Hitting college campuses with all the right moves

It’s time for the annual college column.

I’ve run this most summers over the last two decades and have received calls and texts and emails through the years suggesting that we continue publishing the piece.

I had decided to retire this column, but had a few more requests to run it from people in the last week. This columnist, a 47-year-old who went to college with an early generation home computer and got through four years without a cellphone may not be the right person to dispense advice to modern kids in their first weeks of college.

But, then again, some may find this useful.

Technology changes. Human nature doesn’t.

Many students and their parents have started discussions about the adjustment, so the timing of this column may be just about right.


1. Getting to class is key.

This sounds like some of that “Just say no” advice — so obvious that it isn’t worth mentioning.

But it is.

If you do show up for all your classes or have a solid attendance record, you will be leaps and bounds ahead of your peers in the classroom. Many of them will skip class routinely.

A complete set of notes is worth its weight in gold.  And simply copying someone else’s notes, or reading what’s available online, won’t cut it. We all take notes and organize them in different ways only we best understand.

What’s more, many professors are arrogant, and they will test you on their interpretations of American history, for example. They are more likely to test on what they say than the assigned reading.

2. Be social.

College is as much about making friends and learning from them as it is the books and notes. Simply put, the more people you know, the more enjoyable college will be.

Don’t get bogged down with just one group.

It’s fine to be involved in a fraternity as I was or a sorority. (Full disclosure: my fraternity at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, was thrown off campus a few years after I graduated. We have since been reinstated.) But don’t limit your social group to just that.

From a purely professional standpoint, the people you meet in college in the next few years may become trusted and valued associates, clients or even employers.

These college bonds and friendships are forged in social settings, not just the libraries or classrooms. Spending all your time buried in the books is not just unhealthy, it’s a bad career move, too.

3. Know the school’s “drop-add” policy.

This isn’t something to be abused.

But as a new student you may get into a class you can’t handle or land an eccentric professor. Don’t let it drag your grade-point average down, particularly if you plan to attend graduate school or law school or medical school. Drop the class.

4. Use a professor’s office hours.

In other professions in the real world it would be considered “boot-licking” to go to your boss and ask questions just for the sake of asking questions.

But on college campuses it is often the only way you can get to professors.

If you don’t have any legitimate questions, tell the professor what your “study strategy” is for the course and ask if you are “emphasizing the right things.”

Having a professor as a reference is important when you’re looking for that first job. Many of them have connections in their respective industries. We’ve hired people for our newspapers based largely on the recommendations of professors we trust at a number of colleges in Iowa and outside the state.

5. Read a newspaper every day.

A professor I had at Northwestern said every student should read The Chicago Tribune and The New York Times every day. That’s pretty ambitious.

What he’s basically saying is “keep up with current events.” It helps to put what you are learning in the classroom in perspective.

6. Get to know the janitors, cooks and behind-the-scenes personnel.

These folks are often some of the most knowledgeable about what is really happening on the campus or in a particular building.

Plus, knowing them can make your day more enjoyable when you leave the dorm in the morning and get a “hello” or a smile.

They will appreciate your efforts because so many college students look down upon them.

7. Women should always travel with friends to parties.

On the college-campus party landscape, women can be in an especially vulnerable position. This goes for universities and small colleges alike.

If you doubt this, ask the directors at the women’s centers on campuses how many calls they get each year about date rapes.

When a young woman leaves her group of friends and goes it alone at a fraternity party, a dorm bash or an off-campus gathering, she is at the greatest risk of becoming a victim.

Remember, perpetrators generally aren’t the guys who pop out from behind trees in the night. They are friends or acquaintances.

My good friend at the Cedar Rapids Gazette, columnist Lynda Waddington (one of Iowa’s best writers), has said this piece of advice is downright sexist, that women should be able to approach campus the same way as men, that my solution is individualized, not the structural overhaul needed.

I’m with Lynda on the need for big changes. But this column is based on what I would tell my daughter (if I had one) today, in the here and now, for her well being — politics and political correctness and larger social issues aside.

8. Never, ever attend a progressive drinking party or mix your drinks.

Whether it involves alcohol or sex outside of marriage, the best advice is clearly abstinence.

But officials can’t get that to work even at Brigham Young University.

Alcohol is a part of college life.

It is particularly troublesome for inexperienced drinkers who get caught up in a party environment for the first time. Stick to a beer or two and pace yourself. Don’t do shots or mix beer and liquor, and always eat first.

9. Stay on campus over the weekend.

Have you ever heard the term “Johnny Run Home?” That’s what some people call those students who are always going home to mom and dad on the weekends.

Of course, that’s a good way to stay out of trouble. But cut the chord already.

10. Drop your hometown honey.

If you have a high school girlfriend/boyfriend, then it’s time for the dumping to begin. The last thing you need as you start your collegiate life is all those phone calls to some girl you took to the prom.

A friend of mine had such lovestick troubles with his hometown honey that he underperformed on a bunch of tests early in his freshman year, digging himself a hole academically. He eventually recovered in his classes, but the weak start limited his post-collegiate opportunities.

What’s more, as you grow older, and youthful broken hearts mend, you will find that some of your best friends, sounding boards, advocates, are former boyfriends and girlfriends, people with whom you shared formative times, people who always will care about you and your interests — and can bring quick and easy laughs when you do reconnect as friends later in life.

You are young. You don’t really know what you want or need from a lifetime partner yet. So don’t act like it. Play the field.

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