendations from teachers who knew you well were. Plus, I am a horrible test taker and didn’t do very well on my SAT. Still, I made a strong enough case on my application, got accepted, and not only did I graduate from my university, but I was senior class president and gave the commencement speech in front of ten thousand people. All because they decided to take a chance on me.
2. You DON’T have to go to college
I can already hear my fellow colleagues and college administrators yelling at me for this one, but the truth is, you really don’t have to go to college like society makes you believe. I’m sure you’ve heard in high school, in the college you already attend, in TV shows, commercials, and speakers that jobs won’t hire you without a college degree. That it’s not like it used to be where anyone could get a job with a good work ethic and a smile. And yes, it’s true that it’s becoming more difficult for companies to even consider you if you don’t have that degree on hand. Even jobs that didn’t previously required formal education experience are requiring Associate or Bachelor degrees. And that is why you are told very often that you need to go to college to get those lucrative jobs.
But do you see the problem with this? Students everywhere are being told that they need a college degree to get a job that requires college degrees. As a result, more and more students are going to college each year. Over the last 15 years, enrollment in U.S. institutions of higher education at all levels rose from 14.5 million students in fall 1994 to 20.7 million in fall 2009, with most of the growth occurring in the last 10 years (source: NSF ). And what’s worse, over the past decade, the U.S. private-sector has lost 203,000 jobs (source here ).
What this means is that more and more graduates are finishing colleges with degrees, but the jobs aren’t growing with them. As a result, we have tons of people out there with useless degrees working jobs that don’t require anything more than a high school diploma. But colleges won’t tell you all of this, because their goal is to get more students.
As a Student Affairs Professional, I will say that college does a lot more for you than just get you a degree, as I listed on my blog post detailing how college can get you a job without a degree. But still, I stand by the fact that there are some people who do not need to go to college. Are you one of these people?
Let me explain. I’ve seen many students, both as a university staff member and as a student myself, that go to college despite the fact that they are not ready for it. They either do not know what they want to do with their life, or are just not emotionally mature enough to handle the responsibility of college life. Yet, these students will start college, get into lots of debt, then drop out their first year having no way to pay back that said debt.
Other people are just not good classroom learners. Regardless of college, it is reasonable to assume a lot of classroom work will be in your future, and some students just don’t do well with that. A friend of mine just could not grasp anything from a classroom, and left college within two months. Yet, he was a masterful electrician and could rewire an entire house with no problem.
Students like these would be better off going to trade schools, where there is more practical learning and they could put their talents to good use. I’ve known many mechanics, plumbers, and carpenters that make a lot of money, and never had to go to college to do it.
What about those students who are not ready for college? Students who don’t know what to do with their lives but don’t want to spend thousands of dollars for an education they may not even get use out of? As someone who went to a university with a strong military focus, I would say that the military may be a viable option. Don’t know what to do with your life? If you meet the health requirements and don’t mind some discipline in your life, the military may be a better option for you. I’ve known a few high school students that would gain a lot from joining the army for a few years before going to college. It can be an eye-opening experience, and what’s more, they may have the option of paying for your college once you complete your years of service.
For other students, maybe college is best if you just wait. Work a full time job for a little bit, get a sense of what the real world is like, paying bills, paying your own rent, just generally living on your own. Start college when you feel ready. My sister followed this path, and now she’s in college and loving it.
I don’t believe that college is always the right answer. But not enough people are willing to say that. And why would they? It makes sense that a college recruiter would feel guilty telling you that college isn’t for you. And that’s because they cannot make that decision, nor can I. Only you can. You need to take a good look at yourself and wonder if it’s worth getting into all that debt for the next few years before you dive right in.
For a great illustration of how college may not always be right for you, check out my post on how the movie Monsters University accurately depicts college life.
3. A lot of faculty aren’t trained to teach
At some point during my college career, I decided that I wanted to be a professor. Part of the decision came from the amazing professors that inspired me to follow in their footsteps. Another part came from the horrible professors who made me want to become one to correct their mistakes. Upon looking for grad schools and trying to decide what I wanted to teach, I came to one horrible realization: professors are not trained to teach!
