Being A College Student - Part 1 [Personal]

Welcome to part one of a three part series that I’ll be posting over the next week or so. Aspects covered in “Being A College Student” are: personal, academic, and social. These are geared towards incoming college freshman students, but can also be useful to current college students and I imagine anyone else. Think of the article as a collection of tidbits I’ve learned over the past five years, and stuff I wish I would’ve known when I got here.

This portion’s emphasis is personal. In any stage of life, especially college—if you don’t make time for yourself your body will. College students are sick far too often, they gain weight, have appearances that resemble a hobo, and some are even driven to drinking alcohol as an escape. Why? Let’s look at what could be a typical college lifestyle:

The National Institute of Health recommends 8 hours of sleep per night. For most students, this just is not feasible. I still don’t get close to 8 hours of sleep a night. I’m no scholar when it comes to sleep, but what works best for me is about 6-7 hours of sleep a night on weekdays and 9-10 hours of sleep on weekends.

If you’re going to be arriving at college, you probably dread The Freshman 15—it’s very true. Weight gain happens. It happens through inactivity and overconsumption.

A lot of people don’t realize that the lightning fast metabolism they had in high school can slow down as they get older and stop physically maturing. Other students played sports or were physically active in high school with extracurricular activities, and have ceased to stay ‘on the ball’ with some routine exercise.

Overconsumption was the roughest for me. Acquiring a taste for Amber Bock’s 166 calories per bottle, (ouch, 8% of your recommended daily caloric intake is gone) living off of cafeteria food, and being seduced by organizations that want my time offering free pizza were a big part of the weight I gained in college. The only effective way I’ve found to lose weight and keep it off is to burn more than you consume. It sounds simple – but simple does not mean easy.

Don’t forget about vitamins. A good way to not get sick is to take plenty of Vitamin C. I take 2000 MG daily. I don’t know if this is good or not… but I am hardly ever sick. I’ve also found that having some sort of a multivitamin can supplement nutrients that you don’t get when you’re on the go so much and you don’t have time to set up a food pyramid compliant meal.

“I just made the best daiquiri. You should try it.”


How many people just tried the drink before you did? Aside from the obvious “don’t drink and drive” and “don’t drink stuff that you don’t know what its components are… if you’re even starting to get sick, don’t try and drink it away. It doesn’t work.

Roommates are critical to a truly college experience. Roomies help on expenses in off-campus living and are usually requisite for incoming students that don’t commute. They provide friendship and an escape from solitude. They also provide potential sickness—mentally and physically. If they aren’t coughing up a lung, they order an XL meat lover’s pizza after you just ate. Roommates can be a source of a lot of mental duress, too. I know I’ve had my share.

I’ve lived with strangers, the oriental, semi-friends, very close friends, and downright enemies. The single most important investment you can make for college is a good pair of noise canceling headphones. When you need to just get away from your roommate (and possibly your roommate’s company), slap on the headphones and some music to block them out.

Some Don’ts on roommate selection:

  1. Don’t pick a roommate that you went to high school with. This is kind of difficult to do for incoming freshman… but don’t. See my reasoning for #3 for more on this.
  2. Don’t pick a roommate that is your best friend. Or something close to your best friend. It won’t last.
  3. Don’t pick a roommate that you share a major with. One of the advantages of having a roommate is being able to meet new people through your roommate. You give your roommate dating and friend potential just like your roommate gives you the same through people you both don’t yet know.

I didn’t eat any Asian food when I got to college. It was through then friend, now roommate, Matt that pushed me to trying new foods. I’ll just go ahead and say it: nobody likes a picky eater. Picky eaters hold the rest of us back from amazing tastes. Now I will try just about anything, especially foreign foods.

Aside from trying new foods, college is the golden opportunity to find out who you really are. Look into other political beliefs, philosophies, religions, social groups, beverages, and music. I can say I like a lot of rap music thanks to college life.

