Every now and then on my blog, I’ll review a book that I think may be of interest to college students. It’s also a crafty way of getting me to read for pleasure again. Ever since starting grad school, all my reading became purely scholarly, and I suddenly realized I lost my passion for fiction. As a result, For The Win Book Reviews were born!
Today’s book review is World War Z by Max Brooks.
This is an amazing book! It takes the absurd setting of a zombie apocalypse an reshapes it in a more realistic setting of a reporter inquiring about the “zombie war”. The interview style he uses gives the entire book a sense of authenticity, like all of this really happened.
He goes into a tremendous amount of detail within the stories of the “interviewees”, telling me he either did a lot of research for this book, or has had many interesting life experiences.
In a sense, the book itself is a number of short stories with the common theme being that “zombie war”. The stories themselves can be hit or miss. A few at the beginning had me just flipping through the pages seeing where they were going, then disappointing that nothing came from them. Later on, though, the stories started getting much better. I just couldn’t put them down!
For those who have seen the movie by the same name, this is nothing like the movie. And I’m not saying that in a “the book was better than the movie” way that book enthusiasts tend to say. No, I mean they are really nothing like each other besides the main character’s name and maybe a setting or two. For one thing, the book takes place in the future, after the war ends (I’d mark that as a spoiler, but that’s what it literally says in the back of the book). In the movie, it’s in the present, and the main character is in the middle of it all. But anyways, I’ll leave it at that, as this isn’t a book vs. movie review.
All in all, I really enjoyed this fresh take on the zombie genre. The characters introduced seemed very real and relatable, even if they were only introduced one time and never heard from again. It also makes you wonder if this really is how society would respond during such an outbreak. This book has gotten me extremely interested in the zombie genre.
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.
Pixar’s latest entry in the animated film industry received a lot of mixed reactions upon its announcement. Following in the footsteps of two other PIxar sequels, Toy Story 3 and Cars 2, many figured that Pixar was running out of ideas and had to recycle their existing series into sequels and prequels.
Although Toy Story 3 was met with strong critical acclaim, with a 99% “fresh” rating on RottenTomatoes.com, Cars 2 was met with a 39% “rotten” rating for feeling too much like a cheap cash-in and lacking that Pixar magic that their movies have been known for.
But where does that leave Monsters University? Just like in the original movie, Monsters Inc., the movie takes place in a world inhabited by the monsters that children fear are hiding in their closets. They have their own society, with their own economy, factories, and of course, education systems. As a prequel to the original Monsters University, this movie follows Mike Wazowski who attends Monsters University in an effort to achieve his dream of becoming a scarer.
Let me just say that I went into this movie pretty skeptical. The last two movies I had watched, Cars 2 and Brave, didn’t really impress me much. Monsters Inc, while a good movie, just didn’t appear to me to be the kind of movie that needed a prequel. However, I was pleasantly surprised that not only was this a good movie, but it offered a really nice view of college life through Mike’s eyes, and even ended it with an interesting message that you wouldn’t typically expect from a movie for kids.
Let me explain. At first glance, this movie is just pure fun, providing typical satire of college life, such as the super peppy RAs that you find on campus, to the new roommate, the craziness of sororities and fraternities, and the rigors of academic pressure.
But where this movie really shines is the parts that aren’t so typical for a college movie. At first glance, the relationship between Mike and Sulley when they meet seems to follow the typical movie cliché: nerdy guy meets the cool guy. Cool guy is popular and everything comes easy, whereas the nerdy guy has to fight his way to make it through the top. Cue a rivalry through the whole movie until the nerd comes out on top. Surprisingly, this movie was not as shallow.
Right from the beginning, despite Sulley’s cocky attitude at the beginning due to being son of a famous scarer, he quickly realized that his reputation wouldn’t get him far in class. His lack of care and preparation had him fall behind in class and get a pretty bad tongue lashing from the dean. Meanwhile, Mike’s studying and preparation actually made him a force to be reckoned with in the classroom, quickly becoming the professor’s favorite and impressing the rest of the class. This is quite different than what I expected, which was Mike having to catch up to Sulley through the whole movie.
