Preparing for the Big Time

By David Snyder

Animal House

After saying a few things about college goers and those of my age recently, I’ve been asked by a few peers to go on a bit more on the whole enterprise. I don’t quite know what to go on about, but here’s a stab.

College is one hell of a thing. I’ve been made aware of this presently and without yield. Anybody who’s spent some time moseying about quads and staring blankly at tweed-clad professors will surely nod along at this assessment. College life is truly its own thing. Before heading off to whichever university, teachers, parents, random pedestrians, and the like all offer a drink from their fountain of wisdom to the about-to-be college goer. I’ve written before about this frantically-given advice and this line of conversation, so my stance on the matter is well laid out and explicit. There’s too damn much of it.

Back to the lifestyle of college times. Many veterans of higher-learning explain to the rookies that college is the ultimate preparation for the Big Time, for the untethered life that awaits after one has racked up enough credits and debt. I remain a skeptic on this front. I’m a less mainstream case, sure, because I still have yet to move away in any which direction, which I shall do in time, but I’m still attending the classes and avoiding the new peers, etc, so I get the gist of it.

I’ve found college to be quite the mixed bag: some things learned have been essential, others have been as useful as a leather suit at an August lunch. I’m not speaking academically, of course. I’ve learned all sorts of neat tricks and valuable skills, in writing, mainly. They’ve all been put to good use, I hope — even the math that I’ll likely do little with soon enough. But the biggest trick of all is how to live sans-Nest. I suppose that responsibility isn’t on the college’s tab, and that’s fair enough. But what confuses me most are the scores of post-collegiates who go on and on about the glories of their halcyon days. I haven’t the slightest what they’re going on about. The classes are fine, and some of the professors are all that, but glorious? I’m not buying what they’re selling. Approach college’s so-called glories with a cocked brow and a line of inquisition.

I’ve spent some time with various friends at their far-away schools and dormitories, on the weekends, mostly, which assuredly skewed my idea about what they’re globetrotting lives are like, but I’ll press on anyway. When I’ve visited them, it’s seemed to me that college is tops at providing adequate space for maximum ethanol and greasy food consumption, both of which have their place, no doubt. But is there more to life than beer and cheap food? I can’t be too sure, after all; I have yet to live beyond college. However, I’ve spent some time with my parents and various other adults, and the time they spend on beer and pizza is somewhere in the region of one percent of their week, whereas that percentage hovers near 25 or greater for the college student. This asymmetry is notable!

The transition between high school, especially for those from the boarding schools, and college is a tricky one, no doubt. It’s manageable if overwhelming. But the transition from the frat house to the cubicle is one that I’ve yet to experience, but can safely assume is the much greater shock to the mainframe. I doubt the greatest and most immersive college experience can adequately prepare one for the big time.

But I’m no defeatist! Just because one will hardly be ready to enter post-schooling life doesn’t mean one shouldn’t give the venture the full beans. I’m making quite the go of it, and, yes, the recently forming wisps of gray in my hair may very well be a product of that. However, I do have a few tips, if I may be so bold. The first is to get to know one’s professors. Professors are generally smart people with interesting tales and a few tricks up their sleeves. No brown-nosing is required, but a little personality goes a long way. Next is to establish but a modicum of routine diet. Maybe establish a fair ratio of slices of pizza to leafy greens eaten in a week. The loan debt will provide enough baggage, some extra luggage on the torso will hardly ease those burdens. In that same vein, run around a bit. Lift a weight or two. After all, the college is charging the student and the student’s parents both arms and both legs, so one might as well eek all one can out of the facilities, the gym and athletic facilities being some of the most expensive ones around. Finally, write interesting papers. College isn’t hard to coast through. Thousands of idiots graduate from college every year. One would be wise to stick one’s own neck out a bit farther than seems safe, to play around with themes, arguments, and style. I’ve found myself caring very little about most of the assignments I’ve been asked to write at length about, but nothing brings me greater joy than a lovely little passive dig at the topic or even the professor. It’s important to keep those with the red pens on their toes.

That’s all I’ve got on college. Try not to let the blood-alcohol content level reach coma levels, crack a book now and then, toss a frisbee around or swing a tennis racket a few times and one will be as ready as anybody else for the day after graduation.

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