Teachers, specifically for elementary school and secondary school, have to go through an intense program, that includes not only a Bachelor degree, but teacher certification, and in some cases, even a Master degree. They have to learn about classroom management, implementing curriculums, special education, and then student teach for hours and hours while maintaining a teacher’s portfolio assuring future employers that this person knows what he or she is doing.
I was pretty shocked to find out that this is not true with college professors. There is no “professors 101” class or a degree specifically to teach college courses. The way a person becomes a professor is to get a Master degree in a field, and then get a doctorate in that field as well (or a related field). At that point, the person is considered an “expert” in the field and is then qualified to teach a course in that field. However, none of those courses prepare those students to teach what they have learned. This is especially evident in STEM fields, where students constantly complain about engineering professors who don’t know how to teach a concept in a way students can understand, or a science professor who just reads from a slideshow. Sure, they know everything they need to know about their field, but that does not mean they know how to teach it.
When colleges look for new faculty, they look for several factors, with the primary ones being teaching experience and research/publications. A professor is worth more if he or she is a published researcher, holding some clout in the field, and has the ability to receive grants from several institutions. It shocked me to find out that in many universities, teaching ability isn’t at the top of the list. Now this isn’t true of all colleges. Community colleges and liberal arts colleges put more priority to teaching skills, whereas research and land grant universities will put more weight on research and publications. I actually had a professor tell me that if I didn’t have some decent published research by the time I finished my PhD, I will have a hard time getting any college to consider me.
But what about all those great professors that have a passion for teaching, those that just seem to get it? Typically, it’s a result of experience. Experience is a wonderful teacher, and professors who learn from their mistakes and research effective teaching methods on their own time will likely be better at it than others. Mentoring is also very helpful. Many doctorate students find advisors and mentors that are willing to work with them and teach them the practice of the trade, even sometimes offering teaching assistantships where they get practice before they graduate. This is, however, very dependent on the teaching quality of the mentors.
Recently, however, I’ve noticed that universities are now offering certificates for college teaching. Usually these programs consist of a few courses specifically suited for teaching in a college environment. As far as I know, I don’t know of any doctorate program that requires these to be a college professor, but the resource is there and more and more universities are encouraging professors and would-be professors to get it.
4. Beware of the “weeding out” classes
As I’m sure I’ve mentioned many times on this blog, I went to a university that was very engineering-focused. Even though I wasn’t an engineering major, I had to take an occasional basic engineering class or two each year. As a non-engineer, I noticed that I was having a very hard time with these classes. At first, I thought I just sucked at engineering. But upon discussing it with other classmates, we came to the realization that it wasn’t that we didn’t understand the work, but that the work was made hard on purpose.
First of all, those engineering 101 classes were huge. Lots of students and only one professor to teach us all. Our professor covered a lot of material in a very short amount of time. Tons. Concepts that, individually, would result in hours of work. Even if I did figure out how to solve the homework assignments, there was no way I could finish it all and do all the work in my other non-engineering classes. At some point, I had to call it quits and settle for the lower grade for that assignment. It made me wonder how those students with four engineering classes in a row got anything done.
What I learned later on was that these classes had an ulterior motive. In addition to providing a “general view” of engineering, they were designed to overwhelm students with varying different concepts to “weed out” the students who were not the best of the best at the craft. Even though I had a hard time excelling at the class, my wife, who was and engineering major at the time, got through those assignments with no problem. Sure enough, she got an A in the class and moved on to the higher level classes.
What surprised me about this the most was that I was generally good at math. I was studying meteorology and we dealt with all sorts of equations and concepts. But for some reason engineering work frustrated the hell out of me, and there was just so much of it. I, like many others, was the victim of a student not worthy to go to the higher level engineering classes, where professors worked at a better pace and were more willing to help you learn the material (as opposed to my class, where I would go to my professor to help me with assignments and he refused to help me in favor of the upper-level students).
Now that I’ve graduated college and have worked in colleges, I notice this for many fields. STEM fields are notorious for this, but I’ve seen this in other fields as well.
Weeding out classes are generally seen as classes where they are designed for students to fail. Large classes where professors throw a lot of information at you in a “101” style class, hoping to scare away all but the most dedicated to the craft, those who will stick through until the end. They offer minimal support to test you to see how well you can take the heat.