Their bickering eventually gets them in trouble with the dean, causing them to fail the qualifying exam and kicked out of the college of scaring. This forces the two of them to work together to prove that they can be decent scarers.
The rest of the movie has your typical “ragtag team of losers overcome the odds to win the championship” type of plot, but once again wowed me as it reached the end. The entire point of the movie was Mike’s dream to be a scarer. It is all he wanted since he was a child, and promised himself he’d do whatever it takes to make it. This manifested himself in the scaring competition, where he truly believed in himself, and against all odds, scared the tacos out of the child simulator and won the team the competition. I rolled my eyes after watching this scene, as the whole “you can do it if you believe” schtick is in just about every animated movie you can imagine.
But in an effort to continue to feed me crow, Pixar once again throws another curveball by revealing that Sulley actually tampered with the machine which allowed Mike to win. As it turned out, Mike wasn’t scary at all!
After a series of events, Mike and Sulley end up trapped in the human world, hunted down by a bunch of cops (or were they park rangers?). In the midst of hiding, Mike gives what I believe to be one of the most heart-wrenching, powerful speeches I’ve ever heard come out of an animated character’s mouth.
Earlier in the movie, the dean had these words to say to Mike: “Mr Wazowski, what you lack simply cannot be taught. You’re just not scary.”
After everything he went through, after all his failures, he came to the realization that she was right. He is not scary, and he will never be scary. Mike realized that his dream was wrong, and that he simply could not be something that he was not. Instead, rather than trying to chase after an unrealistic dream, he altered his goals to match his strengths, and together with Sulley, managed to come up with a plan to scare away the cops that were chasing them and find a way back to the monster world.
Despite their victory, they were still kicked out of the university for cheating and consequently trespassing into places they weren’t allowed. The final foot-in-mouth moment I experienced with this movie was towards the end, when Mike and Sulley finally accepted who they were at the bus stop before Mike left. As they were saying goodbye, the dean approaches them to congratulate them for their previous victory in working together to scare full grown adults.
As I’m sure most people watching were expecting, this would be the part where the dean enthusiastically invites them back in, they finish their degree, then claim their place at Monsters University. But that didn’t happen. She did not let them back in. They did not go back to college, any college, and decided to start at the bottom at the Monsters Inc post office. The credits scenes subsequently showed them working their way up to the scaring positions we are familiar with them having.
This movie shares with its viewers a couple of messages that go against the norm of society today.
First, that just because you really, really want it, doesn’t mean you’ll get it. If you do not have the talent to do something, then you just can’t do it, period. Sure, you can work years and years to become adequate at it, but why waste your time becoming adequate on something you’re bad at, when you can be great at something you’re good at?
For example, try as I may, I will never be a great Olympic swimmer like Michael Phelps. I’m not 6 feet, 4 inches, for starters, and my wingspan is nowhere near as long as his. Plus, I just suck at swimming. But society today tells me that if I put my mind to it, I can do it. That’s just not true, and as a result, we end up with a bunch of very disappointed kids who were raised with unrealistic expectations. Many people I’ve talked to complained about the downer ending in which Mike never became scary, but instead became a scaring coach. Well, so what? If this were a real life situation, isn’t that what would happen? I applaud Pixar for giving this realistic ending.
The second message that this movie gives us is that college isn’t for everyone. I may get a couple of dirty looks for saying this (especially from other college professionals), but it’s true: college isn’t for everyone. Some people are just not suited to learning in a college atmosphere. But that’s not a bad thing. Society seems to stigmatize people without a college education. Monsters University is unique in that it doesn’t seem to favor one way or the other. Mike and Sulley quit college, but instead gain all their skills by starting from the bottom of the totem pole and working their way up. They become just as competent in their job as the rest of their colleagues.
