Congratulations, you’re a college freshman. You’ve probably got a roommate, $400 worth of textbooks, and a brand-new, very small fridge. Life is good. Matriculation was only the first hurdle, though, and at the risk of seeming gloomy at such a hopeful time, the truth is that a great many of the fall semester’s shiny, new students will never wear the cap and gown. Do you remember the immortal words of Ted Knight’s Judge Elihu Smails, in Caddyshack, who correctly informed Danny Noonan that “the world needs ditch-diggers, too”? Well, that happens to be true. So ask yourself, do you want to dig ditches, or perform whatever the equivalent nowhere job might be back in the bunghole hometown you just crawled out of? Do you want to wash out of school?
Most students don’t, so to help you achieve the laudable ambition of eventually graduating (which is the way I graduated, eventually), please accept this unsolicited, free advice from a former college freshman who has, at this point, been a college professor for eight years.
Woody Allen said “Showing up is 80 percent of life.” I wouldn’t suggest taking parenting advice from Woody, but this particular point is salient. The most important guidance I can offer collegiate neophytes is also the most basic: attend your classes. Show up. Get your ass into that (prepaid) seat. Students who attend class tend to stay caught up on work, and are far more likely to get the benefit of the doubt from a professor should they need one. Maybe something happens that pulls you away from your studies. Maybe you break your foot, or just get a wicked case of pinkeye. Maybe someone important dies. One way or another, you won’t be in your (very expensive, prepaid) seat for a little while. That happens all the time, but when you’re a student whose diligence is already self-evident, it’s just one more hurdle during the semester’s challenges. If that unavoidable absence happens to the student whose face the professor can’t quite place, five weeks in, they usually don’t make it.
Another important part of adjusting to college is making sure you get the sleep you need. Your parents aren’t there to drag you out of bed every morning, or to prevent you from staying up late, playing PS3, or drilling butts, or bullshitting in the student lounge until 4 am. You’re on your own, and you can’t go to class if you snore through it. The answer? Good old self-discipline. In all my time “professing” I have noticed that the people who tend to do well in college are the most organized. They follow the syllabus. They keep up with the reading. They plan out their assignments, instead of procrastinating, and that organization extends to getting rest. Get on, and then stay on, a schedule.
Speaking of staying up until 4 am, if you’re an average freshman, you’re about to do a lot of partying, perhaps more than you would have thought yourself capable of while still a mere high school senior. That’s fine, too. Stay safe (be careful whom you accept drinks from, and always have cab fare home) and enjoy yourself. Just don’t let this new freedom to party come between you and passing grades. Another way to say it is, make sure that, on occasion, you put the bong down and do your homework. Remember, if you wanted to hide out in your room and rip j-bones all day, every day, then there was no need to pay tuition. You want to follow Phish around? Great. Sounds awesome (except for all the Phish music), but if you want to live a rock and roll road trip party, once again, why pay tuition? Strike a balance, instead. Catch a leg of the tour over the semester break, and then get your ass back to the library.