It makes sense in the long run, since professors don’t want students who don’t have a chance at being successful in the field. But this is still important information for students who have a passion in a field, but don’t necessarily have the skills to get through those “weeding out classes”. If that’s you, you either need to find another major or prepare for an uphill battle getting that degree.
5. Politics… politics everywhere!
I had a discussion with a friend of mine the other day, who talked about a program at a university that required EMT classes and certification in the curriculum, even though in wasn’t related to the field they were studying. The department head had been struggling for several years trying to remove that requirement from the curriculum. It seems that the requirement was put in there erroneously many years ago, since the beginning of the program, but no one had bothered to take it out. After many attempts, the department head was unable to get the requirement removed. Why? We still don’t know. I don’t think even he really knows.
The truth is, universities are filled with politics, just like any other business. I’ve heard from many people mistakenly believe that academia is a peaceful environment where learning takes place through curious minds exchanging ideas while sipping tea. I’ll tell you that this isn’t the case at all. Faculty and staff at universities can be just as catty and political as any other industry. Grudges among administrators can delay proposals and university changes for months, or even years, as they argue semantics and try to get things their way.
Just like our own US government, implementing changes at the university level can take a really long time as committees meet about this and that, amending the changes and involving others both inside and outside the university. They try their best to keep things objective and professional, but I’ve seen situations where things can get personal, and the personal beliefs of those in power can interfere from any real change happening on the campus. Professors who don’t like other professors will fight for favored courses, or timeslots for courses, or even office hours. Staff members may want to work independently or have more freedom in how they allocate their budgets. A lot of the time it involves administrators implementing new policies which adds responsibilities to departments that do not have the capacity to accept those added responsibilities, resulting in angry and resentful staff.
“So what?” you may ask. “This happens everywhere.” Well, yes, but the difference here is that oftentimes, college students will see the effects of these situations in a much greater magnitude. Political battles in university administration can result in tuition increases, removal of pivotal classes for degrees, removal of faculty, removal of amenities, more regulation to make simple tasks more complicated, and generally a lower quality of life at the campus.
The moral of the story here is that everyone is human, and no one is above making mistakes. Students get screwed over all the time regarding classes they need to take for graduation, grades on courses, residence hall charges, and other issues that may be the result of university politics. Sometimes, there may be no way to avoid them. The best you can do is understand that no one is perfect and mistakes can happen. Choose your battles wisely and fight for the things that matter the most to you.
For today’s post I just want to share with you a neat little tool I found online for comparing different colleges. It is especially helpful for those of you still in high school who are trying to choose the right college or university. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there are many different types of colleges available, and choosing the correct one can make a big difference on whether or not you finish with your degree or end up quitting/transferring out.
The website is called Big Future and is a college planning tool with a variety of functions. It offers SAT prep (as well as a bunch of other tests), general college info, as well as financial aid resources and scholarship links. However, the most useful tool I see on there is a pretty neat college comparison tool where you can see up to three colleges side by side in a variety of categories, such as type of college, cost, campus life, financial aid available, and location.
I played around with it for a while, and it’s pretty accurate, so definitely give it a try. This is also helpful for those of you already in college but are looking to transfer or just want a college experience that better fits your needs.
Moving into a dorm or residence hall isn’t easy. In addition to leaving your comfy room at home, missing your family, and living with a person you’ve never met, you have to deal with the smaller space you have to work with when moving on campus. Here is a list of items that can make your years in college more bearable, if you can scrape up enough money to buy them, that is.
1. Light-up umbrella
Travelling alone at night through a storm? Rain never fails to appear when you have the longest walk around campus. Prepare yourself with this light-up umbrella for only $22.82. Buy it here.
2. Credit card utility set
I have one of these myself, and it works really handy in many situations. Armed with a pocket knife, tweezers, toothpick, can opener, and more, it is a great tool for any college student. Get it here.
3. Bubble-wrap calendar
Who doesn’t like playing with bubble wrap? With a college student’s limited time, this calendar provides you the opportunity to be productive while having fun puncturing those little suckers every day of the year. Get it here.
4. Glow in the dark toilet paper
You aren’t a college student if you don’t go for those 3am trips to the bathroom after the 4 cans of soda you drank right before bedtime. To prevent unnecessary wiping mishaps, might I suggest this glow-in-the-dark toilet paper to aid you? Get it here.