But let’s take Randall, Mike’s roommate. He stayed and (we assume) graduated from Monsters University, and yet he was also a pretty good scarer. In Monsters Inc, he was shown to go toe-to-toe with Sulley. Is either approach better than the other? Not necessarily. There’s a reason vocational and tech schools have grown rapidly: some students just don’t want or need college for their career goals. On-the-job training is sometimes the best route for them.
Too often is college seen as the only option, and the message is that if you don’t go to college, you are a loser and will never succeed. This is demotivating for students that either can’t afford to go to college, or just can’t succeed in the college classroom setting. Now, granted, I do believe that most people can benefit from a college education, and it’s true, most jobs nowadays won’t even look at you without a college degree, but I still stand by my statement that college isn’t for everyone.
So all in all, this was a really good movie. Pixar has once again managed to raise the bar with quality animation and throw in some wonderful messages without being too preachy. Good show, Pixar, good show.
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.
This blog post was created as a result of an interesting conversation I had with a gentleman who firmly believed that college is a waste of time and money. He said, to paraphrase: “You go to school where they don’t teach you anything that will help you in the real world. You finish 4 years and you start from scratch. You have no experience, you’re stuck with absurd amount of debt which you’re getting charged and there’s little chance you’ll get a job in your field.”
The conversation got me thinking about the usefulness of college other than that piece of paper saying that you finished.
My thought is that college is only as useful as you make it while you’re there. Many people go to college under the wrong impression that it’s high school plus. In high school, you merely go to school, your teachers teach you, and you go home. You are mostly a passive learner.
In college, it is a completely different ballgame. You are expected to be an active learner. What this means is that going to class is not enough. It is rare for a student who just goes to class and graduates really gets much out of the college experience, and in that case, I do believe they wasted their money going to college. Even if they get a job, they only got the bare minimums of what college can offer.
Research agrees that most of the learning in college happens outside of the classroom. There are tons of things you can do while in college to make yourself more marketable to employers. Here are a list of suggestions that will increase your skill set and make college a more valuable experience:
Career Development workshops
I’d say around 95% of universities have these. They include resume workshops to teach you how to write an attractive resume, interviewing workshops to practice your interview skills, dress for success for proper business attire for interviews, job hunting techniques, networking techniques, business etiquette, and much more. And best of all, you’ve already paid for them with your student fees. Go to every single one you can. I went to these, and it did wonders in building up my confidence for job hunting. I don’t even fear interviews anymore. I come in to interviews and just chat with the employer with ease, person to person. It’s all the practice I’ve had beforehand.
The truth is, you need experience for employers to take you seriously. Internships are the perfect way to get that experience, whether paid or unpaid. The thing is, government has been cracking down on the ability for companies to provide internships. Nowadays, you can only get an internship if it’s for class credit towards your college degree. This is to keep companies from using “internships” as a way for free/cheap labor. But the opportunities are there. Look online, talk to your professors or career services department for internship opportunities in your field. You can theoretically get an internship each summer you’re in college, or even fall/spring semesters if you want. Imagine graduating college with already one or two years of experience in your field? But internships don’t just come to you. You have to work for them to find them and then apply for them.
On-campus organizations are really valuable tools. Most colleges have them, and they range in topics. The trick is joining the right ones. Are you a theater major? Join the Drama Club? A female biology major? Join Women in Science? An education major? Try the Student National Education Association. Just about every major has an organization that relates to it. Become an officer in it. Engage in projects with the community or even the organizations you hope to work with that way. Organizations help you meet others in your field with similar goals, and thus networking opportunities. They teach you how to work with a team in a practical setting. You learn leadership skills, things that employers like to see. Projects you complete in the organization are great for resumes. Employers want to see what you do with your free time while in college. They want to make sure you can take a project from beginning to end.
