Don't be an idiot

What we wish someone had told us about making the best of the college experience
By NINA MACLAUGHLIN  |  January 27, 2011


We're all idiots when we're 18. We're all idiots for the first half of our 20s, and longer, for some. By saying so, we're not trying to insult anyone. We're not trying to question anyone's intelligence or knock anyone's accomplishments. All we're trying to say is that there's a lot to figure out regarding how to exist in the world. There's a lot of falling on your ass to be done, a lot of woe to be shouldered, a lot of hurt to heal from. It can take a while to figure out how to treat other people. It can take a while to figure out how to treat yourself. Stumble, you will. Cry, punch walls, that too. You'll spend evenings shoveling soggy cereal into your face, wondering if it's possible to feel lonelier. And you'll wake up the next morning with a kernel of hope that things will get better.

The four years you're in college is a strange, discrete set of time, a transitional realm between school-life (childhood), when your needs are met, presumably, by the adults in your life, and work-life (adulthood), when you find out exactly what your needs are, usually by failing to meet them, and then become responsible for picking yourself up again. It's a time when chances are, you'll fall on your ass a lot. That's fine. Learn through suffering, strength in failure, all the rest. But there are ways to get through it, ways to enjoy it, ways to get a lot out of it.

In a small gesture toward shortening the span of time in which idiocy reigns, we offer a few suggestions for approaching college life, ones we wish we'd known about when we were 18 and idiotic.

It's not how you do, it's who you know

You spent your time getting As across the board. You studied hard and did well. You graduate and go about trying to achieve gainful employment, thinking, shit, I did so well in my classes, getting a job won't be a problem at all. But then you see that it is a problem. Because the craphead who skipped all his classes and scraped by on Cs lands a job at the company where his older brother's former roommate works.

Some of this, of course, is luck of the draw. The rest of it is cultivating a network, and it can never start too early. Get close with one professor; touch base with her after the class is over. After internships, keep in touch with your bosses and mentors. Reach out to the people — within the university and outside it — who are involved in what you want to be involved with. You never know who will someday be in a position to help you. Because someone always knows someone who knows someone. A 3.84 GPA is less important than being able to say, "I spoke with this person, and they suggested I get in touch with you."

Lose your long-distance relationship

You're so in love! You decided to try the distance thing, both at different schools. You see each other on weekends, every couple weeks, on school breaks. You talk on the phone; you text; you e-mail all the time.

Terrible idea.

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