I finally made it to college. “Yes!” I cheered wildly. “Now I can finally be a real scholar and learn interesting things that I wouldn’t be able to learn without a teacher. I will study like those in the days of yore, where it was commonplace to enter college at fifteen and graduate at nineteen.” Then I discovered that whatever my ambitions, these surely weren’t the ambitions of 50% of the college campus. As follows are the disappointing and long-resisted lessons I learned as a result, or if you prefer, a warning to the wise would-be student.
College is barely a step up from high school.
Quite honestly, my parents taught me to expect something a bit more rigorous from the college experience. I went into my first test wondering if my GPA would survive. I walked out of my first test wondering if I could maintain my 4.0 GPA over the next four years. I realize now that my expectations were highly unrealistic. How is one supposed to get to advanced work without slogging through the easy stuff? I am a very visual learner so being in class merely allows me to figure out what the teacher has to add to the explanation in the book after I’ve read the chapter. As I was soon to find out, many students don’t bother to read the chapter even after the professor has given the lecture. I was expecting something very intensive. What I found was that teachers are forced to go over each topic in minute detail so their students can cope with tests without having done the assigned reading. I also went to class to discover what would be on each exam, because sometimes, the professors lower the bar. Frankly, I feel a bit lazy for not having gone over the chapters that my honors calculus teacher has neglected to teach. If the honors class doesn’t cover them, who does? Aren’t they important?
Most college students are not really students.
I know I sound cynical, but I begin to wonder why some of the people at my school even bother. I realize that I cannot appreciate how fun parties are (I stand around and wish the DJ would turn down the music and the girls would talk about something with which I’m familiar.), but when do you study? The weekend begins on Thursday here, and certain people stumble into class Monday complaining that they wish we would get to the part of the subject they understand already. “Excuse me? Why are you taking this class if not to learn?” The result is that teachers are ready to hug anyone who puts in a decent effort (My own real near-experience). These teachers aren’t even out to fail us. My Mom abhors giving out D’s and F’s. Do the work, even if you must do it badly. Be a teacher’s favorite. It will serve you when your grade is balanced between an A and a B (or even a C and a D).
Money makes the world go round.
Unfortunately, it does. I don’t know how many telephone conversations I’ve overheard where people are negotiating with Mom or Grandma about sending money. This is only spending money for clothes, movies, food and drink–there’s also tuition, meal plans, rent, bus fees, and so on. This only makes it more ridiculous how some people throw all of that away to have a good time. I realize that I never really had spending money apart from presents. (Up to the time I was about three, I got ten cents for every year I lived.) I also realize that I was raised by parents of Northern thrift, who were raised by people who survived the Great Depression. Even so, everyone has grandparents (or parents or great-grandparents) who lived during the Depression. You’ve got to make it count. Even my parents, who dislike money from the government, are sending me to a state school, and I’m getting by partly on a Pell Grant. (Technically, my parents already paid for all this in taxes, so I don’t feel too guilty.) Everyone wants money.
Most college campuses are rated R: (The queasy need not apply.)
Perhaps it’s just that I’m taking theatre, which allows for the free expression of visceral and erotic emotions, perhaps it’s that I’m living in an honors dorm instead of at home, where I would sometimes rather be–either way, this campus is a rather god-less place. Let’s begin with theatre. The theatre instructor told us that we would be watching a movie. Boy-o-boy! What fun! Wow. I didn’t know you were allowed to show R-rated movies to a class without warning. I didn’t realize sexuality was really a valid theme for movies of high culture. Wait…this is a college campus–most people here probably relate to the theme of sexuality better than anything else. The first play the class had to go see was about a group of Bohemians with lesbian, homo-, and trans-sexuality. The theatre department is currently taking auditions for a play about the female reproductive organ. I suspect that some people on my floor have taken this study to a higher level. What I find interesting is that even though the staff-writer for the school paper did a “highly controversial” God-less piece on “Does God Hate Gays”. There was always a collective gasp whenever characters–in play or movie–revealed that they were gay. Could this be the conscience, as hinted at by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity? Hmm.
Most people do not just want to be “friends” with persons of the opposite gender.
I realize that I grew up with brothers, surrounded by the massive boyish chaos of the troop of which my father is the scoutmaster. I am accustomed to being thought of as one of “the girls”, the leader of our tiny, but fearless female venturing crew. I prepared myself for some small amount of jerks. Still–I had not realized that being a girl made me a possible girl-friend of any guy on campus. Apparently, being a science major with more than half a brain makes me even more attractive. Sadly, as much as I may wish it, I cannot do as Marion Ravenwood and threaten jerks with a knife. However, if one doesn’t have it before having to fight off jerks, the anger generated by the desire to fight jerks produces confidence–even in a passive-aggressive like me–and this may be seen as a good thing.
Confidence is a double-edged sword.
Confidence (in my case, acquired from public-speaking class and Mr. Jerk) gives the ability to ignore people, to do better on tests, and even to feel more emotionally stable. Unfortunately, it has its down-sides. Let’s take Know-it-all, as I have affectionately christened one student in both calculus and chemistry class with me. Know-it-all was going to ace everything at the beginning of the semester. Confidence over-flowed their veins in the form of boasts. Guess what? Know-it-all doesn’t use the proper notation, still doesn’t do their homework (and shares this freely), and found that the one subject in calculus they thought they were going to breeze through was quite in-depth and short. Now, the purpose of this cautionary tale is not to boost my ego (though it has been), but to explain that confidence without preparation leads to destruction, even among those who have a good deal to be confident about.
Study when you have the time.
I reiterate. Study. I understand how easy it is not to study. I suspect I spend less time studying here than I did in high school. The internet is a gigantic time waster. Classes leave me exhausted. Budgeting one’s time is essential to surviving. I don’t pretend to have this down. I know some people who do. (My wonderful RA, Erin, is taking 17 hours, being an RA, holding down a part-time job, all while keeping her boyfriend.) This applies to bedtimes too. Go set a time to sleep. Cramming seldom works, and I have observed that I become exponentially slower an less productive as time wears on into the night. It’s not worth it. (This from the girl publishing this at 1 AM. It’s not worth it.) 😉