The gospel of college

College is cool!

Not a role model

High school is fine. It’s certainly a memorable experience, but after it’s over, how many of us wish we could have stayed in high school longer? High school is just okay at best. Happy memories for some; awkwardness for most; great material for teen movie plots. But college… college is way cool. There is no other experience in your life that will be quite like college. In college you are treated like an adult, but you can still get away with acting like a kid. And your parents are paying the bills!

But too many college students don’t get it. They take the experience for granted and waste their college days playing Guitar Hero or sleeping or spending their time only with people they knew from high school or people that are too much like themselves. Most do just enough to get by academically and too many choose a major based on their parents’ expectations or what they think will be a shortcut to a cushy job (think pre-wealth), and then graduate expecting real life to start at that point. But for most, that so-called life is filled with an 8-to-5 (or longer) job that doesn’t inspire, a daily commute to and from work, maybe two weeks of vacation a year, credit card debt, a mortgage, family commitments… Not that all of those things are bad… But at that point, it’s really difficult to find the time to explore your passions and figure out what you’re all about or ought to be about. Maybe that explains the mid-life crisis. Not enough people utilize their college years to ask themselves the ultimate question:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Howard Thurman

I shared that quotation at the beginning of each of the new student Orientation sessions I spoke at for many years at UGA. If you don’t start figuring out during your college years what makes you come alive, it’s not going to get easier to do that later on in the real world where you have less available time and opportunity.

Be like Dr. Jones. Make college a great adventure.

Be like Indy!

College should be a terrific adventure. It’s the ideal time to grab life by the throat and seek out experiences that will help you determine what does make you come alive. Don’t sit back waiting for cool stuff to happen; take the offensive, and start doing cool stuff every day. Here are some practical suggestions for living an adventurous college life:

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Meet someone new every day. You’re surrounded by interesting people in college, but most fellow students you encounter daily remain strangers. You will learn more from friends and from the relationships you build in college than you will from professors and textbooks. (You’re only in class three to four hours a day. Do go to class. But that leaves twenty hours a day or more outside of class!) Say “Hi” on the bus to students you don’t know. Get to know the names of the students you sit near in each class. Propose study groups, especially in the hardest classes. Join organizations that resonate with your interests. Also, join organizations or seek out interactions that are made up of people you wouldn’t ordinarily encounter. Our campus has an International Coffee Hour every Friday. Go there and meet people from around the world right here on your own campus. You should even seek out people whose perspectives you just don’t understand or even people you are prone to dislike. Jung said “People who annoy us can lead us to a better understanding of ourselves.”

Friendships come easier in college. College students think nothing of knocking on your dorm room door at 1 a.m. to mooch your Cheetos. In my grown-up world, my neighbors don’t do that. (And I’m glad.) I knew everyone on my hall in my college dorm. (Okay, I was the R.A.) I actually know very few of my neighbors now, and that’s sad. College is the only time in your life you’ll have the opportunity and the expectation to befriend so many people. Grown-ups go home from work and shut their door, closing out the world around them. In the big picture, relationships are what it’s all about. (Not the Hokey Pokey, as some would have you believe.) College friendships endure and are of a quality like no other in your life. Build great relationships while you’re in college.

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Take interesting classes. Sure, there are some required classes that just won’t do it for you. You have to endure them maybe, but you can do your part to try make them interesting. But in college you mostly get to choose what you want to study. So scour the class bulletin and read course descriptions. Register for classes that look like just plain fun. (An advisor can tell you how they will count in your degree program if you don’t know.) I think that’s how you should choose your major, too. One of my favorite students told me she chose her major by reading the description of every course offered at the university and circling (in the 20th century world of the paper bulletin) those courses she would most enjoy. She then counted up which major had the most courses circled, and she had her major. Brilliant! But simple. Don’t pick a major based on what you think might lead to a great career. (Because who really knows at this point what will be a great job ten years or even three years from now?) Choose a major based on what you think would be most fun to study. (Refer to the Thurman quote above.) I firmly believe you could major in classical Greek and still get a job in the corporate world if you wanted. In fact, most companies would appreciate hiring someone who has clearly come alive rather than someone who’s just sleepwalking in step with the masses. Good organizations hire for attitude and train for skill anyway.

Bueller… Bueller…?

Get to know your instructors. I didn’t do a good job of this when I was a student. I didn’t want my instructors to think I was sucking up, or I didn’t expect them to want to get to know me. I missed out. Most college instructors are in their jobs because they like working with college students. (Not all, and it should be easy for you to notice who they are.) Harvard Professor Richard Light has studied the college experience extensively and concluded that the students who were most satisfied with their college experience had built relationships with their instructors. He recommends that students seek out a mentor relationship with at least one of their instructors each semester. After four years, you would then have eight faculty members who know you well and can counsel you about your educational and life goals and can offer substantive recommendations for graduate or professional programs or for employment references. You could create your own life advisory committee. And I think in every class you take you should at least personally introduce yourself to the instructor in the first two weeks of the semester.

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See the world. Participate in a study abroad or work abroad experience while you can. After you graduate and begin working, it’s hard to ask for a couple of months off for travel. Your employer will laugh at you. Or fire you. So do it when you’re a student and your parents can help pay for it. World travel will change you and give you wisdom you can’t get here at home. Most colleges make studying abroad easy. You can even find internships or service projects abroad. My friend Paton interned for Mercedes Benz in Germany twice while he was a UGA undergraduate. (That was time well spent for him. He got to experience life in another country and gain tremendous work experience. He was offered jobs at both Mercedes and BMW when he graduated. He started at BMW in Munich right out of college. Pretty nice company car, too. He’s now back in the U.S. working for Maserati, North America. Talk about your cool gigs…) I spent two months in Turkey while I was a student. It was the greatest adventure of my college years and maybe of my life so far. Get out and see the world, and you will then see yourself more clearly, too.

