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Monday Master Class: Back to School Advice You Won’t Find in Your Freshman Handbook

Late summer is the season of back to school advice. Nowhere is this more true than in the blogging community. Post after post slops full with helpful tips. Some irritating (“treat yourself with a reward, like a nice t-shirt or an ice cream every time you follow your schedule!”); most just boring (“get enough sleep!”)

I want to buck that trend. College is grittier than the world of freshman mixers and study breaks that writers like to focus on when offering up advice. As any student will tell you, it’s also a world of booting and popularity woes. Where social circles are vital and the party scene can be equal parts exhilarating and brutal. With this in mind, I want to present three pieces of gritty back to school study advice that are crucial, but that you probably won’t hear anywhere else:

Back to School Advice You Won’t Find in Your Freshman Handbook

  1. Party twice as hard for the first few weeks
    The beginning of the semester sets the pace for your social life. For your first few weeks on campus, before the workload becomes intense, go out more nights and stay out longer than you are used to. This is where many serious friendships will be forged. It will also rapidly acclimatize you to the social scene, and help ensure a steady stream of reliable, easy social options once your schedule begins to fill-up later in the term. If people had memorable experiences with you early on, they will keep you integrated in their social planning as the semester continues.
  2. Learn how to drink
    If you’re going to drink at college (around 50 to 70% students make this decision, depending on the source), you need to learn how to do it right. This means: learn your tolerance level. Figure out what pace you can sustain without losing control. Too many freshman go overboard in their first semester and end up embarrassing themselves. No one is impressed that you got completely smashed. In fact, while you might find yourself hilarious, most will find you awkward, and wish that you would just shut the hell up. If you shadow a senior around for a Friday night out, you will note that, after three years of experience, he or she will have learned how to have a good time without: (a) losing control; or (b) making themselves sick the next morning. Experiment with your intake to figure out how to get to this point as quickly as possible. Take this seriously. Like an athlete. You must learn how to maximize the capability of your body.
  3. If you don’t drink, don’t try to explain
    If you’re not a drinker, people will often ask you why. Don’t try to explain. Just say: “I have my reasons.” If they persist, get harsh: “What the fuck is it to you?” This ends the conversation, and lets you move on with the night. Pretty soon, people will stop bothering you about this. From what I’ve seen, trying to offer up an explanation will instigate a conversation that won’t go well. First of all, it always ends up making you seem like a bit of wuss, like you feel obligated to explain yourself to this jack ass. Secondly, the asker probably doesn’t care. They just like to talk about their own drinking.
  4. Start off as an activity slacker
    During the first week or two as a freshman, join one club that you are willing to apply serious energy towards. As I’ve talked about before, being the best at something is exponentially more rewarding than merely being involved. Also, this club will provide structure and a ready-made social group to help jumpstart your college career. Don’t, however, sign up for anything else. At least, not at first. The excitement of your first few weeks makes everything seem impossibly exciting. When the first exam period rolls around, however, you will regret having joined 18 different clubs. So be a slacker at first. Evaluate but don’t commit. Wait until your workload has hit its peak before you start to make smarter decisions about additional extracurriculars.

5 thoughts on “Monday Master Class: Back to School Advice You Won’t Find in Your Freshman Handbook”

  1. Smart advice! Really liked the advice for non-drinkers and the other one regarding co-curricular activities. I made that mistake in high school- I joined too many activities in the first few weeks & wasn’t able to back-out. It became a real struggle to juggle work & play. Finally I did quit some of those co-curriculars, but not without angering the members who thought it was rather flippant of me to do so.
    Now I know better. =)
    Just nice to see such solid advice in writing. It affirms what I learnt from my mistakes in high school.
    Thanks Cal!

  2. Sue, thanks for the comment. Several students have mentioned this to me. The college admissions process taught them to think a stuffed resume was key for success. At the college level and beyond, however, quality in one thing is vastly more important than quantity. Furthermore, college-level activities are more time consuming. Making this mindset doubly damaging.


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