Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Letter to an Incoming College Freshman

I mentioned in one of my previous Vacation posts that my “niece,” Kyrie, will be starting college in the fall.  On the Tuesday I was out there, she and her family ran out to her new school to go through freshman orientation.

As I've said before, I can’t believe how the time has flown by with these kids.  Sure, I see a newly minted college girl standing there with me.


But inside, it’s impossible for me not to see that little country girl who wrapped me around her tiny fingers, so many years ago.


But I get it… kids grow up.  And I refuse to be one of those people who continue to treat kids like babies, long after they've grown up.  (I used to hate that, when I was a recently grown up kid.)  But you’ll have to excuse me for the occasional misty memory from time to time.

I had asked my buddy if he thought it would be a good idea if I took her aside and talked to her a bit about college.  I’m the only one in her circle of adults who has actually graduated from college, (I think), so I figured I might have some valuable insight.  Rik agreed completely, as sometimes it helps to hear stuff from a grownup that’s not your parent… like an interested third party.  There’s less baggage, that way.  So I jotted some notes into my iPad, so I could organize my thoughts.

My plan was to pull her aside before we all went out for Myles Pizza, but as it turned out, she met us there.  And while we were at the table, the conversation turned to college advice anyway.  Because I’d shared what I was going to tell her with John and his wife, first thing I knew, they were dropping my notes on her.  So much for the Uncle/Niece bonding moment.  I didn't see her for the rest of the week, so I never had the chance to follow up.

But we didn't cover everything during the Great Pizza Round Table discussion, so I figured I’d turn to the next best tactic, a blog post.  (Yeah, like I wasn't going to write it up anyway…)

As you may recall, two years ago I wrote about her growing up in A Letter to a 16-Year Old Girl.  With that in mind, I now present, A Letter to an Incoming College Freshman.

Dear Kyrie,
As I’m sure you know, you have an amazing opportunity unfolding for you over the next couple of years.  What happens next will affect the rest of your life.  If you do well, you can have a nice career mapped out for you, and at worst, you’ll come out a cut above other job applicants that don’t have anything but a high school degree.

If you blow this chance and wash out, well, have fun at the yogurt stand, or supermarket, or other some place that offers minimum wage and no benefits.

I’m not going to tell you not to have fun.  My college years were some of the best of my life.  I had a blast, but knew I still had to knuckle down and do the work.  Remember, this is not supposed to be easy.  It will be hard and often complicated.  Please consider this as advice from someone who’s been through it.  Keeping the following points in mind can help you navigate the somewhat treacherous waters of academia. 

1. Have fun but remember what's important.  It’s tempting to go out all the time, because this will be your first extended span with no adult supervision.  A lot of kids take that freedom and run wild.   

And in a related note, roughly half of all freshmen wash out in their first year.  With no one watching over them, they spend their time partying, not doing the work, not getting enough sleep, and missing classes.  Trust me, if this happens to you, you’ll regret it the rest of your adult life.

Be careful whom you drink with. A real friend will try to help you and keep you out of trouble, not laugh at you and put your drunk ass on You-Tube.

2. College is EXPENSIVE!!!  Don't blow the opportunity, or a degree can cost tens of thousands of dollars.  Scholarships have to be renewed, or at least you have to keep a good GPA in order to keep the money coming.  Yes, you can get student loans, but unless you land a lucrative job after graduation, you are likely to spend your entire working career paying them off.  (Plus, Congress just allowed student loan interest rates to double.  Thanks, guys!)

3. Don't let "friends" exert undue influence. You know what's right... Do it.  You're from a small town, where people tend to watch out for each other.  Not everyone at school is going to have your best interest at heart.  Don't let your troubles become the entertainment for others.

4. I know you've been talking about joining a Sorority, but please think about it.  I know my ex-sorority blog sisters will loudly disagree, but in my experience, sororities are mostly a delivery system of fresh meat to the frat houses. 

I know there are some people who need this kind of social structure, but you make friends just by walking into a room.  In fact, you made two friends at orientation alone.  You don’t need a sorority.  You don’t need to spend your freshman year serving as slave labor for the upper-class girls.  You don’t need to limit your dating choices to the designated brother frat.  You should be free to hang out with whomever you want, whenever you want.  It’s far better to pick your own friends rather than having them assigned.

5. Watch out for the “Freshman 15.”  It’s not a myth and it can totally sneak up on you, with all the late nights and easy availability of fatty foods.  Use the rec center to exercise whenever you can!

6. There is no boy that's worth your education.  Remember why you’re there.  Don't get too caught up in dating, or obsess over some dude who probably doesn't deserve you anyway.  Everything I told you in that blog post after you turned 16 still holds true.  Demand to be treated with respect, AND do the same in return.  If you act like a slut, you'll be treated like one.