5. Grocery bag grip
If you are unlucky enough to live on a higher floor in your dorm, getting groceries from your car to your room must be a pain. Living in the third floor while I was in college meant several trips back outside to the car, and the parking lot was quite a ways away. This handy tool allows you to carry all your bags at one time so only one trip is needed. You’re welcome.
6. USB charging batteries
Most everything uses a power outlet these days, whether to get it to work or to charge its internal battery. But every now and then you’ll come across a pesky item that requires good old batteries, like flashlights, remotes, and digital guitar tuners (for all you musicians out there). These batteries hook up to a usb slot in your computer so that buying new batteries are a thing of the past.
7. Mirror wiper
You’re running late this morning. You get up, grab your clothes, and run to the bathroom, only to find that your roommate just got out of the shower and fogged up your mirror. Not to worry! This uber expensive mirror wiper clears up your mirror in one simple motion. For those who just refuse to wipe it any other way, the mirror wiper is there for you.
8. Poor man’s Ipad
Jealous of all the other college students with an Ipad? Upset that it’s apparently a college rite-of-passage that you missed out on somehow? If you’re tight on cash but want to show off, be sure to try out this poor man’s Ipad. Looks just like the real thing, but less likely to break if you stare at it too hard.
9. Bedtime reading glasses
It’s inevitable that you will spend many hours studying for your next exam long into the night. Or, perhaps you like to get some light reading before bedtime. In any case, these really cool glasses allow you to read while laying down, without having to lift your head! It’s the ultimate tool for the lazy. I wonder how many people have fallen asleep using these?
10. Tabletop aquarium
Universities typically don’t allow pets in the dorms, so say goodbye to Spike or Mr. Whiskers when you head off to the big U. However, most colleges do allow a fish aquarium in your dorm. If you want an awesome-looking aquarium without sacrificing the space, check out this sweet tabletop aquarium. It really works! Though be careful, as it is made of pure glass and with a price tag of almost $600, you’d better have a really trustworthy roommate not to break it and flood the room.
I could probably publish a book of all the blunders and faux pas I experienced throughout my years of college. There’s just no escaping it. In order to truly learn in any environment, mistakes need to be made.
However, some mistakes are avoidable. Through talks with students I’ve worked with, friends I’ve confided with, and my own experiences, I’ve compiled the top ten mistakes students make in college, and how you can be a step ahead and avoid them. Below are the top 10 mistakes students make while at college.
10. Joining too many clubs or organizations
It’s very easy to get involved in college. From the moment you step foot on campus, everyone’s telling you about the amazing organizations on campus and the wonderful opportunities to get involved and meet new people. You hear the same thing at orientation, sometimes with representatives of those organizations coming to talk to you. Then, you have the activities fair once classes start, where every organization attempt to recruit you with cookies, goodies, prizes, raffles, and free pizza. And it doesn’t end there. The rest of the year, no matter where you go, you will be inundated with emails, fliers, and handbills about their meetings, events, trips, and fundraisers.
Now don’t get me wrong, getting involved is amazing. I would not be where I am today if not for all the relationships I formed through my organizations. But it can be very easy to sign up for every interesting organization to see and say “yes” to every opportunity. They make it seem so easy. Just sign your name here to be on their email list, come to a weekly or bi-weekly meeting, and voila! You’re involved!
What many freshmen don’t know, however, is that organizations take a lot of work to maintain. What starts off as a simple meeting quickly evolves into many responsibilities to function. An organization that does nothing but meets serves no purpose. There will be more events and they will expect you to help out. So here you are, joining three, four, or five organizations, and all of a sudden they convince you to sign up to work the bake sale fundraiser, help with their homecoming float, put up fliers, hand out pamphlets, and go shopping for supplies. And typically, this will all happen when you are drowning in homework and midterms are right around the corner.