This goes mainly for the male readers—LEARN TO GROOM YOURSELF REGULARLY. Take care of your facial hair. PLEASE. Your best bet is to stay clean shaven and get into a regular shaving routine. Take a shower every day and wash your hair. Use deodorant. If you don’t know how to properly shave, do some googling and you’ll find a few good guides. Brush your teeth. Keep your effing nose hair under control. Use Q-Tips. Get regular haircuts. Without Mom and Dad around to harass you about grooming… it’s very easy to let your appearance go. I cannot get over how many utterly disgusting people there are on campus—and not just because they’re having a bad week. It seems some people go out of their way to be as disgusting as they can. Don’t be one of those people.

As a college student, you’ll find yourself doing a lot of homework in your room. Do yourself a favor and create an environment in your room that enables you to work. This varies from person to person – some people need silence, others need strong doses of Aphex Twin. One aspect of a good working environment that is universally applicable is organization.

Buy a folder for every class. Buy a legal pad for every class. Label them. One of the ways I’ve made my labels is from old blank VHS boxes that have stickers. It is very elementary – keep all of your Class A materials in your Class A folder. Once you get back to your room and you realize you have an assignment due for Class A… you will know where all of your material is and you can focus on actually doing the work instead of finding a worksheet.

People reading this that have visited my room will cry out “Bullshit!”. I guess it’s true? My desks at work and home are cluttered. I like to call it organized chaos. I know where everything is, and that’s all that matters. On a related note… my computing workspaces are borderline immaculate. Optimizing a computing workspace is another post in itself, though.

You will experience burnout from school, friends, and work. The advice I remember my father offering to me when I left for college was, “Son, your time is valuable. There will be tons of people wanting your time for tons of things—some of them will be worthwhile, but you have to remember your primary purpose here is to get an education and get out.”

Burnout occurs at a pivotal time in your semester that is often termed “Test Season”, which occurs approximately 7-8 weeks into each semester where all of your professors realize they have to assign some type of grade to your for mid terms and issue a test. You have a few choices: be miserable and do nothing, be miserable and drink for a week, completely escape and power through it all. Unless you want to be in college forever, I suggest using the “escape” option.

Find a place that none of your usual friends know about and go there when burnout happens. I’ve found a couple of escapes—one is the office after hours, another is my family’s lake condo, and the library is great when you have a pair of headphones. Even if it’s just for a night, getting away can save your semester from going straight to hell.

Being A College Student - Part 2 [Academic]

Welcome to part two of my three part series called “Being A College Student”. The last entry, Being A College Student – Part 1 [Personal], chronicled all of the right choices to make with regards to having a sound personal life while in college. If you can’t have a good personal life in college, you won’t last. This entry’s focus is academic – the second most important part of college. Sadly, academics are why we’re in college. If you don’t learn about yourself and your chosen field, you’re just participating in an extremely expensive community living project.

A little bit of background – I’ll have a Computer Information Systems degree in about 10 days. While it may seem that degree may give me a narrow perspective, realize I have spent the last 5 years surrounded by music majors and students of the arts. Also, CIS is not just computers, but I have taken every class required of a Business Administration student. It took me three years to finally declare my major of CIS. I started, like most students, declaring no major. I took a few Computer Science classes and tried to get my Gen Eds (English, Civ, Humanities, Basic Math) out of the way. I figured I would major in Computer Science, so I needed to find a minor that I’d enjoy as well. Insert Philosophy. After one upper-level Philosophy course, I decided Philosophy wasn’t my bag. Insert Technical Writing. Same thing – not for me. Eventually, Computer Science classes had their programming emphasis removed and started to get more of a focus on discrete mathematics. Now Computer Science wasn’t for me. There went two and a half years down the toilet.

The moral of that story:

If I would have just been required to go visit my advisor before I could schedule, almost all of the wasted time and classes could have been avoided. Fortunately, Murray State now has “advising holds” which prevent mistakes like this from happening. I’m sure most larger universities have systems like this in place. While they seem like a real hassle, it’s for your own good.

All I knew about CIS was what I read on Slashdot from basement dwellers saying that CIS is for goons. I wish I had talked to my advisor about my interests and goals my freshman year—he would have said you need to drop Computer Science and go with CIS.

If you do not have a mentor/advisor to guide you through a completely new experience, expect to make some big mistakes along the way and having to make up for them in time/money.