If you find yourself getting serious with a guy, take your ass to the campus medical center and get on birth control. Period! You cannot rely on the guy to do it.  A guy’s agenda in college is 1) Get a degree, and 2) Get as much poon as possible.  (Not necessarily in that order.)  In the moment of truth, wrapping his beef is the least of his concerns.

You're the “keeper of your own castle." You set the terms for access.  You've already seen what happens to one’s life when they don't.

7. If your school uses e-books, then please disregard this item, but wherever possible, buy used books. They often have the important parts already highlighted for you.  You still have to do all the reading, but consider the highlighted parts like signposts.

And then sell them back when you’re done!  I made the mistake of thinking I’d keep mine, but wised up in my senior year.  Alas, I was stuck with some books I couldn't unload.  Trust me, I haven’t looked at a single old school book in 30 years.

8. Sleep is important... be sure to get some.  It helps not to take 8:00 classes.  Guaranteed, you'll want to skip them on those cold, iron gray Cleveland mornings, of which there will be many… trust me on that one.  And if you must take an early class, try not to go out the night before.

9. Study groups can be a big help, especially for subjects that give you problems.  Find some friends in these classes and see if you all can study together.  But pick serious people, not your party friends. 

10. When you have papers to write, always have someone else look at them. I write for a living and I have to do this too.  It's very hard to catch your own errors.  If no one is available, walk away for a couple hours, or look at it again the next day.  Your brain knows what you're trying to say, so it can easily overlook spelling and grammar errors. The trick is to try to look at your work with "new eyes."

Another good trick is to read your paper out loud.  It’s funny how any errors become evident when you speak them.

Also, spell check will only go so far.  It can miss errors like there/they're/their.  Good spelling and grammar COUNT. Just ask any HR person that's going over resumes.  If your cover letter is a mess, your résumé is going right in the trash.

If you want, I would be happy to read anything you wanted me to.  I'm a pretty damned good editor, so feel free to use me.  Email makes things easy.

11. Do the work.  There is no quick and painless way to get a degree and make it mean something.  Learning how to learn and how to think is probably more important than the various facts you'll be taught.

The best class I ever took was on Values, during my freshman year.  It taught me how to reason, how to deconstruct an argument, how to develop an informed opinion, and in general, how to think!

You may not have a real-life use for the subject of every class you take, but you can always use the process, like how to compose a well-flowing paper, or how to approach a huge project.

This is your time, my dear girl.  It will be up to you to make the best of it.  No one will be there to run interference with professors or bail you out of a self-inflicted jam… you’ll sink or swim on your own, no excuses.

I know you can do this, and make it the best time of your life.

With much love and pride, Uncle Bluz

Now to the forum… is there anything I missed?  What would YOU tell your new college student?

21 comments:

  1. Love to learn, work at it then learning won't be work.

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    1. Let's here it for the Queen of Succinctity!

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  2. These are great lessons here Bluz, and I hope Kyrie takes them to heart. I wish I had that kind of relationship with my (wife's) niece Bridget, who will be a freshman at Rutgers this fall. The only advice I had for her was "Have fun. Work hard. And have fun." Not very helpful, I know. But I didn't go to college and I had/have little connection to her growing up. You and Kyrie are very fortunate.

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    1. Well, you can always send her this link!

      And remember, in a blink of an eye, your babies will be heading off to college. You get to pour all your hard-won wisdom into them..

      I don't have my own kids, so I have to butt into the lives of my friend's kids. And I'm lucky my buddies had such great kids.

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  3. Great letter! I think you covered all of it. Except don't let your roomie use your computer. She'll download a virus and you'll be screwed.

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    1. That’s another good idea, and I appreciate your covering that angle. Because I was a commuter student, I was never a dorm resident, so I don’t have much to offer regarding the living on-campus experience.

      So there we have it: Guard your electronics!

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  4. I think you pretty much nailed it. I might add three things:

    1. Study even more than you think is necessary at the beginning, because if you do well that first semester, it helps set up your GPA nicely (e.g., a 4.0 your first semester + a 2.0 your second semester = a 3.0).

    2. Adding to your study group point, try to make a friend in every class, from the beginning. Although going to class should always be your priority, if you miss, you will be glad you have someone to borrow the notes from (I assume you cannot just get the notes online, but we are in the 21st century, so maybe).


    3. Stay on campus for the first two years at least (assuming it is a nice one). Having the variety of the dining hall will be easier; how many times a week can you have a bowl of cereal?! I lived on campus all four years, and although I do regret not living in an apartment my last year, I am glad I did it that way rather than those who bolt after one year. I always knew I had a meal coming, and I did not have to clean the bathroom! Plus we had cable TV downstairs, and that was a great way to meet people.

    Who would have thought when we were in college, there would ever come a time when you had to warn someone about taking drunken video and posting it online?!

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    1. Thanks for your generous comment, Facie. I'll make sure she sees it.