I could go on with suggestions on making the most of college, and I will at a later time. But don’t let these unique years of freedom and opportunity go by without having an amazing experience.

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8 thoughts on “The gospel of college

  1. EJ gives some great suggestions; listen to him.

    I’d add a few:

    1) Learn the words to the Georgia fight (Hint: it’s not “Glory, Glory” but “Hail to Georgia). You’d be surprised by 1) how many UGA grads don’t know the words, 2) how many think “Glory” is the real fight song, 3) how good it feels to sing that song before, during and after graduation.

    http://antiorange.dawgtoons.com/Sections-index-req-viewarticle-artid-3-page-1.html

    2) Be a compulsive joiner. I was personally an Orientation Leader, Band Member (Redcoats & Basketball Band) and Glee Club singer. I also spent a fair amount of time at Ramsey (nee SPACenter) playing pickup basketball. While that’s not a club, you can meet a ton of interesting and diverse people playing a club sport (which I did as well, even though I SUCKED at softball).

    3) LOVE Athens. Much like my first point, the best parts of college don’t happen in a class or dorm or even in Sanford, they happen when you’re out LIVING LIFE. And Athens is the quintessential college town, I miss it every day.

    4) Learn to write. I know, I know, you’re not an English or Journalism major. But so what? The most vital skill you can learn – and you’ll get a chance to practice in any/all/every Bluebook you can find – is writing. In the real world you’ll have documents and email and holiday letters all waiting to be written. You guys have blogs and twitter and facebook now; practice your writing, you’ll be a better person for it.

    That’s all I have now. Back to work for me!

  2. Awesome blog, Eric! I’m going to recommend Brooks make it required reading for his juniors. Will you add me to the notification list for when new entries are posted? Sending happy thoughts to ye ole VC!

  3. Eric! I love the blog. It’s all so true. Especially the thing about not worrying about your major. I majored in Speech Communication (because I loved it) and I’m now a land use lawyer. Very little connection. Some of my lawyer friends even majored in music performance. Say hi to Athens for me….

  4. I am the choir and you are preaching brother! All you young pups, listen up and follow thru. College will be over before you know it. Do it now while you have the chance. Live life up, enjoy yourself, take chances (don’t be stupid), get outside your comfort zone. If the sun is shining, get outside, turn off the TV, the video games, and the computer.

    When I think back about college, the experiences I remember best were the ones I had the most trepidation about. I remember freshmen year in the dorm and meeting new people. I remember being nervous about going to my first class. (While I was sitting in my first class reading the Red and Black before class started a guy sat down beside me, asked me what I was reading, we started talking, became friends – good friends, ended up in each others wedding and now our kids of best of friends – get out and meet new people.) Becoming a Orientation Leader (’95) and adapting to some very different, very strong, personalities. Studying abroad – University of Edinburgh – and having to make do on my own.

    Life will continue to be great after college, but it will be very different. There will be a lot more contraints placed on you, your time and your energy. Enjoy your time you have, don’t wish time away and Carpe Diem.

  5. Eric great blog entry.
    I would again encourage all of students to spend the college experience learning as much about the world and the people in it as possible. I especially agree with the comments about studying abroad, meeting new people and joining a variety of groups that you peek your curiousity. My best advice is to enjoy the experience from freshman to sixth year senior(if neccessary). Just be a college student life has plenty of challenges ahead of you!!!!

  6. Eric, this truly is the gospel. I found myself getting excited about college all over again. I was also pleased to find out that I had actually done a few of the things you suggested so maybe I didn’t turn out so bad after all! I wish someone had given me advice this specific when I was a freshman. I am also so happy to see some of the greatest people I’ve ever known in my life also read and responded to your blog. Love to my OL 98 buddies. Keep it up Eric. You SO rock.
    * Oh, and I totally agree with Seth about the writing thing. PLEASE learn to write without spell and grammar check. We can tell. And you are short-changing your future if you can’t express yourself. And, as Ben always said, “Reading is fundamental”! 🙂

  7. Tears. Rush of blood to the head. Chills. I miss my time in Athens so much. But moreso, I miss the people. Reading your blog, EJ, I am so full of emotion and am so thankful that I was able to be around so many cool, interesting, phenomenal, diverse, and exciting folks during my journey as a small-town Georgia boy in Athens. My, the memories.

    If I had one piece of advice, it would be to own a camera. It doesn’t have to be that fancy thing endorsed by Andre Agassi; a simple Walgreens disposable is groovy. I have so little pictures of my experiences in Athens that it is all stored in my head. My wife did not experiece college with me (she went to Alabama) and I want to show her pictures of the people I knew and the places I went and experiences I had…just so she is able to know more than the fool I am now. I want her to know the fool I was then, too!!! And I’m not talking about the portraits of late-night escapades during forgettable times…I’m referring more to the memories made on the roadtrips, hiking trips, student organization functions, etc. Don’t rely on the Picture Man or someone else’s camera…have your own. I didn’t and I regret it.

    I can’t shout it loud enough my second of Eric’s notion of going abroad to study, or just to go, period. I made a vow to not visit another country until I’ve seen all of my own (I’m up to 45 states now), but I so wish I had taken advantage of the study abroad programs while in college and free to do as I pleased. I have dreams of apprenticing with a Parisian butcher and learning to make Saison from Belgian farmhouse brewery. Food has become my life and passion and I want to see how everyone else does it. It would have been so easy to have done this in college.

    Oh, and B.E. Shaw…I just bought a house in Decatur, just down the road from Shamrock Middle School…your old High School, I believe. Word up to all my 98 OLs!!!! Miss y’all.

    Thanks, EJ! YOU RULE!!!

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