I’ve seen many a student stressed out from too much responsibility. At this point, one of two things tends to happen. The first is that you try to do it all. You follow through with your commitments, and the quality of your work suffers as a result. You struggle to finish your assignments and study adequately for tests, and you do the absolute minimum to get by with your organizational responsibilities. Your GPA then takes a hit and you have to reconsider your priorities next semester. The second possibility is that you just quit the organizations. Easy, right? One thing you must consider when you do this is the organizations you have committed yourselves to. Organizations struggle constantly getting a keeping members, mostly because they experience this situation all the time. They have students sign up and then quit when they realize what they’ve gotten themselves into. Every student that quits hurts the organization, as that’s one set of hands that they counted on that suddenly disappears. This then makes you look bad in their eyes.
To avoid all of this hassle, just think it through what organizations you want to join when you start college. Pick one or two and stick with them, at least towards the end of the semester. If they aren’t for you, you can start fresh. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to get involved in college, so don’t feel rushed to do everything at once.
9. Living off campus if you have the means to live on campus
I want to start this off by being clear as to which students I am and am not referencing with this statement. I am NOT referring to students who live off campus because they are part time, nontraditional, or otherwise are paying their way through college themselves and cannot afford to stay on campus. I am referring to students who do have the means to stay on campus, but choose not to.
There are many out there, and I have seen time and time again those same students drop out from lack of involvement. They don’t really feel included, like a part of the campus, and they end up withdrawing. And even if they do not withdraw, they graduate missing a lot of what employers look for when hiring an employee. Studies have overwhelmingly shown that students who live off campus are less likely to get involved in on-campus organizations, leadership workshops and experiences, use on-campus resources such as tutoring labs, and apply for (and get) internships.
This is true for all students, but it’s doubly true for freshmen. If you are a freshman, I recommend that you do all that you can to live on campus, at least your first year. Many colleges require freshmen to live on campus their first year. However, if you live within a certain distance from the campus (usually around 30-40 miles), you are exempt for this. My suggestion is that, if you are already taking financial aid or student loans to pay for school, take in that extra aid to live on campus, at least that first year. Make connections, meet people, and get involved. It will pay off big time later on.
Living on campus is what gave me the opportunities to apply for a program which, following a chain of events, paid for my entire graduate school education. That extra amount of money I paid for my residence hall my first year saved me tens of thousands of dollars as I got my master’s degree. I speak this from experience.
8. Treating college classes like high school classes
This one is mostly aimed at my high school readers, but I know of many college students who can use this reminder. One of the first things you’ll notice getting to college is that college classes are nothing like high school classes. Professors have certain expectations from you and assume you will meet them. In many classes, attendance isn’t mandatory. Tests are much fewer and far between, sometimes just consisting of a midterm and final. A professor won’t say anything if you have to leave class to answer your phone or use the bathroom. You can just get up and go. You are much more independent, and you will find that they will let you get away with a lot more.
But as a result, you are responsible for the consequences of your actions, and your professor won’t hesitate to fail you if you’re not trying. When they give you an assignment to read a chapter, they will expect you to read the chapter. Many will discuss the chapter in the next class with the assumption that you read it. Be prepared to answer a question from the readings or take a pop quiz. Even if they don’t check on you with a pop quiz or discuss it at the next class, nothing is stopping them from putting it on the test.
A lot of time, professors will give you a study guide for exams, but that is not always the case. They will expect you to take the appropriate notes and develop a studying technique that will work for you. If you have any questions about an assignment, they will expect you to attend their office hours and ask them. You can’t show up the day the assignment is due and say you had a question about it, because you had your chance.
The lesson here is that you are not in high school anymore. Professors will treat you like an adult, but they also expect you to act like an adult. Show up to class, come prepared, and take responsibility for your actions. And whatever you do, do not cheat. It is cheap, tasteless, and an insult to you or a professor. I’ve noticed that college professors are a lot more understanding and flexible than high school teachers, so when you cheat, it is understandable that they will punish you to the fullest extent that they can. They are putting their trust that you will act honestly, and breaking that trust can have harsh consequences.
7. Partying on Sundays
This one was given to me by a student who fell prey to this exact situation. In college, there are parties. And more likely than not, you will go to at least one of them. However, while you’re out at that friend’s house or the club certainly not drinking underage or doing other illegal things, do not do so on Sundays. I am not sure why this is even a thing, as I don’t remember many Sunday parties while I was in college.