The job of an advisor is to get you out of college. All universities want to graduate students. It makes them look good. So, find an advisor immediately before you start scheduling classes and follow his/her advice.

So obvious. So so so so obvious. There are a few problems with college classes that most younger students do not realize:

  1. All classes for the first week or two are painfully easy. Most of the early classes are review based or orientation, which gives a false impression to students of “this class is cake; I’m only going to go every other day”. Wrong. The meat of the material usually starts the third week, right when it gets to be so tempting to skip the class.
  2. Most professors don’t care if you show up or not unless it impacts other students (think presentations). The number one way to piss off a professor is by not showing up to a fellow student’s class presentation. If you’re going to skip, don’t skip on presentation days.
  3. Most professors will cancel class at least once. This semester I had two separate classes cancelled for weeks at a time. Score!

A lot of students, myself included, are so egotistical that they just skip classes. I have and do constantly say to myself “I’m not going to learn anything today, so why show up?”—it’s not about learning. At least, most of the time it isn’t. It’s about being able to increase your bullshit threshold to its highest point.

The two semesters I had diligent class attendance my grades soared. The others… not so much. I’m still getting out of school, but I could have a lot more opportunities with a higher GPA. It’s simple: there is a direct, positive correlation between attending classes and grades. As I stated in the previous post, simplicity does not always mean ease. It’s simple to attend classes – all you have to do is sit there.

You don’t have to be smart to put up with a lot of bullshit. You have to be stubborn and patient. I’m willing to bet that it is impossible to fail a class that you attend 100% of the time. Learning to put up with a bunch of bullshit (e.g., doing busy work, watching ‘instructional’ videos) now will make life a lot easier in the future when you’re working. I challenge each and every reader to find an occupation that does not have any bullshit at its core. It’s a part of life. The best thing you can do is embrace it and use BS to your advantage.

I’m reminded of a quote from the movie Brad Pitt in Se7en:

He’s pissing in our faces again and we’re just taking it.

Sometimes you just have to take it. It sucks—but the more you learn from the times you do have to just ‘suck it up’ the less likely you are to have to endure something like that again.

After making plenty of mistakes in scheduling and in my personal life, I had to make up for some lost time. Summer classes to the rescue. If there are any classes you’re absolutely dreading because of difficulty or boredom, take them in the summer. My two ‘attrition’ classes were Accounting 1 & 2. Those classes make most people question their sanity and weed out the non-serious students. I got through them both with high grades quite the sense of satisfaction. See below:

Burning the book - part 3 Burning the book - part 2 Burning the book

We grilled my Principles of Accounting Book. One of my mini-triumphs during college.

I also took COM161 over the summer in a two week session which was one of history’s greatest decisions. Instead of having to endure a semester of terrible speeches, it only took two weeks. Score another for summer classes.

Taking summer classes will get you out of school faster. My grades in summer classes were usually A’s because I didn’t have nearly as many distractions to manage. Only one class at a time, allowing me to give my full attention.

Note taking and productivity will be the difference between a C student and an A student. Earlier I said all you have to do is attend classes and you’ll pass. It’s true! Passing isn’t good enough though. The formula that’s worked for me:

  1. Make categories for all of your types of responsibilities (mine were personal, school, fraternity, work)
  2. Make a to do list for each category, and number each item sequentially
  3. Write out S, M, T, W, T, F, S … and put the number from step 2 with the day of the week you’re going to do it
  4. Cross them out when you’re done

I’m a little old school with this since I’m not completely dependent on nifty services like Tada List or Google Calendar but if Google Calendar does add their rumored Todo list feature… I may be sold.

While sitting in class I would have a lot of difficulty taking notes. It’s just difficult to pay attention to boring subjects. The best advice I can offer is make things fun. If you have to work on a class project and you get to be creative, make it a project you’ll actually use or you find a little humorous. If you’re taking notes, try listening for ways to take what the lecturer is saying grossly out of context while you’re taking notes. I call this the “cuss count” method. For instance, if a professor says:

When Roe v. Wade was passed it’s not like women said ‘Wow, I can’t wait to get an abortion’

Just make another page of notes for the classes cuss count: I – “I can’t wait to get an abortion”. When you’re looking over the cuss counts after class they can be pretty funny…plus you just payed attention in class.

