1. The syllabus is like your bible. Only, you should actually read it, not just hold it in your hands and yell at people like some folks do. Also, don’t make a religion out of your class, and, if you do, don’t become an evangelist. Standing on the street corner with a sign that says “conjugate the nouns, not the marriage!” Will not make you friends, and will leave people wondering why you think conjugate is a clever substitution for consummate.
2. Most professors don’t count sick days as excused absences. Neither do they count zombie apocalypses as excused absences. I’ve taught an 8 am class, so I can tell you, we wouldn’t always be able to tell the difference.
3. College is not like the TV, you will have to do homework. You’ve been told this your whole life. You’ve probably also been told that imaginary fat men will jump down your chimney and leave you presents once a year if, in all his year-round stalking of you, you have proven worthy, and that a magical bunny travels the English-speaking world delivering chocolate eggs for Jesus. Unlike these other examples, the homework warning is very real. And if you don’t do it, a fat man will jump down your chimney with a magical bunny, and they will turn you into a chocolate egg. No joke.
4. Having a roommate changes the college experience in a positive way. If you don’t like said roommate, it gives you something crazy to laugh about. If you do like your roommate, well, there’s an instant friend for you. Remember, everyone is new in this environment. Make friends in every class who will help you do well. Avoid the kid that makes dick jokes on the first day. You may end up with someone who is “crazy.” They probably aren’t. Everyone is weird, everyone is zany, and everyone keeps their toenail clippings in baby food jars. It’s really no big deal.
5. Go into each class expecting it to be the most difficult thing you will ever do. Use that mindset to help you to increase your efforts. If you are underestimating your final grade (and if you are in a rigorous class, that’s exactly what will happen), you are more likely to put in effort to do well later on. Think of college as the Ninja Warrior challenge. As you leap through the various obstacles, things are only going to get harder, and you might fall off a spinning log while riding a bicycle. Keep pedaling.
6. Calculate tuition costs now. How much money do you throw away for every class you don’t attend? If you are taking student loans (or goofing off on a scholarship and are about to have to go on student loans) think about how much interest each class is costing you. Then you will fight for the best education possible, and that will change your behavior, your outcomes, and, eventually, your personality. Also, it’ll keep you from taking out a massive chunk of student loans and later suffering from the inevitable attack of real-world-sucks-itis, which can render mere mortals into puddles of gelatinous panic.
7. Find your passion. When I got an MA in English, lots of people in my life criticized me for making a stupid decision. “It doesn’t pay anything.” They said. “You are going into debt for nothing.” And you know what, they were right. I’ll never make much, but I have a fantastic career and, just as important to me, I have time to write, and my coworkers are just as passionate about good literature as I am. I do have other passions: I love weird, paranormal TV shows. I love hot tea. I love creating things. I love travel. And learning. And pushing myself beyond where I am comfortable. I found a career that lets me do all of those things because it gives me room to do them as part of the career and gives me enough time to do the things I enjoy when I am not working. Even when I wasn’t doing this job, when I was slaving away for minimum wage in retail, these were the things that I thought about. If you find something like that, I believe you are on the road to happiness. At some point, university changed from a place to explore and learn to a place to get a piece of paper so that you can get a job. That’s a sad, sad existence. Let’s start treating it like the golden egg it is.