Research projects with professors
The best part about college is that professors aren’t just there to teach. Behind the scenes, they work on numerous research projects, presentations, case studies, and even consulting gigs with firms. Professors generally love to be asked about their work. Talk to them, find out what they are working on. Then ask them if you can work on a project with them. It could either be a project they’ve already started or come up with a new one. This is another great way to gain experience in your field. Your professor more than likely has connections in the industry. If you work with them, there is a high chance they can get you in touch with people that have the power to hire you, especially if you have good work ethic. Thing is, professors don’t just advertise that they’re willing to work with you on these projects, as there are too many students for them to split their time with. They expect you to go to them, and offer up something of value. They want to help you, but they also want to advance their own Curriculum Vitae through completion of these projects.
Life Skills and civic engagement
This one doesn’t directly get you a job after college, but I feel it is an important part of attending college. College provides you a safety net for learning a bunch of life skills. College is the only time in your life when you can make huge mistakes and recover from them relatively easily. Get fired from a job while in college? You can generally bounce back from that once you graduate. Horrible at managing your time when living on your own? Fail that one class and it’ll snap you into reality. You also just learn how to be an adult in a safer environment. You have resources available, such as a free fitness center (usually), counseling center, health/wellness center, career counseling center, minority services center (if you need it), cooking classes, money management tips, parenting classes, Real Estate 101, and all sorts of other things that colleges get funding for to help you learn to live on your own as an adult. College is in part about becoming an adult who contributes to society, and lives interdependently with the community he or she resides in.
My best years were in college. It’s where I met my wife. It’s where I truly grew up and matured. It’s where I got opportunities I would have never had, such as flying a plane, being a television weatherman, and giving a speech to an audience of 10,000 people. My resume is packed to the margins with skills, expertise, experiences, and projects that happened while I was in college, giving me a leg up on the competition.
It’s true, that college isn’t for everyone. But to say it’s a waste of time and money is a stretch. You just need to invest your time into it to reap the rewards.
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.
Anyone who has lived in a college dorm knows what an RA is. They are seen as either the bossy tools who go out of their way to keep you from having fun or the useless nobodies that get a free room to do nothing and let chaos run throughout the halls. Well, I worked as a college RA (Resident Advisor, or Resident Assistant in some universities) while in college, and eventually got promoted to an RD (Resident Director), and a lot of my college experiences happened from the point of view of those positions. Here are ten lessons learned from being an RA/RD:
1. An RA isn’t just that happy-go-lucky robot with a clipboard.
I thought I would start off by giving a clearer description of what an RA is and does, since I’m sure not many people are familiar. An RA is known as a Resident Advisor, or a Resident Assistant, in most colleges. The hiring process to become an RA is much more in depth than any other campus job (which I’ll describe in more detail a bit later), as the responsibilities of an RA range in many areas. The following are the typical tasks an RA of your school would be responsible for:
– Rule enforcer- Probably the most common task RAs are known for. They are in charge of abiding by the university residence hall policy and make sure students in their hall are following them as well. If they catch students not following policy, they are then to either give them warnings or write them up for a variety of punishments options.
– Room checks- Making sure that resident rooms in dorms and residence halls are clean, in proper living conditions, and ready for students to move in. Throughout the semester, they must ensure that the rooms continue to be in proper condition and do not present safety hazards to the students who live in it. They also must check the rooms when the students leave to make sure no damage has been done to it.
– Advising- This is where the “advisor” part comes into play. RAs are often put (whenever possible) in dorms with students in a major similar to themselves. RAs are trained to help students if they are having trouble with classes, with school, or even their personal lives. While not full-fledged counselors, RAs are given basic training to see if students are showing signs of depression, or giving basic counseling advice in emergency situations when a counselor isn’t available.
From my experience, most RAs get the compensation of a paid room to themselves. In many schools, that’s all they get (and sometimes they’ll even have to share a room with another RA). In other schools, RAs get some better benefits. In addition to a free room, some schools give RAs a stipend (ranging from $20-$100 a week), free meal plans, free travel expenses for conferences, free goodies (like shirts, office supplies, mugs, caps, etc), and gift certificates/gift cards.
