Learning curve

What advice would you give to someone going off to college? Members of Salon's Table Talk community weigh in this week.

Published August 22, 2008 9:29PM (EDT)

Family Life

Send My Girl to College ... With Wisdom, not Money

Raspberry - 08:17 am Pacific Time - Aug 22, 2008

We're taking our oldest (step)daughter to college on Sunday. I want to make up a booklet o -practical life wisdom. What do you have to say about an entering college student about sexual exploration and relationships, money, health, self-esteem, study, travel, personal safety, risktaking, connecting with people different from you, finding yourself, choosing a major and a career direction, doing laundry, personal finance...

BurstOfLethargy - 08:27 am Pacific Time - Aug 22, 2008 - #2 of 33

Anything can be a bong.

Mama Cat - 08:30 am Pacific Time - Aug 22, 2008 - #3 of 33

Keep your eye on the goal. Never, never, never look away. If you feel the pleasures that you rightly deserve to experience are distracting you, remember your goal and put some distance in. You may not remember the one or two parties you missed but you will remember the ones you went to if they cause you to leave things unfinished.

on the other hand

Pass up no opportunity to experience (safe, legal) things, whether they be related to your major, your future job, your hobby, or just your life experience. As a wise person once said, "There's a time and a place for everything and it's called college."

StephanieL - 08:48 am Pacific Time - Aug 22, 2008 - #4 of 33

There will be times that things are very hard. The temptation will be to blame the school or the location or the classes or your roommate. But a good college will not only teach you about the world, it will also teach you about yourself. That knowledge of yourself isn't always comfortable, and learning to live with yourself, as you truly are, isn't always easy. Resist the urge to blame anything for unhappiness; instead see it as a symptom of growing pain and examine it, understand it, and move through it.

tamarind - 08:51 am Pacific Time - Aug 22, 2008 - #5 of 33

Even though you started school at 7:30 in high school, you will not make it to an 8 am class.

Scheduler - 08:51 am Pacific Time - Aug 22, 2008 - #6 of 33

Don't let shyness get in the way of participating! Join clubs, take off campus classes, chat with professors outside of class ... it will enrich college life immensely.

Just Lee - 08:59 am Pacific Time - Aug 22, 2008 - #8 of 33

Expect change. You will be exposed to new ideas, new people and these will influence how you see the world. Chances are your major will change too and the career path you are planning now will be very different in four years.

Take advantage of the opportunities to expand your horizons. Go to hear a speaker, a performance, or see an exhibit that is out of your area of interest. You will learn things, even if you don't realize it at the time.

Jeanny - 09:00 am Pacific Time - Aug 22, 2008 - #9 of 33

You will never be able to get all the reading done. Concentrate on the important stuff and know what's in the other stuff so you can find it if you need it.

Work as though you were going for pass/fail grades. Once you believe all you have to do is pass and all passes are the same weight, you're freed up play with your ideas a little more, and that's where you'll learn.

Unless you're interested in a field where you have to take a lot of prerequisites in a certain order, don't declare a major until you've had a chance to play around in a bunch of different topics. Who knows where you might end up!

StephanieL - 09:07 am Pacific Time - Aug 22, 2008 - #10 of 33

Embrace the major or direction you're hoping to take, but embrace it lightly. Be willing to let go of your preconceived notions of what course of study will make you happy. You might be a physicist or a sculptor or an accountant and not know it yet.

Jeanny - 09:26 am Pacific Time - Aug 22, 2008 - #12 of 33

Asking your instructors for help is not the same thing as telling them you're stupid.

Mama Cat - 09:40 am Pacific Time - Aug 22, 2008 - #14 of 34

If you do not drink, no one will care or think any less of you. Honest.

StephanieL - 09:42 am Pacific Time - Aug 22, 2008 - #15 of 34

Education is not customer service. If it was, you'd pay your tuition bill, they'd send you a transcript in return, and you wouldn't have to do anything else. Being a student is your JOB. Treat it like a job. Be a professional. Don't turn in work to a professor you wouldn't turn into your boss. Don't present yourself like someone who expects to just be given what you want. Present yourself like you've come to do a job, and you'll be rewarded according. (Really, seriously, it makes a difference.)

Misty Berkowitz - 09:47 am Pacific Time - Aug 22, 2008 - #16 of 34

1)Set goals, make a plan of how you will reach those goals, but don't be afraid or embarrassed to change the goal or the plan.

2) This is likely the most freedom with the least responsibility you will ever have in life. Enjoy it.

Lando - 10:11 am Pacific Time - Aug 22, 2008 - #17 of 34

Hoard quarters like a miser. You cannot do laundry without them, and they are actually worth a significant exchange rate to people who need to do laundry on a Sunday. The going rate 10 years ago was $10 in quarters for $12 in paper money. HOARD QUARTERS.

No one drinks in the real world the way people drink in college. I note this because drinking is not actually a valuable skill. If you DO drink, don't binge, don't drink if you don't have a sober(ish) friend with you, and do not, under any circumstances, accept a drink in a cup or an already opened can or bottle at a party. If you have to leave your drink somewhere while you dance or go to the bathroom, do not go back and drink the same drink. And bear in mind that the most sober (or at least the least drunk) person in a room is also, always, the coolest person in the room.

P. Fossil - 10:53 am Pacific Time - Aug 22, 2008 - #18 of 34

Flirt all you want, but don't hook up with anybody in the first couple of weeks. Get the lay of the land first ... as it were. Heh.

Need some cash? Stroll through the building where they have psych classes and look at the flyers. Somebody's always running an experiment, and ten bucks is ten bucks.

canuckmer - 10:59 am Pacific Time - Aug 22, 2008 - #19 of 34

Spend time with people who make you laugh, and who make you think in enriching ways. Spend less time with people who don't.

The underlying analytical skills, work habits, and methods of inquiry you learn at college are ultimately more important to your future success and path than your specific subject matter. On the other hand, one course/instructor/book can be absolutely pivotal in your formation. These are not mutually contradictory!

Alia Zvesta - 11:07 am Pacific Time - Aug 22, 2008 - #20 of 34

Do something that scares you. Go out for a club sport you've never played, or audition for a play. You might meet a whole new aspect of yourself.

signed, theatre geek turned rugby jock

P. Fossil - 11:09 am Pacific Time - Aug 22, 2008 - #21 of 34

Either take the maximum amount of PE for credit or make some other plan for getting some exercise -- this is when your empty-calorie alcohol and "herbal jazz cigarette" consumption (and the resultant munchies) go up and your metabolism starts to slacken eeeever so slightly. You need to exercise for physical and mental health, and more than twice in a semester.

Lessa - 12:47 pm Pacific Time - Aug 22, 2008 - #26 of 34

You will have classmates who have never had the slightest taste of freedom or responsibility. That fact will explain a lot of their behavior. It is not really their fault, and it will probably go away after a few months.

Eleanor Rigby - 12:49 pm Pacific Time - Aug 22, 2008 - #27 of 34

Go away. If you get the chance, any chance, to study abroad or travel, do it. You will never, ever regret it, and the bad parts will be funny later.

GenericTTLogin - 01:17 pm Pacific Time - Aug 22, 2008 - #31 of 34

Always carry condoms.

Have fun!

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