That’s all I have for the Academic portion of “Being A College Student”—the final installment of this series will be over the glorious facets of social life in college.

Being A College Student - Part 3 [Social]

The biggest intangible and unforeseeable (for me) benefits of going to college have been in the social realm. Too often the real world sees college graduates who are socially inept and impotent from a communication standpoint. Even if it makes your grades suffer, even if it keeps you in college just a hint longer, the social development that can take place in college is invaluable if you know how to harness it.

The real question we should ask ourselves: What good is a solid education with greater earning potential if you have no one to share it with?

This entry contains my tips for transforming from a caterpillar into a social butterfly. There are other entries you are interested in becoming a better student or becoming a better person.

Get out there and meet people. Meet a wide variety of people. There is no way (besides social networking websites, I guess) that you can meet new people without leaving your house. The earlier you become a recluse the more difficult it is to break the cycle.

Your apartment/dorm should be a place to hang out with friends, occasionally escape, eat, possibly study and of course sleep. I would say occupy it about 30% of your time, with 80% of that 30% being for sleep. I am a big fan of studying in a library because of the environment, plus if you need to take a break you can usually find a friend who needs a break too.

Even if you don’t drink, go to parties that have alcohol. They attract more people. Inevitably, there will be others there that are not drinking as a result of drawing the DD(Designated Driver) straw or just not interested in consuming alcohol.

Parties are great for making the first connection with someone you may see on campus in the future. Particularly block/house parties. The fraternity here parties aren’t that great due to a lot of legal restrictions. Also, if you are interested in men, fraternity parties are for you. If you are not interested in men, and you are not in the fraternity throwing a party don’t go to a fraternity party.

In order to fund all of your wild college adventures you have to get some income. While the pay isn’t that great, on campus jobs are much more sensitive to a student’s schedule. On campus jobs can be your link to new people who also have friends who have friends.

The most important reason to get an on campus job is most of the time you will not have to work weekends. The weekends are when everyone else has their free time; you don’t want to be standing around at Wal-Mart scanning groceries for 8 hours on Saturday just to come home and go to bed.

It’s creepy coming back and seeing a poke, a new text message on my phone, a voicemail, a new private message, new messages on AIM and MSN, and new facebook wall message all from the same person in the same day. Especially if you rarely if ever see the person. If you’re relying on the online tools to get your social fix you are becoming a recluse. If you really want to communicate, there’s no substitute for face to face IRL contact.

I assure you, no one who is sociable/sane depends on the net or a phone as a primary mode of communication if they have the choice. Face to face conversations capture so much more and provide a way to delve so much deeper than the typical IM/phone conversation. Yes, phone/IM/social networks do eliminate a lot of the barriers, like time. If the opportunity for face to face communication ever comes up, the choice should be clear. If you’re using technology as a crutch because you’re too nervous to go see someone, you should seriously examine your situation and decide if you want to maintain the friendship or end it.

Early in my college career I went out to rush events. I was eager to join a fraternity that had lots of members that I consider(ed) friends. I didn’t get a bid – upsetting at the time, but in the long run I’m glad that it didn’t work out that way. I wasn’t ready to do the fraternity experience.

I wasn’t ready until the fall of 2004. Being in a fraternity has a lot of responsibilities, particularly those relating to time, finances, and emotions. My philosophy on fraternity life is this – either get into it at a young age (first two semesters) or wait until you can contribute just as much as you get out of the experience.

Greek organizations face the same problems that all campus organizations face (sources of money, getting people to actually pay, communication issues), along with a lot of the problems that face a family. Drama Drama Drama. The greek life is for you if you’re young and you need a good support blanket, or if you’re older and you feel like you can offer some direction to the younger guys.

If you have all of your friends in one group, or have one BESTEST friend you’re creating a central point of failure. If a falling out happens with the BESTEST friend or the group, you’ll be completely screwed. In a roundabout way, a character in Don Quixote says “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.” Relying on a central group/individual for all of your friend needs just isn’t realistic.