2. The RA hiring process is very selective and thorough.
Unlike other campus jobs, the position of RA holds a lot of power and responsibility, so it is no question that the interview process will be very comprehensive. Since I don’t know how the interview process goes for every university in the country, I will merely provide the process for mine. I assume other schools are at least in a similar ball park.
The first step is the application. In addition to all the traditional application information that has to be provided, the RA application also puts you to answer essay questions that test your ethics and your desire to be an RA. If you hold the minimum GPA required and the questions show some ethical decision making and interest, you may be called to an interview. In that first interview, even more questions are asked in all sorts of different areas. You are given scenarios that RAs typically deal with and are asked how you would deal with them.
In addition, you are asked to prepare for the interview a 15 minute presentation of how your first RA ‘wing meeting’ will be (the initial meeting with your new residents at the beginning of the year). You are invited to be as creative as possible, and have decent knowledge of the housing policy handbook.
If you pass that interview, you will join a second group interview. All the candidates who have made it this far will be asked to participate in a one-day retreat kind of thing, where games will be played and team exercises will be performed. RDs and administrators will watch these games and see who works well with others and how these students perform in group settings. Being the loudest and most outgoing won’t necessary land you the job. It’s about being yourself, and not being afraid to take risks and talk to people. I would also recommend volunteering to be the first to do something in a game, even if you know you’ll make a fool of yourself. In that initial time when they ask for volunteers and everyone is quiet, that is the best time to shine.
If you get selected to continue, you go through the last interview. This is usually with the assistant or associate director of housing. They tend to ask even more prodding questions to find out more about you, including experiences you’ve had that you think would be relevant to the job, and case studies to truly see how you think. If you can make it past this 3rd interview, you’re almost an RA.
All that’s left is the RA class. In some universities it’s offered for elective credit, in others it isn’t. This class ranges from 1 month to 3 months, once or twice a week, and the class covers just about everything an RA will do: administration, counseling, community-building, activities and events hosting, and even how to dress and nonverbal communication.
If you get through the class and manage to complete your assignments, you get placed in a residence hall and a room, go through another week of intensive training (the class is more on theory, and the training is more on practice) the week before school starts, and voila! You’re an RA!
3. There are a lot of unadvertised perks of being an RA.
In my line of work, I’ve had several dinners with the university president, gotten backstage passes to Jeff Dunham and Tosh.O, and have even been picked as a volunteer for several hypnotists at my campus thanks to my VIP seating. In addition, I have been invited to complimentary trips to the Oshkosh aviation air show to represent our school, and other trips around the country for a variety of reasons.
The point I’m trying to make is that RAs receive many other benefits and opportunities than what you see in the job description. It really is a lot of fun and worth the experience. Plus, as student leaders, putting that you were an RA in college looks really good on resumes and grad school applications. It’s one of the most versatile campus involvements you can have since they deal with so many areas.
In addition, you will be very well-known on campus. As an RA, you participate in orientation events, rallying up students for orientation activities, games, and programs. You usually get to know all the students in the building, and more importantly, they get to know you. If you’re the super strict RA with the iron whip, the students will get to know you and avoid getting in trouble by you. If you make an effort to get to know the students, like saying hi in the hallway, going to the events you promote, etc., you will find that students will talk, and all of a sudden all sorts of people will be saying hi to you on campus, some you don’t even know. This will continue to grow every year that you’re an RA, until you become one of the most well-known students on campus, if you can handle that.
From personal experience, I went from a completely reserved, quiet student as a freshman on campus to one of the most well-known students in school. Case in point, I actually won Senior Class President my senior year and gave the graduation speech on graduation day. The biggest part of the popularity necessary to win that election was the people that I knew and the people that knew me.
It is a great feeling to have residents you had all year come back to you in their junior year and tell you thanks for helping shape their freshman year. Granted, many freshmen could care less, but there will be some that really appreciate your efforts.
4. Once you are an RA, you are always an RA.
Our university’s housing department had a motto about being an RA: It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle. The reason for this is because you are an RA 24/7, whether you want to be or not. You can’t just “turn it off” when you go clubbing with your friends. Your residents will see you as their RA in the halls, and they’ll see you as an RA in the clubs. They will also see you as their RA ten years from now when you encounter them and their kids at Disney World.
