15. Everything you know about the social stratosphere is wrong…
College is nothing like high school. You understand this in theory, but have never experienced the kind of social freedom you will in college. There are no cliques. There is no lunch table. Welcome to the world of being an adult. For the first couple of weeks you’ll attend pre-arranged mixers, usually orientation events or annoying team-building activities your RA spent all summer training to lead. These awkward moments are helpful for one reason: Discovering who has a car. As a freshman, be aware that the parties you crash at frat houses aren’t for making friends, they’re for getting drunk and hooking up. You’ve been warned.
14. …so quit trying to fit in.
After you’ve walked around campus for a few days and had your concept of social circles completely blown out of the water, take a good, hard look in the mirror. Do you love what you see? How much of what you’re wearing and what you’re doing is governed by the old social order that’s stuck in your head? How much of what’s really going on in the big picture is a true expression of who you are? And how sick and tired are you of living with the pressure of trying to be something you’re not?
13. Don’t try to imitate…
You’ve spent roughly 13 years of your life imitating what you’ve observed. While observation and imitation are a key part of youthful learning, you aren’t in kindergarten any longer. Yes, you’ll encounter a lot of new ideas and modes of living in college. Try all of them in earnest, but not in an attempt to impress someone else.
12. …or emulate.
Or compete with them, for that matter. There’s always going to be an opportunity for recognition in an academic and/or athletic setting. Don’t confuse healthy competition with a desire to drive your opponent’s head into the ground with your GPA or RBI.
11. Remember, the only person you’re competing with is yourself.
Most contemporary American kids have been afforded a luxury still unknown by most of their peers around the world: An extra 4-odd years to figure out themselves and their lives. By the time my grandparents were old enough to enter college, they were busy fighting a world war. Be grateful and use the time wisely to become a well-rounded version of your best self instead of a mediocre version of someone else.
10. So give up trying to make other people happy all the time.
Even if you grew up in the most supportive household in the world, chances are your school experience has acculturated you to a rewards-based system of accomplishment. Like Pavlov’s dogs, you’ve been trained to associate pleasing your teachers with being rewarded with praise and recognition. In a few years, you’ll experience a rude awakening when you enter the working world. There your reward will be a thankless boss and a paycheck loaded with deductions. So, you might as well learn now how to make your own happiness instead of expecting a daily affirmation to always come from someone else’s mouth.
9. Don’t join the group…
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include some comment on the fraternity/sorority debate. While I never joined one, I have friends who did and had great experiences. This was due, in large part, to the fact that they maintained friendships outside of that particular social group. College should be the place where you generate multiple circles of friends instead of nesting (or hiding) comfortably within one.
8. …start the group.
Senior year I ran the film club and my friend ran the campus television station. Between the two of us we managed to significantly increase membership in our respective groups by throwing a lot of parties. Live in a tiny dorm room? Here’s the trick: Find a friend who lives in an off-campus apartment within walking distance. Thursday is Standard Party Night. (Never book Friday classes. Ever.) Introduce yourself to anyone and everyone and let the good times roll.
7. Dye your hair bright red. Go on, do it.
Embrace your uniqueness. But, do it in a smart way. Remember: Hair grows back, but tattoos are permanent. From what I understand, piercings can be incredibly painful. And never make any body-related decisions while drinking. One of the most comical encounters I had as a graduate student in Texas was the sight of a beer barn/tattoo parlor. It was an all-in-one bad decision waiting to happen. You’ve been warned.
6. Don’t take life too seriously.
I would highly advocate that you do your best to laugh at all those kiddie activists and squares. My undergrad campus was so low key that a friend of mine and I staged a Protest to Protest the Fact that We Have Nothing to Protest in the student center. The confusion and laughter was priceless. And don’t get so obsessed with documenting every minute of your life on social media that you forget to actually get out there and live.
5. Do find your passion.
That protest motivated me to write an article about the raging apathy among my peers. Don’t mistake having a good time for not caring about the world, the community in which you live, or your own purpose and potential. Always be excited enough about life to get involved and work to make a difference. That’s how you exercise those ever-so-important “being yourself” muscles.
4. Pull at least one harmless prank.
Soap in the fountain on April Fool’s Day worked for us. Whatever you do, a little harmless fun never hurt anyone. Just do yourselves a favor and avoid posting it to social media until you’ve surpassed the statute of limitations. Always be ready to goof around, never pursue injury, and make sure you don’t get caught, or get caught up in the rapture of political correctness, a.k.a. the modern term for being incredibly uptight over nothing.
3. Date a nerd.
You’re at a house party. Everyone’s pretty buzzed and most who aren’t already coupled are starting to pair off for the night. Look around and you’ll find, either on the corner of the couch, or sitting at a computer, the nerd in the room. Make a beeline for that guy or gal. Not only will they be the only ones still capable of interesting conversation, they’ll also wind up knowing how to keep your computer up and running during finals. And if they’re a guy, they’re probably going to be the only ones still sentient enough not to make a foul pass for your pants.
2. Be a nerd.
Don’t just date one, be one. Exercise your intellectual curiosity and use the opportunity to learn about everything. Read books your professors do and don’t recommend. Go to used bookstores, flea markets and — if you can find one — used record shops. (Don’t worry, they sell CDs, too, if you can find a player on which to play them.) Acculturate yourself with time periods that aren’t your own and learn from them. Everything you’re living now is a result of a previous battle, however big or small. Learn about the players. Learn how to play to win.
1. Embrace your professors as human beings, not gods.
Just because you’re free of your parents doesn’t mean you’re free of the role-model complex. You’ll make idols out of everything during your college years: Fictional characters, actors, leaders in your future profession, and mostly professors. Their not-so-impressive reality is a tiny apartment or home mortgaged to the hilt, consistent pressure to “publish or perish” and the sad fact that most of them will be buried with and by their own diehard ideologies. You’ll have some good ones, so don’t hesitate to be inspired to keep growing and learning after you graduate. The best compliment I ever received on my work was from my screenwriting professor who said: “Thank you for being the only one to set your story somewhere other than a college campus. Nobody thinks past this place. That’s why most of them will never get anywhere.”