Once again we find ourselves in the twilight of August, that special time of year when the weather starts to cool, the leaves begin to turn, and the school year begins anew. For those of you headed off to college, this can be a confusing time. Adapting to college is never easy, and while you could spend your time reading how-to books on the best way to become a functioning member of university society, the best way to learn anything is via experience.
That said, before you consume all that college entails, I’d like to give you just a few tidbits of advice that may improve the overall experience you plan to live. My credentials? I spent six years as an undergraduate and have significant loan debt, so I might just be the ideal how-not-to candidate. I’ve since rebounded to maintain a real-life salaried job (a real, real one!) while occasionally updating this here website in my down time. As such, I can give you all my wrongs and hope you’ll use them to make many, many rights. Or if not all my wrongs, at least five of them.
1. Use your reproductive parts liberally.
The biggest regret non-promiscuous college students have is the fact that they weren’t going around humping like jackrabbits during their school days. If you were committed to monogamy in college like I was, you know all about those regrets. And why do those regrets exist? Three reasons.
First, the odds of marrying the person you find yourself romantically bound to in college are slim. Personally, my college relationship withered and died before marriage was wholly considered. Yet even if you get married, stats show there’s a 50-percent chance you’ll end up divorced, anyway. And that’s assuming you even get to the altar in the first place. In all likelihood, you’ll break up long before then, so stop trying to quell the rumbling in your loins each time an attractive coed goes walking by at the gym. You’re young. Just go with your feelings and let your youth run its natural course.
Second, at no other point in your life will you be surrounded by this many attractive people who are all willing to bone. It’s like a living, breathing orgy at your fingertips and all you have to do is immerse yourself in it. If you can’t find someone to get naked with in college, it’s solely for lack of trying. Don’t hold back on effort. This is your time to shine.
Third, you’re not going to get AIDS. Seriously, just be smart about your screwing and you won’t die. I realize that in high school health class you were led to believe that so much as looking at someone else’s junk would result in an STD, but that’s not real life. You’re probably not going to catch anything at all if you’re even semi-careful. But even if you do infect yourself with something, it won’t be AIDS. AIDS is the new polio. AIDS is one of those diseases that we’ll be openly mocking as a society in two decades. You won’t get AIDS, I promise you. But try to avoid herpes.
2. Do not worry about your shitty part-time job.
There’s a good chance you’ll have a part-time (or even full-time) job while going to school. A part-time job is a great way to supplement your tuition costs or bring in extra spending money, but let me be perfectly clear: IT DOES NOT MATTER.
Speaking from experience, your part-time job is very nearly irrelevant. One day, many years from now, when you’re applying for your career (you know, the one you went to school for), your interviewer will not ask you about the passion you once held for scooping ice cream or the knowledge you took away from sizing suburban housewives for bras. It’s great that you’re getting work experience under your belt (seriously, that will go a long way), but the how and why surrounding your work experience will matter little.
Do your best to retain your job and not get fired, but don’t strain yourself trying to acquiesce an employer who’s distracting you from your end goal of graduating college. Managers in the food service or retail industries often have no college experiences of their own to draw from, so managing your college experience may not be something they’re any good at. Rest assured, there’s enough of a need for those precious few skills you seemingly have that you can leave one job for another if you have to.
3. Avoid typecasting yourself.
Up ’til now, you’ve been typecast. In high school, you fell into some category: jock, nerd, cheerleader, band geek, quiet kid, smart kid, rich kid, troublemaker, pothead, preppie, partier, slut, goody-goody, Young Lifer, weirdo, the list goes on.
In college, you’re just as much at risk to fall into a whole new host of categories: sorority slut, frat boy, dorm dweller, late-night library-goer, student-gym rat, commuter, kid-that-asks-too-many-goddamn-questions-in-lecture, kid-that-asks-too-many-goddamn-questions-in-section, kid-who-still-acts-like-he’s-in-Young-Life, borderline alcoholic, intramural champion, and again the list goes on.
As your high school stereotypes fade into the sunset, your college stereotypes will start to emerge. But you can avoid this by consciously preventing yourself from being typecast. How? Branch out, get beyond your comfort zone, step outside the box. Engage with the exact type of person — the stoner, the partier, the bookworm — you never thought you’d engage with before. Do things — go to parties, play sports, eat at weird restaurants — you never thought you’d do before. Be the complete opposite of your usual self on one day, then be the complete opposite of that person the next day. Challenge yourself to be different than the person you were a week ago each subsequent week.