Many university staff members and student affairs professionals started out as RAs. Once they realize they could make an entire career out of doing stuff like that, they went for it. I’m one of those people. I became an RA for life, so to speak. So if you don’t think you can handle the pressure of a job that becomes a part of your life, I wouldn’t recommend being an RA. Otherwise, it’ll be one of the most memorable jobs you’ll ever have.
5. Being a Resident Director (RD) is pretty awesome too.
I want to take some time to talk about a Resident Director. Simply put, it is an RAs supervisor. Rather than looking over a hall, they look over an entire building, and oftentimes several buildings at once. In many schools, these jobs are offered as full time positions. In others, they are offered as graduate assistantships to graduate students who want a place to live for grad school. In my school, however, you can get it as a promotion as an undergraduate if you applied.
The interview process is similar to that of an RA, but there are less people applying and you already know the interviewers very well. As for the job itself, it is amazing. Rather than a simple dorm, you get an entire full-fledged apartment. My apartment in particular had a bedroom, living room, dining room, kitchen, and two bathrooms, fully furnished.
The job is more administrative in nature. You usually have much more full control over the punishments you give out to students who break the rules. You also make big decisions as to changes you make to the buildings you are responsible for, such as adding additional study lounges, vending machines, or even restructuring room placements. You also often get to pick the RA staff you can work with, and hire and fire your staff as you see fit. It is a rewarding experience, and it is one of the only university jobs that I’ve ever seen where you are on just about equal footing to other university staff and administration.
The pay is much higher than an RA’s pay, and most universities will also give you a very generous meal plan and money for travel. However, there is also much more responsibility with the position. As the representative of my building, any cases too big for my RAs to handle were sent up to me. I had to deal with the suicide attempts, students caught with firearms, arson cases, sexual assault, and hate crimes. As the RD, it is not as easy as an RA to be the fun-loving, good guy.
In order to help your RAs out, sometimes you have to be the bad cop to the students in order to make your RAs the good cop. For those who watch Scrubs, think of Dr. Kelso. He has to make the tough decisions in the hospital and look like the bad guy so the rest of the staff doesn’t have to. With the kind of guy I am, that was the most difficult transition. But I found the perfect balance of being fun and easygoing with being tough and fair.
6. A typical day for an RA.
As an RA, my typical day consisted of a variety of different things depending on the day. Other than normal student things such as classes, and RA has to have at least somewhat of a presence in their residence hall every day (so no extended trips where you’ll be gone for more than a day without approval). Though you can usually dodge this one if you just ask a fellow RA to watch your hall for you. RAs also have a couple of meetings they need to attend a week. The two most common are staff meetings and committee meetings. Staff meetings are run by the RD that goes over issues in the building, in the school, or relaying other work-related information. Some RDs also make it a group bonding time and play games or go out for dinner or some type of social activity since RAs are often like family to each other. RAs are also occasionally asked to serve in committees for school events, such as student appreciation, staff appreciation, resident hall Olympics, Relay for life, etc. They also have to go to those meetings.
Also, at least once a week, if not more, an RA is on duty. This means that they may not leave the building they live in for a 12 hour period for any reason. In addition, they have to serve anywhere between 2-6 hours of desk duty, where they must man the front desk of their building to answer questions for students or provide general customer service. Most RAs use this time to socialize with friends who join them during the downtime or do their homework. It’s also how you catch up to the dorm gossip since you’re in the middle of everything.
RAs also have to fill out weekly email reports to their RDs telling them how their residents are doing and have occasional one-on-one meetings with their RDs to tell them how they are doing.
Lastly, RA should constantly be making events and social functions for their residents, like movie nights, bowling nights, dinner, games, etc to keep the community feeling in the dorm. You know you have a good RA when they constantly supply a good range of activities for you to do throughout the year.
