We're in the dog days of summer and it's that time of year again: time for kids across America to begin the best four, six, or even seven years of their life, otherwise known as college. Let me include a special shout-out to all you future unemployable history majors... oh simma down. I myself was a History major, with a focus in Russian Area Studies, to make sure I truly put as much space as possible between myself and any form of gainful employment. Thank goodness for TV news!
Anyway, I was thinking of all the frosh who are wondering, "What am I doing here? What does it mean? When is my roommate going to shut the hell up!" To that end, I'm going to give you the 8 Dos and Don'ts of College. (You'll forget this, like you forget everything else in college but at least you won't be able to say I didn't try.)
1. Do broaden your horizons. The best use you can make of college is to take courses, and by extension, experience ideas, that would normally be unavailable to you. I, for example, signed up for Russian language strictly on a lark. That lark eventually took me to Middlebury Language School, years of living in Russia and even a job working for NBC News in Russia. It also gave me an intimate appreciation and understanding of a foreign culture; that appreciation continues to positively impact my life. Living in Russia gave me the courage and confidence to do so many other challenging things in my life. Thus, when you're reading the course bulletin, before you take what you already know... challenge yourself. You truly cannot begin to guess where that Chinese 101 could take you.
2. Don't talk about how cool you were in high school because "cool in high school," is, honestly, a contradiction in terms and no one cares. All you're doing is causing the interesting people to avoid you.
3. Do make friends with different types of people. True story: my roommate/best friend in college was from the Deep South; she was home-schooled; had taught herself Ancient Greek, and played the harp. We were as different as two people could be and we had so much fun together. College is one of the last times you'll find it easy to meet new and interesting people and develop life-altering friendships.
4. Don't worry about grades. Worry about learning interesting things, and starting to develop passions which eventually can be transformed into some kind of sustainable employment. I promise you that I got exactly none of my most interesting jobs because I graduated with honors. I got hired by NBC News in Moscow because I was already in Moscow, I spoke fluent Russian and my employer suspected I could be trusted. No employer EVER asked me about grades. Worrying about grades is going to take time away from meeting cool people, taking interesting classes and drinking. (Not necessarily in that order.)
5. Do find a mentor. I was lucky enough to attend a college, Wellesley, which specializes in small class-sizes and attentive professors. I had one professor, in fact, who when I showed up at her office in tears, having received the first "C" of my life, sat down with me and helped me revise my paper. For a subject unrelated to hers. That woman cared. The fact that she cared so much was more meaningful to me, and my extended career, than any grade or honor.
6. Don't have sex with people who are drunk, and/or unconscious, or trying to start a Marxist collective on campus. I personally would also avoid people who consider Ionesco a good playwright but that's just me.
7. Do get out of your room and sample all the intellectual life on campus. Not only are you likely to be extremely surprised by the caliber of the people you'll meet, it's a great way to start networking and developing opportunities. True story: I was invited to apply to the CIA because, while in grad school, I attended an on-campus lecture about government jobs. There was an ex-CIA operative at the discussion, we had an intelligent conversation, and he emailed me a few days later, telling me the Agency needed people like myself. (Spoiler alert: No. Applying for the CIA is just as hilarious and bizarre as you suspect it might be.) And by "people like myself," he meant well-groomed and personable. Eventually, in four years, you are going to want a job, yes? I promise you that you're not going to get it sitting in your room, bored.
8. Don't hesitate, just do it! (Gawd, when did I become this perky weather-bunny?) But seriously, this is college not the real world. This is where you're supposed to try different things, experiment and figure out a little bit about the world, and yourself. College is truly the last time it'll be okay to juggle in public, or talk loudly and ponderously about philosophical ideas you know nothing about, or read Ayn Rand in public or wear Crocs, or spell "women" "womyn", or stage an all-Lesbian, steampunk version of The Cherry Orchard. Go crazy! Try something new. Discover yourself. The people who are the most successful in life are the people who discovered, while in college, some passion which motivated them to create the professional life they love.
Trust me: the best lessons I learned in college were lessons of motivation, determination and confidence. Those lessons, plus the friendships I made and the experiences I had, are the things that allow me to keep expanding my horizons. With all that in mind, I wish you the best four years of your life.
Got some great college experiences you want to share? I'd love to hear them! Either write them down in the comments section, or please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.