Oh, and one final piece of advice. As you become more and more enlightened and worldly, please don’t typecast yourself as the “worldly” kid. Just because you studied abroad or learned a new language, that doesn’t mean you have all of life’s answers in the pockets of your Patagonia backpack. You benefited from some cool experiences, we’ll give you that. But growing a beard and wearing macraméd jewelry won’t turn you into some sort of 21-year-old oracle. Be cognizant of your changes and how they affect your place in the world. You’re still amongst the most privileged class of people on the planet, no matter how many times you’ve been to Morocco or avoided a shower.
4. Eat like shit because you can.
This is the home stretch for bad dietary habits. When you leave college, your metabolism will begin to slow down and your once-prominent ab definition will be replaced by a budding paunch that has the potential to become a full-blown beer belly. This is it. You cannot and will not get another opportunity to suck back on non-diet sodas guilt free. You won’t simply be able to pound a case of PBR without remembering it the next day — or even the day after that, in some cases. You won’t get to wolf down burgers and still be hungry two hours later, or snack through an entire bag of Lay’s while sitting on the couch for the bulk of an afternoon. Your life, and especially your eating habits, will alter dramatically as you enter your mid-twenties.
So for the love of all things holy, get all this crap into and out of your system now. If you become a health nut in college, you’ll probably hate yourself when you hit 30 and are suddenly consumed by a desire to restructure your meal plan around all of Ben and Jerry’s delectable offerings. No matter what anyone else tells you, heed my words: Eat like shit. Because you can. And because you won’t be able to later on. Go. Now.
5. Put yourself above no one.
You are not special. You are, but you really aren’t. Maybe you were special in high school. You were All-State, All-Conference, Most Likely to Succeed, Most Popular, Honor Society, Student of the Week, blah blah blah. It doesn’t matter anymore. You are now one of a multitude of college students at a school where each of you are little more than a statistic in a database. Almost everyone here was All-Something or Most-Something back in the day. But now it’s today. And in the day is irrelevant.
At first, it will be difficult to separate yourself from the person you were. As a freshman, you’ll find yourself referencing your glory days on an almost-daily basis. You’ll talk about your high school heroics, those things you think made you pretty damn unique (but really didn’t), and maybe even wear your letterman’s jacket around campus once or twice (stop that).
But soon you’ll move on and begin to question, well, everything. You’ll start to wonder why no one told you you weren’t all that special in the past. Likewise, you’ll wonder what makes you special now. And as you begin to do all that, you’ll be overcome by this desire to be a better person than you actually are. I guarantee you it will happen. When it does, you’ll find yourself wrestling with all sorts of emotions that will ultimately lead you to realize that you’re no better than anyone else in this world. So I urge you to expedite the process of human understanding and remove yourself from any pedestals you may find yourself on as soon as you can.
Put yourself above no one. Embrace all the differences of the thousands of people you now find yourself associated with. As you make new acquaintances and interact with them, you’ll find commonalities amongst each individual you encounter. Growing up, we’re taught to punctuate our differences and stand out amongst our peers. As adults, however, we look for ways to codify our variances and discover common ground between one another. It’s so counterintuitive to our adolescence that it barely makes sense.
But it will. In time, it will all make sense. You’re just finding out about it now.
Finally, I encourage you to stick out the ride as long as you can. Do everything in your power to graduate, because if you don’t graduate, you’ll be upset that you invested as much time and money as you did for absolutely nothing. When I was in my second senior year and then my third — my medical redshirt year, I like to call it — I wanted to quit on more than one occasion. It was an off-hand joke from the movie Tommy Boy that kept me going. And no matter how stupid the joke was, it actually made me get my shit together and graduate, which was the most important thing I could have done.
There are times when college will seem rough and times when it will seem easy. Things will never be as rough or as easy as they seem, though. You can get through anything you need to, achieve anything you want to, and can be great if you put in a little effort.
With that, I give you the most inspiring scene from Tommy Boy, as acted out by the esteemed David Spade and inimitable Chris Farley.