7. Some stories from my RA days.
In my line of work, I deal with all sorts of situations, some serious, others humorous. Here are some examples:
The pranksters– I had two “factions” of residents across the hall from each other who pranked each other nonstop, each one upping the ante on the pranks. They would super glue their keyholes, put live cockroaches in their rooms, steal their hats and drop them in the toilet, vandalize their doors with shaving cream, and all sorts of things. This was an interesting but challenging situation.
The shower lockout– The bathrooms in the building I lived in were outside the rooms and required a key for entry. I’ve been woken up several times at all times of the night by guys and girls in a towel who got themselves locked out of the showers and their bedroom. Why do so many people shower at 3 in the morning?
Alcohol poisoning– I ran into a freshman throwing up in the bathroom from alcohol poisoning from drinking too much at a party. He wouldn’t stop throwing up and would occasionally lose consciousness as his friend tried to keep his head up. I had to call the ambulance and have them take him to the hospital. I was told that he was so intoxicated it could have killed him if he didn’t get the medical attention when he did.
Topless wrestling in the halls– This isn’t what you think. For some reason, one year I had a hallway full of guys that for some reason always wrestled each other in the hallway with their shirts off at 3 in the morning. I would come out of my room, exhausted and angry to yell at them, only to see wide-eyed what was going on. I would tell them to keep it in the bedrooms and I went back to bed. Never understood that one.
Hall Wars– There were two dorm halls that were competing with each other for the best hall. Each time a hall put up decorations or set up an activity, the other hall would put up something better. I still remember during Halloween where the competition got so fierce, when you walked into the hallways you felt like you were literally walking into a Halloween town. The walls were covered with wallpaper, spider webs and spiders sticking out, mechanical ghosts on strings flying back and forth, pumpkins by all the room entrances, and an orange glow emitting from the lights. It was amazing.
The Spring Break Snake– A resident apparently had a pet snake in their room and left it there when he left for spring break. The snake managed to get out and scared the crap out of one of my RAs (I was RD at the time) when they were doing health and safety inspections. They had to call animal control to take the snake away. The student was furious.
The sorority birthday surprise– As an RA, I ran into a group of girls keying into another girl’s room with a coat hanger. When I confronted them, they told me they were a fraternity who wanted to fill the pledge’s room with balloons and gifts. I told them that the gesture was nice, but that they were breaking the rules by keying into a room as it is considered trespassing. I didn’t write them up, but told them they had to leave. Unfortunately, I caught them doing it again later and had to write them up.
The Stinky Roommate– I had a complaint from one of my male residents once about having a roommate who’s stench could raise the dead. When I walked into the room, I could confirm that he did, indeed, stink. It was one very awkward conversation I had to have with that resident.
The Tree hugger– I had to take a guy to a hospital because he ran into a tree. No joke. He ran into a tree and knocked himself out.
The beer smuggler. There were about 5 other RAs and I chilling at the front desk one night. One smart freshman decides to walk in right through the front door with a 12 pack of miller and walk right past us. We almost felt like writing him up for two counts: one for alcohol and one for stupidity.
The loud couple– Had to deal with a noise complaint constantly about a couple who were too loud when “going at it.”
The dump hall– For a while, there was a hall that was so dirty, that even the RA was scared to go in it. Garbage was everywhere and the students even looked like hobos. I had to send a cleanup crew to take care of that mess.
In high school… you don’t want to leave the house.
In college… your parents don’t want you to leave the house.
In high school… your teachers never leave the school
In college… you never leave the school
In high school… once school was done, you were done.
In college… once school is done, your day is just getting started.
- “This isn’t what I had in mind when I joined the forestry club.”
In high school… you have to deal with the burn-outs.
In college… you can leave them behind.
In high school… you get picked on for liking nerdy things.
In college… nerdy things make you popular.
In high school… social status meant everything.
In college… no one cares.
In high school… sleep was for the weak.
In college… sleep is the greatest gift ever.
In high school… you cannot wait to be an adult.
In college… you wish you were a kid again.
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.