My deadline for this column is always a few weeks before it runs, so here I am typing this in August.
Foremost on my mind is my sweet niece Gabriel, who just began her freshman year at “the other blue University.”
And I know that as you sit there drinking your coffee, it’s already September. The leaves will soon be changing, the pumpkin spice donuts will be available at Krispy Kreme downtown, and you’ll know what you’re going to be for Halloween.
On this end, though, it’s still August and I am still thinking about my niece and what lies ahead of her.
I got together with Gabriel and her parents the night before move-in day, and remembered acutely the fear I experienced during my first days as a freshman. Even though she seems spectacularly prepared for college in a way that I was not, my heart went out to her, and I longed to tell her things that I wish someone had told me.
I didn’t have time that night, but I do have time now. And even though the semester has already started, good advice is always relevant. Remember Polonius’ speech in Hamlet, where he gives his son advice before he goes to France? Well, here’s my Polonius-style spiel for Gabriel – and all college students everywhere. Practice good study habits:
1.Look at the syllabus for each class every day so things don’t sneak up on you.
2.Don’t get behind in your class reading. I paid dearly for my slackness in this area with many coffee-soaked, all-nighters.
3.Pay attention in class. On the plus side, my notes were detailed and accurate. Since I was always so behind in the class reading, I daresay I coasted through many an exam on lecture notes alone. But don’t try this. Keep up with your reading.
4.Speak up in class. If this isn’t your way, I sympathize. I was painfully shy and always flaked on the participation portion of the grade. But try to do it anyway.
5.Get to know your teachers. They can be bottomless sources of information, wisdom, support and recommendation letters.
6.Don’t ask a teacher who barely knows you, or hasn’t had you in a class for years, for a recommendation letter.
7.Listen to professors’ pet theories and write papers/complete tests accordingly.
8.The Honor Code is not just a suggestion. Take care of yourself, body and soul:
1.Eat salads and other roughage. A clean colon = a clear head. Sort of.
2.Go for walks. You’ll learn your way around campus and town, clear your head and stretch your limbs.
3.Get LOTS of sleep. Avoid all-nighters if possible.
5.Don’t watch TV. I spent way too much time in front of MTV back in the day. I know they don’t show videos anymore, but there’s probably some guilty tubular pleasure that tempts you to waste countless hours – avoiding work and life.
6.Find a good coffee shop where they don’t mind people who plant themselves to study and socialize.
7.Don’t drink too much coffee. Sure it’s got a kick, but it can also tear up your stomach. If you’ve followed some of my other tips, you won’t need to stay awake, but if you do – drink water. Running to the john will keep you awake!
8.Drink plenty of water – even if you don’t need to stay awake.
9.If you’re religiously inclined, seek out the college group for your particular inclination. Soul nourishment and instant friends! Have fun:
1.Dance whenever you get the chance.
2.Go hear local music. College towns often have great alternative music scenes lurking in the back alleys, off the beaten path of pizza joints, T-shirt shops and college bars. I made great friends in the Chapel Hill music scene in the ’80s. And you can meet people in bands.
3.Date musicians. They are artistic, fun and will make your life cool. And maybe they’ll write a song about you!
4.Don’t date musicians. They can be temperamental, egotistical and won’t have time for you.
5.Explore activities at the Student Union and concerts and plays on campus that may be free or discounted for students. I saw Kurt Vonnegut and John Waters speak back in the day.
6.When you turn 21, remember that the first couple of swigs of beer are the best. After that it’s all just sort of “meh.” Go ahead and put it down.
7.Play a sport if that’s your thing – intramurals, or pick up games. If you’re not sporty, walking is great exercise.
And in general, be a considerate roommate, a loyal friend, and most importantly be yourself. Being someone else is way too tiring, so as Polonius would say, “To thine own self be true.”