College classes have already begun around the country, and it’s not too late to start listening to Ben Stein. He has some great advice for those matriculating. His son is just starting college, so I would imagine Ben has been giving this topic a lot of thought lately.
Make friends with your teachers. While seeing your teachers socially was unacceptable in high school, as adults, the teacher-student relationship takes another form. I had no problem with attending barbecues hosted by my professors, going out for meals, or just relating on a more personal level. We discussed sports and books, music and logic.
Ben goes on to address ways to become friends, but they all pertain to situations in class. While I was in college, a lot of the real relating took place outside of the classroom, but that may be more a result of the type of degree I was pursuing.
Do your assignments neatly, correctly, and timely. Ben Stein mentions that college is about learning to budget your time. Looking back, I wish I had done this better. My time commitments pushed me in a number of different directions and I was always finding it difficult to fir everything I wanted to do inside of the day. I still have this problem now.
I find it hard to believe that people have to be reminded to spell correctly. I’ve encountered horrible spelling from my classmates as a graduate student, and I just don’t understand what the excuse is. Grammar is one thing; there are times when the correct grammatical rules to apply are confusing. Poor spelling is inexcusable. I am sure I’ve made spelling errors in the past, but I would be embarrassed if I spelled as poorly as some of my classmates.
Be well-rounded. I applaud Ben for writing this. Many times, people are encouraged to pick one topic and become an expert without much thought to the larger world around them. Ben Stein wants people to study history, geography, Shakespeare, poetry, literature, biology, physics, and mathematics. Of course, I would add visual and performing arts to his list. All of this teaches more about human understanding than would any business psychology or human resources class.
You probably won’t call upon these subjects in your daily life when you enter the workforce, but they’re vitally important in teaching you how to think. And learning how to think is, above all, the main challenge you face in school. It’s true that you have to know certain basic facts, but you should also know how to approach a problem, break it down, solve it, and write about it. That’s why it’s important to take English composition, and take it seriously.
Join a fraternity or a sorority. Social groups can be positive or negative, so be choosy about which groups you hang out with. My fraternity, which was new on campus when I joined as a freshman, was more of an honor society or service group during the first few years. We didn’t have a house so there are no movies that quite exemplify our dynamic, but we became decent friends as we did as much as we could to follow the fraternity’s national “purpose.”
As Ben notes, the good thing about a group of friends is the support they can provide when it is most needed. Chances are there will be some time during your time in college when you need that support.
Neatness counts. Image is always important.
If you wear sloppy clothes, be clean inside them and have your thoughts especially well-ordered to offset your appearance. You’ll need to work twice as hard so your teachers know you’re smarter on the inside than on the outside.
Don’t smoke or drink to excess. Anything in excess is bad. Aim for moderation and limit any unhealthful habits.
Play a sport. Is marching band a sport? I guess it depends on the marching band.
Have a roommate you like. Personally, I preferred having no roommate and spending most of my time in the dorms with my girlfriend. I never had to worry about disturbing anyone. I did live in a special interest dorm, where everyone on the floor was interested in the same thing. For my floor, that was music. In return for living in the nicest dorms on campus, for which we had to apply separately from the standard housing application, we had service responsibilities to the community. I enjoyed this type of environment.
Try to have a significant other. I am a strong supporter of this idea, but I would suggest not staying with the same significant other for your entire college experience unless you are sure you are going to get married. College is a great time to learn about yourself and determine you compatibilities.
Develop good work habits.
College is where you learn to allocate your time, get your assignments done, and develop a good rapport with your fellow workers (students) and your bosses (teachers), and make them all your friends.
Ben notes that in all likelihood, you’ll spend the rest of your life working. This is the reality, so it is best to make the most of it. I didn’t work as hard as I should have while I was running around leading various organizations. I put my priorities elsewhere when I should have worked for more balance between classwork, practicing (I majored in music education), activities, and socialization.
As a leader among my peers in high school in college, this hasn’t translated as well to the working world as I would like. While I’m happy with my experiences, and changing anything about my personal history would change my identity, there was possibly a little room for improvement when it came to getting the right things done at the right time.
Chances are you won’t get everything exactly right. Ben Stein’s tips will get you started in the right direction.
Updated November 20, 2009 and originally published September 5, 2007.