But for some reason, this trend is growing, and students are staying out late on Sundays past midnight. The next morning, the college campus looks like a zombie apocalypse, with students dragging their feet over to class, many drunk beyond belief, but others just lacking much-needed rest. If you’re going to party, please party responsibly. This message was brought to you by College For The Win.
6. Slacking off
This one is a no-brainer, but it happens very often so I have to include it. Procrastination is a big part of this. Students will wait until the last minute to do their homework or finish a project. Then, all of a sudden, the internet is down, or their computer malfunctions and deletes their paper, or an emergency sends someone to the hospital. Aside from that last one, you’ll have a difficult time getting a professor to extend their deadline for your assignment if you waited until the last minute to start it. In college, you’ll learn very quickly that you need to develop a timeline for your projects so that you don’t start working on them the night before they’re due.
Slacking off also means just lounging around. This is increasingly popular with college freshmen nowadays. When not in class, they will just loaf around. They’ll loaf around on their bed. They’ll loaf around on their couch. They’ll loaf around on someone else’s bed or someone else’s couch. Don’t fall under this trap. Loafing around will make you lazy and will suck the energy right out of you. You will quickly realize you have no will to do anything and will further promote procrastination. Make it a habit to throw in some study time between classes, while your brain is still active. Keep yourself going throughout the day, being productive in some way. By the end of the day, you will feel much better and much more accomplished. Once you do loaf around during the weekend, you will feel like you’ve earned it.
5. Carelessly using your meal plans
I’ve seen meal plans misused two ways: students will either be careless and use them all up before the semester is over, or they will stockpile them and have too many left over.
The first group are the types that not only use their meal plans to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but will also treat their roommate to a meal, their friend, their visiting family, their dog, and that man down the street they just met. They will use the point system in that plan to buy snacks at the convenience store, and to buy stuff in businesses outside the campus that support meal plans. These students will suddenly realize they’ve used up or are about to use up their meal plans by November, and will have to be eating Ramen Noodles for the rest of the semester.
The second group are the types that are too careful for their meal plan. Fully afraid of falling into group one, group two will be as stingy with their meal plans as possible. They refuse to eat breakfast, eat free meals whenever possible, and don’t even think about asking them to let you use their card. By the end of the semester, they have tons of leftover meal plans that they don’t know what to do with. Since meal plans do not roll over from semester to semester, they are forced to cash them out with more snacks and treats than they know what to do with.
You don’t need to fall into either of these groups. The key word here is moderation. Just do some simple math with the amount of meals you get every semester and ration them off. Make a plan and stick to them. That might help you from making the next mistake on the list:
4. Eating terribly
At some point in your life, you’ve heard of the Freshman 15. For those who haven’t, it’s as simple as it sounds. Once you have the freedom to eat whatever you want in college, it’s very easy to gain fifteen pounds your first year as you learn how to eat correctly.
This isn’t just limited to freshmen, though. You can be susceptible to unhealthy eating any year you are in college. I’ve noticed that many juniors and seniors will fall victim to terrible eating habits. They become so busy with managing their time between school, work, and other outside commitments, that they barely leave time to eat. They typically take quick “to-go” foods that are low on the nutritional meter and don’t typically have time to exercise properly.
The food pyramid does not disappear when you’re in college. Be sure to provide fruits and vegetables in your diets, and balance out your proteins and your carbs. Most universities have at least one type of buffet-type eating establishment. Use that to get as many fruits and vegetables as you want.
It’s very easy in college to eat out a lot. Almost every evening, I had a different group of friends invite me out to eat to hang out, one night at Panera’s, and the next at Ihop. In addition to eating unhealthy, it will take quite a chunk of your change to keep up that lifestyle. Watch what you eat and exercise regularly. The habits you develop in college will follow you for the rest of your life, so be sure to lay down the roots early.
3. Verbal diarrhea on facebook
This one holds a special place in my heart, because I am constantly amazed at the amount of things I see online from people I know, students and nonstudents alike. Verbal diarrhea is what I call posts and status updates that were obviously not thought through before posted. And this isn’t just limited to facebook. Twitter, instagram, flickr, photobucket, any social website with an opportunity to implicate yourself.