Let’s not kid ourselves – friends serve our psyche’s acceptance need and a need of camaraderie. Diversifying the sources of your friends is critical as your acceptance needs become more complex. If you need professional acceptance, find friends you can communicate about professional issues. If you seek social acceptance, find friends that you can level with on a social level.

Don’t be a dumbass. You’ll give yourself and the rest of the students in the world a bad reputation. Don’t drive or do any of the other “DUH” things. Now that I’ve got that out of the way… the 11 commandments for drinking in college:

  1. Know your limits. Nobody likes to vomit/dry heave/deal with someone who is doing one of those… and let’s not forget the angry/emotional drunk.
  2. Drink beer. Preferably light beer. It’s cheaper and much more abundant. I don’t see shots aren’t socially acceptable outside of a wild college party. Mixed drinks at bars are just too expensive.
  3. If you are underage, plan & find multiple sources. Oh, and don’t forget you’re breaking the law. You cannot always count on a hookup on the night you need it.
  4. If you are of age, only turn down the underage in dire circumstances. Remember, someone helped you out before you turned 21.
  5. Be communal. This isn’t a call to give away every ounce of booze you own, but if a friend is in need don’t hesitate to give away what you have for a good cause. You’ll be in that position one day. How do you want to be treated?
  6. Learn to pour from a keg/pitcher/bottle. There’s nothing worse than a beer with too much head.
  7. Learn your local specials. This is much more applicable for larger cities. For instance, while I was in San Diego, The Silver Fox had $2 anything on Thursday nights. In Murray the specials vary, but if you want to muster a group of people to go out with you, you’ll have to appeal to their wallets.
  8. Put your phone/IM client away. Until you learn to control yourself, which will probably take a while if you just begin drinking in college, don’t bring your phone. Don’t get on your computer afterwards to instant message/post on a journal to all of your friends/possibly the world letting them know.
  9. Be wary of photos with you and alcohol. Those photos (even privately posted) can be copied, and can send an unintended message to friends/family/potential employers.
  10. Don’t drink alone. I’ve heard it’s a sign of alcoholism. The old adage goes “One’s an alcoholic, two’s a party.”
  11. Pre-party if you have a ride and arrive late. One of the less fun parts of partying is waiting for the party to start. People will come. Assemble your crew in a friendly location with your DD and start enjoying the night before you get to the party. If the party has not started prior to your arrival, it definitely will when you get there.

The other venues of escape I’m alluding to are illegal drugs. Just don’t get into them. There are too many legal and health problems you can get into, not to mention the overwhelming social stigma attached to the stereotypical college student’s preferred recreational substance.

Save some money and go somewhere wild for spring break with a lot of your friends. I spent all of my spring breaks working except for one. Once I went with a friend to Pensa Cola, FL and had a blast with some great weather. It was fun, but it was far too controlled. The other 4 spring breaks amounted to earning money in one way or another.

My most memorable road trip during college had to be during finals week my sophomore year with my then roommate Dave and our mutual friends Brent and Burris. We wanted to visit Lambert’s in Sikeston, MO ordinarily a drive done in under two hours. Since we were lost, it took us five hours. I’ll always remember that trip.

Travel as much as you can, take the random road trips when you don’t have anything else to do – go visit your friends from high school that are attending different schools. They’ll appreciate it. Traveling affords opportunities with your friends that the typical routine can’t come close to matching.

I could devote an entire website to this subject alone. However, in the interest of time I will only say this: get a friend in the gender you’re interested in. Not a potential hookup via the Ladder Theory but an actual honest no BS friend. A lot of people argue on the ability of true platonic love, but give it a try. The key here is to make sure that the friend you’re aiming to make is also not attracted to you in any way.

From there, you can learn everything you never knew (and probably never wanted to know) about the mindset of someone that interests you. In relationships and hookups, there’s nothing more valuable than being aware of a perspective that you’re pursuing.

Finally… always, ALWAYS remember what Cube said:

There’s one bitch in this world, one bitch with many faces.

Ladies, you know I kid.

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