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    2. Facie, now it's 4 girls 2 bathrooms THEY clean !!!! Not a pretty picture and I'm a single guy that cleans his OWN Terlet.... Know what I mean .....

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  5. It may be evident but I would reinforce that it's OK to ask for help and advice. While college freshmen feel like emancipated adults, sometimes they get in deep to unexpected situations. We had a rule with my sister friends...my kids could call them for advice at any time and trust that the conversations would be kept in confidence. I'm sure Kyrie would appreciate knowing that Uncle Bluz is available anytime for confidential advice - provided Kyrie's dad was cool with this.

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    1. That would certainly hold true w/ me. Her dad and I are pretty much on the same page her, I think. He knows I wouldn’t steer her wrong.

      I hope she realizes that there’s no shame in asking for guidance or advice. So many kids are sure they have everything all figured out, not realizing it’s not quite so until too late.

      Always consult the Council of Elders, I say. (And that’s also something I still do!)

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  6. These are good. Very good. College was so long ago, I hardly remember it. Longer for you, so good job on the retention. ;)

    I would add a few:

    You are going to screw up. Don't lie or try to hide from it. Own up to it, be honest and face the consequences. This is when you learn to be an adult. Become an honest and trustworthy one.

    I would reiterate about the guy thing. You will fall in love, most likely. Do not forego your classes and studies to be with him. You will seriously regret it.

    Also, try to make friends with many different types of people, and not just people in your dorm, or your own clique of girls. Make girl AND guy friends as well. Be open to other people and their views. You will learn things inside AND outside of the classroom.

    Do not go home too much, especially that first year. Really LIVE the college experience.

    Try to do some extra curricular stuff, but not too much. Don't get weighted down or frazzled by being overbooked. Leave some time for you.

    Find a quiet and peaceful spot on (or off) campus . . . under a leafy tree, in a bookstore/library, even in your dorm if possible. Take some time once a week just to sit by yourself and maybe read a book.

    Homesickness happens even to the strongest and most independant of us. You will get through it. Do not quit or go home. Be strong.

    Ok, I could probably go on for days, so I'll stop now because this comment is starting to rival your post. :)

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    1. That’s gold, right there. I’m so glad I’m getting female feedback, because you all have a perspective that I can never truly appreciate.

      I agree with every word of what you said, especially about making all kinds of friends. It’s hard to break out of the insular world of a small country town. It’s a big old world out there, filled with all different kinds of people. Some are great, some are full of shit. College is a good time to learn how to sort them out.

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    2. You can always agree to disagree that's why God created Lawyers ....Just have FUN and DO YOUR BEST ....PROUD of MY Little Hood Ornament !!

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    3. Funny... I seriously considered using that picture in this post... It's one of my favorites, but I know Kyrie hates it.

      (It's a shot of a 5-year old Kyrie, perched on the hood of Rik's old car.)

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  7. Thank you all so much for this great advice! I really appreciate all of it!

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    1. You know I've been in your corner from Day One, Sweetie, but now you have a whole new crop of fans, who are wishing you the best! You'll have to let us know how things are going, once you get started. Any problems we haven't addressed, you can bring here to the Council of Know-it-Alls.

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  8. I'm going to save this post for when my girls go to college!!! Great job!

    Hugs!

    VALERIE

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    1. That'll work for your first, but do you thing the little one is going to take anyone's advice? She'll be too busy plotting to take over the world...

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  9. Thanks for sharing your post. I just finished a similar article for another publication.

    Being a mom and a woman, I was struck by the line "If you act like a slut, you'll be treated like one." You'd never find that when speaking to a boy about the same topic. I also don't think it's fair to tell girls that boys are just after one or two things or that joining a sorority is a waste because they'll just be fresh meat. All these things really devalue women and the implication is that the people she connects with will first see her as an object.

    Loved the rest of your advice. :) Hope she has a great year. (You'll have to do a follow up!)

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    1. Thanks for your comment, and I appreciate your visit. (Love your blog!)

      A agree that it's an unfair double standard, but I think it's accurate. I want her to respect herself and demand it from those she meets. Not all will initially see her as an object, but many will. Accept the positive, but be prepared for the negative. (And don't take any shit!)

      As for the sororities, the Greek system rubbed me the wrong way; that's why I never joined a fraternity. It works for some, and not for others. (Both my dad and brother were in frats, and I knew a lot of guys on campus that were in them. I have a pretty good idea of how fraternities think of their affiliated sororities.)

      While my advice definitely reflects some of my bias, I'm also speaking to one particular person, whose personality I know well. I don't think she'd get through the first year without shedding buckets of tears over her treatment as a pledge. Plus, I know that her interest in a sorority stems from not initially liking her dorm arrangements.

      When I go back to visit next summer, I'll be sure to catch up on how she's doing. Now that I've gotten everyone involved, it would be uncool to leave the story hanging...

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