In college, it is very common for students to friend their professors and university staff on facebook. Likewise, it’s not unusual for them to follow you on twitter. With that in mind, let me leave you a word of advice: do not talk about that crazy party you went to last night and how drunk you were if you’re under 21 and are friends with the conduct officer at your university. Likewise, do not post pictures of you with a case of Miller lite in your dorm if you’re friends with your resident director. And please, oh please, do not put a facebook status about your boring class when not only are you friends with that professor, BUT YOU’RE POSTING THAT STATUS WHILE YOU’RE IN THEIR CLASSROOM!
All of these have indeed happened, and all of those students have indeed been caught. Look, I understand that we’re all human, and I’d be naïve to think that everyone is a perfect little angel that does no wrong. But please, I don’t need to read about it. I’ve run an orientation program at a university before, and I don’t need to know how drunk you got after your first night on campus. I’m not going to call you out on it, but it’s kind of hard to take you seriously when I see you the next day at orientation when I see how carelessly you post things.
What you post online creates an image of you. Just as professors and staff see you facebook profile, employers will see your facebook profile to find out more about you. Go ahead and do a little test. Pretend you are your potential employer in your dream job. Now go to your facebook (or twitter) profile and scroll through it, knowing nothing but what’s on that profile. What does it currently say about you? What can you gather from the status updates and pictures you’ve posted? I understand the notion of freedom of expression and all of that, but a little tact has never hurt anyone.
2. Bad money management
This is something not only college students are victims of, but people of all ages. Heck, I’m struggling with this as I type this! When you start college, you are going to have a new set of experiences that will challenge you financially. For many of you, you will get your first job. For others, your first bank account. In college, many students get their first credit card, their first major loan (student loans), their first car, and will have to file their own taxes for the first time. Yet, not learning how to manage all of these properly can really screw your credit over, credit that you will need for when you plan to buy a house or make any large purchases once you graduate college. Even if you don’t worry about getting any of those things, simply not building credit can hurt you. Banks and credit companies want to see a strong credit history. They want to know you can manage debt. College is the best place to practice these skills. Many times, they will offer workshops on building credit, or managing your money, or opening a bank account. Keep an eye out for these workshops, as they are free and very valuable tools for you to use.
Be careful with any money you earn from refund checks from your university. Refund checks typically are a result of an overpayment from your financial aid or from a loan. When requesting a loan for the year, only get enough to cover your school expenses. Even though many student loans allow for using the loans for “indirect” college expenses such as a car, a laptop, groceries, and clothes, try to resist the temptation to do so. Student loans add up very quickly. If you get a refund check, put it back towards more direct school expenses. Or put it in a savings account to use later to pay back your loans. It never hurts to have a financial cushion.
1. Not getting to know your professor
I listed this mistake as the number one not because it’s the one with the most to lose, but because it’s the one with the most to gain. In college, it’s okay to befriend a professor. It’s not weird to see them at Wal-mart or at the movie theater. Unlike high school and elementary school teachers, they do live outside the school! (I kid, I kid teachers!)
Your professor is an amazing resource that many students don’t take advantage of. The professor in any given field is likely to have contacts and networks in that field. If you want to be an accountant, and your accountant professor used to work in an accounting firm, don’t you think it would be a good idea to get to know that person better? Now, I’m not saying to brown nose your professor to get in good favor. It’s more about visiting them in their office hours when you have a question about an assignment versus going to the tutoring lab. It’s about genuinely asking them a question about their research after class ends.
Through my professors, I have made many connections for jobs, research opportunities, scholarships, and graduate school recommendations. Moreso, by building a relationship with your professor, they are more likely to give you a glowing, detailed recommendation when you apply for a job or scholarship. Graduate schools look more favorable at students who are known by their professors. It suggests that they are really there to learn and make the most of their college experience.
Professors are often the experts in their field, with most of them holding PHDs in work that they are passionate about. They love to talk about their work, and there is a lot to gain by listening to them. Professors make great mentors, people who you can stay in contact with for the rest of your life. I’ve had friends who had their professors attend their weddings, as well as their baby showers. By just going to class, doing your homework, passing your tests, and graduating, you are missing out on a lot of what makes college such an amazing experience.
So there you have it. The top 10 mistakes made by college students. Learn from the others who went through it before you. Feel free to leave a comment below on any mistakes you’ve seen or experienced in college.